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.

Total: $300.00

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.

Total: $700.00

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.

Total: $1300.00

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.

Total: $2000.00

The Two Thousand Dollar Cat.


  1. What a surreal story! Forgive me for laughing and crying as I read. Envisioning your son playing with the beverage maker was one time I laughed, as was imagining the novice vet being freaked out by the situation. There just seems no rhyme or reason as to when some things happen or play out. Brings to mind the night of my husband's death and having the fire dept. out because the mailbox was on fire! Whenever things like this happened, I remember standing back away from them as an observer and just thinking, "This can't be happening, it is too surreal." I was also often very upset because it just didn't seem fair to have to be dealing with weird stuff on top of my grieving. For me, the mailbox fire was such a cruel reminder that life really doesn't stop, slow down or give us much of a break.

    Your mother-in-law was so right in knowing that you didn't need to face any further losses. Saving the cat was life-affirming and no question had to be done. I need to remember to sometime share my cat story from the time of my husband's death - it involves a batch of kittens and ending up with 8 cats in the house. But I remember thinking and knowing at that time that I just could not face or bear anymore loss, even that of an animal.

    Your recollection speaks volumes with all of the nuances underneath the surface; your noticing that the vet was cute, your son in the backseat with Michael's remains and the sick cat, the crazy realization that the cat ends up costing more than the cremation. I hope what this will show to others is how multi-layered grief is - it exists and bombards you at so many levels.

    And your observation that you had to step back and get advice because you were overwhelmed is so astute. I'm not sure everyone understands this when they are grieving. That sometimes it is better not to make a decision or to at least hold off. No one can really grasp or fully comprehend what a situation like this means to one grieving. You are thrown this huge curve ball when you are already trying to handle the one already just thrown!

    A point that I will make before signing off is that it was very difficult for me to get through these kinds of things after my husband's death because in the past, he had helped me do so. Now I was on my own to face challenges and on top of that grieving.

    The day after my husband's death I laughed at something and my sons said, "Mom, you laughed and Dad just died. How can you?" For the same reason you noticed the cute, young vet. We keep on living as we plow through our grief and to me that probably ended up to be the most surreal fact I had to deal with. To be able to laugh at something funny while grieving my heart out.

    Thank you Dan for sharing this story with your humor, warmth and tremendous insight. I am curious as to how it felt for you in setting it all down.

  2. Dan, I could picture this playing out in my head. I could imagine the horror the young cute vet felt when you started bawling. I could so see myself in this situation. I am assuming this is the cat that you describe yourself as being a slave to in your profile :-)

    You are a gifted story teller. This made me gasp and brougtht a tear to my eye, as well as laugh out loud.

    Ridiculous situation, ironic situation to find yourself in so soon after losing Michael.

    I also loved Michael's solution about hiding his ashes in your coffin ... that is my sense of humour too :-)

    Hey Dan, when I come to CA in August, I am meeting up with an old friend from school in SF (he is also gay, a corporate lawyer in the city) ... I'd love to have dinner with you and meet you. Can we exchange emails/phone no's nearer the time and arrange?

    Boo xx

  3. WitM: It was a crazy few days at the time, but in reflecting back on it, I have to see the humor in it all. Even the tragedy of finding myself sobbing at the vets, feeling like I couldn't handle any of it, now makes me laugh. Part of what makes it all so funny to me is imagining how Michael was responding from wherever he is at. I can hear him telling me over and over that the cat just needs to go. He would have had a good laugh at how unraveled my life had become.

    When Michael was down to his final weeks, and still able to communicate, he offered me these accomodating words..."Please feel free to get rid of the cat when I die." I couldn't believe it. I said, "Michael, I love the cat!" He just said, "Well, I just wanted to give you permission in case you have been taking care of the cat just for me."

    All my stories either make me laugh or cry, but they all evoke strong feelings either way. I like this, as I was in such a fog when they were all happening. Having a sense of humor helps me to know that I am healing.

