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Thursday, August 24, 2006

Remembering Vuvuc 

Vuvuc the Cat
Vuvuc the Cat, on its window sill

Vuvuc began as a star-crossed Scrabble play, met us as a cat in the middle of its life, and died today after a sudden illness.

When we were both avidly playing Scrabble, The Lovely One, in a desperate end-of-rack fit, played "VUVUC" on the board and said if I challenged it, she'd use it as the name of our firstborn.

We took in a fluffy cat in need of a home not long after we married. And hey, we already had a name waiting for it!

Vuvuc spent a few years as an indoor/outdoor cat, twice getting itself badly hurt. After that, it was an indoor cat. Then it managed to get cat diabetes. For the last three years of its life, the cat peacefully endured twice-daily insulin injections. For my part, I manfully endured the occasional bite or scratch to tell me when I had injected it wrong.

Vuvuc had charming habits: if we were late to wake up, it would chew on toes, then foreheads, to ensure our vital feeding function was fulfilled. During a period which I refer to as "the war of the litterboxes," Vuvuc managed to get us to send back three automatic litter boxes during the warranty period. After that, the warranty hadn't run out, we just gave up on automatic litter boxes.

But the cat had a disposition sweeter than crab apple jelly, fur softer than lamb's wool, and it purred at the slightest excuse. It spent much of its last 72 hours purring.

About a week ago, TLO noticed that Vuvuc had a slight tooth-chattering issue when it ate, and seemed to be having trouble with its dry cat food. We switched it to wet, and made a vet appointment for Monday. The cat had been losing a bit of weight in the last few months, but we assumed that meant we were on the right path with its diet; at seventeen pounds, it needed to lose a bit of weight.

By Monday, it was already obviously having a bit of real trouble, including trouble eating. The attending vet gave it an examination, and recommended a tooth cleaning, which required preliminary blood work, since tooth cleaning is done with the animal sedated.

I took the cat home. After a brief discussion, I brought the cat back in for the blood work that afternoon. It was already looking much worse: labored breathing, and now it couldn't move its hindquarters well. They took the blood sample, and I took the cat home.

Tuesday, the cat was worse: by now it had stopped eating completely, its hind legs were hardly in action, and it could no longer climb into its own litter box (which was just as messy as you would imagine). Its breathing was audible at all times that it wasn't purring. That evening the vet phoned us with the results from the blood work: not good. He wanted to see Vuvuc for an X-ray Wednesday morning.

The cat continued to get worse, and it was already at the point where "dead" was one of the few kinds of "worse" left. I was mildly surprised that it lived through the night.

I took the cat in for the X-ray, and Dr. Lam, the head vet, took a look. The cat was seriously ill; clearly worse during this appointment than previously. Before the cat went in, I asked what we would be learning from the X-ray.

And then it stopped. He showed me the blood results: there were indications of hyperthyroidism (probably the reason the cat was losing weight so easily), some sort of serious infection, early signs of liver shutdown, and anemia, which meant there was some sort of mystery blood loss. The list of blood test numbers in the normal range was far shorter than the list of numbers somewhere outside.

The first guess was a tumor. The blood loss could be explained by a ruptured tumor, which would now be the cause of the internal blood loss. The purpose of the X-ray was to find out where the tumor was. But the cat was now so weak that surviving any operation to excise a tumor was doubtful. After that, the hyperthyroidism would have to be chased down, and it was pure hope that the liver problems would go away after the tumor was out. The infection, presumably a side-effect of the tumor, could be fought with antibiotics. Meanwhile, something would have to be done about the failed hindquarters, which were likely the result of an errant blood clot. And the cat's diabetes would complicate things further.

There was little left to do. We had the option of choosing a series of veterinary procedures which were likely to either kill the cat, interfere with each other, or leave the cat crucially debilitated, or possibly some series of those outcomes over several weeks. Or we could let go. The cat was in distress, and its chances of getting better were near zero; its chances of returning to anything like a normal existence were even smaller.

I called TLO, and then left the cat at the vet while I went to pick her up. We petted the cat, and Dr. Lam described Vuvuc's situation to TLO. I signed the papers, and carried the cat into the surgery. TLO and I both petted the cat to the end.

Postscript from TLO:

Vuvuc, or "Wooly" as he was later nicknamed, was a wonderful cat. I've had many different cats from the time I was a child and I loved them all. However, Wooly was special. I'll miss him lying on my laptop, sitting on the newspaper, clicking his tongue at the birds out the window and so much more. It was very sad when our cat was diagnosed with diabetes because it meant he could not go outside anymore - the risk of serious injury was too great. So, although our cat enjoyed its time inside the house, I thought I'd include an excerpt from a poem that sums up his happiest moments:
Orchard's where I'd ruther be -
Needn't fence it in for me! -
Jes' the whole sky overhead,
And the whole airth underneath-
Sorto' so's a man kin breathe
Like he ort, and kindo' has
Elbow room to keerlessly
Sprawl out len'thways on the grass
-"Knee-Deep in June" by James Whitcomb Riley

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