Monday, June 23, 2008

A Series of Unfortunate Events

by Julia Buckley
The youngsters enjoying nature in a less frightening context

I don't mean to steal my title from Lemony Snicket, but this was the best way to describe our Friday and Saturday. I am now in a philosophical, contemplative state, reflecting back on the domino effect that altered our weekend and now has me shaking my head at Fate's power to continually surprise, and occasionally horrify, us.

It began with a walk my nine-year-old son and I decided to take together. We put the Beagle on a leash and meandered down our alley. Someone had a left a big cardboard box near a telephone pole right behind our garage, so I asked my son if he'd peek into it and see if it belonged to the telephone men, or if we should just recycle it.

He obligingly went to the box and then stared into it for many seconds.

"What is it?" I asked impatiently.

"It's a bunch of dead birds." My son looked particularly outraged.

I couldn't conceive of a reason why a box of dead birds would be in my alley, so I marched up to it and looked in. What I found, to my sadness, was the remnants of a nest. Straw and twigs were scattered everywhere, as well as many gray feathers that suggested the mother bird had fought to protect her young. Those young were in one corner of the box, in a sad heap, dead long before they could even grow their feathers.

"What happened?" asked my son.

"I don't know. Someone got to this nest. See how the mother fought?" Later my husband told me that repairmen had been there that morning working at the pole, and perhaps they had found the nest and put it into the box. Why they had left it, I'm not sure.

In any case, Graham and I decided we would bury the baby birds after our walk, and we went on, now in a grim mood. Halfway through the walk Graham tripped (he had borrowed his brother's ill-fitting sandals) and landed on his knee, which began to bleed copiously. "Can you make it home?" I asked nervously, not sure that I could pick up my sturdy boy even for a few steps.

Like a resourceful soldier, he was trying to wrap an unused bag (the ones we reserve for doggie creations) around his leg. A woman spied us through her window and came running out of her house to my son's aid: she had a damp paper towel, anti-bacterial ointment, gauze and bandages. "Are you a nurse?" I asked in wonder.

She laughed. "No, but I work at a grade school."

Properly bandaged, Graham felt much better about walking home. We thanked her many times over and then headed back to our sad task.

Whoever said that bad things happen in threes?

When we returned my oldest son wasn't home. We called him to no avail; finally he came walking in the front door and said, "The cat got out."

This is never a good thing. Our oldest cat, Pibby Tails, is not the cute purry thing that his name might imply (a toddler picked the moniker); he is instead a fierce warrior of a cat, and we had to curtail his outdoor privileges because of his tendency to pick fights (and rack up vet bills). Since then he has tried everything to get outdoors, and sometimes he still achieves that goal.
Here he is, the giant on the right, with his smaller feline sister, Rose.

Ian looked for him for about half an hour and then, to our surprise, found him sitting on the back porch, as though ready to come in. I didn't think that was a good sign--usually we had to haul him home and he yowled at us the whole time. This time Ian brought him inside without the traditional fuss. Pibby ate some food and then disappeared.

"Did you check him to make sure he didn't fight?" I asked.

"Yeah. I just saw some scratches, no bites."

And yet I felt something was wrong; I even dreamed about the cat that night, and the next morning, Saturday, I felt I had to do something. I called the vet, snared an appointment, and went about trying to capture the cat.

The boys chased him down from the attic, where he was hiding under my bed, and I grabbed him; I didn't realize until later I had picked the most painful spot on which to touch him. He turned and bit me, trying to get away.

I held on and got him into the carrier, and to the vet we went. There we learned that not only had our cat been attacked, but this had been no cat fight. Something, the vet said, had picked him up in its teeth and shaken him. He had lacerations on his back, his legs, his side. His spinal area was bruised. That was where I had grabbed him, and that was why he bit me, I explained to the vet.

She stiffened. "He bit you? Did it break the skin?"

I showed her my little cut.

"Come in the back right now," she said. I was led into the inner sanctum, along with my son, where we saw an anesthetized cat laid out on a table like a stuffed animal while four white-coated people performed a procedure.

"Scrub at the sink there, as hard as you can," she said. She wasn't kidding. "You're going to need a tetanus shot and antibiotics," she told me. "Get to an urgent care center as soon as you're finished here."

It turns out that a cat bite can be the most lethal of bites, even if just one tooth pierces the skin, as my cat's did. Their saliva is so full of germs that to ignore the bite could mean something as severe as losing one's hand (where my bite was) to prevent infection, or even worse.

So we sent the cat off to anasthesia and stitching. He has to wear a protective cone, take daily painkillers and antibiotics. I received my tetanus shot (after hours of waiting and wishing I had brought my assigned college reading along), and three other prescriptions to ward off whatever terrible thing that cat bite might cause. Between the cat's injuries and mine, we had to pay almost one thousand dollars that we didn't really have.

Now, after all of the action, I am in a Zen-like state and contemplating the irony: my cat made one decision and it changed all of our lives.

Of course I don't blame my cat for biting me, nor do I blame the creature that mauled my cat. They both acted according to their natures, and to be angry with them would be like Ahab hating the whale, and we know how that turned out.

So it was an unfortunate weekend; I had hoped to use Saturday to get all of my homework done, and instead I spent it going from vet to doctor, back to vet and back to doctor again, then contemplating my gradually swelling hand and hoping the medicine would begin to heal from within.

On the other hand, we're counting our blessings that it wasn't one of our children who encountered a lurking beast, and that we have all been offered the chance of recovery.


Sandra Parshall said...

Oh, Julia, what a weekend you had! If all this had happened to me, I would still be in hysterics a week later, so I salute your ability to land on your feet and keep going!

Julia Buckley said...

We're adaptable. :)

And of course it helps to see the cat sitting and recuperating, relatively happy in his beanbag chair. He's currently quarantined so that he'll get lots of R and R.

Our latest theory about what attacked him? A hawk.

Auntie Knickers said...

And I'm assuming your vet knows that your cat has had a rabies shot so you don't have to have that series. Next time, I hope it's three good things that happen!

Julia Buckley said...

We did have to check to make sure the Rabies vaccine hadn't expired. I was fearing it had, and the vet warned me sternly that if so my animal would be impounded for ten days (paid by me) and that I would have a police record.

Thank my lucky stars, the kitty was covered for another eight months, so I managed to avoid a criminal record. !!!!!

Judy Alter said...

My cat bit me on the arm. He was in a rage over the neighbor's cat who had the nerve to come to our glass front door. I stupidly picked him up--lesson: never pick up an animal in a rage. I made three trips to ER, one of them for six hours while I got IV antibiotics. Yeah, cat bites are really really bad. As my vet said later, better my dog should have bitten me.

Julia Buckley said...

Oh my gosh, Judy! What lessons we are forced to learn. Let's hope some cat-loving blog readers are more wary now.

The IV stuff sounds scary--I guess your infection was pretty well established already.