Have you ever been so shaken by an experience that you had to write about it? That happened to me a year ago with my cat. She’s now fourteen-years-old but we got her as a stray in 2004. My dog Arrow had cornered her in our backyard. She was a beautiful ragdoll calico with a black patch on her nose. Arrow had bit her, but not hard, so we rushed her to the vet to try and save her. After she was stitched up, we contacted our neighbor whose garage she had been sleeping in, but the neighbor told us she didn’t want her. Meanwhile, our little stray had a warm disposition and chirpy chattiness and sweet playfulness. So, with the cyclists in the Tour de France riding up the Col de la Madeleine that day, we brought her home and named her Madeleine. We joked it was Arrow’s punishment that he’d have to live with her the rest of his life. A bit surprisingly, he did with warm affection.
A Kitty Medical Emergency
After 12 years of health and happiness, last year Maddie got a urinary tract infection. As the vet tried different antibiotics to clear it up, the cat progressively lost weight. It turned out she had a thyroid condition too. For two months, we treated her with the wrong medicines, stumped by why she was so thin and so inactive. Then one day in November, she refused to eat. When I coaxed her, she threw up in her food bowl, twice. There was blood in her kitty box. So, we took her to the animal hospital.
Needless to say, the vet was alarmed at her frail condition and wanted to keep Maddie overnight to give her fluids and run tests. My husband and I drove home, convinced the safest place for her was in the hospital.
That was only partly true. Just as we were sitting down to dinner, we got a call. The doctor’s voice was shaky, even breathless. Maddie had gone into cardiac arrest and flatlined. She’d died. But the team had revived her. She wanted to know if we could come to the hospital right away. I hung up and we grabbed our coats. I’d never driven in such a terrible state, tears clouding my eyes, hands shaking. I know it was ridiculous to be behind the wheel but my husband let me drive because he knew I needed to be in control.
When we rushed into the emergency room, we found a saggy, somehow wet cat, lying on her side, so skinny and pathetic with a chunky oxygen mask on her face. Her eyes pulsed as she tried to make sense of the world. I stroked her hair and talked to her and loved her as much as you can love a cat on a towel on a stainless steel table. We talked with the vet about how Maddie might suffer another heart attack and die within 48 hours, how the vet didn’t know why she’d let out a screech and gone into cardiac arrest, and how they would try a new antibiotic and keep her in an oxygen kennel to help her recover.
We went home. I let my husband drive as I sat aching with the most pointed sadness I’d felt since he’d been diagnosed with cancer. Thankfully, he’d recovered years earlier and I’d hoped my cat would as well. I sent messages to the universe to keep her safe, to give me just a few more months with her, and asked that Maddie didn’t end life in a hospital but at home in my arms.
Thankfully, it all worked out. The vet decided she’d had a heart attack because she’d passed a blood clot. Once she’d passed the clot, she felt better. The new antibiotic they’d given her had a positive effect. And most importantly, she wanted to eat. After another day of treatment, we brought her home and I’m happy to report now, a year later, the infection cleared, she gained weight, and outside of mild kidney disease, she’s as healthy as can be.
A Cat’s Out-of-Body Experience
Still, I couldn’t help wondering if Maddie had had an out-of-body experience during those few moments when she’d died. Had she seen her body lying on the exam table with the doctors and vet techs surrounding her? Had she felt that calm, detached sensation many people report? I wasn’t sure, but I began imagining a story about a cat who, while in the afterlife world, received a message from another soul in that world. A soul who needed to send a message to the living. A message that perhaps was about that person’s death not being as innocent as everyone thought it had been.
The Healing Power of Writing
I ended up writing the story, which turned into a novel called Song of the Tree Hollow. In it, a young protagonist named Vero comes home from graduate school to care for her sick cat while her mom’s in rehab. Vero’s cat Sophie goes through what Maddie went through. But in Song of the Tree Hollow, Sophie comes back with a message she needs to communicate to Vero. How she does this through cat behavior, along with Vero’s journey toward the dark truth of her family history, forms the rest of the story.
I have to admit it was cathartic and fun to write. I know I’m lucky that Maddie recovered. Alas, my dear old dog Arrow passed away several years ago. Our beloved pets don’t live forever, but at least with Song of the Tree Hollow, I’ve healed through the power of writing while giving my sweet Madeleine a bit of immortality.
Have you had any intense experiences with your pets? Tell me in the comments below!
About the author
Karen Hugg writes literary mysteries inspired by plants. Her stories are set in worlds where plants, real or imagined, affect people in strange new ways. Her aim is to entertain and inspire readers, to get them thinking while their hearts are pounding. She’s a certified ornamental horticulturalist and Master Pruner. She’s been published in various journals, anthologies, and websites. Her life is happily hectic but she’s lucky to have a patient husband and sweet children. Her pets aren’t bad either. To learn more, explore http://www.karenhugg.com.
Song of the Tree Hollow is available on Amazon for .99 cents. Free for Kindle Unlimited members.
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