Monday, March 10, 2008

Mourning the impending loss of a constant in my life...

In 1989, when I was getting ready to graduate from college and move into the "real" world, I had one goal. I wanted a white cat with blue eyes. That was all. My apartment was selected solely because I would be allowed to have a cat. And of course in all my fantasies, it was a white cat with blue eyes....

And, about a week after I graduated, while I was still getting settled in my very first apartment, I was visiting an acquaintance whose cat had just had kittens. She was annoyed by the fact that nobody seemed to want the last one. She said some unflattering things about the kitten. It wasn't white and didn't have blue eyes. As a matter of fact, it was rather regular looking, just a tabby cat....

Now, lest you think that this story is about me losing my cat, well, I have to tell you ahead of the rest of the story, that Tilly, that kitten, lived to the age of 18 and went to heaven last year. She was very much loved. I am mostly ok with that now. She lived a good life and had the very best care. From the start, and throughout her life. And that's kind of what this story is about.

Let me explain. My first apartment was in an inner city neighborhood, and I didn't know much about cats at all, but I knew they had to get shots, so I brought her in to the closest vet. A rather youngish, red-haired veterinarian gave Tilly her first shots. I thought nothing of it, but he seemed very compassionate. He was the first and only vet I had ever met at that time.

About 6 months later, I was driving home from work on a windy fall night, when, in front of my apartment, a white grocery bag blew in front of my car. I didn't want to hit it, for some reason, so I swerved, and saw that it wasn't a bag, it was a kitten. A white kitten with blue eyes, no less. And he was starving to death. I immediately (the next day) took the kitten in to the vet. The red-haired vet told me the kitten was a Siamese mix and "you got him at a good price", he said. LOL....that was Que-Queek (his name started out as Squeak and was changed due to baby talk by his kitty mom). When I brought Que-Queek back to the vet for his booster shots, I found out that the nice red-haired vet was just the vet that filled in when the regular vet wanted a day off.

As I learned more about cats, I eventually started to show my cats as "Household Pets" in local cat shows. One day, a red-haired man stopped to chat and lo and behold, it was my vet, and he remembered my two kittens by name! I learned where his regular clinic was and did nothing else about that. I continued to go to the "regular" vet near my house.

But one day, Tilly was hiding. And when I found her, she was all swollen up, her face was swollen, and her legs were swollen. The regular vet had no idea what the problem was and prescribed antibiotics that didn't work. Then I remembered that the red-haired vet had said that he had a cats-only clinic, so I thought, "maybe if he's seen a lot of cats, he's seen this problem, too." It took about a five-minute exam and he told me that Tilly had pemphigus, an uncommon autoimmune disease. A biopsy proved that he was correct, he prescribed effective treatment, and it was at that time that I learned that my red-haired vet, Dr. S., was actually one of the leading feline experts in the state.

So I started to go to his clinic when I had a situation that I felt could not be handled by a regular vet. And he never let me down. A couple of years later, Tilly had to have bladder stone surgery. Dr. S. did it. My cat Boris, who was about 14 years old at the time, developed some complex medical problems and Dr. S. treated him until Boris went to heaven.

When Que-Queek developed kidney failure at age 14, I had moved 90 miles away from Dr. S.'s clinic, but we drove down to Dr. S., because Dr. S. had a blood pressure machine for cats, and I felt it was an important part of treatment anyhow. Dr. S. always had the best technology and so much compassion, it was worth it. Que-queek died at age 15. Dr. S was always honest and straightforward about his condition and what he thought I should be doing (i.e., was it time yet?)

For the most part, after that, I resigned myself to going to the local vet here in town. After all, 90 miles is a long way to go in a car with an upset and/or sick kitty.

But then Charlie got sick. To understand the magnitude of this, you have to know that in our house, there is no other animal more revered than Charlie Meow. An orange and white beat-up old tom cat, he is the most gentle, laid back, cuddly cat I have ever met. And he reads people extremely well. I had found Charlie a couple of years before on the side of the road, with some health problems that the vet in town easily fixed. He slept right next to the food bowl for about 6 months after he came to live with us (he was so afraid that the food was going to disappear), and he has always been extremely grateful to have a home. And I can tell you that that cat is something very special. He is always on the lookout for an empty lap. He comes when he's called. And when someone cries, he's right there, trying to comfort them. Even if you're upset, but not crying, Charlie knows. And it wouldn't be bedtime without Charlie Meow all snuggled up... Yet he rules the house with an iron paw and doesn't take any carp from the other cats at all. We all love him so very much. Even the dogs think highly of him!

