Yesterday I drove almost an hour one-way taking my 8-month-old kitten Clark for an ultrasound of his abdomen. We made the trip in good time, despite my fears that at any moment something would cause a delay or setback. He sat quietly in his carrier, watching cars and the landscape pass outside the window.
It was sunny, warmer, and under other circumstances would have made for a pleasant journey.
Clark has been ill frequently for most of his life. I have written about his bumpy journey in a previous post. For a few months, things had been going well, sailing smoothly along. I thought we were out of the woods. I felt, just maybe, he was going to be okay. And I felt safer finally, too.
But then a week or so ago now, he had another incident I wasn’t certain he would recover from. Maybe a seizure, ingestion of something, I’ll never know. I was at work at the time. My regular vet concluded he had some neurological disease, and I would likely have to put him to sleep. I was devastated.
Fortunately, I took Clark for a second opinion. The new vet came well recommended by friends, and she suspected he had a liver shunt, something very rare in cats, where the liver is bypassed by one or more vessels. She put him on medications which quickly helped him recover. Every day now he seems to be back more and more to himself, abeit with a few small problems. He may be on medications the rest of his life, which I could handle, if it helps him live a more normal life.
Following the ultrasound, the specialist vet told me a shunt is not 100 percent certain. But there is something called turbulent flow, like an eddy in a stream, that is created by the vessels that can be seen. This turbulent flow appeared to be present.
In clinical terms, what a liver shunt means is that blood coming from his intestines is not flowing correctly, or subsequently getting filtered properly by his liver. So the products of digestion, including ammonia, and other substances he takes in (including toxins) are not removed well prior to reaching his heart and the main circulatory system. It can create stomach and neurological problems when things are not filtered out of the blood, and puts extra stress on the kidneys.
It’s very technical, I know. It was all a bit mind-numbing for me, too.
They also found a couple other things, enlarged lymph nodes in his abdomen on the ultrasound, and elevated liver enzymes that would not usually be present if a shunt was the only problem. The nodes may be normal, as some young kittens have them, or they could indicate an intestinal infection, parasites, or Irritable Bowel Disease (cats apparently get that, too). Or there could be a liver disease at work, like hepatitis.
Either way, a biopsy is likely the next step to test the organ. If it is found to be healthy enough, there is a surgery they can perform to correct the shunt. But that in itself, is potentially full of problems, too.
Since I am a nurse, I have an understanding of these systems already and how they all work together. But it also makes me more aware of the problems that can develop.
I know now, as I write this, that I’m focusing on the clinical issues, the biomechanical problems. It helps in some way to finally understand what might have been going on with him all along, to have some answers even if they aren’t really good ones, or ones I want to hear.
The potential loss of him has hit me very hard though. It kind of frightens me, really. At times I feel irrational, crying at the drop of a hat, fearful. I don’t sleep well. I worry about him, about leaving him, about something happening while I’m gone once again. I can only imagine this is what people go through with children that are ill or hurt, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
I have had so many pets in my life, ones that I’ve watched grow old, become ill, needing to be put to sleep. I have dealt with it, accepted it as the natural order and my responsibility as a pet owner to see them through. But this feels so different, painfully deeper.
I think it is partly because he is so young. And I want so much to save him, as he saved me. I thought we would have plenty of time for adventures together, to watch him grow and play, to tussle with his brother, Louis. Instead we have spent days and weeks in and out of veterinary offices, giving him medications, waiting for test results, trying to figure out what the next step will be.
It’s tiring for both him and me.
The good news is, he doesn’t seem to feel sad about it. The blessing I think that animals have is their innocence, their inability to worry over things. They take each day in stride, playing when they feel good, and resting when they don’t. Each day is new and different, and they adjust accordingly.
Only we humans worry, I think, about them and the litany of things that can happen.
I have had the support of my friends, which has helped so much. Most of them have heard a lot about my experiences with him already, and another stumbling block on the road is unwelcome but not altogether surprising news. And writing here, when I can about it, is always beneficial.
I wonder whether having him come into my life is meant to be as much a test for me as for him. To see if I can take something like this, endure, follow through. I hope both of us will pass with flying colors.
Today I am waiting to hear more from the specialty vet, the results of further blood tests. We will plan accordingly from there. Clark is resting comfortably in front of the wood stove, still tired I’m sure from our long day yesterday. At times I am trying my own form of healing on him, kneeling down and laying my hands on his small side, sending love and healing energy into this body. I hope it helps him. I only know for certain that it helps me, too.
I've never really liked labels: I am this, I am that... But in the interest of introducing myself to the world, I can say that I am many things: nurse, writer, photographer, poet, painter, gardener, friend, armchair philosopher, counselor, nature lover, real-estate aficionado, movie buff, sometime yogi, and aspiring world-traveler. I think that's a pretty good list... for now. I want to become a bigger part of the vital, creative force I feel deeply at work in the world and connect with other people who want to do the same.