It was supposed to be a routine dental. Bugsy had one suspect tooth, but more importantly, keeping on top of mouth and gum care is essential for a former street cat who’s FIV+. It had been three years since his last one so we quickly scheduled a date and then prepared for a grumpy little man when he discovered he wouldn’t be having his usual barnyard breakfast that morning.
Later that day, I received a call that all went well. No problems, Bugs still had all his pearly whites and now beautifully pink gums free of tartar and plaque to boot. Given the new Covid protocols, we arrived to pick him up, waited until his little chariot was delivered to the car and then headed home.
The plan was to keep him confined for a few hours to sleep off the sedation. However, as the evening progressed, he seemed to be getting worse, not better. He was disoriented, stumbling, crying and had taken to hiding under a couch. Going deep cover worried me, but what struck real fear in my heart was the fact he wouldn’t eat or drink. What might be a simple fast for a person can cause long-term damage to a cat’s organs and, in some cases, even death.
We knew something was wrong, but we didn’t know what.
I’ll spare you the blow-by-blow over the next 36 hours, but it involved setting up camp in his confinement suite and promptly creating a message thread with three of our local kitty angels, Michelle, Cindy and Dawn, for advice.
These are women who live and breathe this stuff. One fosters all the abused cats for her rescue AARF (they take the bulk of the feline victims who come through BARCS) and the other two care for multiple colonies of cats (Feral Cats of Beth Steel and Peninsula Colony) so have seen and done it all.
Dear Ladies – I know you’re not vets, but given your experience with kitties, I just had to check with you. Bugs (my heart kitty) went in for a dental yesterday. No teeth pulled, but he came home like a cross between an old man with dementia and a drunk. 24 hours later, he was not doing well and this afternoon we took him back for IV fluids. He still stumbles when he walks and shrieks like a feral cat. Our vet said give him another 24 hours, but have any of you experienced this? (He has spent the bulk of his time home hiding under bed or couch.) I’m asking because I’m terrified. He’s had a dental before, but never reacted like this & in all honesty, I’m scared.
“Did he come home with any meds? What drug was used for knockdown yesterday? Is he eating? That will process the drug quicker.“
No, he didn’t come home w any meds, just “he should be ok tomorrow.” Meanwhile I do have tuna fish and he loves the juice so will see if that can coax him out from behind the couch. (Getting him out from under the bed this afternoon to get him back to the vet was like wrestling a screaming feral cat. Broke my heart.)
“Can you send us a video?“
Little did I know, that simple suggestion would become crucial down the road. I lay in wait and after finally coaxing Bugs out, I hit record. Messages flew back and forth well into the night. All agreed if no change by the morning, get Bugs immediate medical care.
At 7:30 the following morning, I put in a call to Dr. Sinclair at Cat Sense Feline Hospital. Located about 45 minutes from Baltimore, she is one of only 100 feline specialists in the U.S. and abroad, and although not our regular vet, had both seen and boarded our boys a year earlier during a house move. She has a reputation for being able to intuitively diagnose issues that leave others stumped – not only did she save the life of one of our co-founder’s kitties, but she has also cracked a few very tough cases that have come through our medical fund.
“Dr. Sinclair is booked solid but said if you can get him here by 9am, she’ll examine him today.”
You have never seen two humans move faster.
We carefully wrapped and lifted Bugs from his hiding place in a closet and I headed north. I couldn’t help replaying all the possibilities that had been tossed around. Perhaps an undetected heart issue caused him to throw a blood clot? Maybe his incoherence and stumbling in circles signaled he’d suffered some sort of stroke? Tears were running down my face as I handed our little guy off to the vet tech. In the process, I jostled the carrier resulting in a piercing primal shriek of pain from inside that was like a knife to my heart.
Dr. Sinclair called while I was still in the parking lot. She was giving him a dose of gabapentin to calm him before the examination. If that didn’t work, he’d have to be sedated again so she suggested I head back to Baltimore and wait.
Over the ensuing hours, Dr. Sinclair and her office gave me continuous updates. Late that afternoon, we got her report.
“There’s something going on with his back legs. The right one is swollen and bruised, but not broken. However, it could be a ruptured ligament or a dislocation, so I’ve put on a splint and a pain patch, but he needs to be seen by an orthopedic specialist as soon as possible.”
“As soon as possible” are words that made my heart sink. Aside from the fact that there aren’t an abundance of orthopedic cat specialists in Baltimore, getting an appointment wasn’t going to be easy when calling on a Friday in late July.
Once again, my expert panel of kitty angels came through.
Having now gotten used to life in Covid, i.e., calling and waiting on hold for 8-12 minutes only to be told “sorry can’t see you till week after next” I was amazed when an actual human answered the phone. After explaining the situation, she promised me, Holly, their Skylos scheduler would call me back within 15 minutes. She was true to her word.
Throughout the day Friday and over the weekend, both Dr. Sinclair and Skylos were in constant contact with me. “How is he today? Can you send an updated video?” And late on Saturday, I got the good news.
“Dr. Fink will see Bugs at 8:15 on Monday morning.”
An exam conducted under sedation, radiographs and an additional consult with a radiologist revealed no broken or chipped bones, but instead a very bad sprain. Most likely the result of some sort of “wrenching” trauma…like getting his foot caught in a cage.
Bugs is now on three-week bed rest and will eventually be okay, yet I can’t help but wonder. How would it have turned out if I hadn’t had the advice and counsel of kitty angels like Michelle, Cindy and Dawn? Would he be off pain meds and healing right now if we hadn’t had access to doctors as knowledgeable and responsive as Dr. Sinclair and Skylos? Would he be purring in his recovery suite today if we hadn’t had the resources to cover all the costs involved?
I’ll never know the answer to that, but I do know that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of kitties on our streets who don’t have the benefit of any of the above. When they’re sick or hurt, their only lifeline is a volunteer caretaker who worries on their behalf and sometimes asks if perhaps Soft Side might help pay their medical costs?
Thankfully, we’ve never yet had to say no.
Over the past nine years, Soft Side has done a number of things I’m proud of, but none has been as rewarding as creating our Street Kitties Medical Fund. These are kitties who may never have actual moms, dads or homes, but, just like Bugs, they do have friends in high kitty places. And, no matter what it takes, I’m more determined than ever that Soft Side will always be one of them.
Postscript: The radiographs taken by Dr. Fink revealed that, at some point in his life, Bugs had suffered another traumatic injury to his front right paw. The bones had eventually healed, but it explains why our boy isn’t much of a jumper. Life on the street isn’t easy, but we can at least work to ensure that it’s not an existence spent sick, hurt or in pain.