ZombiWatch 2014

ZombiWatch 2014

On the 8th, I posted about my first emergency trip to the vet. Little did I know, the whole thing was not over.

Not by a long shot.

We had a good weekend of normalcy, when, suddenly, shit went sideways again. No vomiting this time, just incredible congestion and lethargy.

This was on the 13th.

On that day, I purchased a humidifier, a bunch of really strong-smelling wet food, and a squeezy-bulb dosing thing. Also, some kitten milk. Because I wanted to get SOMETHING in her. Because I knew this was bad.

But, with her refusing to come out from her closet hide, and the breathing not improving with liberal humidifying…I called the vet again.

Another emergency visit. And bad news: a fever of 106.

So began my week of hell.

Day 1 – Brains are dicks.

Fever of 106. Which is organ-damaging, even in cats, who run around 101-102ish. That, combined with the mouth-breathing made the vets think ‘aspiration pneumonia’.

I was terrified. Because neither of these things are good. They seemed, in fact, dire. And potentially of my doing, because what if I fucked something up completely somehow? Why didn’t I panic and bring her in the day before, when she still seemed okay? Maybe we could’ve caught it early and saved her.

The vet gave me an estimate, which was…not unreasonable, all things considered. And allowed me to choose a plan of action. Which, honestly, is terrifying. Leaving Zombi’s life in my hands, when I’m not entirely sure you think I’m capable of affording her life at this point? But okay: let’s do an X-Ray first. We can do that. We can do that and possibly rule out the pneumonia, or make it obvious so we know which estimate we’re looking at.

The lungs were clear. The kidneys were enlarged. So: what do we want to do now?

Obviously, while it kills me, I want to leave her with the doctors who are trained in reducing a cat’s fever. Because all I’ll do is hold her and weep.

And that’ll just make her fever worse. Sorta like how I brought her in wrapped in her favourite blanket probably made her fever worse. I am basically an idiot.

So we checked her in to the vet. One of the techs brought her out to say goodbye. Pictures were taken and posted to Facebook. ZombiWatch began, although it did not have a hashtag yet.

We went home [after not having to put down a deposit, because apparently using Care Credit means you don’t have to put down a deposit. Also, it’s not like I’d refuse to pay—they HAVE MY CAT. What am I going to do? Come up with the money to hire Liam Neeson to get her back?].

I left the vet with her collar around my wrist, and did not remove it.

Thus began my first lesson of the ordeal: brains are assholes.

This is going to sound like a tangent, but it’s not: I’ve mentioned before that I enjoy personal-experience type stories about the paranormal. Enjoying is not believing, but…holy shit, those people who are convinced that their dead pets come back to visit them or haunt them after said pets die? I now have an uncomfortable understanding of what they’re going through.

There I was, first night without a cat in the house in ten years—even nights spent outside the house were spent in houses with cats.

And I kept hearing her. It had nothing to do with the little bell on the collar on my wrist, either. I would hear her jumping down from the chair she often sleeps on. I would hear her shuffling out of the closet, and pushing doors open.

At one point, I actually felt her jump onto the bed and walk up to her place on the pillows.

My brain expected these things, and interpreted what were likely perfectly normal house-sounds as Zombi. Even adding movement where there probably wasn’t any.

My cat wasn’t even dead, and I was being haunted by her.

Because the human brain is shitty and stupid.

Day 2: Remember, no news is good news, but updates are better. Also, we bring her home, and I feel that this may have been a selfish decision.

I wake up. I check my phone for missed calls. I feel guilty because I managed to sleep, even though I didn’t manage to sleep until the second call letting me know that she was ‘resting comfortably’ after crying when they put her in the cage.

I can’t stay in bed all day, because we have shit to do.

We hit PetCo and contemplate buying a carrier. I do not want to buy a carrier, because I feel bad about the whole cage thing. Instead, I buy a leash to go with her little harness thing.

On our way out, the vet calls.

The ultrasound showed the same thing as the XRays—enlarged kidneys, but nothing else going on in there.

We arrange to pick her up at four, because, again: shit to do. And I wouldn’t be leaving the house once we got her home.

Hit the library, renew a book [about writing books, which I only eventually half-finished], Gremlin’s eye appointment. A few other places, then, vet.

Where we wait for them to get ready to discharge her.

