New priorities make decisions tough for old allies

Aug. 02, 2013 @ 05:49 PM

The cat looked a little too much like Don Corleone, with her right cheek puffed out. She’d finally blown that cracked fang. Now it was infected.

Sienna is, at 15, decently geriatric as cats go. When this happened two weeks ago, however, it was both the least and worst of her problems.

Least in the sense that she also suffers from chronic Stage 3-en route to-Stage 4 renal failure and heart disease. Her kidneys are wasting away and won’t get better.

Worst in the sense that we’d been managing her kidney issues with diet. With an abscessed fang, she couldn’t do more than slurp the gravy around her food and lost valuable weight.

Our normal vet in Durham doesn’t do dental surgery. But they referred me to a hospital that did and recommended that, because of Sienna’s complications, I get a full cardiac workup done on the cat before surgery.

This would have resulted in a total cost of about $2,000 to fix the tooth problem.

A year ago, maybe even six months ago, I probably wouldn’t have flinched at that expense.

But now I’ve got a son, no small responsibility, and every dollar that I spend on something that doesn’t directly serve the cause of bringing up this baby or helping my family move forward feels wasteful. We eat in a lot more now. I’ve cancelled video game subscriptions. I don’t buy as many comic books (sorry, Atomic Empire) or computer games as I once did. I steer clear of Best Buy, where I might normally grab clearance DVDs from the bins or splurge on the occasional new release.

Instead, I’m ordering books about baby’s first year, taking John Michael to his pediatrician visits, building cribs and assembling swings and sweating every dollar.

So, in this fiscal climate, when someone tells me that I need to spend $1,000 to find out whether it’s safe to put my sick, aged cat through a separate $1,000 surgery, something goes CLICK.

That’s not my sunny-happy-animal-lover switch activating. Instead, it’s cold, straightforward pragmatism.

She’s 15, I told the first animal hospital. Let’s skip the cardiac workup and roll the dice. Anesthetize her. If she makes it through surgery, it’s meant to be. If she doesn’t, then at least her suffering is over.

“I don’t want to be the one who kills your kitty,” the doctor said. Not that the doctor could guarantee Sienna’s survival on the table even if she sailed through a cardiac test.

I couldn’t get her to call back so that I could offer to sign a waiver, exonerating her of all fault if the worst should happen.

I went instead to Dr. Don Hoover at Westside Animal Hospital in Durham. He understood my concerns. On Thursday, he did some chest X-rays on the cat. She’s a high-risk patient, he said, given her age and failing organs. But nothing on the scans warned against anesthetizing for surgery.

He worked on her mouth, removing bad teeth and cleaning up the infected area. She survived.

“She’s not out of the woods yet, though,” he told me.

With renal failure and heart disease, her prognosis already was about six months under the most optimistic conditions. During surgery, though, he found evidence of possible “tumorous activity.” She might have cancer. If malignant, it’s probably inoperable.

Hearing that made me wish – at least for a moment - that she’d taken the opportunity for an easy out on the table.

I hate thinking that I saved her from one malady just to discover something new and menacing.

But I’ll hope for the best and do what I can to make sure we enjoy the time she has left, however long that might be.


Wes Platt can be reached at or 919-419-6684. Follow on Twitter at @HS_WesPlatt. Connect on Facebook at