Playing Doctor

Initial Visit?

Monday, May 2

Le Petit Chat. Il Est Mort.

Driving home, I found the thing that every cat owner dreads most; on the road in front of my house lay an unmoving furry object.

Luckily, I don’t own a cat.

I drove up next to it and pulled over. I wasn’t sure if it was dead or simply sleeping—this is The South, dogs and cats sleep on the road—so I called its name, ‘Kitty, Kitty.’

It didn’t move, so I got out of my car and crouched next to it; its eyes were closed and its tongue hung halfway out its mouth, neither one very helpful for figuring out if it was dead or just sleeping. It had not breathed since I started examining it, and then I noticed there was about a tablespoon of dark fluid seeping from its anus. That was a better indication that it was dead.

My neighbor has a fair number of cats, and though I did not recognize this as one of them, I figured there was a good chance it belonged to her. I was going to leave my car next to the cat, but was afraid someone would have to run over the cat to get around it, so I parked my car and went next door.

‘Hi, Erik, how are you?’
‘I’m doing pretty good, and you?’
‘Um, there’s a cat that got hit in front of my house. I didn’t recognize it, but was afraid it might be one of yours.’

We are not overly close neighbors. We are what I have heard a comedian refer to as Hey Neighbors. Every time you see a Hey Neighbor you say ‘Hey’ but that is as far as the conversation goes. We have spoken a few times, like when the peeping tom was terrorizing the neighborhood last year and when she put up a fence along our shared property line. When I leave town, I give her my contact numbers. When her kids wreck their skateboards in front of my house, I offer to get their mother or call an ambulance. But that is about as far as it goes.

But when we approached the cat and got close enough to start to recognize its markings, she took my arm.

There is something foreign about the familiar when they are dead. In a very peculiar way, the dead do not resemble the living. Maybe its denial, maybe its unquenchable hope, but there’s a furrowing of the brow as loved ones examine the deceased, unable to reconcile the living version that they know so intimately, with the lifeless object before them.

I saw that furrowing of her brow as we got closer, but when we were before it, crouching as she reached out to pet its furry belly, I heard the quiet inhalation of acceptance. I put my arm around her shoulders and she grabbed my hand.

The body was still warm. The dark fluid was now starting to spread out, covering a larger area behind it. I stared hard at its body, looking for any sign that it was still alive. But I didn’t know how to pronounce a cat.

With a human, the first thing I check for is the absence of peripheral pulses. Then listen for possible heart or breath sounds. Often I have an EKG strip to demonstrate that the heart has stopped conducting a rhythm. I then try and wake the patient up, usually rubbing their sternum while checking for any sort of reaction. I’ll then take a small piece of cotton and rub their eyes, looking for any sign of a corneal reflex.

I don’t know where to look for a pulse on a cat, and I wasn’t going to poke its eyeballs or do a sternal rub in front of its owner. So I went to my car to get my stethoscope. When I returned her son had joined her, he had brought a blanket from the house. The two of them crouched next to the body.

I listened to its chest. I heard nothing. I carefully picked it up and looked it over. No obvious signs of trauma. The spine felt loose, but this was the first time I had picked up a freshly dead cat, so I didn’t know if that was unusual. The important thing was, I was covertly pinching the front leg at the shoulder joint as I picked it up, trying to get any sort of reaction from it. I got no reaction.

‘She’s dead. I’m so sorry.’

I placed the body in the blanket and wrapped it, carefully placing it in her arms, but she was unsteady.

‘I’ll take her, Mom,’ her son said and took the cat, cradling it in his arms as they walked together into their home.


Anonymous Anonymous writes:

Tell the truth. You ran over the cat, didn't you?


Blogger dan writes:

RIP Hey Neighbor's dead cat.

And you are a saint for touching it.


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