"Oh, no," I thought, horrified. "They didn't call because our kitten died! Oh no, oh no, oh no!"
It was 4:18 a.m. when I awoke in a panic, grabbed my cell phone from the nightstand and quietly left the bedroom. The emergency weekend vet clinic was supposed to call by midnight with an update about our tuxedo cat, Jack. We had left him in its care because he was crying, not eating and hadn't peed in nearly a day.
Our 16-year old dog, Kit, met me by the bedroom door to let me know she needed to go out, and that I shouldn't worry about Jack.
"But you don't even like him," I said.
"That's beside the point," she responded, looking impatiently at the back door. "Open, Sesame!" she shouted.
I opened the door for Kit and watched her navigate the steps to the backyard. On a table near the door, I noticed the house phone blinking with a missed call... from the clinic.
Thank goodness! The clinic's message said a catheter helped Jack pee (ouch) and that he was sleeping soundly in his kennel. The doctor would discuss her prognosis with us when we picked Jack up at 7 a.m. (also ouch).
It had been a challenging week on the farm. Jack's was the third vet visit in the past week. Kit had developed some new allergies that left her lethargic, congested and with a considerably diminished appetite. Then Hazel--the athletic, outdoor dog that she is--had partially torn a cruciate ligament. The injury left her in obvious distress and unable to walk.
We also found out this week that our farm's property taxes had nearly doubled and that our house refinancing had reached an impasse. I suppose that's what we get for paying our mortgage on time each month.
"Well," I remarked to Kimberly, "there's nowhere to go but up."
"Unfortunately," she said, "we're still headed down. The guy giving us an estimate on the window repair found evidence of termites. The bug guys will come by the house tomorrow."
"Oh," I responded, a bit disheartened. "Maybe after that then."
All these unexpected "investments" meant that our dreams of planting fruit trees, finishing our chicken coop and saving money might have to wait until next year. I consoled myself with the thought that our series of mild misfortunes might help decrease the likelihood of any major disasters (knock on wood, of course).
Thankfully, things improved. A steroid shot eliminated Kit's sneezing and wheezing and restored her appetite. And after a short stint on pain pills, Hazel was walking, albeit carefully. I had a long talk with her about the fragility of her leg. If she tore the ligament completely, she'd need surgery and be house bound for eight weeks.
Hazel joined our family several years ago because she continually escaped from her city yard and was to be put down if animal control caught her roaming again. Being confined never suited her, and I hoped the threat of eight weeks inside would compel her to take care of her leg. I'm confident my talk with Hazel was effective: Now she warms up before jogging, and she's stopped chasing the UPS truck altogether.
After five hours of drilling and spraying, the exterminators assured us the termites' days were numbered and their feasting on our house would soon end. We found another option for refinancing the house and have our fingers crossed. (I don't know if crossing fingers helps, but it makes us feel better.)
Unfortunately, there was no way to fix the increased property taxes, but Kimberly and I worried about it less as we drove to pick up Jack. The doctor brought out Jack in his carrier. Jack was woozy with medication, but seemed to be feeling better. His head and neck were wrapped in a blue, cone-shaped collar and Vet Wrap covered several inches of his tail and front left leg. A generous coil of tubing was secured to his tail and disappeared behind him. An intravenous port protruded from the vet wrap on his leg.
"How are you feeling, little man?" I asked, opening his carrier and stroking his head.
"Dad," Jack purred, looking at me with droopy eyes. "I got a new trick to show you. Ready? Ta-da."
"You didn't do anything," I said. "You didn't even move."
"Funny," Jack purred. "That's what the beagle said." He barely finished his sentence before he fell asleep.
The doctor explained that an increase in the pH of Jack's urine encouraged the formation of calcium oxalate crystals and a bacterial infection, which kept Jack from relieving himself.
She recommended changing Jack's diet to include urine tract-friendly cat food (low magnesium, urine acidifying), and that we filter Jack's water. I've never bought a cat a water filter. I hope Jack likes it, because with the new filter, Kimberly and I will have spent nearly a grand on his tiny urethra. Who knew a "free" cat could be so expensive?
Jack was on the mend, but we couldn't take him home just yet. He needed another day and some more monitoring at his regular doctor's office. Before we left him, Jack submitted to additional poking and prodding as he lay limply on the metal examination table.
"His pain medication seems to be working," the doctor said.
"Your face is funny," Jack said, looking at me with eyes that were little more than drunken slivers. Kimberly gently patted his head. "Ta-daaaa..." Jack's voice trailed off as he drifted back to sleep.
The doctor picked Jack up, but it didn't wake him. We petted Jack one last time before his floppy, sleeping body was carried to his kennel.
Once home, Kimberly and I did what we usually do when the week wears us down--we changed into our "grubbies," left our cell phones in the house and sought refuge in the barn.
It was ironic that our typically fragile, sensitive horses had escaped the week of small setbacks without so much as a scratch or bug bite (yes, let's knock on wood again). We cleaned the stalls and brought the horses in ahead of the forecast rainstorms. The first drops fell as the horses got their buckets.
For a while, Kimberly and I lay in the barn aisle in a small pile of horse blankets, listening to the raindrop rhythms on the tin roof as the ponies munched on beet pulp and grain.
"Come with me," Kimberly said, standing up.
I got up as she opened Mandy's stall door. We stood quietly beside Mandy as she ate.
"Put your hands on her belly and her side," Kimberly said, guiding my arms.
I stood silently and slightly awkwardly hugging Mandy's right side. After a few silent moments, Mandy's belly and side shook with the surprisingly strong kicks of her foal. Mandy continued eating, seemingly unaware of--or at least unperturbed by--the tiny tremors.
Kimberly and I giggled like little kids, taking turns hugging Mandy's side while the foal kicked. We laughed even harder when we stepped back and watched the rapid-fire series of bulges in Mandy's belly. We laughed until Mandy raised her head and snorted at us. We snickered quietly as we latched her door and returned to the pile of blankets.
Hazel, perhaps investigating the commotion in the barn, arrived and found a spot beside us in the blankets. Macy and Sascha peered down at us from the hay bales in the barn loft. A light, rain-scented breeze drifted through the barn aisle. I couldn't fight it any longer--I pulled a fleece cooler over us and fell asleep, just like that..
Jeremy Law and his wife, Kimberly, live on a small farm in North Carolina.
Read Jeremy's other columns in EquiSearch.com's Humor section.