Seniors & Aging

Pam Stone | Dash up steep grade cures cat crisis

You know that feeling when it’s the end of a long, hot, summer day, and you’re sitting around in your underwear (and to the neighbor who dropped by to generously share their garden zukes, yes, I realize you can’t unsee what you saw, but you should have called first), opening a cold one, about to yell at “House Hunters,” and suddenly your healthy, young cat begins to present acute neurological symptoms that necessitate a trip to the emergency clinic at 9 p.m.?

Oh, you don’t? So I’m the only one with a vet on retainer?

Mia, the 5-year-old calico we inherited from my mother, normally bouncy, rude with health and “tortitude,” was spied, by Paul, uncharacteristically curled up in a corner when she is generally on his lap and, scooping her up, found her to appear disoriented. Placing her gently on the floor, Paul said calmly, albeit with a note of alarm, “There’s something wrong with Mia.”

When I looked up, I saw her begin to stagger in circles, stumbling and tilting her head.

Google is your friend at these sort of crisis moments, and entering the symptoms, I found they were textbook for vestibular disease – think Menier’s Disease in humans: sudden onset violent vertigo linked to something wrong with the inner ear. Obviously, it could be other things as well, but as we rushed about and stowed her in the travel crate and piled into the car to head to the clinic in Hendersonville, N.C. – except Paul had to slam the Hyundai in reverse halfway up the driveway to return to the house, as I had forgotten to put on pants – I was heartened to read that if it were indeed vestibular disease, it was entirely treatable.

With Mia yowling all the way up the Saluda Grade and serenading us for a further full 20 minutes, we arrived at the clinic, and she was immediately taken in. Before long, we were summoned into an examination room where the on-duty vet, amiable and lanky, joined us carrying a completely alert and cheerful Mia, displaying no symptoms whatsoever and rubbing against each one of us in turn.

“It’s like taking your car to the mechanic only to have it run perfectly when it gets there,” I muttered, thinking of how I’d forgotten to put my glass of beer back in the fridge.

We heard about how it’s difficult to diagnose a cat with no symptoms (although Mia was touchy about her ears) or temperature, and how she’s really rather young to have had a stroke, and the only way to confirm a diagnosis would be blood work, but we might as well have our regular vet do that and save a few bucks, as she seemed perfectly fine. And then we, quite forgetting Mia, began to talk about sustainable farming and the slow food movement and how Paul had used cedar oil to curtail Japanese beetles, while the vet showed us photos on his smartphone of his latest crop of purple potatoes. Viscous drops were put into Mia’s ears to help with any infection, we paid the bill (most reasonable) and left.

“I love that guy!” I exclaimed, sliding Mia into the backseat.

“Everyone there was so reassuring and comforting,” Paul agreed. “So many of those places, the first thing they say as you enter is, ‘We need your credit card.’”

Merging back onto I-26 to wend our way back home, Mia’s purring distinctly audible from the confines of her crate, Paul mused again, “It’s just so weird that she was miraculously fine as soon as we got to the vet’s. I mean, she looked so bad I was preparing myself for the worst.”

“Me too,” I replied. “And the vet agreed it certainly sounded vestibular from the symptoms, as well as possibly an infection or the beginnings of a virus, and we’ll find out tomorrow when we take her to Dr. Jenny, but if it is inner ear, how could it clear up in the blink of an eye?”

Paul began to decelerate as the sign warning drivers of the steep descent of the Saluda Grade appeared.

The Grade. That ear-popping grade we’d just ascended on the way to the clinic.

“That’s it!” I yelped so loudly that Paul nearly drove off the road.

“What the hell?!” he gasped, with annoyance.

“I know this sounds crazy, but if her ear was stopped up from either infection or whatever, wouldn’t the popping of gaining altitude help it open up? I mean, mine popped all the way up!”

“Maybe,” said Paul, “It just might. We’ll know for sure when we run her in for tests tomorrow.”

Funny thing … I’ve always disliked driving that grade. Going up, I’m usually behind a crawling big rig with an overheated transmission, and coming down, another one is on my tail, regardless of my being in the slow lane, its load in danger of shifting and brakes smoking, driven by a neophyte trucker cranked up on Red Bull.

But if that grade has just saved us another $500 vet bill, I may have to send it flowers.


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