Back in January, I first noticed that Charlotte was having some trouble getting around. This was rather uncharacteristic of my typically acrobatic alpha-cat, so I called the vet. There were a few test results that came back indicating some dehydration, and perhaps a minor infection, but not much more of an immediately obvious problem. The vet kept her overnight, and we started her on a supplement and some low fat, low protein cat food at home.
Unfortunately, the story didn’t end there. It appeared to me that she was having an increasingly difficult time walking around. It was as if she had lost some control over the hind-half of her body. To be safe, I lifted her onto surfaces (couches, beds, etc.) rathe than trust her to make the jump successfully on her own. The change was so gradual, and there were “good days” and “bad days” to boot. We continued to get her tested for other problems–we had her x-rayed for arthritis; we took her to a specialist in internal medicine to have a look at her internal organs. Nothing gave us the “ah-ha!” result we were looking for, and it was undeniable that something was truly wrong with her.
One night, I had trouble sleeping. This happens to me occasionally–no amount of sedative was going to knock me out. I was shifting back and forth in bed, and I didn’t want to disturb Stephen, so I moved onto the futon in my office. I was immediately joined by several cats, including Charlotte. That’s when I started thinking. I first thought: “What haven’t we looked at yet?” I went over all of the tests Charlotte had to that point. We had a complete battery of bloodwork, we had images of her skeletal system, we had images of all of her internal organs.
What didn’t we have an image of?
I’m not sure if I said that out loud. The next day, I called the vet and asked him if her symptoms could have possibly been caused by a stroke. Charlotte is 12 years old, and stroke can affect mobility. The vet agreed–not his first choice, but definitely a possibility. He referred us to a neurologist who specialized in pets, and we immediately made an appointment.
Stephen took her to the neurologist, and I waited for the phone call. The specialist ordered an MRI of her head to start. When the secretary called us up to tell us to come in for about 5 p.m to go over the results, I knew he had found something. And any “something” wasn’t going to be good.
We weren’t kept waiting for long, and it was the neurologist working on Charlotte’s case who talked to us himself. He set up a computer to show us the images revealed by the MRI. As he proceeded “across” her head, suddenly, you could see it–a mass at the back of her head, quite large, pressing on her brain stem. The neurologist explained to us that this was likely a benign tumor, growing on the outside of her brain rather than on the inside. Because it was pressing on her brain stem at the back, this was compromising her mobility. And, if we didn’t remove it, it would eventually kill her.
Coming face-to-face with the mortality of a pet is one of the most challenging experiences–Charlotte is one of three girls I adopted when they were only about 6 weeks old back in 2003. I always knew there would come a time when they would no longer be a part of my life, but I did not expect to deal with this kind of health issue. This was going to be expensive, and we would have to make economies in other ways in our lives. However, at the very least, Stephen and I were in agreement that we had to do the best thing for her; we had to give her the best chance we possibly could to have a high quality of life. Surgery was the only way we could ever hope to make that possible.
Charlotte went in for brain surgery two Thursdays back. We dropped her off the day before her scheduled operation, and I tried very hard to push out of my mind the fact that after I handed her over to their care, I may never see her again. The phone was never more than a foot away from me over the next five days. The first day of surgery was largely successful, and much of the mass had been removed, but the neurologist did see that there was still a piece of the tumor after the operation was over. He recommended that he try to remove the remaining piece the following day, and we authorized him to do so. That afternoon, he called to report that the last piece of the tumor had been successfully removed, and Charlotte would spend the weekend recovering with them, but that the prognosis looked good.
Charlotte came home on Monday, and we separated her from the other cats, setting her up in the bedroom. As soon as we let her out of the cat carrier, she immediately sat on the bed–she knew she was home.
Charlotte has been recovering slowly. She is still having some trouble getting around, but this has gradually improved since her arrival home. She is walking much more confidently, jumping successfully on beds and chairs. At first, she seemed to really want to stay on her own, but about a week into the recovery process, she insisted upon coming out of the bedroom and spending time with the other cats. She has spent most of her life surrounded by her sisters, at the very least, so this didn’t come as a surprise, and it was a sure sign that Charlotte was acting a lot more like herself.
She immediately joined her “best friend,” Oscar, on the futon.
It is likely that Charlotte’s recovery is going to take time. We will see the neurologist for a follow-up on Monday, and he will likely suggest some options to help us determine where we go from here. We are eager to hear from him how Charlotte’s recovery is progressing, in his opinion. Our hope, of course, is that, one day, Charlotte can go back outside to chase the birds, watch the “territory” and continue tutoring Oscar in the art of climbing trees. However, in the meantime, we are very thankful to have Charlotte with us, and we hope that we can continue to provide her with the best possible care and a good quality, much loved, life.