Life With Lazarus – Three Days

Day 2 – Back to Work

Lazarus woke me up around 5 this morning, wanting to go out. He seemed fine, and I figured he just needed the litter box. Of course he’d already had diarrhea on the rug. No blood, at least. And it means everything is working in his digestive tract, which is huge.

It also means that we now have two aging cats who aren’t always using the litter box. In the other room, Oreo, who had become somewhat incontinent, had urinated on Ethan’s bed.

As we were getting ready to arrive at the 911 Center to begin a week of fairly stressful testing of new technology, Renee settled down onto the bed, shaking her head. “I cannot take another thing.”

She was right. It’s been almost too much. We were both feeling pretty broken.

After the cleanup, and after he’d eaten his breakfast as greedily as ever, it was time to take three pills. Make that two pills with one left for later and another left to dry out after he’d soaked it and spit it out three times.

This is what comes of saying that I’ve been pilling cats for 40 years without trouble. His mouth is very dry, no doubt a sign that he’s still a bit dehydrated. I’m hoping wet food will fix that in time. For now, though, when I toss a pill as far back into his mouth as I can, while prying open his jaws, they tend to stick to the Elmer’s glue-like consistency of the roof of his mouth. Once they’re in, you don’t have much choice but to try and encourage him to swallow. Putting your finger in a cat’s mouth to push the pill further in is not an option.

Of course his instinct with a foreign object in his mouth is either to spit it out or to bite into it. With the Chinese cancer pill, he did both. It’s not a hard pill, either, it’s a gelcap full of some kind of herbal concoction. When he bit into it, after spitting it out once, it smelled like tea leaves and made him foam at the mouth. I think he swallowed most of it. But his steroid pill, a little white one, he spit out three times. It was now so wet that there was no chance of using it. So I got another, opened his mouth again, and got bit for my troubles. Not a bad bite, but still. I finally got a dry pill to the back of his throat, managed to hold his mouth shut without making him bite his tongue (I had a moment of panic when the cancer pill foam started oozing—I thought it was blood and the poor guy had bitten his tongue open!), and then I just held him for about five minutes and apologized to him. He was making weird gurgling sounds. At first I thought I’d choked him with the pills. Then I decided he was being a drama queen.

I saved pill #3 for later this evening. Hopefully after I’d had time to buy a pill injector, but I would bet money that time was something I wouldn’t have.

I was right. No time to buy any fancy devices; but this evening he took his pills, with some complaint. In just two short days, he’d become a real fake-out artist, holding the pill in the back of his mouth, and keeping his mouth closed for as long as I’m willing to sit with him, then trying to spit it out if I let him up. But we got the anti-cramping meds and the steroids into him. When I had my hand on his side, I could feel spasms, like muscles twitching. Does the pancreas spasm? I’m not sure. Anyway, he ate his dinner well, and then actually groomed himself. He declined to sleep in the bed with me. He wanted to wander the house for the night, I guess.

I realized today that this could be the day Lazarus dies. Of course, any day for the last 14 years could have been that, but now it seems so close.

Day 3 – Wake up!

This morning when I got up, he was meowing at the door for breakfast! That hasn’t happened since a few days before we realized something was wrong, probably coming up on a week. I never thought I’d miss that obnoxious morning ritual. Renee took the three cats down to feed them. A thought occurred to me—I didn’t want to cram that damned anti-cancer pill down his throat again; so I rushed downstairs and took over his bowl, putting in a tablespoon of food only, and mixing in the contents of the capsule. He took two bites and then went looking for a better offer. So I carried him and the bowl up to the bathroom and locked them in together. I went to catch five more minutes of sleep. Renee woke me up after two of them to say he was meowing to be let out. I said to give him some more time.

When I got up and checked on him, he’d eaten about half the tablespoon. So I cut that in half, and mixed it in with another tablespoon. This he ate, and I’ll save the rest of the tainted food for dinner.

After many fakeouts with the steroid pill, I got an ear syringe and shot water into his mouth, forcing him to swallow. But he spit out the anti-cramping pill after letting it soak to the consistency of a wet baby aspirin. So I found an old hypodermic syringe, sterilized it, crushed up the pill with some water and shot it down his throat. He was mad, but it worked. I think this is the new go-to.

The evening pill dose went well with the syringe trick. Lazarus ate his dinner well. Then the rest of Milo’s. Then the rest of Oreo’s.

Then, because it was Tuesday and I normally spend Tuesday night at my Mother’s, it was time for me to pack up and go.

Renee said, “I’m afraid for you to leave!” I knew exactly what she meant. When Ethan was little, it seemed that every time I went on a trip for work, some pet would die. Fish. Mice. Hamsters. It seemed like a curse. The worst was in 2011, when I was at a conference downtown and Renee and Christian came home to find our beloved dog Webley had died peacefully in her sleep.

If I left, would Lazarus die overnight?

“Please don’t say that,” I said. “I can’t go anywhere now.”

But Renee convinced me that it would be okay, and I headed to my Mom’s to work on finishing that bathroom. I still wasn’t sure I would sleep, until I got a late-night text from the hard-working Dr. Ward. She was up past ten reviewing Lazarus’s test results and reading treatment plans. The results SPEC FPL test for feline pancreatic lipase had come back. That was the one she was waiting for. Normal range for this enzyme, which is apparently high when pancreatitis strike, is between zero and 3.5.

Lazarus’s score was over 41. In Dr. Ward’s words, “Yowza!” This, she said, could explain everything we were seeing, even though the blood in the abdomen was still baffling. He probably wouldn’t need pain treatment now. She asked me to please schedule an appointment for Thursday, and said she was pretty sure steroid therapy was where we would be able to “coast.”

I wondered—was it too early to hope?

Day 4 – Feeling Better

Dr. Ward’s late night text gave me some relief from my anxiety. As soon as I was up and about, though, I texted Renee to see how he was doing. He apparently ate well and then went looking for more, and took his medications with the usual fuss. I scheduled an appointment for him tomorrow with Dr. Ward.

The workday was insane, as usual—an endless line of people waiting to see me, or needing help. My job at the Fire Department has become very like running Farpoint was back in the 90s. It’s energizing, but exhausting. And it’s not a weekend, it’s day-in, day-out.

So Laz and I took a nap when I got home. We haven’t done that much, since he was a kitten. But I’ve become very aware of how little time might be left with him.

We had a moment of panic after our nap. I was fixing dinner, and Laz wandered into the kitchen, a shaved spot on his back, but nothing else—the patch had fallen off! Ethan, Jess and I tore through the house looking for it. If Kirby or one of the other cats ate it, it could kill them. The ER doctor had been very clear that it needed to be disposed of safely. Fortunately, we found it. And also fortunately, Lazarus didn’t seem to be in pain anymore, even without it. In fact, tonight, he was so energetic that he was picking fights with Kirby.

His follow-up appointment was tomorrow. Day 4, we had been told, was the last day we were really expected to have him.

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