Mozzarella Fitzgerald hissed at the kittens my mom had recently rescued that had, in two weeks, out grown her despite the fact that they were several weeks younger. She galloped out of the kitchen area where my mom, her rescues kitties, and I were.
"Maybe I should take her to the vet."
It was May 27 & I was home visiting.
A couple of weeks earlier, Mozzarella had worms & recently had a case of diarrhea.
I had assumed her digestive problems were probably a side effect of the de-worming prescriptions the vet had given her and wrote it off. But now, seeing her with the other, younger kittens, I worried.
& so we went to the vet.
"If she hasn't been acting sick or been reluctant to eat or drink, my guess is it's still worms. Just worms that were too small to be treated by the medicine. Sometimes, it takes a couple of tries to get rid of them."
My cat jumped off the veterinarian's table and frolicked around on the floor. She took advantage of the fact that I was wearing jeans and climbed up my legs to my hips where I picked her up.
"She seems just fine," the vet said, "Let's prescribe her another de-worming medication and one just in case she has some sort of intestinal protozoa causing this. If she's not feeling better in a couple of days, bring her back."
A couple of days later, my kitty was the same: high energy, demanding, full of diarrhea. I'd started to keep her quarantined in the evenings and when I wasn't home because I didn't know what was making her sick and didn't want her to pass it on to Shakespeare and also because her diarrhea was so bad, she often got it on her legs after she used the restroom and would track it throughout the apartment.
I took her back to the vet May 31.
"She's looking kind of pale and not flourishing. A 9-week old kitty should be bigger than this," the vet said.
Mozzarella weighed in at just 1 pound.
"Let's run some tests."
& so, the veterinarian tested her for feline parvo, panleukopenia, feline immunodeficiency virus, and feline leukemia. All came back negative. They also ran what was her 3rd fecal exam in the last two weeks and again, nothing turned up.
"I'm going to prescribe you this medication for intestinal bacteria, some probiotics to sprinkle on her food, and let's switch her to this food," the vet said, handing me a prescription for cat food for cats with digestive problems.
"There is a chance that, because she's so small & pale, something bigger may be wrong. She may not make it."
"...do you think she's dying?" I asked. I was surprised. Other than diarrhea & being under weight, she was energetic, affectionate, adorable. Could she be that sick?
"Well, I wouldn't say she is just yet. It's just something to consider because she's so small."
I believed the vet was telling me this just to prepare me for the absolute worst case scenario, but completely believed she was wrong. Mozzarella & I went home & started on her new treatments.
On Friday night, Mozzarella had her first solid poop. I was more excited than I had the right to be over poop.
Saturday, she started sneezing a lot.
Sunday, she had a runny nose that was so runny, she could blow booger bubbles.
"Do you think I should take her back to the vet?" I asked Solo. It was Sunday night & Mozzarella had a follow up appointment on Thursday.
"Babe, she's going to be ok. Just wait it & see if she gets better."
Monday her runny nose was gone. She was more playful than she'd been in some time. She curled up on my chest while I watched back-to-back episodes of X-Files on netflix.
Because she'd been better, I put her in bed with Shakespeare and I for the first time in the last couple of weeks.
I woke up a little late Tuesday. I moved around in bed, wondering if I could sleep in another 10 minutes when she started meowing and Shakespeare started getting antsy. I decided to get out of bed and give her her medicine & take him out for a walk before getting ready for work.
I picked her up. She seemed surprised that we were moving and her head rolled back like her neck was weak.
I turned on the bathroom lights and set her down in her litter box. As I put her down, I realized she wasn't putting her legs down. I set her on the ground and she fell straight over onto her side. She cried. I realized that she wasn't able to get up or hold her head up.
I dressed in a hurry and got her to the vet.
Immediately, they realized she was acting abnormally. They took her into the back.
I waited. The vet came out and told me that they didn't know what was wrong with her.
"She seems dehydrated. We don't know what would have caused this but we're trying to get her blood sugar up and see if that helps. We'd like to get an IV in her to get more fluids to her but..."
"But what?" I was scared and impatient and shocked.
"But you should know, this doesn't look good, especially because she's so underweight. There's a chance she won't be able to take the IV and the best option may be to put her down."
"Please, try what you can," I pleaded.
An hour later, the vet told me she was able to hold herself up some, "The hyperglycemia medications worked but we aren't able to get an IV in her."
She said they could call an emergency vet for me, that they would most likely be able to get an IV into her.
I asked them to call ahead and tell them we were coming, immediately.
The emergency vet was able to get an IV in her.
"Her blood sugar is normal again but her temperature is severely low, it's going to best for her to stay overnight. You can call in as much as you'd like and come visit as much as you'd like. If you want, you can even bring her a treat. Anything she likes to eat would be great since she's needing the nutrients."
