Day One: Sunday
“The good part is, you will be able to put them down humanely.”
I stared at the vet tech, put my hand over my mouth and choked on a sob. At eight weeks old, the kittens had contracted feline distemper, a virus that, with rare exceptions, is lethal in kittens. Mama cat had been adopted the day before and the antibodies from her breast milk had run their course. The kittens were defenseless.
“We call it the ‘wasting away disease,’” she said. “Their immune systems are simply too immature to fight it.”
When the tech took the kittens into the back to make them more comfortable with fluids and anti-nausea injections, I sank into a chair and cried, my mouth buried in the crook of my arm to muffle the sound of hysteria. A text from my mother read, “Best thing is to say goodbye.” Our family had dealt with distemper before. It was devastating.
I gathered up the kittens, the antibiotic I knew we had little hope of keeping in their violently churning tummies, paid the vet and went home to cry pitilessly into my husband’s shoulder. Once the kittens had fallen asleep, I began scouring the internet for information on Feline Panleukopenia. I shouldn’t have. It was horrifying. Nothing I read gave me any hope of them lasting more than three days; I understood then why the vet had only given me five days worth of medication. He knew they would be dead before it ran out.
Medical science told me to let them go. But I could not. My reading told me that the virus was like the parvo virus in dogs. Our family had dealt with parvo before, too. It required around-the-clock, intensive care, forced fluids and nutrition. And faith. Else, how could you spend hour after hour battling something you can’t see? If I could keep the kittens alive long enough to develop antibodies against the virus, they could make it. But first I had to take on fever spikes, drops in body temperature, shock and dehydration. So I held them while they shivered, tucked them inside my sweatshirt and cried streams of snot onto my sleeve. “I’m sorry,” I said, over and over. “You deserve better than this. Better than me.”
In-hospital care would have cost $500 per kitten, per day. It was simply not an option for us. I was eaten up with remorse and guilt.
Day Two: Monday
Every two hours, day and night, I gathered up the babies and squirted Pedialyte from a syringe into their tiny mouths. They shuddered and cried and I stroked their backs while I whispered, “Please don’t throw up. Please don’t throw up.” They did anyway. We took two trips, one in the morning and one at night, to the vet for fluids and anti-nausea injections. At 4:00AM, Nelly drank on her own. Nelly, who twelve hours before had convinced me of the doctor’s advice to let them go. Each time her body heaved to throw up, bloody water came out the other end.
“How long can I let them go on like this?” I asked my husband, a hand over my face to hide the ugliness of my agony.
“Until you know the medicine will or won’t work.”
With Nelly stabilizing, I had a bit of hope we could save at least one. The others fought through unbearable nausea and debilitating diarrhea, crying when their stomachs cramped hard enough to force thin, foamy water from their otherwise empty tummies.
My husband woke me between feedings. “What happened? Is everything okay?” I had been crying in my sleep.
Day Three: Tuesday
I took another sick day to nurse the kittens, sleeping while they slept. Two more trips to the vet (after a kind and generous gift from a Facebook friend I’d never even met, continued care was made much more doable) and countless attempts at peeling Nelly off my yoga pants when she’d scamper up them to perch on my shoulder like a parrot. The runt of the litter, it both surprised me and didn’t that she had such verve. Such fight. When she went into the litter box and, for the first time in days, did not cry, I clapped when she produced a real poop. No one has ever been so happy to see poop, ever. Twelve hours later, Hamilton followed suit.
Day Four: Wednesday
With two kittens stabilized and two still showing little progress, I had to go back to work, stomach sick from constant worry. Gentry wouldn’t eat and Holly wouldn’t engage. At lunch, I went home to do a round of fluids and food and as I cradled Gentry, I heard a sound – the slightest little hint, barely perceptible, that he had a stuffy nose. Kittens who can’t smell don’t eat. I ran to the bathroom where the Little Noses baby nose spray was from our last Mission Impossible: Kitten Rescue and dosed him up. By evening, he was going back for thirds.
Day Five: Thursday
Holly isn’t much for playing yet (aside from toying with the string on my sweatshirt) but she’s eating, drinking and cuddling – no longer choosing to slink off and sleep alone under the sofa. Nelly and Hamilton are driving. me. effing. crazy. Which is to say, they feel great. Gentry is getting there, too.
I told my boss that I was going to sleep through the night and start wearing eye makeup again, because I feel safe in saying, we did it, no more crying. Yeah, it will have to be bargain basement eye make-up after $850 in vet bills over four days, but ask me if that’s too much to pay not to have to euthanize four eight-week-old babies. Or don’t ask; just have a look for yourself.
Nelly & Hamilton (who still needs a mommy)
Holly & Gentry
And last but not least, Mama Nox, in her new home with her new favorite boy, Caleb. All but Hamilton have new homes to go to (as soon as they’re all better) but this adoption gives me the most joy. I worried and worried and worried (as I do) that Mama Cat wouldn’t find a home. But someone scooped her up into a loving home with a little boy who wants nothing more than a kitty of his own to sleep on his bed. My heart hurts, a little, with how happy that makes me.