Saturday, January 5, 2013

Back to Angell's ER, Part 2

When we'd left Angell Animal Medical Center after the swallowed-string ordeal, the kittens seemed fine inside their carriers. They'd just been through an ordeal of being given a powerful sedative, the antidote to revive them, and X-rays. They were quiet on the ride home.

When I brought Toffee from the car to our vet's waiting room, he seemed very mellow as the vet lifted him from the carrier. At first, it seemed odd and amusing. His eyes were open but glazed and unseeing, his third eyelid showing. The tip of his tongue protruded from his mouth. He lay limply in her lap as she investigated his toes, showing me where they were peeling and explaining how to check him for signs of infection. Then she tried to rouse him, wiggling his feet, prodding and poking, and trying to get him to move. He barely reacted. She was surprised.

We wondered if the pain medication I'd given him for his painful toes had interacted with the drugs he'd just gotten. "This is a very drunk kitty," she said, as he lay on his back, breathing shallowly. "He should come out of it soon, since they had to have given him the antidote to the sedative. But if he doesn't, take him back to the ER." She pointed out that he had peed and offered to clean him up.

She brought him back with clean bedding, zipped him up, and we were on our way. At home, Harris trotted out of his carrier, happy to be home, hoping for food. Toffee lay on his side, nose on the carrier floor, unresponsive. Possum had been waiting for us. He sniffed Toffee, looked up at me with accusing eyes, and began fussing over him. He gave Toffee a washing and settled himself next to the carrier to keep watch.

I am so pleased about Possum's benevolence; I hoped he'd be polite but I never expected this. I know some people roll their eyes when the rest of us describe how animals have so-called "human" traits, like compassion and decency. But Possum has been kind and paternal since the kittens arrived. He adopted them. He even disciplines Wendy when she growls or tries to swat one of the kittens.

Possum inspects Toffee.

Toffee staggered out of his carrier. Possum began to lick him. Harris looked on:

I lifted Toffee onto me so he could sleep and be warm in my arms. I had to tuck the tip of his tongue into his mouth. He was dead weight. After about 20 minutes, he hadn't moved, but I felt sudden warmth, then wetness beneath him. He'd peed again. I'd never been peed upon, I'd never poked around in cat puke, and I'd never let one of my cats swallow string before. It was proving to be a banner day in my cat education. We lined the cat bed with plastic and a towel and laid him there while I showered. (You can machine-wash cashmere sweaters if you have a hand-washables setting.) For more than three hours, our kitten lay inert as we sat with him. It was weird, and it was scary. We squinted at him, making sure he still breathed.

We had plans to go out for dinner with friends, but they offered to bring takeout. By the time they were on their way with pizza, I was pretty worried; Toffee was not improving. His head lolled heavy in my hand as I tried and failed to rouse him. Our vet had told us to go back to the ER if he wasn't better by evening. So we made some calls, our friends turned around to go home, and we took our third trip to the ER in five days. I realized I'd eaten only a piece of cornbread and a slice of cheese all day. I stuffed meal bars in my bag along with New Yorkers. For any ER visit, I've learned to dress in layers and pack some food, reading matter, and a phone charger.

I've noticed that even very sick cats perk up a bit when they are heading to the vet. It's a phenomenon I count on to buck me up. Sure enough, Toffee was awake on the ride to Jamaica Plain, stirring and pressing his head against my hand. As we waited at the reception counter, though, he flopped down and turned comatose again.

We were assigned to the same vet who had cared for his burns on Monday. She calls Toffee "Sweet Pea." We watched him stagger drunkenly across the exam room floor. "Ataxia," she said, "And pretty bad, considering it's been so long since he had his xylazine." (That's the horse sedative that helped him vomit up the string.) My husband and I were relieved to see him moving. She teased him with a fluffy feather toy he'd have viciously attacked at any other time. No reaction. She took him away for tests and cleaned him up since he'd had a few more accidents. His heart rate was 100 instead of 150, but he seemed all right otherwise, just sedated. No one could figure out what was wrong. The drugs they'd given him don't interact with the pain medication I'd given earlier. He was probably having an intense reaction to the vomiting drug and should never have it again. "No more string, Toffee." I said. "This was your last hurrah."

She gave him fluids to help wash the drug out of his system, and said our choices included a battery of liver tests to rule out other health problems, leaving him overnight for monitoring, or just taking him home and keeping an eye on him. We took him home, delighted to hear his meows in the car.

Possum was waiting by the door, and kept vigil after I moved Toffee into his bed. He jumped out and staggered into the kitchen. I tried to talk him out of it but he began licking up leftover crumbs from the cats' supper, which he promptly threw up. I settled him in his bed again. Around 2 am — about 12 hours after he'd been treated with xylazine — he woke up and began to be himself again: alert, purring, walking normally.

Here he is this morning, as he plots his next big adventure. Let's brace ourselves.


  1. Your past week has my kitteh nightmare! Pepper is 3 and passed all that kitten tomfoolery without a scratch. But not a day goes by when I don't think about getting a second cat to be buds with her, but the thought of putting myself through all the trauma of raising a kitten and kitten guilt/fear when I leave for work stopped that idea from germinating.

  2. Good heavens, what a traumatic start to the new year you all have had. I had a pug once who had a similar (i.e., comatose) reaction to an anesthetic - -I always suspected someone miscalculated the dose. I had to stay up all night not only to keep his tongue somewhere in the vicinity of his mouth but to keep his eyes from drying out, because he'd lost the blink reflex (!). It was awful, and I was so relieved when he began to come out of it I felt like singing an exultate jubilate.

    Here's hoping you've gotten all the mishaps destined for 2013 out of the way this first week.


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