Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Some days are inspiration for a horror movie.  Today was that day.  The hell of sleeplessness is still with me.  Three hours of sleep is all I got last night.  What is that?  It's not enough for me to work with. 

Oh, my day started okay once I was awake, sad, but okay.  A good friend, Ashley, lost her husband a year ago and she had his memorial at the National Cemetery this morning.  I tell you that if Mike's Boy Scouts could have seen the Honor Guard, they would have had more of an understanding of what lies under that flag, the lives of the men and women who served.  That is why respect is needed.  In this case, Sid, the veteran, outlived the war and he lived a good and unusual life. 

I didn't get going here to tell you about my friend's husband.  I will tell you, however, that her cat, Ruger, lost three pounds after her husband died.  Ashley told me that he'd just begun to recover, to gain the weight back.

I'd gone to lunch with her and some friends after the ceremony.  We laughed.  We toasted Sid.  We told stories.  I mostly listened.  I was off my game, what with night after night of being awake.  No one noticed and maybe, for once, I listened better than I spouted. 

I had just gotten home and hadn't yet changed out of my funeral duds when my phone rang, Ashley's special ring. 

She was screaming, crying into the phone.  "Ruger's been attacked by something.  He's by the door.  His gut is hanging out!" 

"I'll be there in five minutes," I told her. "I'll call my friend Tracy on my way there."  Tracy is a veterinarian, a good one.  I told the boys that I had to leave again, that Ruger was sick.  They'd been doing their homework when I got home.  I asked them to finish and I'd be back as soon as I could.  At the bottom of the driveway, I texted Mike to let him know the boys were alone again. 

I pulled out onto the highway and started crying as I dialed Tracy's office.  She asked me to bring Ruger in rather than try to put him out of his misery myself.  I hadn't brought a gun, so what was I supposed to do?  I pictured myself using a big rock and knew I couldn't do that, leave him unrecognizable for Ashley.  Tracy told me that she didn't even need to see Ruger to know that with exposed intestine, recovery would be a long hard way to go if it was possible at all.  "The infection," she said and let the words trail off.  I told her I'd bring him to her office if I could. 

See, Ruger looks just like my cat.  Whenever I'd see him, sitting on his outdoor perch, waiting to be petted, I'd feel just a little sorry for him, having to brave the cold, the damp, the predators, and the highway.  Ruger always seemed to love being outdoors though.  He was a well-muscled version of my indoor kitty.  He had the run of the carport and a heated kennel.  Still, I worried that Ruger struggled more than my cat did in his daily life. 

I zipped up my hooded jacket over my favorite cream-colored sweater and had gathered my wits by the time I turned into Ashley's driveway.  I took a couple of deep breaths as I turned the car around, ready for a clean exit.  I grabbed the dog's furry blanket from the back of the car.  I knew I'd need to wrap Ruger in something for the ride, if he was still alive.

Ruger was lying in the carport.  A loop of his intestine was wrapped half way around his litter box with dirt and cat litter stuck to it.  I took another steadying breath.  This poor guy was still alive and I needed to keep my head to be able to help him and Ashley.

I dropped the blanket over him, praying it wouldn't hurt him too badly when I rolled him over onto it.  He groaned.  I crooned to him that he was going to be okay.  It was not going to be okay.  It really wasn't.

When I stood up with him in my arms, Ashley walked toward me and screamed.  Ruger's intestines were dragging on the floor.  Oh man. I tried not to jostle him as I used the blanket to pick them up and fold them in.  They were slippery and I dropped them at least twice.  What the hell was I doing, laundry? 

I looked into Ruger's eyes and he looked at me. 

"Oh honey," I told him as Ashley gently took him from me.  "Where do you want to go?" I asked her.

"I don't know," Ashley said.  I know we said more than that, but I don't remember what.  We both knew that Ruger wasn't going to make it.

