Last week, I asked you for your advice on preparing for my sweet Kissy‘s upcoming amputation. You gave me lots of wonderful tips, and I felt very well prepared for the surgery and her postoperative recovery.
On Monday, I brought her in for amputation. We did pre-anesthetic blood testing to make sure nothing was abnormal. The veterinarian said everything looked great. (I’ll refer to the veterinarian only as "Dr. Alden" because I believe she did a great job and don’t want anyone flaming her.) Kissy’s packed cell volume — the percentage of red blood cells in a blood sample — was 37 percent, which is well within the normal range.
Dr. Alden allowed me to watch the surgery and document it in photographs, which was a tremendous privilege. It was beautiful to see her loving on Kissy while Sam, the tech, induced anesthesia, stroking her head and cooing sweet words in her ear as she slowly descended into that deep, painless sleep.
I won’t show you photos from the surgery itself, because an amputation is not a pretty thing to watch. But I will say that as I stood there observing — as Dr. Alden explained the procedure and showed me various anatomical features, and Sam carefully monitored Kissy’s vital signs to ensure that her anesthesia was deep enough and her condition remained stable — I had no doubt that these women brought a deep-seated love and compassion for animalkind to the table, along with their amazing knowledge and skills.
The surgery was over around 10 a.m. I was there as Kissy began to come out of anesthesia, stroking her head, telling her how well she did and what a brave kitty she was, and giving her lots of love and affection, even if she wasn’t awake enough to perceive it on a conscious level.
After they moved Kissy to a recovery cage and surrounded her with warm saline bottles to keep her body temperature up, I left to do some errands. Dr. Alden said I’d be able to pick her up around 5 p.m.
Three hours later, as I was finishing my last load of laundry, I checked my phone and realized I’d gotten two voicemails from Dr. Alden, about half an hour apart. "Oh, ****," I thought. The first voicemail said Kissy had had some seizure-like activity, but was doing okay at that moment. The second was much more dire: Kissy had come out of anesthesia enough to start thrashing around in her cage, which is almost always a sign of severe pain. The techs physically restrained her to keep her from injuring herself, and the vet administered a shot of Buprenex to ease the pain.
Then things took a turn for the worse. Her heart rate had increased to 160 beats per minute (it had been lower than that because of sedation) and the pulses in her limbs felt weaker. They drew more blood and found that Kissy’s packed cell volume had decreased by 10 percent, which indicated a high probability of abnormal bleeding.
Dr. Alden re-opened the incision to ensure that none of the ligatures on Kissy’s femoral artery or other blood vessels had come undone. Although there was a lot of blood at the wound site — probably as a result of all the thrashing around — there was no evidence of active bleeding, and all the sutures were still tight. She recommended that I take Kissy to a veterinary referral clinic in Scarborough, about eight miles away, where they could do more extensive monitoring; if I got back to the vet in half an hour or so, Kissy would be ready to go. I took a few minutes to set up a ChipIn page on the Web for her extra expenses. I’d budgeted for the surgery, but I knew from my experience with my beautiful Dahlia earlier this year that urgent-care bills can add up really fast.
As I was driving across town to pick Kissy up, I was just around the corner from the vet’s office when I got another call: Kissy had continued to go downhill, and Dr. Alden was concerned enough that she’d just sent her to the referral clinic in the care of two techs. I dashed in for a quick consultation with Dr. Alden before I set off to follow the techs to Scarborough.
When I pulled into the specialty clinic about 15 minutes later, I was halfway to the door when the techs, Renee and Sam, came out to meet me. "I’ve got some bad news," Renee said. "She didn’t make it." Sam, who had assisted in the surgery that morning, was in tears.
I stood there in shock for a second. "Oh my God," I whispered. I felt the tears welling up in my eyes.
"I was driving," said Renee. "She crashed about halfway here. We did everything we could …"
"I know you did," I said as the tears started to flow. Renee hugged me and I said, "Thank you so much for trying."
"Thank you so much," I said to Sam as I reached out to hug her, too.
I felt like I’d been hit by a truck. But numbness had overtaken me by that point.
"Do you want to see her?" Renee asked.
I nodded, and they escorted me inside.
One of the referral clinic’s vet techs took me to an exam room and brought Kissy’s body to me. She was wrapped in a huge, dark-blue fleece blanket, and all I could see was her head and shoulders. She looked just the way I’d left her.
Once I was alone in the room, I broke down and wept like I haven’t wept in years. I stroked Kissy’s beautiful, soft fur, and told her how sorry I was, that all I’d wanted for her was a happy, pain-free life, and that I had no idea that this operation — or the drugs, or the pain, or something none of us could ever have foreseen like a blood clot or a ruptured aneurysm or whatever — was going to kill her. I told her it was okay for her soul to leave, that her body was dead now — I worried that with her sudden death, maybe her soul wouldn’t have fully realized that she was dead, and I didn’t want her to stay with her body, confused about what was going on. And I cried. And cried.
Deaths resulting from complications of surgery or anesthesia are extremely rare. But that’s small comfort when your cat is that one in a million for whom everything goes wrong.
I finally pulled myself together enough to arrange for her cremation. As soon as I left the building, I called my mother. Sometimes you just need your mother, and this sure as hell was one of those times. Mom’s compassionate words soothed my aching heart and grounded me enough that I felt like I’d be safe to drive back home.
Once there, I ended the ChipIn service and then made the hardest call I’ve probably ever made in my life. I called Robin. I’d adopted Kissy from her rescue, Kitten Associates, just six months ago, and Robin had been following Kissy’s progress in adjusting to her new home, standing by me through the tough times and celebrating every milestone along with me. We cried, and cried some more. Both of us wished we lived closer so we could grieve and celebrate Kissy’s amazing but entirely too short life together.
Dr. Alden called me around 6:15 p.m. after she’d finished her day’s appointments and offered me her condolences. I thanked her and said I couldn’t have wished for better care for my sweet Kissy. I wasn’t lying. I’m so profoundly grateful for the compassion and kindness everybody at the vet’s office has shown me after Kissy’s tragic death.
After a night of alternating between shock and tears and trying unsuccessfully to distract myself by watching episodes RuPaul’s Drag Race on Netflix, I fell into a blessedly dreamless sleep.
This morning, I woke up knowing what I had to do.
I’d already budgeted for Kissy’s surgery, so I have the resources available to take care of that. Kissy’s friends and fans contributed $360.50 to the ChipIn for Kissy’s extra care. The best way I could think of to honor Kissy’s life and the wonderful work that Robin and her friend Maria do to save cats from high-kill shelters in the deep South was to donate that money to Kitten Associates. They saved Kissy’s life and the lives of her newborn kittens. If it hadn’t been for them, I would never have had the privilege of loving and meeting Kissy.
If you have the resources and you’d like to do something in Kissy’s honor, I’d be delighted if you’d make a donation to Kitten Associates, so it can continue to save cats’ lives and bring families together for a lifetime of love.
This article was reprinted from a post in JaneA’s blog, Paws and Effect, with her permission. Photos by JaneA Kelley.