erik lundegaard

Wednesday February 28, 2024

Clemente ‘Clem’ Bradbury-Lundegaard (2023-2024)

Day 8

We didn’t even have him 11 days. 

The day before Valentine’s Day, my wife saw a photo of two cats on the website of Seattle Animal Shelter (SAS), where she’s a volunteer dog walker, and gave me a look like a kid in a Lassie movie. Can we keep ‘em? Can we? He was a tabby with big, cute ears; his sister was a tortoiseshell. After our cat Jellybean died last December, we talked about how, next time, we’d get two cats, so they could keep each other company when we were away; so we wouldn’t worry they were lonely. These were those two, Patricia was saying. They were from the same litter, bonded, and sleeping together. Somebody had left them in a box on the doorstep of an animal shelter, and that shelter transferred them to SAS on Feb. 7. They were just two months old.

Though they were recovering from neuter surgery, SAS let us take them home that afternoon. They were tiny things—as light as dust bunnies, I thought—but the boy didn’t seem worse for wear. He left the cat carrier with a tough-guy walk and explored the joint like he owned it. He was mouthy, and if he wanted your attention, and your back was turned, he’d scramble up your body like Spider-Man, then perch on your shoulder, meowing. 

“Right now it’s endearing,” Patricia said with a laugh that first night. 

For those first few days, I was a little out of it. As we sat at SAS filling out the paperwork, what was initially sniffles got worse. I’m guessing it was just a bad cold—all my COVID tests were negative—but I missed some of what was going on.

Patricia floated the idea of naming the girl Daphne, and I was an immediate no. “Why?” she asked. Overhearing, the SAS woman taking our information said, “And you can name the other one Fred!”

“That’s why,” I said. “‘Scooby Doo.’”

Eventually Patricia landed on Maisie for the girl. I forget what other names she’d floated for the boy but I kept shooting them down and she kept pestering me for a replacement. One morning, she asked while I was at my computer, and I had the Baseball Reference page up, with its revolving photos of ballplayers in the upper left hand corner.

“What about Clemente?” I said.

“Clem!” she said. “I love it!”

“Clemente.”

Clem.”

At this point I was more worried about the girl. Clemente had his tough-guy walk and seemed more athletic. He was able to jump onto the bed, for example, while she had to find a foothold and do it in stages. The bed thing didn’t last long anyway. Though they understood the litterbox idea, one of them wound up pooping on the bed the first night. Worse, it was a little loose, a little runny. And it kept happening. The second or third night, Patricia thought that if she slept on the floor, next to their cat bed, they’d be that much closer to the litterbox in the bathroom and use it. Nope. In the morning, Maisie jumped onto the bed and peed near my pillow. That was that. We became a closed bedroom door family, and they would sleep in the heated cat bed out in the living room. Once we got the diarrhea problem under control, we thought, we’d work on bathroom protocols.

That was a common refrain: Once we solve this, then that. We didn’t know we would never solve this; we didn’t know we’d never get to that.

* * *

On the first Wednesday, Patricia bought a pumpkin supplement from Mud Bay, and a day later picked up cat food and a probiotic from SAS, all to help with the diarrhea problem. But whose problem was it? We had just the one litter box and didn’t know whose stools were getting firmer and whose weren’t. But we had our guess. Maisie was filling out, Clem wasn’t.

“Is he not eating?” I asked.

“He is,” Patricia said. “Just as not as much as she, I guess.”

SAS told us to have them checked out by a vet within a week but they didn’t tell us how to get the vet appointment. Our old vet, Four Paws, wasn’t taking new customers—new animal customers—so Patricia asked around and went with Jet City Animal Clinic, which was nearby, but the earliest appointment she could get was Monday, February 26—two weeks from when we got them. And with the way Clem was going, that seemed too far in the future. He needed help now. So on Friday Patricia made an appointment for the following Monday. By Saturday morning, he was so thin that the following Monday seemed too far in the future. So she took Clem to Urban Animal on Capitol Hill, which was open on weekends, and where subcutaneous fluids were given, and blood and fecal tests taken.

On Sunday, while Patricia was away, I googled his symptoms and wondered if it wasn’t worms or parasites. I was texting her my theories, while Clem lay on a heating pad in the window seat in my office. Then he went over to the sleeping bag in the corner. Was he squatting? Peeing?

He was shitting. Almost liquid.

“No no no no no no,” I said, picking him up, and holding my free hand under him as I ran to the bathroom and the litterbox.

