my sweaty self, my gym bag, my cat

One of the things they always tell you in vet school is “don’t go on gut instinct alone.” And this is a good point, because you can’t really practice sound medicine based solely on intuition. You get a hunch, then you follow through with science to prove or disprove your hypothesis.

Most of the time, though, you’re right, even if you don’t want to be. Like the time I was patting Nuke on his side and felt a mass pushing back on my hand. “Splenic hemangiosarcoma,” my mind spit out, and an ultrasound confirmed this.


As did the fine needle aspirate when Emmett had lymphoma.


And the radiograph when Kekoa had bone cancer.


So when I got home from the gym today and Apollo was down in the hind end, dragging his limbs, I didn’t even stop to do a complete exam, never mind jump in the shower or even change. I did enough to know we needed to go stat, and we went straight into the car, my sweaty self, my gym bag, my cat.

So many things pointing to a saddle thrombus, and one thing that didn’t. And because we cling to the one thing that is off, the chance maybe we’re wrong in our suspicions, I decided that I would go from the clinic to the specialty hospital, because we were not sure and I wanted science to disprove my hypothesis, very much. My sweaty self, my gym bag, my cat, zipping along to the next stop.

Saddle thrombus, for those who aren’t aware, is a not-uncommon condition in cats with hyperthroidism and/or cardiac disease. It’s a big blood clot that lodges right in the part of the aorta that splits down each hind leg, and it’s a very, very unpleasant condition. Even more unpleasant than how I must be smelling at this point, which couldn’t have been great. I didn’t care.

The internal medicine specialist, doing what internal medicine specialists do, came up with a nice comprehensive estimate of all the things we could do, anticoagulants and catheters and needles, should our suspicions prove correct. The cardiologist performed an ultrasound, and his heart was definitely enlarged. Apollo’s legs were cold, his pulses nonexistent.

“You can do all these things,” he agreed. “Or not.”

“I’m trying to be realistic about what is going on,” I said. “I’m not wanting to put him through a lot of intensive interventions for another month at home before this happens again.”

The numbers, when you lay them out starkly, aren’t great. “Miracles happen,” the cardiologist said. He saw one, once.

And what I saw was this: my children, crying the next few nights as they wondered if Apollo was going to live. Visits to the hospital, where he stayed, unhappy and scared, with a 50/50 chance of making it out. The kids coming downstairs one morning next month to find him down again, dragging his hind end and yowling. One miracle against this likelihood.

My husband said, “I trust your judgment.”

I tell myself this all the time, and it’s a very personal belief but one I hold strongly: Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. And my gut instinct was telling me loud and clear as a bell: Come home. Your sweaty self, your gym bag, your cat, in the car, home. And it stinks because this is a case where you don’t have the luxury of proving or disproving your hypothesis, because you don’t get to go back in time to redo something if you made the wrong decision. Sometimes gut instinct is all you have.

It’s what also told me “there is no way you can do this yourself, even though you have been doing this professionally for a very long time,” so my friend Dr. Benson kindly agreed on zero notice to come out to my house after the kids said goodbye, and help him cross on over to KevinVille. While I arranged this all and paid for our diagnostics at the hospital, I stood in my ever increasing stinkiness and ugly cried in the lobby. I am an ugly crier. There is nothing to be done about this. And even though I’ve been through it a bajillion times, I still ugly cry because, well, it still sucks every time.

There was a ton of traffic on the way home, my sweaty self, my gym bag, my cat percolating in the car, so I had plenty of time to think back to the lovely 15 years we had together. Apollo outlived Nuke, Callie, Mulan, Emmett, a betta, and a hamster. He was a relic from another era, my first vet school pet. I thought he would live forever.


He didn’t like being alone, so we got him a buddy. They were inseparable. He has a lot of friends waiting for him tonight in Kevin’s abode.


We bought that couch in the late 90s. Don’t judge.

He never meowed singly, it was always in threes: meh-eh-eh? The third eh rising like a question, every time.

Are you up?

Got any popcorn?

This lap taken?

I’m so glad superstition did not keep me from adopting him oh so many eons ago. He brought me nothing but good luck, the sweetest cat I ever knew.

My sweet Apollo died today, and I am sad. My sweaty self, my gym bag… an empty pillow.

Meh eh eh? I love you.


