My uncle is in the hospital with pneumonia back home, and I'm in the habit of talking to him as I play with the kittens, using one of their toys with a pole and a string. As I was multitasking like this today, my uncle asked me to look up some info online that he needed. Instead of putting the toy in its safe storage spot, I left it on the coffee table. I don't remember doing this; it had been a crazy morning since I was also busy helping my sister figure out how to trap and rescue a badly injured cat she is feeding.
About 10 minutes later, I got off the phone and spotted the toy. I grabbed it and... there was only a short length of string, stained with what looked like blood for an inch or two. No broken piece of string, anywhere. No toy. Anywhere. Both kittens looked fine, with nothing visible in their mouths. I hunted all over the apartment, losing hope. Then I called our vet's office. The vet on duty told me to get the kittens to Angell ASAP. If the string is in a cat's stomach, they can potentially vomit it up with the right drugs. If it's deeper down.... endoscopy or surgery. She also said, "It's the curse of kittens!" Stuff like this happens a lot, apparently. Just never to me, until now.
The string-eating co-conspirators earlier this week.
For those of you who don't know it, Angell is about the size of a small-town hospital for humans. It's set up with reception, multiple waiting areas segregated by species, emergency and triage services, poison control, and a number of veterinary specialties. It's affiliated with a very good shelter, too. While many Bostonians chose it for their primary veterinary care, the rest of us head there only in emergencies because it's staffed 24/7. We tend to take it for granted, but we are extremely fortunate to have such an excellent facility just a few miles from our apartment.
As we were getting checked in, a process that can take as long as it does at Beth-Israel's ER, a woman in Burberry raincoat came up to the desk and interrupted us. She looked stressed. She said she needed to make an emergency call but her phone's battery was dead. While the staff tried to decide what to do, I dug around in my bag and handed her my iPhone without a word. She whispered her thanks and walked quickly out of the building. I was too preoccupied to wonder if I'd just been robbed. My husband later spotted her sitting on the sidewalk by the entrance, in intense conversation. She returned the phone 20 minutes later, with thanks, telling me her son was in a drug-treatment school in Wyoming and needed help. And her puppy had eaten a slice of raisin panettone. It was touch and go for him.
And I thought we had problems.
A young vet came out to talk to us and take the kittens to the back area for treatment. She asked me which one I thought had done it. I fingered Harris, saying I couldn't be sure, but he'd had a weird look about him. I handed her the remains of the string. She explained that she'd give both kittens a powerful sedative meant for horses, which makes some cats vomit. She would not bet on it, but sometimes it worked. There is also an antidote to the drug that perks the cat right up afterward. She warned us about the risks; we grimly consented.
I thought of my husband's first cat, Chloe, who used to puke every afternoon, usually next to my desk as I was on the phone with a client. She'd pick her moment and heave-ho. All I had to do was dial the phone. Those were the days.
We stewed in the waiting area. The vet returned to report that neither kitten had vomited, so X-rays were Plan B. If they showed anything, they'd know which kitten needed an endoscopy. She went away but came back in a few minutes, holding what looked like a paper mattress pad. She told us that Toffee had vomited after all, and displayed the goods, poking around with gloved hands. There was the toy, a small, battered piece of denim that had been Snicky's beloved "moth." There was also a long piece of hemp cord, and some hairball. I wasn't sure if that was all of the string but it looked promising. When I joined the vet in exploring the mess, she was surprised that I did it without gloves. Kitten barf is nothing; I've stepped in much worse.
The vet was relieved, we were relieved, but we agreed to X-rays for both kittens, just in case more string lurked within. Plus Harris is crazy about pulling twigs off the Christmas tree and drowning them in his water bowl. It wouldn't surprise me if an X-ray turned up a pile of kindling in his innards.
I went off to wash my hands. We waited. The vet appeared with both kittens in their carriers. Their X-rays were clear and while we had to stay watchful, they were probably fine. So, $700 later, we were heading home. First we stopped at our own vet, where I ran in to pick up more pain medicine for Toffee. His front paws are much worse than we'd first thought; almost all of his pads are reddened and peeling, and he favors them. I've learned that it's often hard to see fresh burns on cats' feet. Our vet was off today, but the one who sent me to Angell wanted an update on both the string toy and Toffee's paws. Since he was just outside in the car, she offered to look at him quickly after I told her how much worse his toes were.
That's when things got surreal again. For that story, tune in tomorrow.