The Cat’s Medicine

I told my husband Dave he was not allowed to take the cat’s pills. He thought it might be interesting for recreational purposes but I wouldn’t hear of it. I had enough to worry about my cat Benji and his medical problems. I couldn’t entertain Dave and his preposterous idea.

The issue started about a year ago when I was brewing a cup of chamomile tea and getting ready for bed. Benji, hoping for a late-night snack, made his way from the living room to his bowl in the kitchen. He typically has a bouncy trot when he anticipates a treat but that night, he dragged his hind legs behind him. Struggling to stand up, he took one or two wobbly steps and then fell over. Something was seriously wrong. 

After monitoring him a little longer and not seeing any improvement, I scooped him up and raced on 95 North to Cornell Veterinary Hospital in Stamford Connecticut. “Hold on, little guy,” I tried to reassure him as he sat crumpled in his carrier in the passenger seat. I pulled into the parking lot and drove to the entrance that had a large red sign “EMERGENCY.”  It was the middle of the night and luckily, they could see him right away. Because of Covid restrictions, I handed him off at the door and sat in my car in the cold January night. I was worried about Benji but I was also worried about the cost. Cornell is a quality facility and I knew it wasn’t going to be cheap but what could I do? My baby was in trouble and I had to help him. 

After I’d spent two hours fretting and freezing in my car, the vet called. She told me Benji had severe ataxia and needed to see a neurologist, stat. They didn’t have a neurologist on staff at Cornell so I had to rush him to New York City. The vet telephoned the Animal Medical Center (AMC) to let them know I was on my way. I handed over my credit card, cringing at the amount and texted Dave to let him know what was happening. Bleary eyed after my all-nighter in the parking lot, I took off on 95 South heading toward Manhattan.

I live in a suburb and driving into New York City is not my idea of a good time. Every few blocks, I blurted out my mother’s favorite expressions when she drove, “Keep in your lane, you Turkey!”  Leaning on my horn I gave it to them: “Don’t cut me off, Turkey!”  I screamed, “Look at him go!  Where does that Turkey think he’s going?” My word choice was a little different from my mother’s but Benji and I made it in one piece without a road-rage incident.

I sighed relief when I handed over my keys to the parking attendant at the AMC. Yes, please take my car and watch out for all the turkeys. The building is impressive — a full city block long, several stories high and a nice view overlooking the East River of Manhattan. The AMC is no fly-by-night animal hospital; it’s been in business for a hundred years and if your pet has a rare disease or has flung himself out the 22nd floor of a building, this is the place to be. 

Unlike Cornell, the AMC allowed pet parents in the building after filling out an affidavit swearing you had no Covid symptoms and weren’t in contact with anyone who coughed or sneezed in the previous 2 weeks. Masked up, I was directed to the waiting room as they whisked Benji through double swinging doors to the ER. After hours of shifting my bottom on a rigid metal chair, a vet technician came out to speak with me. Her brows knitted, she informed me, “Benji has severe ataxia.” Well obviously. Ataxia was the same term Cornell used and by that time I had looked it up and knew it meant he walked like he had too many shots at the bar. She continued, “We need to admit him into the hospital to do some tests. Sign this form. It’s an agreement that you’re responsible to pay his medical bill.”  Sure, why not?  My mind was spinning calculating how much this ordeal was going to cost and the hours I needed to teach in order to pay for Benji’s top-notch medical care. Once I signed several pages of documents she instructed me, “Go home. We’ll call you when we have results.”  I was back on the road with the turkeys but no Benji. 

I received several calls from vets and vet technicians over the next 24 hours. They all said pretty much the same thing, “We love him! He is so sweet! We call him ‘Mr. Handsome.’” “Great, great,” I responded. “Yes, I know my cat is special. So now tell me what is wrong with him.”

After a battery of tests, the vet concluded, “He may have had a stroke but we aren’t sure. We did see a lesion on his spine so maybe that is it. He has a heart murmur and that could have caused the ataxia. There are many possibilities.”

“You’ve run all sorts of tests and you don’t know for sure what is wrong with my cat?”

“Yes, that’s correct. Please come pick up Mr. Handsome.”  I took a deep breath and headed out on the road again.  

After I paid the next cringe-worthy bill, the vet tech brought Benji out to the waiting room in his carrier and handed me a pill vial. I held it up to read the name of the medicine. I scrunched up my face, held it out a little farther and then pulled it close trying to sharpen my focus. I must have misread the name — medical terminology can be difficult. But when I lowered my glasses and re-read the name, I realized I hadn’t made a mistake. I snapped my head up facing the tech, my eyebrows raised.

“There’s a mistake.This medicine isn’t for my cat,” I told her.

“Yes, yes,” she hurriedly replied, her eyes scanning the packed waiting room. “Half a tablet twice a day.”

Handing over Benji she told me, “We’ll call you in a few days to see how he’s doing” and then she turned her back on me to speak with the next client. 

Forty-five minutes later I shuffled in the door to my house where Dave was waiting with a glass of red wine for me. Benji stumbled out of the carrier and made his way to his bed. We were both exhausted.

“What did they say?” Dave wanted to know.     

“Not too much. Really nothing conclusive,” I said. I told him about the medicine and he was surprised also and a little intrigued. 

“You can’t be serious! Why would they give him that?,” he wanted to know. His eyes were wide and mouth was hanging open. 

“They didn’t really explain but I think it helps his heart. Not too sure,” I said.

There was a pause before my husband gave me a coy look and said, “You know, I’ve never tried it. Might be interesting — just for fun.”

“Absolutely not! Don’t even think of it!” I scolded him shaking my head side to side. Disappointed, he gave me a pathetic hangdog look. I laughed and said, “Keep your paws off the cat’s Viagra!” 

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