Filed: Blog, Musings, Picks of the Litter Tagged: ,
  • Summer

    Holy crap. It’s 10:30 at night and I’m crying a little bit… OK, maybe a lot. I’m so sorry for your loss of Apollo. He seemed like a really cool cat, who had a great life!
    Sending you lots of hugs.

    • Thanks Summer. It was a rough night.

  • sportykitty

    I just wanted to say that I am sorry you lost your friend tonight.

    • Thanks so much. I appreciate it.

  • Sue W.

    I’ve had many reasons to cry, these last few days, but I didn’t. But Apollo, a cat I didn’t know, released the floodgates. It’s probably for the best. I’m so sorry about Apollo. My deepest condolences to you and your family. Your words are a painfully exquisite requiem.

    • Thanks so much Sue. I really appreciate it.

  • Julia

    I am so sorry.

  • Steph B.

    I’m so sorry to hear about Apollo. My thoughts are with you and your family.

    • Thank you Steph, I appreciate it.

  • Noelle

    I just lost my “relic from another era” this May, my tabby cat Edgar who went with me to college when I was 20 and complacently followed me around the midwest for the next 16 years through jobs and graduate school and back to the city we started out from. I have other pets (or rather they have me), but without Edgar my world is different, slightly skewed it seems.

    • That is very well put. It’s like losing part of your background noise, something you took for granted.

  • Seattle DogSpot

    I’m so sorry you’ve lost two of your pets this year. They were lucky to have you watching out for their best interests. I hope I can handle my pets’ last days as gracefully and lovingly as you did.

    • Thank you so much for your kind words, it means a lot.

  • Amanda Thompson Parks

    i’m so very very sorry.

    • Thank you Amanda, very much.

  • JaneK

    Oh Dr. V…… I am so sorry. That whole “putting a beloved through torture based on an at best 50/50 outcome” is exactly why I have done the same in the past. I am crying for you and your sadness. May the peace that comes with knowing you acted out of love for your sweet Apollo overwhelm you. Hugs to you and yours

    • Thank you so much Jane.

  • Lisa W

    Sue W said it better than I can. So very sorry about your boy. ๐Ÿ™ Sending you much, much love.

    • Thank you Lisa. It was a rough day for sure.

  • Guest

    I’m so sorry. We lost our “relic from another era” about 6 months, and yet I still look up and expect to see her scratching at the door our calling to the mice under the stove. We (the people and the animals) miss her desperately.
    You have my sincerest condolences.

    • Isn’t it weird how they live in our subconscious? It never really goes away.

  • Melody

    So sorry for your loss. Its never easy and shouldn’t be. And its the one last great selfless thing we can do for them

    • Thank you Melody. Trying to take comfort in the fact that I did enough to know it was the right thing, and no more than that.

  • Noelle

    I am so so sorry for your loss. my heart goes out to you and I am shedding tears for your sweet boy…

    • Thank you Noelle, it’s been a rough day.

  • Roxanne

    Oh, kid. I’m so very sorry for your loss. Sudden or not, it’s always hard. All hail Apollo.

  • ihavecatnyc

    I’m heartbroken for your loss and can’t imagine how you and your family are feeling. Apollo was so fortunate to have a mommy like you. (((hugs)))

    • Thank you so much. And we were lucky to have him.

  • Crista

    My heart goes out to you. Crying here. You were blessed to have shared this life.

    • Thanks Crista. You are right, we were very blessed.

  • So sorry for your loss, Dr. V. ๐Ÿ™

    • Thank you. I appreciate that.

  • carolinegolon

    Sending so much love to you, your family and to Apollo….up in KevinVille. xo.

    • Thanks C. Was really not expecting this one.

  • So sorry to hear about Apollo. It’s never an easy decision. Rest in Peace Apollo. Hugs to you & your family.

    • Thanks Luanne, I appreciate that.

  • Amy

    I am so sorry. And my current tears are why my Mother refuses to have any more animals. She doesn’t want the heartbreak. Amy

    • My mom keeps saying the same thing, but oh, how the heartbreak is worth it for the rest.

  • My heart is sad for you all. Saying goodbye to a family member is brutal. –hugs

    • Thanks so much. We’re taking any and all hugs here.

  • Suzanne

    I am so sorry for your loss. Play hard at the Bridge, sweet Apollo.

    • Yup, laser pointers galore. And popcorn.

