Harley in the Hospital

Karen Treanor 


© Copyright 2011  by Karen Treanor

Photo of Harley, the kitten.

Here’s a light-hearted (but true) look at a recent visit to the vet.  It’s a draft chapter for the second volume of short stories about life in the Hills above Perth, Western Australia, which I hope to have published sometime this year. 

About 15 years ago my son’s old grey cat died. His tender-hearted sister imagined he’d be mourning the lost pet, and without asking anyone’s advice, turned up on the doorstep with a kitten.

It was a tiny silver tabby, far too young to have been taken from its mother. Erin had found it at a pet shop and decided it needed rescuing and would be perfect to fill the cat-shaped hole in her brother’s heart.

Hardly anyone isn’t enchanted by a kitten--even people who don’t like cats will smile at the sight of a tiny feline stalking a beetle or a dust bunny. Eamon received the gift kitten with a big smile. It sat in one of his huge hands like a puffball, putting its tiny paws on his thumb and shivering as it looked around. It had a very loud purr, rather like a little two-stroke engine, and so was christened “Harley”.

Eamon took the kitten to his room and everyone retired for the night. About 11.30 there was a roar from the back of the house. I bounded out of bed and in the hall met Eamon, who held the kitten suspended by its nape skin.

This kitten has walked all over my bed with poo on its feet!” he complained bitterly.

Well you know where the clean sheets are kept,” I replied, taking the quaking kitten. I washed it gently in the laundry sink and wrapped it in a hand towel and cuddled it until it was dry. This must have thrown a switch in the tiny brain, for the kitten decided I was his best friend. He was Eamon’s cat, sure, but mostly he looked to me for comfort. I took him for his inoculations, for his neutering, and for his first dental exam. It was almost like having a new baby around. Except for the neutering.

The following year Eamon bought a house down in the flatlands and feared that Harley would not adapt well to city living. “Maybe he can stay here for a while until I get sorted out,” he suggested. The sorting out process included a girlfriend, a wedding, a baby and a move to New Zealand.

Looks like we’ve got a permanent house guest,” Gene said, looking at Harley. Harley looked nervous and skulked off into the ivy.

Harley has always been a neurotic sort of cat, and that condition hasn’t improved as he has grown older. He’s frightened of children, visitors, tradesmen, and sometimes bandicoots. When startled he’s apt to respond with hissing and striking out at what he perceives as the source of the danger. Harley gets in such a state when going to the vet that I finally decided that it was more traumatic for the vet, the cat and me than catching cat flu would be. I heard that a lot of vets are now saying that once the cat has had the basic inoculations it’s safe to let several years go by between boosters.

So it was that I let Harley go for nearly 3 years without his shots. His odd personality became yet odder, and when he began behaving as if he were still a tom cat and offending our two neutered females, I realised he’d have to go see the vet again, and he might as well have his boosters while we were there. I had spoken to Dr Dan, the vet, about possible treatments, but he wanted to see Harley before prescribing anything.

On the appointed day I sneaked the cat carrier into the house and put it on the living room floor. Casually sidling up to Harley as he sat under the geraniums, I scritched his head and spoke in a reassuring tone. “So, what do you think of our chances of regaining the Ashes?” I asked, moving slowly closer. Harley gave me a nervous look and began to back away. I grabbed his front legs and pulled him into my arms, making more soothing noises as I did so.

Now Harley was surethere was something going on, something he wasn’t going to like. As we entered the living room he spotted the cat carrier. As I lowered him towards it, all four limbs shot out at right angles. I got the hind legs inside the carrier but the front legs had snagged the grill of the wood stove in passing and hung on like grim death. I pried off the paws but Harley managed to get one hind leg out and was slashing it through the air in search of an artery to sever. I feared I was going to have to break a leg or two to get him stashed in the carrier—which would at least make the coming vet visit worthwhile.

With a quick movement learned in Origami class, I managed to stuff the cat into the carrier and slam the lid. A loud yowl informed me that one limb was still outside.

Don’t be such a baby,” I ordered, releasing the pressure on the lid a trifle. Harley pulled the offended foot inside and sat on the cage floor yowling loudly. I put the locking bar in place and covered the carrier with a towel and stowed it in the car.

All the way up the road towards the vet clinic, Harley screamed, cried, implored, beseeched and sobbed. Then, about half a kilometre short of our destination, the noise stopped in mid-gargle. “Ooops,” I thought. “Harley? You okay in there?” No answer. I gave the carrier a little jiggle. Nothing.

Well, if he’s unconscious, that will probably make the examination simpler, and if he’s had a stroke and died, that solves a number of problems,” I thought, trying to see the bright side of the situation.

At the vet’s office, I put the cage down on the flatbed scale. “The cage weighs 1.9 kilograms, I know that from our last visit,” I said to Anne, the receptionist. “So that means the amount of dead cat comes to 4.19 kilograms.”

Dead?” Anne asked, coming around the counter to have a look. Harley lay unresponsive at the bottom of the carrier, ears flat to his skull, tail wrapped as far around himself as possible. “No, probably not dead: just dead scared.” She chuckled. I chuckled. Harley didn’t chuckle.

We sat waiting for Dr. Dan to finish with his previous patient, a cockatoo. Whatever the bird was suffering from, it wasn’t laryngitis. Through two closed doors we could hear the feathered fury protesting at the top of his lungs. “If he’s an in-patient, you guys are going to have a really fun afternoon,” I said to the receptionist. She grimaced.

Eventually it was Harley’s turn. We went into the examining room, and Dr. Dan opened the cage. “What caused the fainting fit?” he asked, removing a limp cat to the examining table.

Coming here,” I said, “But I don’t think he’s fainted, he’s got his eyes open. It’s a sort of terminal panic condition.”

Ah, now I remember him,” said Dan, slipping a thermometer into the prostrate cat. This indignity galvanised Harley; he sprang into the air and came down rigid-legged. I’d been expecting that, so I got my hands around his shoulders and tried to soothe him. A young woman I took for a veterinary nurse stepped to the table and tried to help.

Bits of fur began to blow around in the air conditioning. “He does that when he’s scared,” I said.

Really? I must find out about that,” she said, pulling out a tattered spiral-bound notebook and scribbling something. “I’m here for work experience,” she said.

Aha, a student vet: this would add to the coming fun, I thought.

Harley is a bit, um, odd. Weird, actually. Don’t get too close,” I explained.

Dr. Dan said, “We have discussed Harley’s personality problems previously. There’s a sort of tranquillizer I can give him, but we need to get some blood, it’s been a while since he was tested. The medication I have in mind can’t be given to cats with liver or kidney problems.”

The student vet and I patted Harley some more and spoke soothingly to him. Dr. Dan produced a syringe and explained that he’d like to try for a leg vein first, and if that didn’t work, then he’d go for the jugular. Harley and I both whimpered. Dan poked the needle into Harley’s front leg and hit the vein first time. Going to the lab with a tiny ampoule of blood, he said, “I’ll be right back, keep him quiet and I’ll bring his inoculation needle.”

Harley tried to claw his way along the top of the examining table, leaving sweaty footprints and more loose fur with every step. He got as close to me as he could and buried his nose under my arm, then collapsed flat. “Wow, he’s really scared, isn’t he?” asked the student vet, making another note in her book.

Sometimes he gets so upset he throws up,’ I said. “He’s the only cat I ever had who can projectile vomit.” The student took a discreet step back, but tried to look brave.

Dr. Dan came back, brandishing a needle full of pinkish fluid. He grasped Harley’s scruff and expertly inserted the needle and its contents. “Do you ever stab yourself when doing this?” I asked

No, but on occasion the needle’s gone straight through and squirted the vaccine outside. Not often, but it happens, especially with wiggly animals,” he said.

I had a thought for a short story,” I said conversationally. “There’s a vet who’s been asked to put an old pet to sleep, but the needle goes right thought and sticks the owner instead. It’s passed off as a tragic accident, but really the vet was out to get revenge for some fancied injustice.”

The young vet student took a further step back.

Where did that come from? I thought you wrote children’s books,” Dr. Dan said, massaging Harley’s shoulders.

And murder mysteries,” I said.

The vet student sidled towards the door at the back of the room. “I’ll just get that blood work going,” she said, and vanished.

Something I said?” I asked, picking up my limp and sweating cat and bundling him into the cage.

Can’t imagine what,” Dan said, handing me a prescription form. “Here’s your copy; we’ll fax this through to the vet supply laboratory for you once the blood test comes back OK. The lab will mail the medication to you in a few days; let me know how it works.”

Because Harley is so peculiar, I had opted for transdermal medication, which you smear inside the pet’s ear. Oral medication for Harley can lead to blood loss: mine

It’s been ten days now and Harley seems to be chilling out. He’s so laid back that I can’t find him most of the time, and the medicine is only being used about once every 36 hours. At this rate the one-month supply will last until Easter. The female cats seem to be calmer, and the bandicoots have taken to walking right over the napping cat when they find him in the shrubbery.

I might just try smearing a bit of the stuff inside my own ears.

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