December 10, 2006

Love of life

Ichy is fighting for her life. The more gently she struggles, the more certain we will be that she'll survive: what's crucial is that the stitches in her stomach should not burst. As yet, she doesn't have the energy to test the stitches, not after ten of fifteen minutes of activity first thing in the morning, which exhaust her and send her back into the cupboard for the rest of the day. Tomorrow, the day after, may be the time of real danger, when she's able to run, or leap, or stretch herself and stretch the stitches as she does so.

Now, she rests, and sleeps, either in the cupboard or on the chair, lying on her silver-painted tummy, only her head visible. She wears a bonnet, like a funnel, to prevent her from reaching her stitches with her teeth. The rest of her body is swaddled in blankets, some wrapped round her, some wrapped round hot-water bottles, so that, to me, she resembles a blasphemous infant Jesus. Every hour we feed her, filling a small syringe with food, mixed with a little water, and manouevring it around her mouth until she opens up. Two or three centilitres, washed down with water, similarly squirted if and when she lets us do it. Then rest, more rest, and visiting the vet, twice daily, for injections. The cost, when we are finished, is going to be enormous. But we are trying to save the life of a cat.

She ate balloons. We didn't know she was eating them, not until she vomited and shredded balloon came up with the liquid. We knew she chewed them, but she chews everything: balloons, books, wires, pencils, whatever she can get her mouth round and plenty that she can't. We didn't know she was eating them: we knew she had a hoard of stuff, under the sofabed, but we cannot properly clean the flat, hemmed as we are into one room, with one room still almost unusable, the plaster falling on our heads in pursuit of the water which dislodged it. It is a mess, more of a campsite than a home, small piles of papers, books, everything, cluttering every surface in the house, and Ichy had her little pile too. Her hoard must have included some balloons, left over from the ones I tied to our stall at the book fair. We played with them a couple of times, letting them fall on Ichy like Rover in The Prisoner.

She would run away; then, regaining her courage, would creep up to the balloon and begin to paw it, claws extended (as hers always are) until the balloon would burst and she would run away again. This was fun, at the time. But now it isn't, now it isn't funny any more, because it must have been these balloons which she kept, hoarded, chewed and ate, and which she vomited up last week.

She had been off her food for several days, which worried us, but I have seen cats off their food before: disturbed by a change in temperature, or furniture, or anything else that may have affected their comfort and security. Sometimes, they do not eat for days, as Ichy wouldn't, but after you have tried to change their food (as we did) or after a week of pleading (which we did) they will change their minds again and eat as if nothing had happened between their last meal and the present one.

But Ichy didn't resume. She vomited, shards of balloon, then water, then nothing. Still she wouldn't eat. We took her to the vet, who filled her full of a white liquid, so that nothing left might show up in an X-ray. When she was home, close to midnight, she vomited up the liquid, on the back of the sofabed. By this time, we were desperate. So we took her back to the vet, who took her in, injected her, and closed her in a cage, to sleep there while she waited for her operation. She moaned as she was put in the cage and I tried to catch her eye before I left, but failed - and tried not to cry, because I knew the reason I wanted our eyes to meet was that I might not see her again, not alive, not with the eyes of a living, thinking cat. I left her there, and went home, guilty, thinking about all the times I could have cleaned the floor, found those balloons and thrown them away.
For each man kills the thing he loves
You can think about it a thousand times, or only once: yet the answer each time can only be the same. No matter how true it is - that you could not have known - nevertheless there were different things you could have done, and had you done them, those who hurt would not be hurt and those who died would not have died. No matter how you look at it. There is always a choice, even if you were not aware that it exists. At any moment there are infinite alternatives, and not all of them can have the same outcome. I could have acted differently, and I did not: because I did not, somebody was hurt, and came within an ace of dying, and is not yet safe.

I do not have the facility, of refusing to see the truth because it does not suit me. That is my weakness, my propensity to guilt. Or my humanity, for weakness and humanity are, it seems to me, inseparable, identified with one another. We are never more human that when we fail, never more in need of other people than when we stumble, when we fall. But I do not want to fail, not for Ichy. I need it not to matter that I failed.

She was close. Her intestine, when they operated, was rubbed almost raw where it had become permanently blocked. They extracted a small plastic pellet, green, the remnants of balloon that had got stuck inside her and blocked the intestine, a pellet which had prevented her eating but would not let her get rid of it. It nearly killed her. It might kill her still.

It was not the first time she had been close. We knew, for instance, that she was rescued from a pet shop, shortly before the owner lost patience with her, as a stock line that wouldn't sell. Her kittens, from which she was separated too early, were sold quickly, she was not: and he was intending to have her put to sleep. She lay there, as cats do, waiting to die, while a group of children taunted her - and a friend of ours saw and rescued her, and so she lived. As she must live now.

We knew about that, her close call, the only part of her life, before we knew her, that we were aware of. But when they X-rayed Ichy, we discovered something else. In the X-ray, just behind her shoulder, bright and obvious in the X-ray, as clear as it was previously hidden, was a bullet. Somebody shot our Ichy. Before we had her, in her hidden life, perhaps outside Huesca, as there are many hunters in the villages. Somebody shot her. She has carried that bullet ever since, maybe hurting her, maybe not, maybe aware of it and maybe not, most likely aware sometimes, hurting sometimes, forced every so often to remember that pain and to carry it. And I know, I know, what that is about.

I love cats, and I have realised, as time passes, how much I identify with them, with their distrust of people, with their need to be alone. That is why I look, and why I need to look, into their eyes, to tell them I am with them, to tell them that they are a part of me and I a part of them. That some of what they feel is what I feel. I did not know, before, what I know about Ichy now, but now I do, and I am closer than before. I share, I feel what she feels. And sharing feelings is another term for love.


At December 10, 2006 4:53 pm, Blogger Rachel said...

Oh dear I am crying for poor Itchy.

I am sure she will get better, if she has taken a bullet she is a little fighter.

Get well soon Itchy.

It wasn't your fault that she ate the balloon. How were you to know?

Cats can tell when you love them and worry about them. It will help her, I am sure.

At December 11, 2006 12:57 pm, Anonymous Sean said...

I hope Ichy gets better and I hope you can try not to beat yourself too much. You couldn't have known.

At December 12, 2006 12:07 pm, Blogger nmj said...

I hope your wee cat heals well.

You absolutely could not have known she was eating balloons, you will wear yourself out going over the possibilites, but I know these thoughts can drive into one's head like nails. Over and over.

Your post made me think of my own cat being put to sleep - 25 years ago - I still dream of her and wish she would come into the room.

Ichy sounds like a survivor. I know she'll make it.

At December 25, 2006 1:24 am, Anonymous Backword Dave said...

God, I've meant to comment since I first read this. This deserves 100s of replies. Mine in only banal. Cats are mad, and perverse. And stupid. I hope she survive(s|d).

I had a cat with a lump on his skull. I thought it was a ganglion: I could move it in a small circle with a finger. When I took him to the vet for something else (I forget what, but it required an operation*) they said it was an airgun slug! It was removed.

*At the op itself, it transpired I hadn't signed some form. They rang up and asked if wanted an anaesthetic. I said, of course, you can't operate without one, what do you think I am, a barbarian. They said, they knew that, did I want one afterwards (this cost extra). I had to say, I didn't want him to feel pain at all, if it could be helped, and money in this case, was no object.

At December 31, 2006 2:30 pm, Blogger Richard S. said...

Just stumbled onto this post 21 days later. Wow... For me, I think this has been the most moving post all year. Maybe because I completely agree with the last paragraph. Me too. I'll be quoting this.


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