It’s a sunny and crisp afternoon on what promised to be a damp cold day filled with report-writing, errand-running and foam-topped cappuccinos.
Instead I’m watching a young veterinary student dry soiled cat baskets in the sun as the pale September sky stretches past red-roofed houses.
For around noon today, as I was sitting in our home office finishing up a section of an online outreach handbook (we finally found a PR person for handoff! – I think…) I heard the strangest squeak – like someone had stepped on an inflated balloon in impatience to get all the air out. Nothing for five minutes, and then I heard some thumping against the bedroom floor. I crossed the flat and found our sumptuous street cat Peter lying on the floor with his rib cage rapidly pumping and his little heart thumping in his chest. He cried out when he saw me – Peter, our silent sniffling cat – and then kicked me when I got closer. Peter, who had sat paws folded and eyes closed in contentment in my office doorway just an hour before. He struggled up into his forelegs and dragged himself across the floor, back left leg listless.
So I called E, sent him a video to pass on to his friend and university co-worker at the vet clinic, and within half an hour, just as the cold clouds were breaking, I was coddling a crying cat into another co-worker’s car, E being in a meeting. The first vet watched the video and told us maybe he had been poisoned, though I’d seen them eat nothing but standard catfood all day.
I carried our yellow-eyed bewildered baby into the clinic and answered the first student-assistant’s questions as he clung to my shoulder and shed hair everywhere. The Turkish vet-professor finally arrived and asked if he hadn’t been outside, or fallen from somewhere. Considering that the tallest thing the cars could fall from in our apartment is the forbidden territory of the kitchen counter, and they last went outside when we brought them to the very-same clinic to spayed last spring, those weren’t really possibilities. But the vet noted all his symptoms were in line with those of a cat that’s been hit by a car or fallen on their back and so damaged their spinal cord. So we moved into the X-Ray room…and discovered that poor Peter had developed a respiratory infection, with this chest full of fluid, cause unknown but concurrent with a virus currently rampaging across the city.
We waited. The vet students cooed around our big-eyed baby, rubbing his chin and fixing him on a soft pallet with a red rubber bottle full of hot water as reached out his paws and hooked them around the table’s steel edge. Three students held him down while a fourth took a razor and shaved off two inches of the kinky black down that’s been plaguing our apartment all summer. The vet came back from Friday afternoon prayers at the mosque, washed his hands, and stuck a needle into the shaved patch in Peter’s chest, pulling out three vials of bloodied infection fluids. As soon as the blood came out the vet’s face fell.
E dropped them off at the vet faculty for analysis, and I went off to a pharmacy in search of medicine (a side note: between the pharmacies and shops in the Chuy/Manas and Chuy/Sovietskaya underpasses, you can find almost anything small that is to be found in Bishkek). Unfortunately, that didn’t include one of the two medicines, so I returned to the clinic where Peter was lying on his side looking around him with reproach and clamping his sharp white teeth down on anything that came close to his head – fingers and cat masks alike.
We stayed for a few hours as he was given vitamin injections and oxygen therapy to fill his tired, gasping lungs, but there was nothing more we or the vets could do until they got back the test results and figured determined the correct anti-bacteria, and there are no overnight or emergency vet clinics in Bishkek.
The vet told us it was impossible for that much infected liquid to accumulate in a day – though just earlier in the morning the cats had both been meowing for food and chasing each other across the apartment, before Peter stopped to lick our little cat from whisker to toe. I thought back on it later and recalled Peter coming and sitting on my computer keyboard a few times over the past week – a behavior I attributed to influence from our other cat; in reflection, he may have been trying to get our attention if he was experiencing internal discomfort.
By the time we left the vet he was wild – biting the cage, kicking and crying out in pain. We laid him out on a pallet of soft towels in our covered balcony and I squirted some parsley-soaked water into his willing mouth, though he wouldn’t touch food or drink on his own. We stroked him and soothed him to sleep, hoping that he’d be a bit better by morning and would last long enough for the test results to come out. In retrospect, his calm was probably due to coming home.
Around six-fifty he woke me crying, probably from loneliness more than pain. I went into the balcony and noticed that he was calm and laying on the floor, but his body was cold and he didn’t seem to have any strength. I re-arranged him back on the pallet and heated water for a hot water bottle to keep his body warm. Erdem came in to sit by him and stroke him Every time I closed the door he cried again. I tucked the hot water bottle around his back, laid my head down on a pillow on the floor, and hoped he’d make it the two hours until our vet visit. A little after eight, as I was in the kitchen making coffee, he cried out again, a great choking cry. I hurried in an found his head turned to the side as he heaved great breathless breaths, tongue rolled out of his mouth and eyes wide open in fright. I re-arranged him on his side and he looked up at me, mouth open as if to scream or strain for air. And he died.
We went to the clinic at nine to see if they wanted his body for examination – perhaps they could save another cat if they better understood his disease. Instead we borrowed a pickaxe and a shovel and buried him underneath three white stones in the meadow behind the new sports complex. The same cat that E took as a month-old kitten from the cold wintery streets, the same cat that slept by us for a week every time we returned from vacation, the same cat that was always a silent support in the house. Stoic, sleepy, and utterly randomly himself.
So, a tribute to Peter Cat: