Bad things happen, and you can’t do anything about it, right? Right. WRONG!

***********Diclaimer: This unfortunately has nothing to do with The Lion King or any Disney or anything good ever. Also the quote is Timon’s and Timon is saying something stupid and the picture is Rafiki poking Simba in the nose and Rafiki is saying something smart. It happens.

***********Disclaimer: I’m about to write really vaguely about stuff, because I can’t just explain the situation directly. Please feel free to close this window and try to stick a camel through the eye of a needle for something that is both a random Biblical reference and slightly less of a frustrating task than reading something that’s unapologetically vague.

Something happened during this just-passed work week. I mean, a lot happened. It was an unusually overstimulating week at work. I had to be in a group photo, people I don’t know very well congratulated me for the strenuous task of mailing a police check to an organization’s headquarters, I found a kitten who had pulled out the sutures in her abdominal incision which was now hanging open and purulent (she’s better now), the rooster started charging me down again after weeks of nonchalance, my funniest coworker and I laughed hysterically while trimming cat nails, a bulldog/mastiff puppy nipped me very gently in the face, etc. Mostly it was good or neutral things, but the one thing that happened right at the beginning was not good. It sucked, in fact. And I think I want to write around the issue and post it on the blog because, more than anything else, it was kind of my fault. I think more than anything, I want to be held accountable, so that’s what I’m doing.

In two parts, then: what went wrong, how, and what I should do next time.

I Know Things

I wrote a post after Trump’s election in which I said that I had a feeling that he would win that day. And then I said something about not wanting to make any claims of clairvoyance. But the thing is, I kind of do, occasionally, know things. Usually it’s bad things. I’m not alone in this. INFJs are apparently the psychic personality type on the Myers-Briggs scale, and half my family are that. Both of my grandmothers had/have weird premonition-like knowledge of things. My mom’s mom, when she was young, had, I guess, a vision of her father with his shirt off and a purple cross on his chest. Months later, he was in the hospital for cancer treatment. They would mark radiation patients with a purple x, so when my grandmother went to visit him, the vision was true. She could have manufactured the memory of the vision she had after seeing her father, I guess. But that’s the family legend version of it, anyway.

My living grandmother has a different version of this that is, I think, the world’s worst superpower. She’ll be asleep, and then into her dreams enters an old relative of hers, always the same aunt, long dead. When she wakes up, she knows that she will be receiving bad news. Someone is dead. Someone has been injured. Someone is gravely ill. She just has to wait for the phone to ring.

When I was pretty new to my job, I worked a shift one morning that included the ringworm trailer. Inside were three cats: a mom and two kittens. Unlike most of the animals we put in the ringworm trailer, they actually had ringworm (don’t ask >.<), so the usual blood tests that would have to be done eventually were on hold until the ringworm cleared up because of how contagious and expensive it is. We wouldn’t want to risk spreading it.

I was also in charge of the surrounding trailers, so at the beginning of my shift I was back there feeding the other two rooms. As I passed the middle, ringworm-positive door, I thought, “I need to open the door and look, even though I can’t go in there yet. If I don’t, they’ll all be dead.”

I’m not a paranoid person. I open plenty of doors during the week that could hold any number of dead animals, but that’s not a thought that regularly crosses my mind. So I shrugged at myself, but I opened the door anyway. In the gloom, I saw two faces peering at me from the cage. “OK, not dead,” I said, and moved on with my day.

It was almost the end of my shift and it was finally time to go in and sort them out. As I stood in front of the door I again thought, “I’m going to open the door and they’re going to be dead.” I didn’t understand where these thoughts were coming from. Why, exactly, would they be dead? What could have happened in the last three hours?

I went in, and no, they weren’t all dead. But one of the kittens, the one I hadn’t seen in the morning, was. So I did what I was supposed to. I reported it, investigations took place, viral testing was done, and mother and both kittens had FeLV. We euthanize FeLV cases because it’s a serious disease that’s highly contagious between cats, and although we require that people *say* that they won’t let their adopted cat roam free, we know that some of them will. So in time, all three were dead.

But this kind of knowledge is pretty useless. There was nothing I could have done for any of those cats, just as my grandmother couldn’t prevent her father from getting cancer, and my other grandmother can’t prevent any of the bad news she knows she’ll be receiving. The problem in this situation was not that I knew what I would be walking into in the morning, but that I suspected some things before that and I didn’t speak up.