  • Val

    Love and hugs to you and your family <3

  • It’s so hard to lose those old friends from another time in our life, we have to let that tie go along with letting them go. So glad he found you and had a GREAT life. There is nothing comforting enough to say that you don’t know already, just that I’m glad you found out about Kevin so you know where Apollo went. Six house panthers here are purring their soul brother’s spirit home, and he’ll be met by some of the best, all whole and healthy and happy.

    • You’re right, there’s something especially poignant about letting go of something that represents another part of your past. I think that is making this harder.

  • Connie KittyBlog

    the ugly cry really needs to be renamed, especially when done at the behalf of a pet.. To me, that is one of the most beautiful things.. Knowing a pet was loved that much.

    My deepest condolences on Apollo’s passing, and many purrs of healing for you and your family during this difficult time.

    • The ‘not ugly’ cry. The ‘from the belly’ cry. I will think on it.

  • Shawn Finch, DVM

    I am so so sorry to hear this. Love and hugs to you and your family.

    • Thanks Dr. Finch, it means a lot.

  • kamnel

    You said this all that time ago, and I’ll say it to you – you did the right thing. It is true – just because you can doesn’t mean you should. I’m so so sorry.

    And while gut instinct isn’t always right, I think when it comes to your animals, there’s things you just know. Other animals, maybe not, but your own – yes. Many times, yes.

    He was an awesome not-exactly-black black cat.

    • *sigh* Thanks Kam. So so sucky.

  • Megumi

    I’m so sorry Dr. V. It’s all so sudden – even though it truly was the right thing to do for Apollo, it does not make the pain any less or take away the shock. My heart is with you.

    • Thanks Meg. So sudden.

  • threenorns

    ugly cries are the truest bec they come from so deep in the soul you’ve stopped caring what other ppl think when they see it.

    • That’s a really good point. I like that perspective.

  • Megan Taliaferro

    I’m so, so sorry for your loss, Dr. V.

    • Thanks Megan, that means a lot.

  • Michelle Cotton

    Hugs Dr. V. It never gets easier. And every time I lose one I say that’s it, never again. But here I am with 3 furry babies in the house. It never gets easier, but the time with them is always worth the heartache. I’m so sorry for your loss.

    • It is absolutely worth it. Despite this cost.

  • Tara Flynn

    Dr. V,
    So sorry for Apollo’s loss. We lost our first cat to a saddle thrombus when I was 16 (the cat sitter found him down in back while we were away on vacation), and the experience helped solidify my resolve to become a vet. He was also the sweetest cat, only 5 years old.

    I hate this disease. I felt physically ill, a clenching in my stomach when you said Apollo was down in the hind.

    I started reading Pawcurious in June of 2009 and know you have dealt with more than your share of heartbreak over the last few years, but this one hit home especially. Many kisses to poor Apollo kitten, and may he receive many more from Mulan, Emmett, Callie, and Kekoa on the other side.

    • I know exactly what you are talking about. The second I saw him dragging his legs I did the same thing, the stomach lurch, the @$#%@#%#@%, the resignation, all in one second.

  • Dr. Nancy Kay

    So very sorry for your loss. My heartfelt very best wishes are with you and I send you a big hug. Dr. Nancy Kay

    • Thanks Dr. Kay, I truly appreciate it.

  • Emily K

    I am so, so sorry for your loss(es). I am also a veterinarian and this is the worst emergency I can see and I have nightmares of this happening to my kitty. You made the right decision. I too have seen one miracle cat become completely normal but I personally would not be able to live with the idea of a ticking time bomb purring against me and constantly dreading it happening again. Again, I am so sorry and your family will absolutely be in my thoughts. You are not alone in this.

    • I really appreciate your response and insight. I was sitting there with the internal med doc, who naturally assumed I wanted to treat- I really just wanted confirmation of diagnosis- and it was really hard to say, “I don’t want to do that.” I am confident in my choice but I really could appreciate how much pressure clients must be under in those circumstances.

  • Rose D.

    I am so sorry. He looks so like my Eesa. He is with his friends, but that doesn’t make it any better.

    • Thanks Rose. Rough night.

  • k9diabetes

    Ah, Dr. V, I’m so very sorry… no matter how much time we have, it is never enough. And it is especially hard when it is something so traumatic and abrupt like this. For lack of a better word, I have been “fortunate” to have had some time to prepare for the passing of the dogs and cats in my life. Will be keeping an eye on my 17-year-old hyperthyroid kitty Katie and sending a scratch behind the ears to Apollo.

