“$150,” the woman insisted.
I squinted at her. “Really?”
“In Italy,” she said. “Full mouth extraction on my cat.” She paused. “And the vet didn’t even use anesthesia.”
Now I was extremely skeptical. How do you pull every tooth in a cat’s mouth without anesthesia? “They were falling out anyway,” she added helpfully. “He just kind of twisted and out they came.”
“OK, so that is pretty end-stage disease,” I told her. “I’d like to try and avoid that in this cat-” gesturing to the current patient, who had the beginnings of stomatitis, a very painful dental disease. “But it will be more than $150.”
“That’s OK,” she said, and leaned in. “I like you a whole lot better than that other vet. I’ll never go back.” She proceeded to tell me about her bad experience at another hospital. “I had a blocked cat, and all I had was $200. And they euthanized him!” She paused, and started to tear up. “I begged them to try something, to just try and drain his bladder or something, and they wouldn’t do it.”
“You know, I think they were just trying-” I started, but she wouldn’t let me finish. “I just wanted him to have a chance.”
It was an interesting thing to hear, given my week. A few days ago, I had a client who brought me a blocked cat. He was already beaten down by not being able to afford the emergency hospital estimate, and wanted to know what I could do for, ironically, $200.
The problem with blocked tomcats is, you really can’t do anything for $200. At the very least, they need a couple days in the hospital. This doesn’t include catheters, IV fluids, medications, radiographs, and the distinct possibility that despite all this they might still need surgery. It’s a bear to fix. I’ve been there, I’ve been that ER doctor, and I know because of my experience that sometimes euthanasia is the best option. It’s a terrible way to suffer.
But this client was tearful, and desperate to try something, so I told him against my better judgment I would at least try to empty the bladder. He knew it was a long shot, a very long shot, but it would at least give him time to try and figure out if he could work out a way to treat the cat properly. “And if not,” I told him very bluntly, “you should euthanize him.”
We kept the cat all day, and when he showed up that night he hadn’t done anything to try and find money for more care. “I hoped this would work,” he told me. We pulled the catheter. An hour later he called, and said the cat re-blocked.
So he euthanized him. And he thanked me for trying.
I didn’t get it, and I guess some part of me still doesn’t, because I’m looking at it from the cat’s point of view. I knew what was going to happen, I knew it was futile, and I felt bad putting the cat through it for no good reason. But then I had this woman today, who was so upset that she wasn’t given the choice, and it got me to thinking about Emmett and the hours writing prescriptions for chemo drugs and aspirating nodes for the same reason. There is always hope. And while I can gently try to guide people to reality, it’s not really my place to force them to stop hoping when they aren’t quite ready.