Life with Lazarus – Day 0 – You Don’t Look Right

My very brief post two days ago hit the low spots of a couple of very bad days, but, as these days are still going and their events are foremost on my mind, I’ve decided to share them with you. Not a happy story, and I don’t know its ending as I write this. But it’s a story, and the characters in it are special to me. So here goes. 

So I’m sitting in the family room, having just dragged myself out of bed on a Saturday morning. I’d planned to take it easy. I’d been going and going with house renovations and work, and I decided, before my 1PM call to sign autographs at one of our local bookstores, I would just eat breakfast, talk to my wife and get my books ready to sell.

Lazarus shuffled into the room. Lazarus does not shuffle. Lazarus waltzes with grace and purpose, looking up at you only enough to let you know that he has arrived, and he is now in command of the operation. Today he shuffled, and he didn’t look in command of anything. He moved tentatively toward a square of morning sunshine on the floor, but didn’t seem particularly enthused about it.

I remembered that, the night before, he had been sleeping really hard in the doorway of the dining room. Lazarus is a huge believer in being in the way whenever possible, the better to remind mere humans that there’s probably something they could be doing to increase his fame and fortune; but the way he was splayed out struck me funny. A little while later, from the next room, I had heard him let out a single, dissatisfied “meow.” It was unusual enough that I’d gone to check on him. He had been sound asleep, so I wrote it off to a nightmare. He was probably dreaming of a world where humans were as in charge as they believed themselves to be.

Now, seeing the shuffle in the light of those observations, I said, “Laz, you don’t look right.” I scooped him up into my lap and petted him. He just seemed very out of it. He wasn’t making eye contact, wasn’t purring, and, most importantly, wasn’t bashing his head into any part of my body he could reach.

Renee, sitting across from me, said, “Now that you mention it, he didn’t wake us up asking for food the last two days, and he’s been very slow about coming down for breakfast. And he doesn’t seem to want his food even then.” She also told me that he’d spend an entire night in the basement this week, without calling anyone to come get him. Again, unusual.

“What’s wrong with you?” I asked him, holding him up in front of my face. I should point out that I hold Lazarus in all manner of funny positions all the time. I stuff him into the crook of my elbow while we watch TV. I hold him upside down by his back legs. I throw him over my shoulder like Gunther Gebel-Williams used to do with lions. I had just done this with him two nights before, and he’d been happy to be carried around the house this way. Lazarus does not object to being held in crazy positions. He’s muscular and very hard to hurt.

But now, my acrobat cat screamed in pain. Twice. And I do mean, “screamed,” for the sounds he made could not be called “meows.”

After checking him for obvious wounds—he and our other current resident, a boy-cat named Milo, do occasionally scuffle. I thought maybe he had an abscessed scratch. But no. Something was very wrong. Fortunately, our vet has Saturday hours. When I called, the first question I was asked was, “Has Lazarus peed in the last 24 hours?”

Well, I live with three cats and two litter boxes. I don’t know who peed when! They go take care of their business when no one’s looking. That includes Oreo, Lazarus’s aged older sister. The perfect cat for 16 years, she’s suddenly lost control and is peeing, well, everywhere.

“We’re going to ask you to bring him in today,” the tech told me. “How’s 11:30?”

“You think he has a blockage.”

“We’re pretty sure.”

11:30 in West Friendship was entirely too close in time and too far in distance to my appointment at 1:00 in Savage, so we decided we needed to double-team this. My son Ethan drove while I held Lazarus in my lap. I wasn’t about to stuff him into a cat carrier in the condition he was in. If his bladder was overfull and in danger of rupture, he’d be in pain. As it was, he cried most of the way there.

In the exam room, he perked up and began purring, even rubbing up against me. He took over the exam table scale like it was an emperor’s throne. I figured he felt better just knowing he was getting care. Very quickly his vet, the amazing Dr. Ward, checked his bladder, listened to his heart, and told me orange cats are prone to urinary problems as well as heart issues. “His heart sounds wonderful,” she said. “Very healthy.” She picked him up and said, “Little man, we’re going to get an x-ray, then get your bladder empty, and you’ll feel all better.” She explained that some steroids would reduce inflammation and a diet of wet food would reduce crystals in his urine.

While we waited, I changed clothes for my appointment (to ones that had only the usual amount of cat hair clinging to them) and Renee, Christian and Jess arrived. I stuck my head in to let Dr. Ward know that there would be a handoff. She looked at me gravely and said, “Let me talk to you before you go. Short version: this is scary. His x-ray is not right. Something’s up with the pancreas. His blood work looks nothing like what it was a month ago.”

Sobered, transitioning suddenly from “Everything’s going to be fine,” which had followed shortly after “Oh, God, his bladder could burst,” to my very intellectual and experienced vet saying, “This is scary,” I asked, “Does he need to stay tonight for treatment?”

“He needs to go to the ER, Steve.”

So I left, my mind only half on what I was doing at my autograph session, if that.

And then things got worse.

There’s a few days’ worth of Day 0. More tomorrow.

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