    • There’s good and bad in both, for sure. But I’m not a fan of the abrupt loss. :/

  • mytega

    I’m so sorry for your loss. Hugs and strength to you and your family.

    • Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

  • Chintan Vora

    Sorry about your loss Dr.V. I just cant imagine how it feels… but i know one day i will also have to face it. It just makes me cry even to think of it. Stay strong.

    • Thank you so much. It is awful, but then again it is life and we just do the best we can.

  • kgseymour

    I love that you shared his distinct voice — I wish I’d taken more care to memorize Meeko’s meow before we had to let her go, because now, I just can’t bring it to mind, and it really hurts to know I’ve lost that memory. I’m thinking of you lots, and I’m proud of you for making what was undoubtedly the right decision. Hugs to you.

    • Thanks K. I had the Backer pass in hand but in retrospect, it’s a really good thing I didn’t go.

  • TitaniaFrost

    I’ve said goodbye to 5 cats in less than 2 years, 3 of them being within the last 4 months. All due to age related diseases, one of them being congestive heart failure and also a beautiful black kitty. I’m so sorry for your loss and I’m so glad that you had 15 years with him. I’m sure he was too.

    • Aw man, what a horrible run of loss. I’m sorry.

  • Stephanie

    My heart goes out to you. Thank you for writing and sharing this. I found out two days ago that my cat has pharyngeal lymphoma and I have been a wreck. She is back at home, her old self, and I am giving her prednisone. I cannot really afford chemo, but I am still wondering if I should do it. It has all been a shock and it is helpful to read how a vet reacts when it is her own pet.

    • Aw man Stephanie, I’m so sorry. Chemo is so rough. Just know that when we say “there is no right/wrong” we really mean it. Do what you think it right, and sometimes doing less IS right.

  • Jamie Rose

    I am so sorry, Dr. V. ๐Ÿ™

    Thank you for sharing your life, the good and the bad. We lost a cat 8 years or so ago now…. and we thought he had just had a stroke of some sort. When we found him, he was panting very heavily, his hind legs were cold and he could not move them. By the time we had found him (he was hiding under the couch and we don’t know how long he was there.) and called the emergency vet… he took his last breath in front of us. (after biting my Husband, when he was trying to get him out from hiding under the couch.) I never would have known it was probably saddle thrombus but from this post.

    I also found out that our first dog had cancer (splenic hemangiosarcoma) when I pet his side and it was hard as a rock. I had no idea what it was at the time however. He lived only 6 weeks after having surgery to remove it. If I had known then, what I know now… i wouldn’t have even put him through that.

    Again thank you for sharing your life stories… and I am so very sorry for another loss in such a short period of time.

    • Well there you go, that sure does sound like it. How weird that we’ve both experienced the exact same crummy crummy conditions.

  • Deborah Mendez

    So sorry for your loss. My heart goes out to you and your family.

    • Thank you Deb. Poor kiddos are wrecked.

  • Cathey

    Dearest Dr. V, I know I can’t say anything that will make the sadness go away, but know that many of us out here in Blog-Reader-Land are sad with you and your dear family. And we hope you will come to a place where the memories will be fun again, just as Apollo was. Many hugs coming your way.

    • Thank you Cathey. I’ll take ’em all.

  • I am so terribly sorry… Black cats are awesome. More cat than other cats… Apollo had a good blessed life with you. But this is too much, too soon for you. So sorry. Hugs.

    • He was so totally awesome. I’m so bummed.

  • VetChangesWorld

    When Riley got sick 4 months ago, being a vet made some parts much harder. As soon as the ultrasound probe hit his belly and showed his huge, vaculoated liver tumor, I started crying. There was no buffer, no one to take the time to explain it in a gentle way, just all the terrible things that could happen hitting my mind at once.

    I knew we made the best decision we could each step of the way, but that didn’t stop me from feeling like I should be able to find the hail mary that would save him. I felt like I was failing by husband by not being able to make him better.

    Thank you for bearing your heart like this and reminding us that no matter how experienced a vet we are, in those last moments we’re just like anyone else about to loose an amazing friend forever.

