Five Years Plus

{July 3, 2010}   The Ninth Life

July 1 is my dad’s birthday, Canada Day which commemorates the birth of Canada where I was born and the one year anniversary of the rebirth of Ivy, our cat. As I awaken to the “cat alarm” (her incessant meowing outside the bedroom) at 6 am, my annoyance is tempered with gratitude that she is still alive.

Most people have heard that pets are good for the health of their human companions. They can help to improve mood, reduce stress, lower blood pressure and provide unconditional love, which can lift depressed spirits and extend life. Ivy also seems to have special powers and her former cat-sitter identified her as a “natural healer”. For example, when I am experiencing insomnia, she will rest on my belly for as long as it takes for her tender purring to bring relief.

Ivy was born in a barn. Luke found her on an annual sojourn to Lucksinger’s tree farm. “Since its Christmas time, let’s call her Ivy”, the kids suggested. Chuck nicknamed her after Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of great compassion. She certainly embodies the quality of steadfast commitment to her family, coming back time and time again to shower us with her love even when we, tangled in our busy lives, reject her approaches. Both Chuck and I are allergic to cat dander, so any physical contact must be followed by hand washing and sometimes clothes washing. Even so, Ivy is such a special cat that we feel blessed to have her in the family.

During the spring of 2009 Ivy was noticeably depressed, showed no interest in going outside, was overweight, and having some issues with her teeth. I thought she might have diabeties and took her to the vet for some tests. Her blood work showed anemia and we put her on vitamins and a course of antibiotics in preparation for surgery on her teeth. Within ten days she suddenly began to vomit severely. Hours later her breathing was labored and I feared she might not survive the night.

The next morning she was still alive, but breathing with difficulty. After more blood work and some x-rays, Chuck was shown a fuzzy slide that supposedly revealed “extensive cancer”, pronounced as certain to be terminal. The vet suggested we consider her “quality of life” and say our good-byes, but agreed to give her intravenous fluids over the next day. We had the kids and a few friends come by and I spent every available moment with her, appreciating the little time I had left. There were many tears. Each day thereafter we took her to the vet for intravenous fluids. When she arrived home she would take a few wobbly steps before collapsing into her makeshift nest in the laundry room. I could not entice her to eat or drink anything, but she did not seem to be in pain or worsening so we could not bring ourselves to put her down.

Nine days into the ordeal, a friend who is a vet warned us that when cats stop eating, especially overweight ones, they face the danger of developing hepatic lipidosis, a life threatening condition whereby fat being burned for fuel is not fully metabolized and ends up accumulating in the liver tissue. At this point we noticed she actually did better when not having the stress of the daily vet visit, so we kept her at home and began to force feed her, slipping small amounts of watered down wet cat food into her mouth. We thought it was a good sign that she fought us all the way. By the end of the second week she drank a little water on her own and licked some heavy cream off my finger. Every day, Chuck held her and fed her with a syringe until one morning she had had enough and started eating on her own again.

It’s been a year and I think we’ve finally figured out what works best for her food. Since her teeth are not strong, she primarily eats high protein canned food and no longer chows down the dried kibble that made her so fat in the first place. She also enjoys chicken, salmon, scallops and shrimp. I supplement her food with vitamin paste and cod liver oil. I know there is a theory that cats should eat raw food only, but she is doing so well that I hate to meddle. Marveling at Ivy sprinting across the garden and bounding through the stone path this afternoon, it’s hard to believe she ever had cancer. The truth is she didn’t.

Blurry x-rays images are difficult to read even for experts. Human x-rays are read by experienced radiologists and there is still a risk of false positives and negatives. For example, most suspicious mammograms do not result in a cancer diagnosis. It is estimated that of 1000 women receiving a mammogram, 70 are called back for further imaging. Ten of these 70 will have biopsies, and of these 10, 3.5 will be diagnosed with cancer. To put it another way, 95% of women called back for additional screening after a routine mammogram don’t have cancer. On the other hand, receiving a negative result on a mammogram doesn’t guarantee that the breasts are cancer-free. The National Cancer Institute estimates that about one in five cancers present at the time of screening are missed by mammograms.

So, if Ivy didn’t have cancer, what made her so sick? I have no way to prove this, but my suspicion is that she had an adverse reaction to the injectable antibiotic I had been giving her for 10 days prior. Although none of my Internet research reported a reaction as strong as this, nausea and vomiting are common side effects of Baytril. Negative reactions to drugs are very common in humans as well and is the number one cause of iatrogenic death (death brought about  by a “physician’s activity, manner, or therapy”). It’s rather shocking that 225,000 deaths per year may be iatrogenic, making this the third most fatal disease in the United States.

So perhaps our cat’s illness was iatrogenic and then misdiagnosed as cancer by a false positive reading of an x-ray. To this day it remains a mystery, as does the mechanism behind her recovery. I do feel quite certain that our love played a large part in her healing. We believed in her and were not willing to give up. Of course medical treatments are often an important component of healing. However, one must not underestimate the power of love.


Ann Hedley says:

Ivy is looking more svelte then I remember!

Jim says:

i have long been an advocate of the less is best approach when it comes to treatment with prescription medication. the more drugs, the more chance of serious and fatal side effects due to the interaction among the drugs. If the fact that iatrogenesis is the third leading cause of death could be widely publicised, perhaps patients would be less likely to ‘demand’ Rx from their doctor…the reason that most docs push drugs so much is that it is the ‘standard of care,’ but that could change if patients were aware.

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