Wednesday, December 14, 2005


A little over two years ago, after I had had a particularly difficult summer, my Mabel turned four. I celebrated her birthday with treats and a haircut (for her, not me). She looked great.

One Saturday, few weeks after her birthday, she seemed a little under the weather. She did not eat with her usual appetite. A little later, late morning, she vomited, which was unusual for her. I decided to stay in and keep an eye on her. She vomited again. And then again. I gave her water, which seemed eager for. After drinking, she seemed a bit better. Then, after twenty minutes or so had passed, she vomited again. And again. But no food; just liquid, a rusty colored liquid, and then just the water she continued to drink. I was growing very worried. My vet had closed, but I called an emergency hotline. Keep an eye on her, I was told. Give her water. If she continues to vomit tonight, you need to bring her in. I called my brother and asked him to come over. I needed help. He drove over and checked her. He said he thought she didn't look too bad. He left. But then I panicked. I called him; he had just gotten back into Manhattan. I asked him to please come drive me to Animal Kind, an excellent animal hospital in Park Slope that had weekend hours and emergency services. By this point Mabel was listless. She kept her tail down. She seemed weak, and her face was so sad. I carried her gently to the car. She was nervous but too tired to bark or physically show her fear, except for her tail, which remained curled down like I had never seen it before.

When I got to the vet, I was ushered into an examination room. A young woman vet came in; she was very kind to Mabel. She told me that Mabel looked extremely dehydrated. Had she eaten anything strange? I wracked my brains trying to figure that out. But I was sure she had not. The vet said that maybe it was a virus or infection. She would have to have some tests. They would keep her overnight. They took her away. I was distraught but tried to stay optimistic.

I called the next day. Mabel had not improved. The tests were inconclusive, but showed the effects of dehydration. She was given an IV. She would not eat. She was listless and had no energy. They would keep her another day and see what was up. By now I was beside myself. I could not stand the apartment being so quiet without her. I could not walk outside, because people would ask me where she was and I was afraid I would break down.

The next morning I went to teach. While I was teaching, my phone rang. I had kept it with me, not something I normally do, but this was an extreme situation. It was a different doctor. He told me she had not improved at all. In fact, he said, it looked grim. They would have to do exploratory surgery. He could not tell me what it might be. If she did not have the surgery she would probably die. I said please, go ahead; do whatever you have to do. I went back and finished that class. I taught a few more that day. How I did it, I don't know.

In the afternoon the doctor called again. It turns out that they found a piece of a chew-toy lodged between her stomach and the opening of her small intestine. It looked like a piece of a nylabone. Then it hit me: I had given her a nylabone for her birthday, and one day I noticed a small chunk of it missing, but I was not sure if that was the case, or if the nylabone was just shaped that way. They had a guarantee not to break and were said to be completely safe. The doctor told me that if it had lodged in her intestine she would have most likely died.

I was told to call back the next day. When the doctor, whose name was Adam, got on the phone, his words chilled me. "She is not bouncing back the way we would like. She won't eat. I think you had better come and see her as soon as possible. Sometimes that does the trick." I canceled all my appointments. Blindly I got on the train. I was shaking. I ran through the 7th Avenue stop to the exit, up the steps, and a few blocks to the office. I was so upset I could barely speak. A nurse led me up some stairs into a large room. I saw a cat having surgery. I was taken into a smaller room. There, looking almost unconscious, was Mabel. Her hair was matted, her belly shaved, an IV in her foreleg. But when I said her name, she looked up. She lifted her head. They opened the cage. She tried to get up, but I put my hand on her head and calmed her. I talked to her; I don't know what I said. She gave my hand a feeble lick. The nurse seemed encouraged. I stayed with her for about twenty minutes, and they told me that I should go; they would try and feed her and maybe now she would eat.

I called back that evening. She had eaten, and she had even gotten up. She was more alert. They told me to come visit again the next day. This time, when I got there, she was sitting up. She wagged her tail and whimpered when she saw me. I had to fight to keep from bawling. But I knew then that she would be ok. Two days later I took her home. She had lost a ton of weight, and she was under a very strict diet for weeks. She was not herself, but she was still with me.

The whole time I kept thinking, while she was so ill, that the one being in the world that I absolutely could not bear to lose was going to die. That summer I had lost two--not through death, thankfully--and I was fragile. I felt I was cursed, and that any happiness I might attain would vanish.

Thank god she made it. To this day it hurts to think of the whole ordeal. But now every day I cherish my little family of three cats and Mabel. They bring me such happiness and comfort. They don't have to speak. I can tell by their amazing expressions, their funny dances and little sounds, what they want, how they feel. Or maybe I can't tell. But that does not matter.


John said...

What a lovely story. They break our hearts, these furry creatures that share our lives. I'm glad you've got Patsy home. Hope all's well with you and your furry family.

Tristin said...

Oh! Heartbreaking and heartening at the same time. Beautiful that she pulled through and is thriving. I want to give you and Mabel a hug!

lodgerlow said...

Beautifully written. Even though I knew Mabel would pull through (since it was written in past-tense) I was worrying for a while that the wee dog in that story was your first-dog-called-Mabel. Your and John's stories about pets have me seriously thinking about whether my life/home could be the right place for a pet... other than my 3 goldfish.

medusa said...

I agree, even though I was convinced that she was going to be okay, I still held my breath as I read this. Thank you for sharing - I know you said it's difficult to even think about that time.