"Can I take you to Tracy's office?"  She nodded.  I pulled out the seat belt and carefully buckled her in.  Ruger kept looking at me and it's a wonder I didn't rear-end another car on the five minute drive to Tracy's office as I looked back into his eyes.  He struggled.  He even nipped Ashley's finger.  I tried to distract her by talking about his strength, by asking how bad it was.  I could see it was just a scratch, though a cat bite always seems to become infected.  Ruger struggled some more.  Ashley tried to rock him and hold him in place.

"Try not to move at all," I told her.  The rocking might be comforting her, but probably felt like torture to him.  I told her that intestines don't have pain sensors on the outsides.  I don't know if that's true or not, but it seemed to settle her a bit.  Ruger tried to roll out of her arms.  She held on, holding the blanket tighter.  I'm afraid I didn't wrap him tightly enough.  I felt like an ass.

When we pulled into the lot, I unbuckled Ashley's seat belt, jumped out, ran around and opened her door.  I leaned over to get the seat belt off of them.  His intestines, more than a handful, got tangled up with the seat belt.  I winced.  What was all this bumbling doing to this poor cat?  I lifted them up and folded them into the dog's blanket, not worrying about getting blood on my hands.  There wasn't much blood.  Dog hair was all over the blanket.  There was no sense worrying about keeping it clean now, but I wished I'd had the foresight to bring a clean sheet.

We were both crying as we walked into the office.  Ashley took Ruger straight in while I went back for my purse.  I figured someone would have to give the office staff some information.  When I came back in, a cheerful little dog approached me wiggling and wagging her tail.  Without thinking, I put my hand out to pet her.  She cringed and started to shake, turning back to stand between her owner's feet. 

"I'm sorry," I told her as I backed away.  The smell on my hands.

They took me back to where Ashley waited.  Tracy walked in from another door just as I finished washing my hands. 

"There isn't anything we can do.  He's in shock now and the damage is just too extensive," she said.  Oh, she explained and Ashley listened, nodding now and then, but I kept wanting Tracy to rush to Ruger's side and put him down before he suffered for one more microsecond.  It may have taken just one minute for both of them to make the decision, but it seemed one minute too long.  Thankfully, I held my tongue.  There was no bumbling going on with them.  Decisions needed to be made.  Ashley's response needed to be considered.  Tracy really is an amazing veterinarian.  In another moment, she came in with Ruger wrapped in a clean towel, like a baby snuggled in after a bath.  She had already given him the injection.

Ruger didn't look like he was sleeping.  His mouth and eyes were open.  His teeth seemed to be bared. There was no rush now, no pain to be considered except for Ashley's.  It was only a few more moments until Ashley was settled back into the car with a little box in her lap.  I hugged Tracy, wanting to tell her I was sorry for all the bumbling. 

I drove Ashley home, hoping I was going no slower than I'd gone before.  I wasn't at all sure if I'd been speeding.  When we pulled into the driveway, she said, "I want to put him up behind that trailer of Sid's.  Ruger and Sid really did have a connection."   I knew that the story needed to start there, the story that would make Ashley forget the horror of seeing her cat's insides on the outside.  I let her talk for a while

"I need a shot of something," I said. "Do you have anything good?"  I didn't need a shot, but Ashley did.  She poured us tiny portions of a licorice liqueur from Finland. 

"Here's to Ruger," she said.

"He was a good cat," I said and tapped my crystal to hers.  It burned a little on the way down, but it was a good burn.  I asked a couple of times if Ashley was going to be okay to bury Ruger on her own.  She nodded.  I let her talk, trying to get her to talk about Sid, a wound that wasn't quite so fresh.  Two and a half hours from the time of her call, I got back into my car to drive home and started bawling.  I'd held something together, but it was unwinding now, spilling out.  I called Mike on the phone and blubbered so much that he couldn't understand what I was telling him.  I canceled my night out with friends, got into a hot shower, and spent the rest of the night in my fleece robe, one that Ashley had made for me. 

I got to thinking about the day-to-day business that Tracy runs, examining, cleaning, stitching, healing, euthanizing, and comforting.  I have no idea how she does it, how she looks at a loved pet with something this gory gone wrong, this agonizing, and manages to keep her head.  I was a mess.  I still am.

Thank you for listening, jules

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