I seem to have taken something of an inadvertent blogging haitus, first for a lovely reason (a much-needed vacation), followed by the much-less-lovely reason of spending the last week caring for our cat Oliver, who got very sick on the last night of our afore-mentioned lovely vacation.
Bill and I went to bed early on that last night, knowing that we had to catch a morning flight home and wanting to get as much sleep as possible. Around 11pm in Chicago I woke up and checked my phone, which I normally do not do, but I think I wanted to just be very sure that my alarm clock was in fact set. What I saw made my stomach lurch: I had three missed calls from M, my friend and cat-sitter, who had texted me to let me know that something was wrong with Oliver and that she suspected he’d had a stroke.
There’s not a lot that can be done when you’re two thousand miles away from your sick pet, but I did what I could. Trying not to panic, I reached out to my friend and the love of Oliver’s life (seriously, the crush this cat has on her is adorable) Jill, who is our vet tech. She tried to comfort me and also recommended an emergency vet for M to take Oliver to. I talked to M and relayed the recommendation, and she bundled Oliver up and took him in. I called the airline and switched Bill and I to an earlier flight and then had nothing left to do but to try and sleep for an hour before we had to leave for the airport.
It was a long, long morning. In the cab on the way to the airport, I kept the window rolled down so that the air was hitting me in the face the whole way there. Normally I hate that sensation but for whatever reason it felt good then. On the plane I was too jittery to sleep, too anxious to eat, and too unfocused to read or pay much attention to anything. Ultimately I opted to close my eyes and listen to music, just hoping that time would pass quickly and I could get to Oliver.
As far as the time it takes to get from plane to baggage claim to airport shuttle to car, that Monday morning was actually one of the quickest experiences I’ve ever had. We had landed a little before 9am which put us on the freeway right at the tail end of morning rush hour, and luckily traffic wasn’t terrible and it didn’t take us all that long to get to the emergency vet. When we were led back to the kennel where Oliver was, I had never felt so relieved to see him.
He wasn’t pleased – on an IV, wearing a recovery cone, and clearly not feeling very well at all. His head was tilted, his eyes were darting to the left, and he was shaky and couldn’t stand. But he recognized us and started meowing as soon as he saw us.
We now know that Oliver developed what’s called vestibular disease, a condition that caused him to lose coordination and to become very dizzy. Basically, it was like having really bad vertigo. It’s unlikely that we’ll ever know what caused it, and there’s not much we can do to help him feel better other than give him medicine to treat motion sickness. During the first few days that we brought him home, we literally never left him alone. He struggled to stand and walk on his own, so we had to help him when he wanted to eat or when he needed to use the litter box. At night I dozed on on our couch with him by my side, so that I would hear him if he needed to get up in the night. Bill and I took turns working from home so that one of us could be with him all day.
It’s been a week and a half now, and Oliver is doing better. He’s still wobbly and his head is still slightly tilted, and we don’t know if those things will ever go away or if this is his new normal. We’re relieved to see his personality coming back though, and he’s able to walk around without our help. At night after he eats his dinner he comes into the living room and meows at me to put him on the couch, just as he always used to before he got sick. Bill bought a dog playpen that we’ve converted into a little house for Oliver by filling it with blankets, pillows, a litter box and a bowl of water, and for now that is where he sleeps at night. We positioned it right next to my side of the bed, so that he can see me and meow for me if he needs me. He seems to like it and settles right in at bedtime without complaint. Eventually I’m hoping that he can be out at night with our other cats, but for right now knowing that he’s in a soft, cozy place where he can’t accidentally hurt himself helps me sleep a lot better.
I could have a poor attitude about what happened and complain about how much the situation sucked, and it totally DID suck, but I’ve tried really hard to find the positive in all of this. Looking for the good in things really helps with the anxiety that I’ve been feeling since I saw that text message that something had happened to Oliver. I’m so, so thankful for M, who is not only an amazing friend but the best pet sitter I could ask for and who stayed calm and took care of my boy even when he scared the crap out of her. I’m also incredibly thankful for Jill and Dr. Chris at Fifth Avenue Animal Hospital, who love Oliver as much as we do and treat us like family, not like clients.
This experience also made me grateful for Bill and our marriage. When we said our wedding vows we of course included the vow to love each other “for better or for worse”, and the last couple of weeks have shown us both. Our vacation together was a high point; having fun together when we were each relaxed and able to be our best selves. And in the worst of times, when we weren’t sure our kitty was going to make it, we made a great team and supported each other and Oliver every step of the way. I truly think I might have lost my mind if I hadn’t had Bill by my side.
Our family and friends came together to show us lots of love and support, too. I didn’t tell many people what was happening while we were unsure if Oliver was going to get better, but those I did confide in offered me so much love and comfort. To those of you who texted and called, it meant everything to me. Seriously, it helped keep me going when I felt exhausted and low and scared. Last weekend both of Oliver’s “aunties” came to visit him (and brought presents for me, which made me feel spoiled). Those visits gave me something to look forward to while things seemed bleak.
I’m also so thankful for my job and that both Bill and I were offered so much compassion by our bosses. We were allowed to work from home to be with Oliver, which is a huge luxury. I’ve had jobs in my life where I had to be in the office every day, for very specific hours (including mandatory overtime). If I had still been in those jobs I would’ve had to take time off without pay to stay home with my sick kitty, knowing that I was going to be written up for doing so when I did go back to work because you can’t file for FMLA to stay home with your cat. I’m so relieved that we were able to just focus on Oliver and not have to stress about money.
Even though I would have much preferred for none of this to happen to my kitty, I tried to make the best of a tough situation and now I’m just so relieved that he’s improving. I wish I knew for certain that he’s going to be completely fine and that nothing else bad is going to happen, but life doesn’t work that way so I’m focusing on the good moments now and enjoying them. Right now every day I get with him is one I was afraid I wouldn’t have, and for now that’s enough.