Monday, 28 April 2014

Nine Lives

Bush the Cat came to the house eleven years ago, during the invasion of Iraq led by his namesake George W Bush. He and his siblings, Uday and Qusay (named after the sons of Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein, all of whom met with a rather tragic ending) and a female kitten, were the products of a promiscuous female stray cat and an anonymous paramour who found my shoe cupboard under the stairs an ideal place to give birth to her litter. She stayed around long enough to nurse her kittens before disappearing once more into the streets, responding to the call of the wild, followed by Uday who was beginning to discover the use of his legs.

Bush however, stayed on with his siblings, regarding my house as his rightful abode, fed by a regular supply of branded cat food as if he were some pedigree. Which of course he isn't. Far from it. In appearance, Bush is just your run of the mill tabby, and compared to his siblings, actually on the ugly side. Nevertheless, in his heyday, with his long, slim torso, glossy fur, extra long tail and the face like a miniature lion from the Masai Mara, Bush was quite the Tom Cat of the neighbourhood and a fierce rival to his brother Qusay. And a miao that was completely devoid of any aesthetic value. Bad tempered, demanding and horribly loud.

And for a few years, he was indeed the king of the little street where I live. During the day, in the heat of the sunshine, he would spend his time stretched out on the cool stone slabs beneath the gazebo. In the evenings, he would prowl the neighbourhood, climbing from roof to roof and tracing the gutters, marking territory wherever he went. During mating season one could hear his miaoing all night long, usually followed by the most horrendous racket of bloodcurdling cat fights that went on until the early hours of the morning. And each mating season he would come home with some wound or another - a bleeding paw, a lopsided ear, bald fur patches on his back - like some war trophies.

Until one day, I thought it best to put an end to his male shenanigans once and for all, for his safety and the sanity of the household.  And soon, Bush and his siblings displayed a more house friendly temperament. After a few unsuccessful fights, Bush's lack of male drive kept him at home more and more, reducing his territory to the front part of the house and the back garden where he would spend his time eyeing the koi swimming in the pond. The farthest he would venture to was the nextdoor neighbour's rooftop.
Eleven years on, Bush is still around, though his face has become a lot uglier with age, his fur rather scraggy and he has lost a lot of his muscles that were his trademark. Until one day recently, he fell sick. It was just a cold, as his nose was stuffy and had gunk coming out of it. Dr Gustav, the Vet, and the one who gelded him, was called immediately and prescribed him antibiotics and some vitamin shots. But he had difficulty in breathing, lost his appetite and missed out a couple of day's worth of eating and drinking. When he decided to lie down in a corner and had tears coming out of his eyes and green snot oozing from his nose, I knew that it was a lot more serious than just a nasty cold. I took him to Dr Gustav for a thorough check up and a stay at the clinic.

Bush was severely dehydrated and he was losing his consciousness. In only a couple of days he seemed to have lost a lot of weight, had no energy and was unusually quiet. In human terms, Bush would be the equivalent of a seventy-seven year old man. His test results showed that he was not only severely dehydrated but he has a chronic kidney disease. Something that he must have been suffering from for a while now, but undetected, because I don't speak cat language. Perhaps he's been complaining about it for a while, but his ear piercing screeches sounded all the same to me, which I put down as his usual bad tempered self.

But there it is. The cat is dying, there's no doubt about it. Both test results and his USG showed that his kidneys were not only malfunctioning, they seemed to have disappeared altogether. And his liver was swollen to twice its normal size. My relative suggested I put him to sleep and out of his misery, for his sake. The cat was old, for goodness sake. Dr Gustav agreed that prognosis was bad, but he was not into putting animals down. I would have to take him elsewhere.

I asked him what could be done to help Bush, as I wasn't sure whether he would be ready to leave this world. Besides, I wasn't ready to let this ugly, bad tempered cat, out of my life. Apart from injecting him with fluids, treating him with a nebuliser so he could breathe, and giving him antibiotics, there wasn't much to be done. But dr Gustav the vet, had also taken up a course in acupuncture and had began to take in human patients desperate enough to be treated by a vet. He offered to experiment on Bush, by treating him with acupuncture for three minutes a day. He had also just bought himself a new-fangled machine that could feed ion into the skin to help wounds heal quicker. The machine is also good if you want to get rid of wrinkles.

I agreed. After all, what else was there to do?  If the cat had to go, at least it wasn't because he was in pain, dehydrated or not being able to breathe. It would be because his body finally gave up on him, and we had tried everything to make him better.

The first time the vet stuck tiny needles into him, Bush gave one of his ugly sounding miaows. A good sign, I thought. After a few days of treatment, the USG still couldn't make out the shapes of his kidneys, but he didn't show signs of giving up. If he were human, dr Gustav observed, he would be six foot under. As it was, Bush's condition improved considerably. After a week, he was eating and drinking on his own. I decided to take him home. He went straight to the pond, drank a big gulp of water and watched the koi swim. Moreover, he had found his voice - the loud, demanding sound that was ugly as sin but music to my ears, nevertheless.

My cat it seems, really has nine lives.


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