The vet talks to us, telling us that he’d be happier if they could keep her overnight, but she’s not responding well to the stresses of being at a vet. She was refusing to pee. Right up until the end, when they picked her up. Then she peed on them.

So, yeah. That’s never happened before.

One of the techs goes over her impressive list of prescriptions: clavamox, baytril, buprenorphine, and an ointment for her eye.

I nod and acknowledge the instructions. Yes, yes, I get it. Okay. Right. This starts now and this starts later and this gets this many doses.

I retain none of it.

I really should have been taking notes in my phone.

But: here’s my Zombi! Joy! She’s active in the car! When we get her home, she jumps down and runs upstairs! She washes her face! Obviously, she’s all better.

Wait, wasn’t there something I was supposed to remember in all this? Oh, right: meds. Fuck, how do I…oh, I am a terrible person. I don’t understand any of this.

So I call the vet and have them explain it to me again. I download an app to program the times in and set structured alarms.

I try to forcefeed Zombi for the first time—some stinky, cheap paté ; food from the grocery store, so she has something in her to go with the antibiotic.

Well, I say ‘I’. I mean ‘we’. Because, at this point, there’s no way I can do it on my own. I don’t even see how that would work. How am I supposed to hold her and use a syringe? When she fights the antibiotic? I’d be so upset by the sounds she makes that I wouldn’t be able to keep her restrained. So, Gremlin holds her while I try to get the food in her, and then the clavamox.

We also give her a dose of the painkillers.

I regretted this about a half hour later. Some of you have probably seen a cat on painkillers. They’re often hilarious and stumbly and everything. Zombi was not. Zombi was…it was traumatic, but I don’t know which one of us was suffering more.

She just sat there, very still, meowing. Loud, panic-type meows. Her pupils were completely blown, not responding to anything. Just huge and…huge. The light must’ve been killing her, and she didn’t understand what was going on.

The rest of the night is fuzzy. At some point, someone commented on one of Gremlin’s posts about ‘Zombi Watch 2014’. I sleep, but not well.

May 15th: Zombies in the lobby, and randomly crying in every [upstairs] room in the house.

One of the instructions on the sheet the vet sent home with me [the sheet without the depressing bill] was to call them in the morning and let them know how she was doing.

So I did. “She won’t eat and she still feels warm and I’m basically just really worried that I was being selfish not leaving her there for another night, even though you said she wasn’t responding well to inpatient treatment, stress-wise.”

I got the night-vet, because it was just before the shift change. The vet that we identify, probably rather horribly, as ‘the goth chick’. Not because she was dressed like a goth or anything, but because of her thick, dark eyelashes and her long two-tone hair. She is wonderful and reassuring and perfectly competent, as far as I can tell. She just also happens to have interesting hair.

Anyway, she said that she could prescribe mirtazapine to stimulate Zombi’s appetite.

I laughed. And then I explained, because there’s no reason why that should be funny: I’m on mirtazapine for depression and anxiety.

“Oh, well, would you feel comfortable turning one of your pills into a liquid?”

No. No I wouldn’t. Because holy shit, I could OD her or something, and holy shit, I could run out of pills before the end of the month, and the VA aren’t exactly forgiving about things like, ‘Oh, well, my cat needed some.’

So, we’ll be picking up another prescription. Okay. And some special food that turns into an easily injected slurry. And some syringes for feeding.

As for the warm-feeling, the vet tells me that I can take her temperature on my own. But I do not own a thermometer that can be used on a cat. Yet. “Can I just bring her in real quick and have you check?”

The answer was yes. So, we all get back into the car and go down to the vet again.

The receptionist on duty greets us, and offers to page the vet. She gets on the intercom, says the vets name, and then: “Zombi’s in the lobby.”

Second laugh of the day. Because, when you say that out loud, it’s really hard to distinguish the possessive nature of the word. It sounded like she was announcing that the zombie outbreak had happened, and that there were zombies currently in the lobby.

The day vet takes her temperature and brings us the new prescription and two cans of special food—Hills A/D—and a few syringes. She still has a fever, but it’s not 106, so it’s not life-threatening.

We stop on the way back to buy a digital thermometer that can be used rectally, and some lube for the thermometer. Which I don’t even know where to get, so I ask the pharmacist. Then it’s time for more antibiotics. And the first of the real dedicated forcefeedings.

And the first dose of mirtazapine.

Nothing unusual about the first two things. She fights and tries to run away, but it’s not bad.