They also reminded me that there was a chance she wouldn't survive.
I, of course, disregarded these warnings.
I went to my internship office for the after noon and when I was out, went back to the emergency vet with a bag of tuna to see my tiniest of tiny's, my sweet little baby.
She was excited for the tuna, and, excited to see me. She ate-- A LOT. The vet and vet assistants were surprised at how much tuna she ate since they'd just fed her.
"She's got discriminating tastes," the vet joked.
While I was feeding her, my cat started fussing. I couldn't figure out why until she put her head under my hand with the spoon full of tuna and started rubbing against it. She wanted me to pet her.
I pet her for a good 20 minutes. She started trying to get out of her cage to be held.
I knew she was going to recover.
Just as she was showing the most promise, a cat came in who had somehow managed to rip off a piece of her own tongue. They were going to perform surgery and I had to leave.
"We'll call you if anything goes wrong. If not, call us around 6 am. She should be good to leave by 8 am tomorrow."
So I went home. I bragged to my parents and Solo about how well she was doing and went to sleep content that in a few hours, Shakespeare & I's tiny one would be back home.
I called in at 6.
"Hi, Miss Lluveras. We haven't began weening her off the IV fluids but we're going to start and we're going to send her home with some antibiotics. Call us back around 10. She should be fine then."
At 10, I called back.
"As soon as we reduced the amounts of fluids she was receiving, her temperature fell dramatically. I think it's best that she stays a few more hours so we can regulate her body temperature. She also hasn't wanted to eat for us. Why don't you call us back at 2?"
They explained to me that my cat might be hypo-thermic and that when she could come home, keeping her blood temperature up might require some work: hot lamps, extra blankets, heaters, feeding schedules. I began looking for kitten sweaters on the internet and planned to stop at walmart later to purchase a small heater. I started thinking of friends in town who could come to my apartment every couple of hours to feed her and make sure she was ok. I wasn't worried.
At my internship, I told the other interns that I thought she was going to come home. I told them how great she was the night before and how excited I was to get her back. & then, at noon, I got a call from the emergency vet:
"Hi, Miss Lluveras. We were trying to feed Mozzarella and noticed that her breathing pattern was off. We checked her heart rate and it seems to be beating at an unusual rhythm. We're afraid she may go into cardiac arrest."
"I'll be right there."
I told the interns that I was going to see her & that if my supervisor came looking for me, to tell him I was out to lunch.
When I got the vet, the veterinarian gave me a look.
When you watch dramatic films and a character is in the hospital, there is beautiful music. The doctor comes out, walking towards the character's family and friends but the look on their face says everything. The doctor puts her hand on the family member or friend's shoulder and says something. You can't hear what they're saying over the music but you know--the look was all you needed. The family and friends break down with the news and you know the character has died.
This look was the same look Mozzarella's vet gave me.
It broke my heart instantly, I felt like everything was spinning, the room was hot and suffocating.
"Right after we got off the phone, Mozzarella's heart stopped. We were able to revive her and we've got her hooked up to a monitor and a machine to help her breathe, but this is never good. I have to tell you, most people that are resuscitated after a cardiac arrest don't make it. This statistic is even less for pets, there is a 95% chance she won't survive."
They took me back to see her.
Mozzarella was hooked up to all sorts of machines. She had an IV in her neck, a tube down her throat, and she was covered in blankets and surrounded by heating disks and warm bottles of water.
I sat with her and started petting her and talking to her.
She began to rouse & I believed she knew I was there.
It was a slow afternoon in the emergency vet's office. I got to stay with her for two and a half hours and could have stayed longer had I not feared that my supervisor would notice I was gone.
Before I left, the vet checked Mozzarella's diagnostics.
Her temperature and heart rate were normal again.
I left the vet's office, promising to return after work.
When I came back, Mozzarella was napping in a heated cage. I went to pet her and my touch sent her reeling: she cried, she flailed in cage, she rolled over.
"Am I hurting her?" I asked the vets.
"Probably not. It seems like she's sustained some brain damage from going into cardiac arrest. Her reaction is just because her neurological system is out of whack."
This was the moment that I realized Mozzarella was not going to be ok.
I talked to my parents. My dad was impatient--I was spending a lot of money, money I was supposed to be putting away as a post graduation cushion, to save a cat I'd only had for 6 weeks. He demanded the vet's number.
After speaking with the vet, my dad was FURIOUS. He couldn't believe the amount of money I was spending.
"Don't you think I know how much it is? It kills me that it's costing so much but it's WORTH IT to me if I can save her!" I sobbed.