“The pumpkin is doing nothing,” I texted Patricia.

To friends I began quoting Kurt Vonnegut’s brother, Bernard, who, after he became a father for the first time, wrote to Kurt: “Here I am, cleaning shit off of everything.” We were in the laundry room a lot. We began to use a separate bag for shit-stained items.

The fecal test came back negative for parasites, while the blood tests were a bunch of numbers—we didn’t know what they meant. But the vet at Jet City—our Monday appointment—took one look at them and said: “He needs an IV.” He recommended a couple of places. BluePearl was within walking distance from our condo.

And the vet there said, no, Clem didn’t need an IV.

Patricia exploded. Patricia never explodes. But this was her third vet trip in three days and we weren’t getting any closer to a solution.

At least they gave us a gameplan. The diarrhea might be viral-related, the vet said, and recommended a regimen of oral liquid antibiotics. She showed us how to administer them: hold the cat firmly, cheeks back, then edge the syringe toward the side of their mouth until it opened. I got fairly adept at it.

In a follow-up email explaining the blood numbers, Saturday’s Urban Animal vet seemed to agree with the BluePearl vet:

For the most part, this bloodwork is normal for a kitten of this age. The SDMA result is difficult to interpret since this kitten is so young and there is no accurate reference range. 

The potassium is mildly high and can be seen with kidney disease, but in Clem's case the kidney values are normal. In some cases parasites can cause an elevated potassium. The significance and the cause of the mild elevation in potassium is not readily seen from the bloodwork and fecal at this time.  

If Clem Fails to gain weight, I would consider other diagnostics such as abdominal ultrasound.  

By Wednesday, Clem’s stools were getting bloody. When I patted his butt with toilet paper after he pooped—a necessity with the diarrhea—it came away with less poop and more blood. And his anus was … was it supposed to look like that? Patricia called it distended. When the BluePearl vet gave us a follow-up call, and we mentioned all of this, she recommended a return visit.

Again, the IV route was discussed, and again it was rejected. A normal PCV or Packed Cell Volume, was 30-35, she said. His was 38: elevated but not dangerous. If it was above 42 she would recommend hospitalization. All his other labs were within the normal range, too. She gave us prescriptions for two anti-diarrhea meds, both orals, meaning by Thursday poor Clem was taking seven different oral doses a day. We also switched his diet. Both the vet, and a friend, had recommended chicken + rice for animals with diarrhea. And holy crap did he like it. He attacked it. He ate like a champ. It warmed Patricia’s heart.

And for a day and a half he filled out. His stools were still slightly soft, with blood snaking through them, and his butt still sore, but he seemed to be getting better. Didn’t he? Per the vet’s instructions, I also began putting a warm compress on his backside for about a minute or so. He didn’t seem to mind this. Maybe it felt OK. Maybe it was because we were doing it in the bathroom sink, and he had a fascination with sinks. Most of his feedings now took place on the kitchen counter—to keep his food separate from Maisie’s—and afterwards he’d stroll over to the sink, where I might be washing dishes, and just stare, fascinated. When the water was turned off, he'd climb down and nose around.

But this was him at his most curious. After a meal he would normally crouch at the edge of the counter and stare down. To Maisie, the world was a toy. She zipped, batted things, chased sparkle balls. He wasn’t doing any of this. And his tough guy walk had become a stiff-legged gait—we assumed because of the distended backside. Once he got past it, we thought, he’ll be OK.

Once that, then this.

He was in my thoughts all the time. All of this happened during the Seattle International Film Festival’s Noir Festival, to which, several weeks earlier, I’d bought a pass. But between my sickness and Clem’s, I didn’t use it much. I went Tuesday night (“Black Tuesday” with Edward G. Robinson) and then again Thursday night (“La Bete Humaine” with Jean Gabin), and I was thinking of staying for the second and final feature. But I was too tired and I wanted to see how Clem was doing. A drink maybe? No, I was too tired and I wanted to see Clem.

When I called my father and step-mom during a late Friday afternoon walk, I went through the trials and tribulations of our week. What a shame, they said, that we couldn’t enjoy the fun and kittenish moments. “I don’t know,” I said. “When we first got them, and our friends came over to coo, etc., I wasn’t feeling it. It wasn’t until all this happened that he really entered my heart.”

Besides, I said, we were on the upswing. We were beginning to get past it.

