On Love – my critically ill cat, chronic illness, and online community

The day before Thanksgiving before my second pituitary surgery, one of my friends called from work. She had a paper due but had to work. Would I pick it up and take it to school for her so she wouldn’t fail. I said “yes.” It was 45 minutes each way to school and then tolls on top. I asked if the paper was done and she relied that it was. This friend was a newly found friend that was so supportive of my struggles getting diagnosis and treatment for Cushing’s Disease. It was a small thing to do. She worked at a local animal hospital. When I got there, she still was not done with the paper. I went to occupy myself and I saw a beautiful, huge, grey cat cowering in the corner under a desk. I was not a cat person but I wanted to comfort the animal. He was rescued from a county facility. As they were taking him back to euthanize him because the men that worked there didn’t like cats, the only woman there who was off duty just happened to come in and got him. The vet had just finished his checks, neutering, and vaccinations. I asked if I could hold him and how to hold him. I was told that he would tell me. He was so tense when I picked him up but he immediately fell into my arms to be held like a baby, pushed his head in to my shoulder, started a low and deep purr, and then gazed into my eyes. He locked on my eyes and I just stared back. Not knowing what I was doing, I said, “Don’t worry baby, I have you.”

I had moved in with my parents so I could have support with my health and restarting my life. I had to convince them I needed this cat. My mom answered the phone and said that she thought that I needed a cat but I would have to ask my dad. I got his answering machine so I said, ” Dad, I know you are busy. I found a cat that I want. Mom said it is OK with her if it is with you. If I don’t hear back in 5 minutes, I will assume it is OK.” That was so out of character for me but I was hoping humor would help. I got the approvals, turned in the paper, and then got my cat.

I always thought that I was a dog person. This cat was so attentive and focused on me but also annoying. Every chance he would get, he would sniff around my forehead and nose, claw, bite, and scratch while howling at my forehead between my eyes…he knew. The day that I left for surgery, he ran down the hall yowling and raking his claws down the hall wall as he went. It was the only time he was ever bad like that. When I got home, he found his place sleeping with me. Recovery was difficult because I kept being woken up with him on my chest and his tongue up my nose on the side the surgery was done. Purring. He always purred while tending to me and staring in my eyes.

He has always acted as my protector and healer. My most sensitive pet, he always knows. He has helped me with socializing my feral and been buds with all of my other pets…this is not a typical cat. Needless to say, he has a special place in my heart.

He has been looking sick but because he continued to act the same, I thought he was fine. Then one night, I saw the yellow in his skin and he threw up. He went to the vet the next morning. It was going to be $400 just to find out what was wrong but he really needed the emergency vet. As it is, my finances, career, and health are a shambles. None of this was really something I could even grasp. Already in the weeds with just about everything, this was not something I was prepared to even approach. I currently require a lot of money from my parents every month. However, he has been such an important part of my life and I felt badly for not catching it earlier so I said, “yes.” I couldn’t not know if it was something that could be treated. As I have learned, the reason I caught it so late is he perks up and fakes around me.  He was normal in front of me but when I wasn’t there, he couldn’t even hold his head up. His love for me is why he got so sick.

I had posted on Facebook the night before asking for prayers for Wiley and explained a little bit about the situation. I replied back on that post giving an update and that it broke my heart that because of these changes in my life and ruined plans that I would not be able to care for him. I worried that I would be viewed as an irresponsible pet owner. When I got him, I thought that I would definitely be done with school and have a good job…even with planning on doing a PhD. How could I not care for an animal that put me above everything and cared so deeply for me.  This was my only pet that refused treats and barely ate when I left him to go out of town.He is special.

Who I am, I never would have aired any of this. I use to feel like this was normal life that we all just deal with. Finances shouldn’t be discussed publicly. However, with how my health has been and the untreated deficiencies along with learning to manage with adrenal insufficiency, I have been pushed to change. I had to reach out.