But he was sick. Suddenly one day, he started retching, like he was going to cough up a hairball, but he couldn't stop retching. He retched and retched until he vomited. We waited until the next day to worry, he vomited again and was still retching. One of the vets in town thought it was asthma. I hoped they were right, but I knew they weren't. But they didn't have an endoscope to see if there was some other problem....that particular vet basically thought we would be better served by spending money on some other cat(!) But this was Charlie, so something had to be done. The vet told me to bring him to the university, 100 miles away. I set out to go there, then I remembered Dr. S.'s clinic. He saved Charlie's life and it was very touch and go for quite a while, he had a severe problem with his esophagus. Dr. S. actually was in daily contact with the university, making sure that he wasn't overlooking anything. He came in to the clinic on Saturdays and Sundays and called to give me daily updates, even when the clinic was closed. He invited me to visit Charlie on a daily basis. And Charlie is still with us today. I sent a thank-you card to Dr. S. for saving Charlie. Even DH still talks about that time, when we didn't know if Charlie would come home or not....he was in the hospital for 3 weeks!!!

Anyhow, what this story really is, is that Dr. S. has been a part of my life and a part of my cats' lives for coming up on 20 years now. I've always known that he was there for my tough cases, and I always knew that he would never say, "You know, maybe you should just get another cat.", which was actually said to me by one of the veterinarians in town (I prefer not to deal with her any more if I can see someone else.)

Dr. S. has always taken care of my cats as if they were his own, and with that much passion and tenderness. I have been proud to have Dr. S. as a wonderful resource for my cats for so many years.

But on Saturday, I got an invitation that said this:
"[Dr. S.' Clinic] is holding an open house on April 5, from 1pm to 3pm."

Not unusual. They've had open houses before, to show people what they do and such....and sometimes special open houses just for kids, too.

And I read the back of the card when I got inside the house:
"To say farewell to Dr. S. as he is leaving the clinic he founded and has led for many years. He will be continuing to utilize his veterinary skills in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Please come and wish him good luck."

I broke down in tears. How could he leave all of his patients behind??? I can't even fathom it. And his staff. Some of his staff have actually been with him for all 20 of those years, too....those poor people....oh dear...I can't even get my mind around it. It's like he died, almost. Worse, because this is something he's choosing to do.

And DH, when I told him that Charlie's vet was going to Michigan (and DH is aware that Dr. S. has been in my life longer than almost anyone, and did understand why I was crying), said, "Well, you know, if Charlie gets sick again, we are just going to have to drive to Michigan, then, because we can't let anything happen to Charlie."

I know that things change. And I know that Dr. S. must have agonized over this decision, too, even though the card in the mail doesn't tell me so, I know he has loved every cat that came in to that clinic, and put his heart and soul into helping them all. So he must have an important dream to follow. And I understand that, in my head, anyhow.

But the selfish part of me hopes it doesn't work out or that maybe he'll change his mind.


perphila said...

You know, it is more than just change. You have had someone there you could count on despite everything else that goes on in life. Someone you could count on for something very important to you. I still feel the loss of my kids doctor from a stroke 7 years ago. When I was going to have my third child I had no idea what to do. I got though it ok but it took a long time before I found a new doctor I felt understood me and my kids. Still, I drive by their old doctor's house and wonder if he is ok. It is no wonder you cried. As for cats. Growing up on a farm cats came and went in my life and I never got too attached but had many great memories. There was one when I was little I did become close to. My mother made her stay outside but we were together as often as possible. I found out later she used to be inside when we lived in the city before we moved and I was only a baby. She watched over me and took care of me and I guess that explains why I was always with her. She was always a force in my life. She was crafty and snuck off in peoples cars just for fun. She lived to be 16 and I never thought I would find another like her. Her name was Patches. It was 5 years before I had another pet. My son was still just a baby then. My mom was having trouble with people running over her barn cats and asked if we could take one. I didn't really want to but I knew what would happen otherwise. Spunky was a male Patches. He was for my son what she was to me. I always knew when the kids were sick because he would sleep with them. When they were babies he would be their pillow. He never scratched or got angry. Due to his harsh life as a kitten he didn't live as long. 10 years. My son was crushed. Now 5 years later he is thinking of becoming a vet. I try and remember through tough times and rough change there will be something good out of it all. Being patient to see what it will be is the hardest part.