    • Yep. I didn’t tell the specialty hospital I was a vet- I assumed it was on my chart when it wasn’t- so when they were saying the old “miracles happen” that was that. Actually, I knew when the intern did his exam and I asked him if he felt femoral pulses and he shook his head, 5 minutes into the visit.

  • Abby’s Mom

    I’m so sorry for your loss. What a hard decision to have to make for such a special cat. Apollo touched so many and I know will always be remembered fondly. I’m glad to hear he will be with his friend again. My thoughts are with you.

    • Thank you so much.

  • Ivy T

    I’m so sorry for your loss… it seems like too many in too short a time. But when I think that Apollo was around for 15 years… that is quite a run and all that time with you, lucky girl!

    My feline girl is going on 18 years (I’ve had her since she was 8 weeks old) and every time she is slow to meals or limps, I jump, wondering if her time is coming to an end. So, I empathize with your loss and am sending kind thoughts your way. I hope the coming days are gentle on you and your family.

    • Thank you Ivy. I appreciate that.

  • Shadowsrider

    Almost a year ago I had to make the decision for our lovely cat, Katana. (Congestive Heart Failure) The right decisions are always hard. The more the action tears at your heart, the more you know it was the right one for the pet. Still miss my sassy green-eyed kitty, but I believe they live on in spirit form. Some visit us when we need them, some wait on the other side for us, but we will see them all again. So sorry for your loos, for you and your family. :'(

    • Thank you. I kept asking the universe to just once spare me cancer in my pets but this wasn’t any better.

  • CaliDiva

    I am so so sorry. Those are the only words that anyone can say when this happens. It truly hurts and Kevinville just got that much sweeter. Hugs to you and your family. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Thank you. I appreciate that.

  • Michelle S

    Oh, Dr. V., my heart aches for you. I’m so very sorry!

    Three weeks ago today, I was suddenly faced with the decision to either rush Simon to the ER/Specialist Center, or to let him go. Simon was the cat that made me a cat person, the catalyst for years of rescue work, and the reason I was able to open my heart and home to four more FIV+ boys that were out of options.

    When I set out to adopt a cat, I wanted a kitty that had little chance of adoption. FIV+, unsocial, and sporting a horrible looking diseased left eye, Simon didn’t have many options, and thatโ€™s exactly why I adopted him. After two unsuccessful surgeries, the diseased eye was removed and Simonโ€™s health improved dramatically, as did his social skills. Simon became the light of my life, and the heartbeat of this household. Letting him go was one of the most devastating experiences of my life; especially after losing three of my other FIV+ boys in the preceding fourteen months.

    Ten months ago when all of this started, a particularly compassionate ER Vet told me that we are treating the treatable. While those words have helped me considerably, they did nothing to alleviate my feelings of guilt after Simon was gone. What if I made the wrong decision?

    I’m telling you all of this because even in your time of loss and pain, I wanted you to know what an impact your words made today.

    “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”

    Even though a part of me knew that I made the right decision, reading this truly lifted much of the burden of doubt. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

    Your posts about Apollo were some of my favorites. My thoughts are with you and your family…

    • I really appreciate you taking the time to share that. It means a lot to me. Thank you, so much. And I am very sorry about Simon as well.

  • stinapag

    Oh, I’m so very, very sorry. I have a major soft spot for black kitty cats. Zeus and Athena came into my life when I met my husband, and I am certain they welcome Apollo onto Mt. Olympus with the honors he deserved.

    • That’s a great image. Regal Apollo reigning down on us, he would like that.

  • Catie

    I’m so sorry your loss of your sweet family member Apollo. My heart goes out to you and the other members of your family…especially the fur babies. This situation must leave them a bit confused. When we lost Gromit (my boy cat/Buddha), Chickie (my girl cat/princess) wandered the house calling for him for over 3 months. I’m sending you virtual hugs to add to you and all in your family. I hope it helps the healing a bit.

    • It does help Catie. Thank you so much.

  • KolchakPuggle

    Once, I was having the most serious cry I’ve ever had. I made an off the cuff remark to my Grandmother that I was such an ugly crier and she explained that ugly cries are actually the most beautiful of all because the uglier it gets, the more love you’re pouring into it.

    We’ve come to love Apollo through you and know that the void he will leave in your life is far larger than the space he hogged on your lap. He was so lucky to have come into your life and just as lucky that you allowed him to leave it with grace. You are an amazing lady.