There was actually a beautiful symmetry to it.
In the first year after bringing my cat, Clifford, home from the shelter, I had a pretty substantial knee surgery, one that would leave me in a significant amount of pain and relegated to my couch for four days. I learned in those days how supportive [read : unhealthily attached] Cliff was going to be – twice a day, he would efficiently combine his trips to his food dish, water bowl, and litter box in one loop, and then promptly jump back up next to me on the couch. No looking out the window, no sleeping elsewhere – he was at my side 23.9 hours a day.
Now, thirteen years later, it was my turn. Cliff needed to have emergency surgery to remove stones from his bladder. The procedure itself is usually routine, but with a seventeen year old cat, any kind of anesthesia is a risky proposition, and the recovery is going to be difficult.
As always, the instructions from the vet sound reasonable when you’re in their office, then as you’re driving home you start to wonder “Wait, how the fuck am I gonna do that?”
- No climbing or jumping – no stairs.
- No licking in the area of the incision.
- Antibiotics twice a day.
- Blood pressure meds once a day.
- Give pain medicine as needed.
The first two dictated that you must choose between locking your cat in an empty room to suffer alone, or choose to incarcerate yourself with them in said room. Like anyone with a soul, I chose the latter.
The next two sound easy enough, until you get home and become cognizant of the fact that after the element of surprise of the first dose, you now need to somehow put something in a cat’s mouth three times a day that they don’t want there. No bueno.
The last one, though, is where I realized I was going to be unsure and confused. There is perhaps no greater exercise in searching for nuance than trying to ascertain if a cat is in pain. They instinctively hide any outward sign of weakness or discomfort.
This led me to countless frantic and worried exchanges (actually, it was pretty much just me rambling) with my very patient and loving girlfriend :
“Do you think he’s in pain?”
“I mean, he purred just now.”
“But he has to be in pain, right? They just cut open his goddamn bladder yesterday”
“But I don’t want to drug him up for no reason…”
“But I don’t want him to suffer…”
“Was he laying like that before? I think that’s new. What do you think that means?”
“Did he poop? Did he pee? Are you sure?”
On multiple occasions I found myself doing some CSI-level analysis of his litter, replete with flashlight, running my bare hand through it to detect moisture. At one point I’m pretty sure Cliff watched me and thought “dude, have some fucking dignity…”
Suddenly, I finally understood why new parents are so worn out all the time.
See, I always viewed the emotional drain of raising babies a lot like the critical consensus of Radiohead – I sincerely believe that it’s taxing, just like I sincerely believe that Radiohead is great; I just never really felt it personally.
While I could sit in an empty room and listen to “Kid A”, an hour later I would walk out thinking “yeah, I can see how people love it, but I don’t get it.” Likewise, I would watch parents of newborns circle over their children, a perpetual blur of wiping, watching, and worrying; while it certainly didn’t seem wrong, I couldn’t help but think that most of it wasn’t entirely necessary.. I mean, keep them fed, don’t let them hit their head or poke a finger in a socket…bing bang boom, you’ll have a toddler in a year or two, right? Logically, of course, I knew it was so much more than that, but I couldn’t feel it.
Now, yes, I feel it. After a week of obsessively analyzing every movement, noise, and, well, fluid that sprang forth from my Clifford, I have developed a much greater understanding and appreciation of you parents of little ones out there. My hat is off to you, living with that commitment at a much larger scale, for a much longer period. You’re welcome to come over and laugh at me when Tanktronic Jr. enters the world and I’m sorting through his poop under a microscope.