How Not to Die After a Cat Claws the Living Hell Out of Your Face (Or Other Body Part)

I never thought I'd get my lip pierced at 35, but a friend's cat just did it for me.
Publish date:
January 22, 2015
cats, injuries, infections, Cat Scratch Fever

I like cats almost as much as I like dogs. I'm equally tickled by Internet videos of both species; I grew up with a big, stoic, orange cat named Knish; and I briefly had a cat in my early twenties, Sydney, who, sadly, I had to give away when I got engaged to Allergy McHistamine (but adorably, Sydney went to a good guy named, of all things, Sidney).

One of my favorite things about taking guitar lessons at my friend Colin's apartment (aside from working on becoming the headliner at a future Lilith Fair revival) is getting to hang out with his cat, Toco. Toco is a sweet, fat, social kitty who just sits on the arm of the couch, watching me make increasingly decent sounds, waiting for the occasional outstretched hand to rub his cute little head against.

So when Toco wasn't on the couch during my lesson yesterday, I asked Colin where he was. After a quick survey of the apartment, he deduced that Toco was probably on his roommate's bed — better sunlight back there.

I walked toward the roommate's open-doored bedroom, and there was Toco, lying there, being handsome as all get-out. He greeted me with sniffs and rubs, and he welcomed my petting. Then, I made my potentially fatal (and I mean that literally) mistake: I picked him up.

"Be careful," Colin warned from across the apartment. "He likes his back legs supported."

But it was too late. I wasn't cradling his back legs, and out of nervousness, Toco reached with his front paws for something secure to grasp onto. One of his claws punctured my lower lip, hooking all the way through.

Oh, so that's why I like dogs a little more than cats.

I hazily realized Toco was attached to my face, so I didn't want to make any hasty moves. I scooped up his back legs and slowly maneuvered his paw so his claw slid back through the two small holes it had created in my lip.

It hurt like hell, but I was relieved when I looked in the mirror and saw only two little specks of blood and a bit of swelling. I shrugged, put my guitar in its case, bid Colin and Toco a no-hard-feelings adieu, and went on my merry, slightly bloody way.

On my way to the subway, I sent a text to a small group of friends who fully expect to hear mundane shit about my life at any given moment.

"A cat just pierced my lip," I typed.

I thought I'd get a few lukewarm "that sucks" or "ouch" replies, but my friends were actually really concerned.

"Clean that shit! Cat wounds can get really infected," one friend replied. "I had to get an IV once."

"When my brother was about seven, he got really sick out of nowhere," another friend responded. "He got so bad so quickly that he was airlifted out of our town and taken to the nearest major city, where he was in intensive care for two weeks. The cause ended up being a scratch from a friend's cat that was so tiny the doctors didn't see it for three days."

Then Rachel chimed in: "Just Windex it."

Crap. I hadn't even rinsed the puncture wounds with water. At this point, I was standing on an above-ground subway platform with no access to first aid and was now fully convinced I was going to drop dead or become Catwoman within a matter of moments.

Rachel sent another message: "Marci, I just got in my mom's car, and this literally happened," followed by a photo of the Sirius screen.

Then she sent another: "I changed the station, and this happened for real."

I was off the train and walking toward my apartment at a quick-but-not-too-quick-because-I-was-carrying-a-guitar-on-my-back pace when Rachel sent one more photo of the next song that came on when she changed the station.

I'm not one to believe in signs from satellite radio services, but as soon as I got home, I basically drenched my lips in Neosporin and fell into G-hole, googling which zoonotic diseases can be caught from cats.

"Cat-scratch disease, also called bartonellosis, is by far the most common zoonotic disease associated with cats," I read on Cornell's College of Veterinary Medicine website. "Approximately 25,000 people are diagnosed every year in the United States."

I'm a person! In the United States! Oh no!

"Cat-scratch disease can occur when a person is bitten or scratched by an infected cat," the site explained, noting that even healthy cats, like Toco, could be infected with cat-scratch disease bacteria. "Healthy adults generally recover with no lasting effects, but it may take several months for the disease to go away completely. People with compromised immune systems may suffer more severe, even fatal, consequences."

I have an autoimmune disease! Oh no – squared!

Instead of panic-peeing all over my laptop, I remembered that I'm a 35-year-old adult with friends who are doctors and nurses, so I reached out to them for practical advice.

First, I texted my BFF, Betsy, a registered nurse, and asked her what to do.

"Swish salt water around in your mouth," Betsy recommended. "Neosporin on the outside."

Let's just say I have to get a new tube of Neosporin.

"I would see a doctor to assess for possible infection, rabies, etc., if the vaccination status isn't known," she continued. "It will probably be fine as long as you cleaned the hell out of it, but you should see a doctor just in case."

She also said, "Cats suck," but that's more of a personal opinion than a professional one.

I also reached out to my first love from back in middle school, Brian, to say goodbye and tell him that I wish things had ended differently between us.

Just kidding — he's a board-certified general surgeon and certified wound specialist these days.

"The most important thing to do is apply direct pressure to stop the bleeding," said Dr. Giordano. OMG, it's so weird to call him that. "Ice will also help control bleeding by causing vasoconstriction. If the bleeding doesn't stop or it appears to be pumping out in a pulsatile manner (arterial bleeding), go to the ER." I had to look up pulsatile, and luckily, it doesn't apply to my injury.

"As long as there is a single entrance and exit," which was the case with my wounds, "sutures will likely not be necessary unless you have uncontrolled bleeding," which was not the case with my wounds. I stopped bleeding around the time Rachel started sending me pictures of ominous songs.

"So is cat scratch fever really more than just a song by a huge asshole?" I asked him. "Is there any way to prevent it now that I have, in fact, been scratched by a cat?" And pretty brutally, I might add.

"Cat scratch fever is a real thing," he replied, "but there's no need to seek medical attention immediately because there is no prophylactic treatment. Only if you develop symptoms will you then be treated with antibiotics."

So over the next few days, I'll be vigilant, checking for symptoms like swollen lymph nodes, fever, headache, and more soreness and fatigue than I usually have. And if you ever get scratched — or friggin' stabbed in the face — by a cat, take my friends' advice and don't just blow it off.

I mean, don't use Windex on it, but don't blow it off.