About 30 minutes after I left him at the vet, I was back at work with the intention of staying. Very suddenly, I felt nauseated and dizzy. I was so weak that I shuffled along. I had already up dosed but clearly I needed more. At my desk, there was so much noise that I needed to get away. I wanted to go home but I had taken more hydrocortisone several times with only a brief improvement in my adrenal insufficiency symptoms. My headache was awful along with tension throughout my body. I usually don’t get headaches. Headache and the tension could be associated with AI but it could also be the stress of the situation. I was so worried about not being dramatic yet still taking care of myself. I wanted to show that I am strong and capable by working. I needed the money. However, I ultimately decided to go to another floor where it was quiet to sit with a coworker. My AI was not under control and I was worried about my safety. Several of my coworkers immediately stopped working to help and see what they could do. I asked them to just watch my AI symptoms and be there if something happened. They made sure that I had plenty of fluids and got some crackers for taking more hc. Eventually, I felt well enough that I went home. They all offered to drive, check back, and bring food but I was embarrassed and said I was OK. When I got home, I started really drinking more water and ate a lot of salt. It was the help of coworkers and friends online that got me to the point that I felt comfortable alone.

During this time, I had several people comment on my Facebook post that I should start a GoFundMe and they would donate. I said that I would consider it but really didn’t. I know people that have been questioned about the validity of fundraisers. While I understand giving help, asking for help like that I couldn’t understand. It had been suggested before to help defray my medical costs but I couldn’t entertain it. However, for Wiley, my heart changed. I had a long talk with someone. Ultimately, I know how it feels when I learn about someone else’s pain and I want to help. Helping others feels good and it is something that can make change. After a long nap, I got up that night and made a PayPal link.

When I shared the link, I also asked for prayers and also help from someone else that has AI. I was blown away. In hours I almost got the entire amount needed for diagnostics and initial hospitalization. This gave me the buffer I needed to take care of my own health, come to terms with the situation, and make decisions. I am unable to articulate how blessed I am. The people that reached out range from those that I both knew in passing to those I have never met. Those that had the ability to give and those that I know it was hard for them. I cried to feel such love and support. Additionally, I received so many personal stories, advice, and help. I learned from others about how the role of a pet changes with chronic illness and it wasn’t just my experience. I got so much help with dealing with the feelings that I had of failure and guilt. I hate saying those words but they were passing emotions that I had. Before I never would have shared this but I did because I hoped that others would understand. Few people understand putting every last bit of energy into just the basics and having nothing left. Because of my own health and financial situation, I do think that I tried to see the positives in Wiley’s behavior and tell myself that he was OK. The number of people that I spoke with that understand how every effort and intention can be undermined by something like health and how difficult that is helped. I hate to think that others went through this but I found comfort.

In our community, we have had people that have taken advantage of others faking illness and crisis. Knowing of those situations, and being leery of people that are really open about private things like that made this leap very difficult for me. I use to think that I would never ask for help in this way because I wanted my friendships even (or me giving more) and my motives never questioned. Now I know how important support in these ways can be. My online friends have been able to help in ways that family and those I see every day can’t. Having adrenal insufficiency in particular makes having a support network, being open, and asking for help very important. After being burned in the past, I took on a world view that really is incompatible with where I am now. This situation has pushed me to re-evaluate my beliefs and approaches. I am so grateful to others for their support and teaching me other viewpoints.

I believe that this support has helped me get to a place where I am not worrying about my health becoming and issue so I can focus on Wiley as I should. Right now, it is all about him.

This morning at 8:45, the vet called to tell me he was doing much worse and asked how soon I could be there. She said she didn’t know how my health impacted my ability to get there but I needed to be there ASAP. When I got there, he perked up. I asked about the feeding tube that was offered before against the wishes of my family. One was put in and he has tolerated it. He has had 2 feedings and another visit by the vet so I am still hopeful. Being in a better place, I have been able to be there for Wiley and attend to him without being upset. If I am upset, it agitates him. Tomorrow, I should hopefully hear good news or have to make a decision.

My purpose of sharing this is that often in the communities, we have trouble and argue on how situations like this should be handled. Sometimes it throws up suspicion. Sometimes it pushes us to hold back. Being open can lead to loss of support or the support needed. In reality, chronic illness for many of us permeates so many aspects of our lives. Accepting support and help in critical times that could result in a spiral is very important. Especially when dealing with adrenal insufficiency, it helps to have a support network that can be relied upon. I am still working on my plan for how to respond in appropriate thanks and document the help but I am happy that I took that leap.



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