* * *

When I got home, he was laying on the window seat in my office. I kept an eye out so he didn’t poop again but missed it when he left a big wet stain near the window. The night before he’d driven Patricia batty by suddenly peeing in the pantry. “What are you doing?” she’d admonished. But that pee didn’t smell like pee. Neither did this.

“Doesn’t he seem thin again?” Patricia said. “Yesterday, he was eating a lot and his tail was up. Now…”

“And we’re down to one antibiotic dose.”

That night he stopped eating. He stopped drinking. He didn’t look comfortable and couldn’t get comfortable. He’d stay in my lap a few seconds but would move off, and crouch nearby. In the kitchen I watched as he bent over his water dish, put his mouth close, and just stared.

“Maybe we need to go to the vet again?” I said.

“I don’t know,” Patricia said.

Another vet trip so soon seemed like a lot for him. I thought I might be overreacting. “Let’s see how he is in the morning.”

I woke up at 4 AM with a panicked thought: What if the wet spots that didn’t smell of urine weren’t urine? What if something inside him had broken? I found him, not in his bed, but sitting in the dining room, like he’d never gone to sleep, like he couldn’t get comfortable enough to go to sleep. BluePearl, it turned out, was closed weekends, but there was a clinic in Shoreline—the place that had diagnosed Jellybean’s cancer last September. I phoned, and they picked up right away. Patricia joined me in the kitchen as I explained to the clinic what was going on. We left shortly after 5 AM.

“Am I overreacting?” I asked.

“I don’t think so,” Patricia said.

At the vet they took Clem in his cat carrier and told us to wait in the lobby. We waited. And waited. And then, in a separate room, the vet, Dr. A., told us they’d run a test and didn’t like the looks of Clem’s kidney. She said we had two paths. One involved stabilizing Clem and then running a battery of tests.

And the other? I asked. She paused, and looked delicately at us.

“First option,” I said.

After another half hour or so in the lobby, the nurse came out with an update. Did they know what the problem was?

No. They couldn’t even stabilize him. They were losing him. They recommended we say goodbye.

Like that.

We found him in the back room lying on a table, an IV tube in his little leg. We could see his belly going up and down rapidly. Dr. A. tried to explain how euthanasia worked—the first shot to relax him and put him to sleep, and the second shot to…

We know, we said. We’d just been through it.

* * *

Our apartment at 9 AM felt eerily empty and calm, and we both tried to deal with it however we could. I went into my office to write it all out; Patricia went into the kitchen and began throwing away leftover medicines and syringes. She did the laundry with the pooped-stained towels. She was cleaning it all out but there was no cleaning it all out or writing it all out. It just kept hurting. 

I don’t know how it felt to Maisie. I don’t know how she misses her brother. We just know she hasn’t slept in their bed since. The point of the two cats was to make sure they wouldn’t be lonely when we were away, but I wonder if we made sure a part of her would always be lonely.

I now assume it was acute kidney failure: the lethargy, the stiff gait, the sudden peeing that didn’t smell like pee, all are indications—I read that day—of kidney malfunction. But why didn’t it register in the tests? Did he arrive with it and it got worse? Was it a consequence of the week-long dysentery and dehydration? Or did the infection that caused the dysentery—if an infection caused the dysentery—travel to his kidneys?

We don’t know. I just know he got a raw deal. Everybody let him down—starting with SAS. They were bad partners. Both kittens were neutered the day we picked them up, and they were supposed to come with cones, and didn’t. Nobody even mentioned it. It wasn’t until Maisie’s stomach became distended that Patricia brought her back and demanded to see a vet. That was on the same day Clem returned to BluePearl for his penultimate vet visit. Because the cat carrier was at SAS, for Maisie’s re-surgery, I had to take Clem there in a tote bag. And then I had to take him home in a cardboard cat carrier they provided. He’d already beshat it and himself when they handed him over. He was such a mess we had to wash him in the bathroom sink at home. Another indignity. 

Mostly I think of those oral meds I gave him—particularly the anti-diarrhea one he hated—all of which did nothing. “Sorry, buddy,” I’d say, “but this’ll help you get better.” The last dose I gave him was around 6 PM Friday. Afterwards he gave me such an exhausted look, it nearly broke my heart.

“Sorry, buddy,” I said. “But we’re almost done with it.”

We had him fewer than 11 days. He had fewer than 11 weeks.

Xoxo

Day 1

Posted at 10:42 AM on Wednesday February 28, 2024 in category Personal Pieces  
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