Our Roller Coaster Ride of a Week

This week started on a high: Noel’s business partner Don and Noel won a lifetime achievement award from their peers at the New Zealand Beauty Industry Awards.

This week has ended on a low: our beautiful cat Phoebe is most likely terminally ill.

I’ve shared the link above about Noel and Don, so you can read about it there if you’d like.  I’ll talk about Phoebe and what’s led up to this in this post.

Now, Phoebe has always been a rather big cat.  She’s pushing the scales at around 12 pounds / 5.5 kilograms.  As a Tonkinese, she can be big.

I’ve written before about how we came to adopt Phoebe and her little sister Sissy in earlier posts.  So, if you want the backstory on our own Tweedledum and Tweedledee, have a look there.

About 6 years ago, as we did every year, we took Phoebe and Sissy to the vet for their annual check-up.  In the same carrying cage.  Big mistake.

They were fighting in the cage.  They were fighting outside the cage.  They were covered in claw-marks and bite-marks and bruises.  We were covered in the same (from them fighting).  The vet was a bit more level-headed and had padded herself up to the nines.

But the fighting didn’t stop there.  Oh no.  Sissy decided to push the issue at home.  For an entire month!  And it wasn’t pretty.

So, having another conversation with the vet after hauling another pet into the consultation rooms, she and I came to the conclusion that, if they were indoor cats, they didn’t need to be vaccinated or checked-up-on as often.

With Celeste, then Nyota, then Jenah, then Levi falling ill, to be honest, I haven’t had the money to take Phoebe or Sissy checked up on.  They didn’t seem to need it, and they have always been pretty happy and healthy.

We have given the cats the same food for years now.  After Celeste’s passing, they seemed pretty happy with that food, and it was a weight management food we could get at the supermarket.  Phoebe actually never lost weight, and Sissy never gained any, but it was tasty to them, so what the heck, right?

A few months ago, the manufacturer changed the formula.  Phoebe started to lose weight, while Sissy started to gain it.  We didn’t really think further than the pet food.

Last week, I noticed Phoebe didn’t quite seem herself.  Noel commented on it as well, but there were no outward warning bells.  She seemed a bit more quiet and reserved, but she still wanted her cuddles and petting, and she and Sissy spent a lot of time together, and so on.  Phoebe just seemed… not as rambunctious and a little quieter.  We chalked this down to getting older.  I mentioned this to Jacqui, our neighbour, who was looking after the cats over the weekend we were in Auckland for Noel and Don’s award.

On Monday night or Tuesday, Jacqui mentioned about Phoebe being quieter, and that she felt I was right.  By Wednesday night, we noticed Phoebe’s breathing appeared a little more rapid than usual, but we weren’t sure if this was over-joyous purring (as she purrs… a lot) or something more serious.

I had Thursday off to work from home, and I took Levi in to the vet for his weigh-in.  There, I spoke to Chantal, our usual vet, about Phoebe.  She said to keep an eye on her, and if anything out of the ordinary seemed to be happening, or if her breathing got worse, to bring her in.

When I got home, I looked at Phoebe and her breathing was pretty weird.  I mentioned it to Noel, but he dismissed it at first.  Since I had to pick up some groceries from the supermarket, I left again, and he had another look at her.  Her breathing was at twice the rate of Sissy’s; something was up.

Dropping the groceries off, I called the vet and booked another appointment.  Phoebe seemed pretty happy to be going for a car ride, talking all the way (as she does), and once at the vet, Chantal and Angela (the vet nurse) seemed to think Phoebe had some sort of chest infection.  Her heart rate was fine, her breathing seemed okay, but there seemed to be a little liquid or something in there.  Chantal wanted me to go to their main branch to have Phoebe undergo an x-ray on the (very slight chance, according to Chantal) that Phoebe actually had a diaphragmatic hernia, which is where her diaphragm (which is responsible for helping you draw in and expel air in breathing) would have had a rip or hole in it, affecting her ability to breathe.  So, off we went in the car, during rush hour traffic, to get Phoebe x-rayed.

A new vet there, Kate, and the vet nurse took Phoebe off for x-rays.  Kate came back with the x-ray and a somewhat serious face, and she put the x-ray up for us to see some sort of line running through her liver, bisecting it into two separate areas.  She suspected a diaphragmatic hernia, but she didn’t want to operate on her own if that was the case.  Kate explained a whole range of factors came into play with this sort of hernia, and if they could repair it or not.  Phoebe and I were to go home, make Phoebe comfortable and make sure she wasn’t jumping or climbing high distances, and come back in the morning with her for surgery.  If her breathing did get worse, we’d have to take her to the after-hours vet to stabilise her.

I came home very upset, as there was a risk Phoebe could not make it, and Noel was very upset too, as she is very much his cat.  We had a very solemn dinner at the JAndersons across the road, then came home to spend some time with Phoebe, Sissy and Levi.

That night, I didn’t sleep very well.  Noel, full of a cold, didn’t either.

