Three weeks ago, my husband was driving to a meeting for work when he thought he saw an injured squirrel dodging cars in the middle of North College Road. He soon realized the animal was not a squirrel but a kitten dragging his back leg behind him as cars and trucks maneuvered their way around him. My husband pulled to the side of the road, stepped out of his vehicle, unfurled his Superman cape, and grabbed this little creature pulling him to safety.
After an hour or more, this long-haired, male beauty was diagnosed with a pelvic fracture. A shot of antibiotics, de-worming medication, and a pain-killer along with time to heal was the recommended treatment. Since my husband needed to return to work, he called me asking if I could come to the vet’s office and take our new family member home.
Over the next two weeks I changed his litter pan, fed, petted him--with the help of my youngest daughter--and monitored his recovery. Yup, just what I needed, another pet to add to my already full household of six cats and five dogs (all rescues). Those two weeks left me hours behind on cleaning my house and hours lost for homeschooling—although it could be argued my daughter learned a few things about patience, anatomy and veterinary medicine. During those days, we became better acquainted with several veterinarians. Three additional unplanned trips to an animal hospital in all. One because of a strange skin infection that appeared beside his tail. Two others because he was failing to urinate.
What first appeared to be a fractured pelvis became a life-threatening situation.
As the antibiotics started to wear off, I noticed the kitten was making frequent trips to his litter box. I watched and each time he squatted, nothing was coming out. I suspected he might have a bladder infection so off we went to the vet.
The veterinarian found the bladder full. She attempted to place a tube through his urethra and into the bladder to drain the urine. But, there was a problem. She could not insert the catheter. The urine had to be removed, so she decided to insert a needle into his bladder and drain as much urine as possible. The plan now was for me to take him home and return in the morning. With a new round of antibiotics, hopefully, there would be improvement.
Early the next day, my daughter and I returned and met with the vet that handled his case initially. She began by saying since the kitten was still unable to urinate, she wanted to try inserting a catheter herself hoping for better luck than the vet before her. After taking the kitten into a back room, she returned explaining she could not get the plastic tubing into his bladder. When she pressed on his bladder, a small amount of urine spilled onto the table. It was dark and bloody. The situation was critical. She decided a smaller catheter was needed, but she didn’t have one. The plan now was to find a vet that had a thinner catheter. She called a veterinarian who specializes in cats. Luckily, she had one the right size for a two pound kitten. Off my daughter and I went, taking the kitten to see her. In the waiting room, we sat hoping the doctor would appear with news that she successfully inserted the catheter and removed the unwanted urine.
But, that was not to be the case.
The vet finally appeared and explained her diagnosis. She believed the kitten never had a pelvic fracture. In fact, she thought the kitten had damage to his urethra possibly from a bite from another animal. That explained the first sore that appeared on one side of the tail prompting one of our trips to the veterinarian. A day later, another puss filled sore appeared on the other side.To further complicate the situation, the damaged urethra was causing a blockage trapping urine inside his bladder. Surgery was the only option for any chance of survival for our kitten.
I asked how much this would cost guessing a cost of $500.00. She said that would be the low end. She also said, “You really don’t want to spend that amount of money on a kitten you just found who most likely will not survive surgery.”
It was bad. I couldn’t hold back the tears.
She explained, “If you turn the cat over to us, I will turn him into a girl. With a shortened urethra maybe I can get through the blockage and thread the tubing into his bladder. If he lives, you can have your cat back."
After relinquishing ownership of our sweet kitty, Jeff—named because he was found in front of Jeff Gordon Chevrolet—we left the hospital. Once we were in the car and I had control of my emotions, my twelve year old daughter asked, “What is the meaning of life?”
I thought for a few seconds, then gave my answer--one that I had decided on years ago. “It is to impart our knowledge to the next generation of people so they can have a better life than ours.”
But, then I thought, “That can’t be the answer. That explanation comes from my own human perspective of life. How does it apply to kittens?
Living is dangerous. One minute you can be alive and the next minute you can be . . . well . . . dead.
So, what is the point?
Is the meaning of life as simple as to eat or be eaten with bits of joy spread throughout to keep us wanting to live? It could be that simple. Most people I think would not approve of such a simplistic view of the meaning of life. It doesn’t offer an eternal blissful existence after death. But, does it change the fact that our existing makes it necessary to eat and in fact sometimes to be eaten?
Modern society has changed how we interact with each other and other animals. Humans have also impacted how certain animals do not become food to their predators. Our kitten would have become food for another animal if a human had not intervened.
In our civilized society people still kill each other, not for food--at least not directly--but over hate or greed or because of an abnormal psychological disorder. People still become victims to horrible situations and horrific diseases. And, sweet kittens die. None of it makes sense.
Maybe, there are no answers to the question, “What is the meaning of life?”
I am okay with that. I have not found satisfying answers to these kinds of questions from a supernatural realm. It doesn’t bother me that some questions may never have answers. That doesn’t mean I don’t think people should quit searching for answers to difficult questions. Without the need to answer questions, how can diseases like cancer ever be cured or at least become survivable conditions? How can hate between people be stopped without asking, “How, why, or what can we do?”
The better question I offered to my daughter is not “what is the meaning of life?”, but “What gives life meaning?”
Again, coming from a my own human perspective since that is the only one I have, I think life has meaning because of the joy we experience as we live from one day to the next. Without joy, there is no purpose in our living. As long as we respect and value others' lives in the same way we want them to value and respect ours then everyone will be able to find their particular bits of joy and find what gives their life meaning. By humans helping humans have and find joy, life is meaningful. Simple rules to live by I think.
Several people tried to add time to Jeff’s life. They tried to help my family continue to experience the joy that a pet can bring. They also tried to prolong the joys experienced by a kitten that only a kitten knows.
Unfortunately, our little Jeff could not be saved. What started as my sadness for Jeff losing his life became sadness for my loss of him in my life. It then escalated into a myriad of emotions for me. I thought about how tired I am of worrying about the next bad news about my disease; tired of worrying about the impact that my disease has on my family financially; tired of worrying about my kids; tired of people dying before they should; tired of people not valuing another person’s life.
Make it stop!
With all of that profound emotion that lives deep within me pouring out, I eventually pushed it all back inside. I turned the key and started the engine of my van. My daughter and I went home.
Reflecting on this ordeal, I feel lucky for having found a bit of joy among all those worries. Joy does make life worth living. I have many joys. One visited me for 15 days. It came to me in the form of a little kitten. But then,
I lost it.