My dad took a moment to respond, "Baby, I'm sorry. I know you love your cat. I love you because you have such a big heart, because you love things so genuinely and thoroughly. Money is just money. It's not that. What hurts me is that I'm afraid the vets are taking advantage of you because you love her. I believe they know there isn't anything that can be done for her now but they're allowing you to keep her there because it pays their bills. It hurts me to not be there. It hurts me that you're alone there and going through this alone. It hurts me to think of you waiting for bad news that they know is inevitable. If you need to keep her there, spend as much as you need. I just want you to be prepared for the possibility that she won't make it--because the odds are that she won't. The vet told me just now that she isn't likely to make it through the night."
My dad is suspicious of all professionals--doctors, lawyers, veterinarians, mechanics--everyone who has some specialized knowledge that is in their benefit not to share. I wrote off his paranoia but listened to what he was saying; the vet told my dad Mozzarella probably wouldn't make it through the evening. It all but killed me. The very thing I'd been hearing for DAYS, finally coming out of the mouth of the person I trusted the most in this world.
I finally had to confront the fact that my cat was dying & there wasn't much I could do for her.
& so, I called my mom to tell her that Mozzarella was likely going to die that night.
"Lauren, if she's going to die, don't let it be there. She needs to be home with you. I think it's important."
I cried, hysterically.
"I'm going to come to you. I know this is hard, you don't need to go through it alone."
My mom lives 2.5 hours away and I urged her not to make the drive. She said she was already on her way and hung up.
On her drive, my mom had a change of heart. She decided we were going to try to fight it & get Mozzarella through the night on our own. She thought we could get her to my mom's hometown in the morning to a "better" vet.
I told my mom that I believed this was the WORST idea & the vets had taken great care of Mozzarella. My mom ignored me.
So we picked her up. My mom said she needed to get some things from WalMart to get Mozzarella through. I angrily reminded how dumb her idea was.
She went, nonetheless & left Mozzarella and I in the car.
Mozzarella snuggled close to me and cried a little. She looked at me and cried even louder. I began petting her and she quieted down.
Her cries became muffled, less frequent. I felt her breathing slow.
This was honestly the most intimate moment of my life: I loved her and I knew she loved me. It felt like the air got heavier around me as I filled with immense sorrow--she was dying in my arms.
I hated that this was all happening in a WalMart parking lot.
You never imagine your most personal moments happening like that, but in the end, that's what it was:
my cat and I, alone in a Prius in a WalMart parking lot at 11:40 in the evening on a Wednesday in June.
I told my mom the bad news when she got back to the car: Mozzarella was dead.
She wrapped Mozzarella up in a blanket and handed her back to me, we drove my back my apartment and my mom told me she would take Mozzarella home and bury her.
We talked for a couple of hours about my cat. How great she was. How full of fire and happiness she was.
She was absolutely all of those things.
Mozzarella was a dare devil. She wasn't afraid to climb anything or jump off when she was finished.
She didn't like toys but loved to harass Shakespeare while he was napping and loved to scratch people and things. She loved eating. Mozzarella hated to not be the center of attention; she would fuss at me while I ate, while I cooked or dressed or groomed. She followed me from room to room and more than once tried to crawl into my briefcase so she could go to work with me. She was almost successful at this once but came out of my briefcase during my drive to work to lay on my lap.
She loved to cuddle. She would lay directly over my heart while I watched TV or perch on my shoulders. She would find the tiniest curve of your body when you slept and crawl underneath it.
She was warm and fuzzy and devoted.
Having her made Shakespeare happy: he put on weight and didn't seem excited to see me when I'd get home because he wasn't lonely anymore.
Mozzarella loved to lay in direct sunlight; her favorite place in my apartment was the rug in front of my glass patio doors. She would curl up in the sun and bat at her shadow or the shadows of trees.
She got her claws stuck in Shakespeare's mustache more than once.
Shakespeare would often groom Mozzarella because she wasn't the best at keeping herself clean. She was patient with him, and patient with me when I'd have to give real baths because she was sticky from jumping into my pint of gelato or from laying on top of her tuna to keep Shakespeare from getting to it.
She would often steal food directly from plate; once dragging off and eating an entire tortilla.
I can't quantify how much I loved her & how sincerely I've felt her loss these last couple of days.
It is still really painful to walk past her litter box or her food and water bowls. I ache when I look at her pictures or think of her precious face.
& now, probably more kitten pictures than you ever cared to see in your lifetime.
This is, basically, my favorite picture. I loved this face.
Using Shakespeare as a chair.
Trying to sneak to work with me.
You're going to have to forgive how awful I look. It's first thing in the morning & she woke up with that face, every single day.
Both of us kissing our dog. :)
Batting her own tail, by the windows.
Looking alarmed, as per usual.
One of many vet visits.
Our last picture together, the night before she got terminally ill.
Napping with Shakespeare, her very last photo.
My new goal in life is to open a small coffee house/library/evening bar named Mozzarella Fitzgerald's.