Friday, January 8, 2010
The $2000. Cat
Something I was reading in another widow's blog today made me think of a situation I was forced to experience a week after Michael passed away. At the time, it was far from funny, but later, in retrospect, I have to laugh at how outrageous life can get when you are grieving.
Since Michael knew ahead of time that he was dying, he had written a letter to me explaining what I should do when that time arrived. He made a list of who to call, and what he wanted me to do with his remains. He wanted to be cremated, and wanted his ashes kept in our bedroom. He said that when I die, our ashes could be combined, then perhaps buried together. He knew that culturally, I was not familiar with cremation, as everyone in my family's history had been buried. So, as a back up plan, he said that the kids could just discretely tuck his ashes into my coffin. No one would have to know. As you can guess, Michael had a very odd sense of humor.
When the day arrived for me to pick up his ashes, I was amazed how inexpensive it was. In my job as a social worker I have unfortunately had to make the arrangements for a few burials, which were much more expensive.
Let's back up at bit. The week that Michael died, our cat began having serious urinary problems. Initially I thought he was just acting out due to my attention not being focused on him, but I soon realized something was wrong. I don't know much about cats, as the was the first cat I have ever had as a pet, and I had only had him two years.
As you might quickly calculate, yes, the cat arrived around the time Michael was diagnosed with cancer. The day after Michael had his surgery, his aunt who had been ill, died. His aunt was a bit of a loner, but she had her two dogs, and 3-4 cats. I'm not really sure the number right now. When Michael was recuperating at home, I would go to his aunt's house to finish some project Michael and I had started prior to his surgery. Spending so much time there, with the cats, I quickly became quite attached to one in particular. On previous visits, while his aunt was alive, my 11 year old son had also come to love the cat. I came home and told Michael we had to take in the cat. It would make his aunt so happy.
Okay, back to the original point of this story. I took the cat to the vet, who told me that the cat had a urinary blockage. She said it was somewhat common for male cat's his age. Now, I'm 50 years old, and realized that in due time, I will be the one with the urinary blockages. So I began to really empathize with the poor feline. The vet explained the procedure, and told me that it would cost about $300. I nearly fell on the floor. She tried to reassure me that although it was expensive, he was a young 9 years, and had lots of life left in him. I approved the procedure, and was told to pick him up later that day.
When I returned for the cat, the vet said that she was concerned about him, and that I could bring him back the next day so they could monitor him, no extra charge. Fantastic!
The next morning I dropped him off. Only the best for our cat! Well, a few hours later the vet called to say there appears to be another blockage, and the cat would need surgery. I kid you not. She threw various prices my way, and assured me they would try to keep the fees low.
While the cat was at the vet, I received a call from the crematory saying that I could pick up Michael's ashes. I picked up the ashes, picked up my son, Remy, from school, then continued onward to the vet.
When I arrived to pick up the cat I was handed a bill for about $400. WTF? Now, this was a Friday afternoon, and the vet's office would be closed for the weekend. She suggested that I have him stay at one of the local pet hospitals, as she needed to put a catheter on him. Ouch! The vet mentioned the various hospitals in the city, and what their prices might be. The two cheapest ones were on the other side of the city, and didn't do intakes until later in the day. The estimates she gave me didn't sound significantly different from each other, so I chose the more convenient one.
Off I went to the pet hospital, me in the front seat, Remy in the back seat, Michael's ashes to his left, and the cat to his right. We arrived at the pet hospital, and the cat was quickly whisked away to be triaged. Remy and I were directed to the waiting room, where we could help ourselves to a variety of beverages. Remy was in heaven. They had this elaborate machine, that made every imaginable coffee, cocoa or tea. Remy was having a great time sampling the goods. I just sat there stunned. Eventually my eyes began roaming around the room, and I thought, my, what a very nice place. Everything was so tastefully decorated, and I found it all very comforting. Now remember, I had only been a widower for about 10 days. I was a wreck.
Moments later my name was called, and Remy and I were escorted to a room. I started to get quite worried. Where was my cat? The doctor came into the little room, and forgive me Michael, but he was quite cute. He was obviously a very new graduate, because he couldn't have been more than around 25, and looked about 15. He began explaining that while I was in the waiting room they had to replace the catheter on the cat, and that it was likely that there was yet another blockage. What?! He said that he needed to go over the likely procedures, and what the costs might be. When I heard the words "about a thousand" I broke into tears. Not gentle drops of tears, full on sobbing. The poor little vet didn't know what to say? He looked at Remy, who quickly put his arms around me, and said "don't worry, your cat will be alright."
In between my sobbing, I explained that I wasn't crying about the cat, I did love him, but that my husband had just died, he was in the back seat of my car, and cost of the cat was now more than the cost of the cremation. The vet was now clearly traumatized. He tried to discretely tell me that I did have a less expensive option, which made me cry all the more. I suddenly began explaining that the cat belonged to my dead husband's deceased aunt. I asked him if I could be left alone, as I needed to call my mother in law for advice. I called her, crying and explaining the situation. She quickly went over the various options with me, and asked if I could afford this. I said to her that yes, I had the money, but I've never been in this situation before. Exactly how much does one spend to keep their cat alive? She said very clearly, "Dan, you don't need another loss right now." Of course she was right, what was I thinking? I went looking for the cute little vet, to give him my decision. He came back into the room with tears in his eyes. He said after consulting with the other doctors, he would reduce the price of the procedures. It would likely be around $800. I thanked him for their generosity, and gave them a deposit of $600.
I went home, cried for hours, got the kids to bed, then got myself to bed. Around midnight my cell phone began to ring. The voice on the other end of the line said he was the on-call vet at the pet hospital. I must have gasped, because he quickly said don't worry the cat is alive. The next thing he said was I'm so sorry for the loss of your husband. I thanked him and asked why he was calling. He said he wanted to check in with me because although they initially thought my cat would be discharged the next day, he was doing poorly, and would need another surgery. I tried not to scream, but he could tell that I was reaching my limit here. He said that if I couldn't afford this he could have my cat transferred to the local SPCA, who would provide care at a much lower fee. He didn't want to offend me, but said the SPCA provides this care for low income families. With that I realized that my life had become surreal. I explained that the problem wasn't that I didn't have the money, it was that I'm in acute grief, and I didn't know what to think, feel or do. I asked him point blank, "is my cat going to die after having paid all this money?" He said no, he is a very sick cat, but he will be okay. I told him to do whatever they needed to do at this point. I thanked him for being so caring with my cat, and with me. I hung up the phone, pulled the covers over my head, and went to sleep.
Two days later, I picked up my cat, told him how much I loved him, and paid the balance of the bill, $700.
The Two Thousand Dollar Cat.