our four legged friends: pirates of the soul

Well, now my Gigi is sick and I am heartsick about it. She’ been lying about more than usual, very rag doll-esque and not eating much. At first I thought it was just that I wasn’t used to having her sleep so close during the day (I placed a pillow on the kitchen table for her so she could be next to me without having to lay on a littered hard surface. And she is nearly 14. Older cats do tend to sleep more. I watched her go out on the fire escape for one of her little excursions but then realized she’d installed herself on an old rug someone threw out there (or fell from above). It was getting cold and I wanted her inside so had to go out there to get her to come in.

I decided the next day that I should take her to the vet.  Once before she’d gotten the same way, and I’d attributed it to all the geranium leaves she’d munched on as just when I was going to call the vet, she was back to her old self.  As you recall from my earlier post, my Roman took ill in a similar fashion. Seeming to waste away and have no energy, though he vomited when he ate. He was at death’s door, and yet the medication – antibiotics and steroids – produced a full recovery. Or so it seemed. So, I wasn’t in a total panic. Concerned, yes. Sad even. But not hopeless. I didn’t plan to cancel my flight/weekend trip to visit my folks until after my appointment.

All that changed when I took her the Verse Emergency Vet Hospital. I’d given her an appetite stimulant that had been prescribed for Roman (I know, not smart), and when it had no effect, I gave her a little more. Well, that had an effect. She began convulsively vomiting and then shitting in an obvious attempt to rid herself of it. So with her panting and drooling, and shrieking in terror, I put her in her carrier and called a car service. 20 minutes later we arrived around 2AM.  My feelings about what transpired next can be split between those experienced in the moment, and those after the fact.

They asked me to stay in the waiting room while they checked her vitals. I was the only one in that room. I could hear here crying, and after 10-12 minutes (which felt like an hour), I asked couldn’t I be with her to comfort her? An impatient receptionist huffed and puffed and said fine, putting me in an exam room. Soon Gigi was brought in, hysterical, and I learned she’d not yet been looked at as there were “25 other patients” (this information shared in the same unfriendly tone as if I were being unreasonable). It occurred to me that all the other owners/caretakers must’ve asked the same thing since no one else had been in the waiting room. I calmed Gigi down as best I could but she was in a full-blown panic attack. She’s always been this way and its one of the reasons I loathe having to take her anywhere. Once, when my apartment was being sprayed for bed bugs, I’d taken her and Roman up to a neighbor’s apartment (who was not home, and had no pets), and while I expected her not to take well to it, I did not expect her to fly out the window, run down the fire escape, and into my apartment. Twice. The second time, burrowing herself into the farthest corner in her attempt to hide from me.

My feelings after the “visit” to VERG Veterinary Emergency and Referral Group? Pirates of the soul, that’s what they are, those places. Parasitically amenable to the capitalist system.

Eventually blood work was done, and the outcome was dire. Very high white blood cell counts, low red blood cells, “severe anemia”, all signs of lymphoma and/or lukemia. The young resident vet insisted I get out of my chair where I was holding Gigi who was again burrowed into the corner of the room (the only thing that would calm her) to go over it. She needed to be admitted for a blood transfusion, to stay for observation for 1-3 nites, to get an ultrasound, and the list went on. Gigi was hysterical again, shrieking and trying to burrow into another corner, and I could hardly focus on what he was saying. He seemed to not even know she was there.  How much I asked? He wouldn’t even provide a ballpark figure. Instead, he leaves and sends in the vet tech, a sweet young woman, who gives me the bill:  $3,500-$5,500. Mind you, I’d already paid $442. which they, OF COURSE, insisted on processing immediately. I told her I couldn’t afford this and needed to process it all (meaning, do my own research, and discuss with my regular vet).  She left and came back with a reduced bill – as if it was printed alongside the first as a matter of protocol. $2,500-$3,400. I still can’t afford that, I replied. There was NO WAY IN HELL I was going to leave her alone there overnight. PERIOD. Of course no one told me the blood transfusion, which takes 4 hours, only works for a couple of months, if it works at all. And the resident vet didn’t want to hear about her prior bout of illness, etc. So, I insisted they give her the subcutaneous liquids, and the anti-nasaeous injection since I’d paid for it, and took her home. Before I did, the vet tech very quietly concurred I should talk to my vet about how to care for her at home, non-invasively, and to ask him for steroids. Something the vet there hadn’t even offered, and could’ve – should’ve, I learned later – given her via injection.

Healers answer a calling, doctors pursue a career. This is why our health care system is fucked.  Granted, the latter doesn’t preclude true caring, I know, but it treats medicine (no pun intended) like all other professions, which is wrong. My vet has not called me back after the dire results of Gigi’s blood work and I have no idea how he can explain not having 5-10 minutes to give to what is obviously a very serious near life-death situation for a patient of his (she has been there before). Is it because I cancelled my appointment after going to the emergency hospital? It was a sound and practical decision. The blood work was done, her vitals were taken, she’s been examined. Let’s deal with the “severe anemia” likely due to lukemia/lymphoma, and discuss the way to treat her that’s no invasive. I’ve already done the research and know steroids and antibiotics are likely the way to go. If she’ll tolerate them. So odd again that its exactly what Roman was treated with. Maybe its just their old age, and the fact that those symptoms are common signs of illness, and infection a common cause? I don’t know but steroids do seem to help a variety of conditions. I do my research obsessively – like I learned from reading a cat-health related thread that the blood infusions only last a few months, which the hospital vet (a very young man, btw, no doubt doing his residency) didn’t care to mention. And that’s part of the problem. This doesn’t enter into the discussion because financially-driven protocols and text book diagnoses determine treatment. Not the particulars and peculiars of an individual. Sure they ask for some history but they really don’t hear it, the tests say it all.


UPDATE: My vet never received the fax from the hospital, and so after follow-up there, he put her on steroids and potassium supplements. The last few days have been a roller coaster ride of hope and then fear, sadness and joy, as she hangs on, with moments of her old self (she briefly kneaded my stomach the other nite, for example, and cleans herself still) punctuating what feels otherwise like a withdrawal and utter sense of fatigue on her part. I have cried and tried to prepare for her passing but as I watch her sit on the folded towel I put on the window sill facing my backyard, taking in the breeze that rustles through the still green leaves of the giant magnolia tree, I still hold onto hope….