    Boo: I would love to get together in August. Now, I know that all of you have been asking me about the Widow's Conference, so I finally called to inquire further about it. Because the web site doesn't state clearly about the "widow" part, and the pictures are all of women, I thought that it was specifically for women. I finally heard back from them, and they let me know they want to encourage more men to participate. With that in mind I will likely attend. I'll let everyone know when I have actually followed through, as I tend to procrastinate a bit.

    Here is my email address:

  4. Oh wow, it would be great if you came. I know that last year a man went, and I think he was the only one, but you would be fine with us. I expect more men will come this year.

    Procrastinating is fine ... and if you eventually decide not to attend, we'll have dinner :-)

    Are you alright? Just had a newsflash that CA has had an earthquake 6.5 on the Richter Scale ...

  5. How funny that there was an earthquake, because at that moment I was relaxed, on a massage table. Wasn't aware of a thing.

  6. OMG, I had a similar event. I was not dealing with a loss but i was away on vacation in Africa. My dog just had some of his teeth removed and that cost about $400, one week later he started to vomit and poo blood, so i took Cory my dog in for observation and was told it was he had infection in the intestines. which i think cost another $300 for the visit as well as pills. So, as i was away on vacation, i was told by phone that the dog was dehydrated and not eating so the dog had to spend a night at the emergency room for hydration and observation., another $400. I loved my dog it was hard keeping him alive but i realized that i was being selfish in the end by keeping him alive on pills and force feeding him. Eventually, he got bad again and when i took him in i finally had to say he should be put to sleep because it was not right what he had to go through with my forcing food and water into him. So i took him in again i had to put him to sleep because he was dehydrated again. The cost of the visit and cremation was about $300. Cory gave me 10 years of companionship and love, to this day miss him. I told my family i want Cory's ashes put in my coffin because he was the only living companion that ever stayed with me till death. My total cost probably was about $2000 as well. George

  7. Hi Dan
    Your story reminds me so much of our cat story that I wanted to share with you.
    My husband, Ed, passed away in Feb, suddenly while we were on vacation in Mexico.
    We currently have a dog, cat, hamster and 3 fish, but the cat definitely belonged to Ed.
    In August, 2 days before we were planning a week long vacation, Socks the cat was hit by something. She had a gash on her leg but otherwise seemed fine. She was going to stay at the house and a neighbour was going to take care of her, since we were not going to be around for a week I decided to take her to the vet to have her checked out before we left.
    The vet while checking her out determined that her bladdar was full and that she had a blockage somewhere.
    After humming and hawing she said that she wasn't sure if it was due to the accident or if Socks had always had this condition and that I should watch her and bring her back in if she was in pain. If surgery was required it would be about, yes you guessed it, $2000. I said that I wouldn't be around for the next week and what should I do. The vet was not helpful at all and we left with me wondering what the hell I was going to do as we were leaving the next day for a week. I couldn't imagine spending $2000 on Socks, but I also couldn't imagine another loss.
    After fretting all day, I called my sister in law who lives about an hour and a half away and she called her vet (this was a friday night and he happened to be at home). He told her to have us meet him at his office the next morning (sat morning) and he would check her out. So the morning of our trip (which we were taking with sister in law and family), we all drove to the vets office with Socks. He checked her out, said yes surgery was absolutely necessary, he could do it for about $500, board her for the week, and we could pick her up when we returned the next Sat. I was standing there in shock, could this problem really be solved that easily?
    So that is what we did and 5 months later she is as good as new, although she still hates the dog (dog is 14 months old and wants to play with every animal she meets, Socks wants none of it)

    Thank you for writing such wonderful stories, I am coming up on the 1 year mark and your words are very helpful.

  8. Thank you George and Michelle for sharing your stories with me. Life can be so difficult in general, but when facing a loss, our ability to make clear decisions becomes so compromised. Our pets are true companions, even if they can be a royal pain at times. I know that our dog and cat have given me so much comfort, not just during my grief, but during the two years of Michael's cancer.

    George, it is so nice to hear from you.

    Michelle, I'm sorry that you have suffered this loss as well. I'll be adding you to my list of those that need good thoughts during this difficult anniversary date.