The mirtazapine was bad. There was coughing and retching, thick, ropy strands of mucous that would shame Cujo.

I call the vet in a panic. “Did she aspirate? Did I just kill my cat?”

No. This is the normal reaction to mirtazapine. That’s why the day vet said to only give it once every three days.

Fucking hell.

I retreat to the bedroom and withdraw for a while.

Zombi comes in, jumps up onto the bed, and climbs into my lap.

I cry. Because, here I am, doing all these horrible things to her, but…she’s in my lap.

This sets the theme for the day. Not the lap thing—the random crying thing. Gremlin goes to sleep, and I’m left with a cat that wanders around meowing for something, and I just don’t know what she wants. I must’ve scrubbed her water dish out six times for no reason at all, because, really, what else could I do?

Between water-dish scrubbings, I would find myself sitting down wherever I happened to be and just crying.

Gremlin wakes up and decides that we’re going to see Godzilla.

I discover that I’ve lost my glasses.

Not having glasses did nothing for the movie. Godzilla’s head was still way too small for his body, and it just sucked anyway.

Home, to a still living cat. Nighttime antibiotic, and then bed.

16th May: I may have a happier cat by Monday. Awesome. How the fuck does anyone do this on their own?

Morning begins with a forcefeeding, a dose of antibiotics, and a call to the vet. Because they want an update. The update consists of ‘still not eating, but we’re getting the A/D into her. Still not breathing well.’ The vet tells me that I may have a happier cat by Monday.

Well, that’s a long time. Especially since this has already been going on for an entire month. That’s, like, two months of sick cat. Fuck.

I perform a few status tests. She responds with half her normal excitement levels to her brush, which is an improvement. She comes to the sound of the can opener [once I recharge it], but the tuna is invisible.

She’s fighting the antibiotics more…and allow me a tangent here, because I haven’t explained the instructions I got. She was to get a dose of clavamox—an amoxicillin—in the morning and at night. Roughly at the same time she was supposed to get the buprenorphine I refused to give her. In between those doses, roughly mid-day, once a day, she got a dose of baytril. The dose of baytril was almost twice the individual dose of clavamox.

And baytril was the real fight. I’d say that it apparently tasted like ass, but cats lick their own assholes, so it obviously did NOT taste like ass.

It smelled like bubblegum, but it must’ve tasted like something horrible, because Zombi fought it harder than she fought anything.

We tried mixing the dose in with the A/D slurry, but that, apparently, did not mask the taste. At all. She fought even harder.

Between doses, I begin looking for one of those special restraint bags, because the burrito method is not working at all. We wrap her up very well, and she always finds a way out.

I also start planning this post, which is on its fifth version as of this writing.

I’m constantly posting updates on Facebook with the hashtag #ZombiWatch2014. At one point, I ask how anyone does this on their own. Seriously.

My friends remind me that a lot of people wouldn’t be doing this. They either wouldn’t have gone to the vet in the first place, or they’d have opted to put her down, or just abandoned her.

Which is fucking awful.

17th May: Everything is horrible, and I am broken.

I don’t even want to get out of bed. But I have to. Because it’s time for Zombi’s antibiotics. And I have to give the vet an update. There’s time for exhausted self-loathing later.

The exhausted self-loathing mostly consisted of worrying that I have permanently damaged the relationship I had with Zombi. Before all this, she was so much more than just a cat. She was a loving, happy cat who was very attached to us, and very social.

And I have to damage it further, because she still feels warm. I’m worried that her fever has come back, and I can’t really tell how warm she should be.

So, after her baytril, we take her temperature.

This goes surprisingly well, considering I’m sticking a foreign object into the rectum of another living thing. It also takes a very long time.

Gremlin is displeased by this. Very displeased. So displeased that he declares that we are going out right now to get a thermometer that takes temperatures much more quickly, because he is not holding her down for two minutes.

It was a little more than a minute, because it was a dead standard sixty second digital thermometer, but I really can’t argue with him at this point, because I’m a terrible person who has to be told by a sociopath that something is not right at all.

We find one at WalMart that declares that it only takes eight seconds, and it doesn’t cost a fortune.

While we’re in the area, I buy a bunch more wet food, a few more stainless steel bowls for the wet food, and I decide that we should go to PetCo and see if they have one of those funny bags that people zip cats into for grooming purposes.