I suspected that my coworkers were making a mistake. I suspected this not because I’m any kind of psychic but because I have education and experience with this stuff. But because I also know that my coworkers have that same education and more experience, I just let it go and deferred to their judgement. I hoped for the best; I thought, “She knows more about this specific case than me.” But if I had insisted, at risk of being a nuisance, things might have turned out differently. Maybe they wouldn’t have listened to me, maybe there was nothing anyone could do at that point even if they had, but I don’t know because I didn’t try.

I know hindsight is 20-20. If I had known, I would have said something. Of course I would have. At this point I’ve reworked my memories of what I thought and why I didn’t say anything more than what I said so that it seems like I was cowed into not doing what needed to be done. But all I had were suspicions and a reasonable amount of hoping for the best. So I guess what I need to do is start being a little more insistent even if I haven’t had a clear, Professor Trelawney-like vision of a dark future event. It’s hard to do that. It means making other people’s days a little harder. It will mean that sometimes, I’m going to be wasting other people’s time. But I think I’ve learned this week that it’s necessary to do that, as hateful as it is.

Hoping for the Best

The first cats we fostered were a young mom and two itty bitties: an orange and a black. The orange one was smaller, less lively. We were a little concerned about him. One of the techs told me she thought he had a 50-50 chance of survival, so to be prepared if he should die overnight. Which he did. Lots of kittens die – it’s not nice, but it happens, and with the current medical knowledge we have about it, there’s not a lot anyone can do. Shelter people know this because we deal with it constantly, but at vet clinics it’s a bit of a different story. They’ll go the extra mile for a fading kitten even though the destination is always the same, which we found out.

The black kitten, once so active, began to droop the night after his brother died. His mom was in a state. She was pacing, carrying him around, dropping him in different places, howling, panting (cats are not supposed to pant), and she was very warm to the touch. Collectively, we and the shelter’s night staff decided to bring them to emerge for the night. The mom, they told us, had normal values apart from a bit of a fever. They’d put her on antibiotics anyway. The kitten? Well. Who knows.

They kept the kitten alive for a couple of days. They bottle fed him, gave him fluids, did regular blood tests, and found that he wasn’t regulating his blood glucose. Finally, they recommended euthanasia. The shelter staff agreed, having long since been resigned to the inevitability of his death. We were kind of annoyed. He was at least warm and cozy on a little kitten heating pad, but why did he have to be poked and prodded for the last little bit of his little life? Why couldn’t the emerge staff see that this just wasn’t going to work?

At a shelter, you learn that most animals who are going to make it, make it. They often don’t need much help. Maybe sometimes they could use the basics, which is fine because they all get the basics. But an animal who needs a lot of work is usually deteriorating and we can’t offer much more than a humane euthanasia, or maybe a palliative foster home for a month or two. But because of this usually correct generalization, we sometimes miss things. We go too far towards the opposite extreme of the vet clinic which keeps a fading kitten alive unnecessarily, or that refuses to euthanize a cat with a fatal brain tumour tonight because he still has a bit of time left before he really begins to suffer (true story). We sometimes let an animal languish without aggressive treatment because our experience is deceiving us. The state we see before us, we think, is temporary and self-limiting, like the state a cat is in when it’s living with URI and is leaking huge globs of blood-tinged mucus from every orifice in its face. Five days later, that cat’ll have just a bit of a sneeze left.

Hoping for the best is necessary, like when you have to return dogs to a guy who threatened to come in with his gun and kill everyone because he didn’t like the cost of the running-at-large fine. Legally we have no choice but to give a volatile, garbage human being his dogs back, so all we can do is hope. But at some point we forget that there are times when we need to be proactive. There are times that our actions can and do impact someone vulnerable for the better.

Anyway.

I don’t know. I wish we had done better. I’m sure that if you read this you probably have more of an idea of what happened than you should, but that’s OK. I sort of think people should know. The only way a place like where I work can improve is if we acknowledge the times we’ve made mistakes and move forward to do things differently so that those same mistakes aren’t repeated.

I’ll leave off with some of the things my coworker and I were laughing hysterically about while cutting nails:

  • cats are stupidly strong and they pull their front legs in so that you have trouble getting to the nails and then they resemble T. Rexs
  • I had to work with a dangerous cat that morning whose danger increases exponentially with every other cat she sees, and I forgot and didn’t clean her right away, before she could see any of the others, so she tried to murder me twice as fervently as normal
  • her name is Abigail, apparently for The Crucible‘s Abigail Williams which is why she acts like that
  • I kneed my coworker accidentally while trying to stabilize a very uncooperative cat
  • we remembered the one time a cat bit her up the nose after she trimmed his nails
  • maybe cats secretly understand English, we hypothesize
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