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Faith was important not just because we loved her but because she taught valuable lessons. She has long since passed but the memory of what she did for us has never faded.
Martha had been in the office only ten minutes when she heard banging on the front door. Holding a cardboard box and shifting her weight from one foot to the other, a nervous young woman waited as Martha unlocked the door. Then things happened fast. Only half way through her well-practiced “Can I help you?” the box was pushed into Martha’s arms. Inside was a shorthaired brown tabby cat with a mangled and bleeding lower jaw. Somehow this sad kitty managed a weak cry. When Martha looked up, the woman was gone.
I’ve always believed that those who anonymously deliver unwanted and sometimes badly injured creatures to us are doing the best they can. It would be easy to default to a bad attitude but our job is to work with whatever we are given.
My staff was the best anywhere. When I arrived ten minutes later, our first patient was already getting generous doses of I.V. fluids, warmth from a hot water blanket, and some much needed TLC.
This homeless cat had severe injuries to her head, her lower lip, and her jaw. When she struggled to her feet she staggered. But with generous doses of pain control and medications to counter her brain trauma she began to calm down and rest. I don’t remember which of us heaved that first sigh of relief.
By noon the kitty with no name was stable. She still looked rough, but her injuries appeared manageable. Success would be about more than skill and experience; our work is part of something much bigger. Anyway, you can’t do much good with trauma cases if you’re not an optimist.
This little waif was a beauty. Once you accepted her as she was at that moment, you could see her lovely feline form, her fine coat, and best of all, her own optimism. I was on-board with her and so was everybody else.
The injured homeless cat, we later named Faith, had already became special to us. Dr. Melanie Gilman was on-duty with me that day. As soon as she laid eyes on this kitty she insisted on being part of her care. Our patient didn’t carry a credit card (no wallet, no ID), so the time and skill to make her well, not to mention costs of medications and supplies, were on the house.
Dr. Gilman already had a few orthopedic cases under her belt. I gave her the instructions she needed and a promise to mentor her through the operation. With our patient’s vital signs stable, little “No Name” was started on oxygen and anesthesia by mask. Gently she went unconscious as our staff started to prep her for surgery.
Anesthesia is a serious business that nearly always goes well. But for the battered brown kitty, things went wrong. Suddenly her breathing and heart beat stopped. In seconds Dr. Gilman was giving life saving drugs and closed heart massage. But the response didn’t come. When they called me in, I saw fear and disappointment written on every face in the room.
Anesthetic death just wasn’t an option. We renewed our efforts and continued oxygen, cardiac stimulants, and more heart massage. That little pink heart restarted its work.
No Name really was a tough cat. In a few minutes the color in her gums came back to pink and she was stable again. A few of our folks lobbied me to wake her up and forego surgery. No one wanted a replay of her near-death experience. But she couldn’t get well without our help. I repeated our commitment to this cat – out loud, like a mantra. We took her to surgery.
The operations on her jaws and face went well. When the last stitch was placed, our patient looked like a winner. We transferred her to our oxygen cage for monitoring as she regained consciousness. Ten minutes later, as she exhaled the anesthetic, she got suddenly frantic. What followed was, by far, the worst part of her whole ordeal. Next week: a moral dilemma.