Here's a place to talk about the relationships in your life whenever you want.
On Christmas Day in 1993, my ever-graceful and elegant ass rode my new bike into a parked car, landed on the back windshield, busted my chin open, resulting in a beard of blood that I tried to keep from spilling all over my sweet new Christmas clothes as I hobbled home. I probably looked pretty bad-ass.
When my mother took me the emergency room, it was packed to the brim with babies. When my mother made small talk with their parents and inquired as to the ailments of their wee tots, she was told they had fevers. That’s it. Fevers. Not even high ones. Just regular-sized fevers. Not the bubonic plague or the flu or early symptoms of Ebola. I had a beard of blood streaming down my eight year old face and these babies were getting their fevers checked out ahead of me resulting in a six-hour wait for me. I was incensed.
Until last week, I have always given serious side-eye to people who freak out about the ailments of their children. I have scoffed loudly at signs on strollers that remind people to wash their hands before touching their babies.I have given unsolicited reminders that the entire population of the world descended from bubonic plague survivors. We’re tough. Germs are good for us. That fever is not that big of a deal.
Then last week, I came home from work with a killer headache and was ready to go to bed and feel sorry for myself when I found this:
Keith, my ornery and ill-behaved cat had knocked over a bottle of Advil that I had apparently failed to close all the way. Shame at my failure to kitty-proof the apartment washed over me. Having been at work all day, he could have knocked them over and eaten one at any point between 8:15 am and 6:00 pm, so it could have been too early to see any symptoms.
I make bad decisions a lot so my first thought was to search Google for answers to a potentially fatal threat to my cat. Tales of seizures, vomiting, insanity and death covered the message boards. But I eventually found a legitimate site that noted that the contents of Advil are highly toxic to cats, even if it’s just one tablet.
Now, as you will recall, this article started with me talking about babies so I understand that parents reading this site are already eye-rolling about my dumbass cat not being as important or as high up on the food/love chain as their baby. I understand and will understand even more if and when I have children. But for now, my cat is the creature for which I care the most, for which I am responsible, and to whom I feel a deep need to protect from danger.
I took Keith to the veterinarian immediately, crying my face off on the subway and trying to make him feel safe in his carrier, no small feat considering the sound and speed of NYC public transit.
The veterinarian was very gentle and concerned about my precious one, but told me that there were few signs that he had actually eaten one of the pills, like staining around the teeth or any apparent discomfort. She gave me three options for treatment just in case he had indeed swallowed the pill. The three options varied dramatically in intensity, cost, and level of precaution.
After a tearful fit holding Keith close, I chose the deluxe package where he stayed in the kitty hospital for three days where I could -- and did -- visit him daily while he was getting IV fluids and other magic vet medicine.
I had become the mom with the baby with the fever. And I’m sorry now that I ever scoffed at them. I’ve been informed that until you have children, there is a certain kind of intense, protective, and overwhelming love that you just can’t understand until you feel it for your own.
I don’t pretend to have that for Keith. I love Keith like kind of a crazy lady but there are certainly people that I recognize my loves for are more complex and reciprocal. If I ever know that kind of love for a child, I know that fevers are getting the deluxe, too.
What compelled me to have them do everything in their power for him, and at quite a cost, was not because I love him so much but because he loves me so much. He is utterly reliant on me and if I fail him, he will die. For me, doing anything short of everything to keep him safe from harm was part of the contract I entered with him when I took him home and agreed that he would be part of my family. I was ready to go to any lengths for even an imaginary ailment. And the truth is, I don’t really feel stupid for doing it.
I’ve known too many people for whom cats are “starter pets” until real estate, time, and money allow them to get dogs. I’ve seen long lines at the ASPCA of people surrendering their animals because it was less fun and more work than they imagined. I was raised by a mother who took in sick and dying animals that we nursed back to health so when people said to me during this episode, “It’s just a cat,” it was like they were speaking another language.
I’ve mostly heard this quote used in attempts to turn people vegan, but I think it says something important about the human relationship to animals. It’s from naturalist and author Henry Beston and he says of them, “They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.”
And when I chose to welcome someone into the net of life and time with me, I made a promise to care for him the best I could. To love him as much as I’m capable. And if that means being a broke for a few months, then so be it.
So to the parents I eye-rolled at, whose children came from either your bodies or from intense and dramatic adoption processes, I am sorry. That instinct, that impulse, that loving desire to protect can be annoying, but it’s also probably what got a bunch of our ancestors through disasters, and trauma, and the bubonic plague.
That and some badass cats that were killing the rats that spread it. Just sayin’.