I wander around PetCo, completely blank, because why the fuck am I here exactly? Oh, right. Bag thing. But where would that be?

It would be somewhere, and the people who work here might know where that somewhere is.

So I ask someone.

‘Hi, um, I’m kinda looking for one of those bags that people zip cats into, so they can trim their claws? My cat’s sick, and she won’t cooperate with the meds, and she gets out of the towel burrito.’

She’s heard of this, but they do not have them, and cannot think of where I might find something like that without driving all over the state.

I do not wish to be out that long.

She asks what’s wrong with my cat.

So I tell her. We don’t really know yet, we’re waiting on the culture to come back, but she’s on antibiotics and painkillers and she isn’t eating on her own and it’s awful and she had to stay in the hospital and I’m doing everything I can, but I don’t know if it’s enough and she’s ten.

The lady at PetCo assures me that ten is really not that old for a cat. Not these days. And that I’m doing more than a lot of people would for a cat, because cats still aren’t quite on the level of dogs. And would I like a special syringe for the forcefeeding?

Sure. Another syringe is good.

Then: “You need a hug. Would you like a hug? You’ve been through it, and you’re doing the right thing.”

Let’s step back for a moment: Those of you who know me know that I am not a hugger. I do not like anyone inside my personal bubble. At all. Hugs from me are as rare as DeBeers tries to make diamonds, and probably cost as many lives and limbs.

Here’s how broken I was that day: I went for that hug.

Some strange lady who works for PetCo got a hug from me. Me, who smelled of unwashed person, catfood, and bubblegum [antibiotics].

We leave, and end up at Target, where we eventually buy pillowcases. Because pillowcases are like soft, thin bags that shouldn’t overheat Zombi when we bag her in them.

The pillowcase method turns out to be a huge success, which is awesome because I had to feed and medicate Zombi on my own that night.

18th May: Test Results, and Real Results.

Based on Zombi’s apparent grudge-holding, Gremlin decides that I should try to keep feeding and medicating her on my own, so she’s still got someone she trusts while all this is going on, just in case.

That’s fine. I’ve already resigned myself to the idea of her hating me for the rest of her life after this is over.

Also, the pillowcase method really does work fairly well.

The vet calls with the results of the urine culture: nothing. Nothing at all. So, we have no idea what it was.

But she’s obviously improving—though rather slowly—and it’s a bad idea to stop antibiotics anyway, so I should finish them, and we’ll reevaluate at the one week followup.

The only sign of improvement that I get to see on this day? She asks for food. Begs for it. And is perfectly happy with it being syringed into her.

I start to wonder if I’m looking at ten years of syringe-feeding a cat.

I am surprisingly okay with this idea, as long as it keeps her alive.

19th May: More good signs.

Everything is starting to get easier, except for the part where my cat wants nothing to do with me.

She’s going down the stairs, though, and sprawling in front of the door. That’s an improvement.

And she actually got into Gremlin’s lap.

Then, I go down to just sit with her. Not to get her for food or meds, just to sit with her.

I get headbutts.

Headbutts and purrs.

One moment makes it all worth it.

20th May: I start going mad again.

Zombi talks and wanders around more. She climbs into windows.

I’m overjoyed, until I start doubting things. Some of these things she’s never done before, so should I be worried? No, I’m just being anxious and weird. Because of everything. She’s breathing better, which means that the obnoxious CatHerpes has finally been dragged off the sofa and into the front yard, and, eventually, will get the immune-police called on it.

Until next time.

21st May: Followup Appointment


After getting the last dose of antibiotics into her, and a little bit of food, we get ready to go to the vet for a non-emergency visit. I get her into her adorable little harness, snap a leash onto it, and then give up and carry her out to the car.

Zombi gets scared. And stays scared.

The vet comes in, examines her, takes her temperature, and says she’s looking a lot better. He tries to get her to eat, but she refuses.

He leaves the room for…something, leaving us in there alone. Zombi paces the table a bit, and cries, so I go to her.

She puts her paws on my shoulders. Then does it again.

The third time she does it, I figure out what she’s doing.

I’m pretty sure she was trying to get me to hold her.

So I did. I picked her up, and she calmed down a little bit.

Just in time for the vet to come back and talk about doing blood tests. Which, apparently, she fights. She returns with both hind legs bandaged.

They didn’t get enough for the machine, so they had to do a visual estimate. And that visual estimate came back very, very high. Unusually high.

