Thursday, October 2, 2008

the choices we make will haunt us...

i was sitting at the receptionists' desk, doing paperwork, while the receptionist talked on the phone to a distraught owner. i could hear her voice - though not the words - clearly through the receiver. the receptionist, obviously disturbed, covered the mouthpiece with her hand and gestured to me.
"this woman says that while she was at work, her boyfriend smacked the cat, and now it's nose won't stop bleeding. it's been bleeding for an hour." i suppressed the gag reflex about to overwhelm me, and i suggested that she bring the cat in for an exam.

an hour later, i had mostly forgotten about that phone call. regrettably, we get many such phone calls, and we never see the animals. lo and behold, a couple hours later, a technician walked past me to the back. she was carrying a wicker basket. curled in it was a soft, light grey tabby cat - maybe 9 months old.

i followed her, because it was obviously a "tech to the front" (code for get your ass up here now, we've got a real emergency). removing the kitty from the basket, i felt sick. he was stuporous, barely responsive to my touch. both pupils were tiny (miotic) - what we call "snake pupil" in the vet world. the 3rd eyelids were raised partially over both eyes. blood was caked underneath both nostrils. i gently palpated the skull, and to my relief, i couldn't find any obvious fractures.

the cat had obviously suffered massive head trauma of some sort. i realized that this was the kitty that had been called about earlier when the tech recited the history to me. as i looked at this cat, at what a human had done to it in a rage, i felt my heart break a little bit.

the owners were put in an exam room, waiting to see me. i paced back and forth for a while, as the techs placed the kitty in an oxygen chamber (oxygen is extremely important in head trauma patients) on a soft bed. when i felt calm enough, i went into the room. i was confronted with a young couple - a girl in her early 20s, sobbing quietly, and her boyfriend - a very tall, imposing figure. to my surprise (and confusion), he was crying, too. later, as i discussed these events with several colleagues and technicians, i came to understand that abusive people - whether towards animals or people - are typically very remorseful of what they did. having never been in a relationship or even known anyone abusive - physically, verbally, or otherwise - i had no experience with this - and was thus surprised to see the pentinent boyfriend shedding real tears.

as the story went, the cat had been on the couch. the boyfriend was annoyed by something it did and he "lightly" smacked the cat. he fell to the (carpeted) floor, a few feet at most, and that was how the damage had been done. now, i wasn't there. and i'm not a judge or a jury or omnipresent. i have no way of knowing if what he told me was true. i just know that the cat i had just examined had suffered massive head trauma. more massive than thwacking his head on a carpeted floor should have inflicted.

i discussed his grave condition with the owners, his poor prognosis given the likely seriousness of his head trauma, and the cost of hospitalizing him for the night. the owners had no money. the girlfriend sobbed and cried and begged me to think of some way to help her kitty. i felt even sicker. in the end, the girl surrendered the cat to me - signed it over. i was relieved. the cat was being removed from what was - in all likelihood - an abusive, dangerous situation. still, i felt terrible for the girl. it was her cat - and her boyfriend had done this to it while she was away at work.

they visited the kitty one more time, and then they left him in my care. one of the technicians - being soft-hearted - as most of us in the vet world tend to be - offered to use her "pet bucks" to pay for his care - if i thought he had a chance. i was skeptical, but i recommended that we give him at least 24 hours to see if he responded to medical treatment of head trauma (oxygen, mannitol, pain control, etc).

a few hours later, the receptionist found me and told me that cat's owner (the girl) was on the phone, that she had found money, and that she wanted to know if she could have the kitty back. i was stuck. on the one hand, the cat had obviously been hurt badly by the girl's boyfriend. on the the other hand, i couldn't imagine if someone i loved hurt one of my animals and then i had to give that animal up because i couldn't afford $600-800 to treat it. i felt sick having to make this decision. keep the cat? give him back to his obviously loving owner (not counting the boyfriend)?

in the end, i returned the cat to its owner - rationalizing that due to its head trauma, it probably only had a few days left of life anyway. they came and picked up the cat so that they could transfer it to a (cheaper) nearby clinic. i called the doctor a few days later to check on what had happened to kitty. to my surprise, kitty recovered - albeit not completely, he still stumbled when walking - in a few days and went home.

i can only hope that i made the right decision in the end. the hardest part is that i will never know.

No comments: