My last two blog posts were about saying hello to my newborn kitten, Hilary, more than twenty years ago and then our present day journey together as she approaches the winter of her life, and I mine, looking more broadly.
Then, quite unexpectedly, my male cat, Button, whom I said first hello to when I discovered him abandoned behind my shed four springtimes ago, has temporarily become my focus. His eyes were not yet open when I found him; the vet said he was about six days old. So I became his mama, giving four hour feedings around the clock and taking him to the vet nearly weekly to keep a close eye on his progress. He thrived, happily, and grew to become what I have long called my uber cat, large and spilling over with good health and singular personality.
A few months ago he developed some breathing problems, diagnosed as asthma; I hoped this would be simply brief springtime and fall events. Last week though, it became clear he was having more than breathing problems. I got up one morning and quickly noticed Button didn’t come in my room to chirp his daily upbeat “good morning” to me, extend his left paw toward me in a huge stretch, open his mouth in an extensive yawn, and lead the way to the bathroom where he hopped on the sink for a long drink of water. Alarmed, I went to the kitchen and found him curled on the soft rug by the sliding door to the deck, where he keeps his bird’s eye view on the nighttime and early morning goings-on out there.
“Button,” I said with concern, rubbing his head, “are you okay?”
He meowed in a cry, stood, growled, and pushed his way into the corner by the bay window. “Something is clearly very wrong,” I said to the vet receptionist a few minutes later. She said, “Bring him right in,” which I did after a brief struggle to get him into his cat carrier.
His temperature was 105.7. Terrifying. For the next two days, the vet gave antibiotics to bring the fever down. It came down one degree the first day, and not quite a degree the second day. She tried broad-spectrum antibiotics when his temp elevated again on day three. Apparently not many conditions cause a cat’s temperature to rise so high, yet Button’s diagnosis remained unclear.
This all happened shortly before the weekend, so by Monday morning, a third vet took on Button’s case. She called me later that morning to tell me Button had Lyme’s Disease. He’d been an outdoor cat until this year; I hadn’t made the change to an indoor cat soon enough, it appeared. I was sick at heart and he was horribly ill and traumatized by being hospitalized for a week. Finally, though, the vet knew the right antibiotic to prescribe: doxycycline.
Button came home four days later, still fearful and lethargic and then evidenced a new problem: he couldn’t bear any weight on his left front leg; he limped. The vet advised this was joint pain caused by Lyme’s and prescribed pain medication.
He has slept on my bed each night since he’s been home. Each morning he’s resumed another piece of his usual morning routine. This morning he stood up on the bed, stretched a paw out and widely yawned, then hopped down and led the way to the bathroom sink, putting some weight on his front leg, I noticed, and once again took a long morning drink of water from the faucet.
Caring and concern for my sick animal has been emotionally exhausting. In the aftermath, now that I see him getting a little better each day, I reflect that when he was so sick that I thought he might not live, I treasured every precious second with him. He’s always been my healthy boy and I assumed we’d have long years together, as Hilary and I have. Hopefully, we will. But I’m reminded in this recent visceral way that to assume is to be unwise. My mindfulness principles teach me to live deeply in and treasure each moment, whether with a beloved pet, a family member, a friend, or the fleeting moment with the butterfly who stops by the Echinacea plant in the back yard.
Button reminds me, yet again in this year of another critically ill person in our family, to cherish the tiny incredible moments of life for the treasures they are.