You know that moment when you’re talking to your doctor and you just know they’re about to propose something Very Serious Indeed? Not because you have any reason to suspect something Very Serious Indeed, and not because the doctor’s got Very Serious Indeed Face. It’s like the concept of Very Serious Indeed just barges into the room unannounced, and you both have to sit there quietly as Very Serious Indeed farts and chugs a beer in the awkward silence.

That moment. Followed by, “Has she ever been tested for FIV or Feline Leukemia?”

So, yeah. Very Serious Indeed.

I thought so, but, well, maybe tests can be wrong, or false negatives. So, let’s do those tests.

They take her away to the back again, and just sit there, alone now, because Gremlin’s gone off for coffee.

I text him and tell him to hurry back, and post on FB that we’re now considering FIV or FeLV.

The response to that, like so many of my posts throughout all this, was immediate and comforting.

This was at 11:58.

Gremlin comes back.

I think it’s right around now that I have to step out for a cigarette, because, holy shit, all this is just going from bad to worse.

They bring Zombi back.

At 12:26, the test results come back. Negative for both.

Also, they got enough blood this time for a proper white count, and it’s not all that elevated at all.

I post the results while the vet is out of the room again, and we watch as Zombi starts roaming the room, jumping down from the table, jumping up onto the counter with the computer, and, eventually, crawling behind the monitor and just hanging out there.

The vet returns with mirtazapine. Because we’re gonna try this again. And he demonstrates his amazing Cat Medicating Ninja Skills.


Now we’ll all see it.

“Okay, hey, look, this is what happened last time. None of the other meds made her do this. Is this normal?”

Apparently, yes. Mirtazapine makes cats salivate like rabid St. Bernards.

Good to know.

The vet also gives us packets of probiotics to mix with her food, and the rest of the test results. The mucous from her runny nose is just mucous.

And he gives us the can of A/D he opened for free, with a lid.

Gifts from a vet? What am I supposed to give in return?

Oh! Right! The sample of her icky, runny poops that I took this morning. Of course! All vets want that, right?

So, we return home, and I mix up a slurry with the A/D and the probiotics. Which will be all I’m syringing into her at this point, because we’ve decided that the course of antibiotics we gave her were enough.

I say ‘we’, I mean ‘the vet’.

We go out to get a few things. I don’t even remember what at this point.

But we go out. And I see that I’ve been tagged on Facebook.

Our roommate saw her eating.

It’s all over.

Almost A Conclusion: Friends, Vets, and current status.

Throughout this entire ordeal, I was posting rather incessantly to Facebook. Perhaps more incessantly than some would consider decent, because, honestly, why wasn’t I spending all my time with Zombi instead of staring at a screen?

Why would I create a hashtag? Why, as a friend’s girlfriend asked, would anyone else care about my cat?

I was posting because that’s where my friends were. My far-flung friends. People I’ve never met [and maybe four or five that I have], who followed along and were virtually there for me.

It was one of those weird times where you find out who actually cares, and who just fucking disappears when you need them. I had a couple of those.

They chose a good time, because I was too worried about Zombi to be anything but irritated.

So many people, though, were just there to like the good stuff, to offer comments of support or concern. To say the right things when I posted about the FIV and FeLV, and to celebrate when those came back negative.

I know that online friendships are the most effortless of friendships, but I kinda felt like some of the people who were there for me would’ve brought food if they’d lived closer.

Because that’s exactly the sort of people they are. Good people.

You know who were also Good People? The people at the Seven Hills Veterinary Clinic.

Both the day and the night vet were competent and caring. The way they sat down and discussed the costs and the treatment options is exceptional. When she was kept overnight, they kept me updated—more updated than I honestly expected they would.

And their insistence on daily updates from me was very unexpected.

I went to them because they were close, and because they were an emergency vet. I didn’t expect to find people who actually cared beyond ‘I am doing my job.’

I didn’t expect them to learn my cat’s name, but they did.

I expected them to be caregivers; I did not expect them to care.

As for Zombi, she’s fine. Her fur is slowly growing back where they shaved her for the ultrasound and the IV, and those are the only two signs left that anything was wrong with her.

Other people have seen her since then, and they also agree: she’s back to her old, friendly self.

She’s drinking and eating like normal. She responds when we call her [mostly], and she’s even hunting moths again.

And she still likes me.

Now I just have to figure out how to pay the damn vet bill….

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