Phoebe in her carrying case

Next morning, we got up at the normal time, letting the pets into the main part of the house.  Phoebe climbed into her cat carrying case, and Sissy rubbed the door until it closed, then walked away.  Noel said his good-byes, just in case, and Phoebe and I fought the winter frost and rush hour traffic again to get to the vet.

At the vet, Angela was on duty, as was Tania (who was there when Jenah passed, and has been a vet nurse at that clinic for a while).  They were surprised to see me, so I explained what happened, and Angela was in a bit of shock because Chantal had mentioned the hernia as a very unlikely cause of Phoebe’s breathing difficulties.  Tania and Angela calmed me down, told me it was a rather routine surgery, and that Mike (the head vet) would be looking after Phoebe.  Since our vets are very experienced and very knowledgeable, we knew Phoebe was in good hands.

All Friday morning, we waited.  To be honest, we thought we’d get a call around 12 PM to 1 PM, but about 11 AM, Mike called.  He explained he’d taken more x-rays, and Phoebe didn’t have a hernia (phew).  That particular x-ray showed a vein of fat that made the liver look as if it was separated into two areas, but other x-rays showed the diaphragm in tact.  She did have fluid in the chest cavity around the lungs and heart.  He’d tried to get some out, but couldn’t, so he’d have to try with Phoebe being sedated.  All his scans had shown this fluid.  Blood tests, taken the day before, didn’t indicate anything was out of the ordinary, although he was waiting on the white blood cell results.  Her heart rate was normal.  At this point in time, he thought it could be some sort of chest infection, something like feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) or another type of virus, a bacterial infection, or the dreaded cancer, although he said the last bit could be confirmed by the white blood cell count, even though he didn’t see any mysterious areas on the x-rays.  He’d call back when he’d had a chance to drain and analyse the chest cavity fluid.

Around 12:30 PM, Mike was on the phone again.  White blood cell count was back.  It was pretty normal except one was slightly off, but it didn’t sound like anything to worry about.  He’d got about 150 millilitres (5.1 US ounces) from the chest area around her heart.  It was a yellowish thick liquid with little white clumps in it, and he was sending it off for analysis.  A slight chuckle came over the phone; Phoebe had been sedated so they could withdraw the fluid with the use of ultrasound, but she’d fought them, so they had to put her under for a while.  That’s our Phoebe.  He’d eliminated some of the infections that it could have been, and he mentioned putting her on antibiotics as a way to clear up the infection.  That gave us a bit of hope.


By this time, Noel and I seemed pretty relieved as we understood that Phoebe probably had some sort of chest infection that antibiotics could easily clear up.  Mike said we’d have to wait for the results from the lab on the fluid around her heart, and we could go from there.

Around 4:30 PM, Mike phoned again.  This time, his voice was that type of voice you really don’t want to hear, like you know bad news is coming.  The results were back in, and while not super-conclusive, they showed that she had a possibility of having FIP or cancer.  While I can’t remember exactly what he was reading, a result of below 0.04 would indicate she had FIP, and a result of 0.08 or higher would indicate she didn’t have FIP  Her result was 0.06: a grey area.

Either way, it wasn’t a good result.  He kindly said that, if either diagnosis was the correct one, Phoebe did not have long to live.

I was in shock.  Noel asked me what he’d said, and I relayed it back to him as best as I could and then started to cry.  We were going to pick her up and talk with Mike to see what our options were.

The car ride there was very quiet.  We fought rush hour traffic (again) to get to the clinic.  Mike took us into the consultation room and showed us the x-rays and the beaker full of the fluid he’d taken from her chest.  He did explain again the two things he thought it could be, FIP or cancer, and told us he would get the lab to run another series of tests on her blood.  These tests could tell us which proteins were elevated, which might give us a better clue on what exactly she was facing.  He’d have the results on Tuesday or Wednesday.  Until then, Mike said, we were to keep Phoebe quiet and spend some quality time with her.

Phoebe talked and purred all the way home.  Noel was holding her cage, very upset, and crying.  I said I’d drive because I knew he’d be upset.

So… now it’s like we’re in a lobby, between life and the beyond.  Where do we go from here?  Is it actually FIP or cancer?  Could it be something else?  How long will we have to wait if she is dying?  If we have to euthanise her, do we go out on a high note or do we wait until she’s not well?

I hated playing God with Jenah.  It doesn’t feel right to me.  What right do I have to make that decision for her?  But another part of me knew that there was no hope for her, and letting her go was far better for her than letting her suffer.  And that goes for Phoebe as well.

Noel and I have been crying quite a bit.  When he starts to cry, I start to cry, but my insides scream a prayer to God that He gives me strength to help Noel and Phoebe through this.  Sissy, of course, has not helped matters by hissing, spitting, roaring, and generally being a bitch to her sister, like she did all those years ago, because she smells like being at the vet.

These last few years have been difficult years for us.  This week is a prime example of what has happened.  Here’s hoping that, whatever happens with Phoebe, it happens with no suffering, no pain, and us by her side.