A Big Ol’ Heart

A reputable photojournalist would have captured Ki’o and Lynn snoozing together, or at least asked for a copy of the x-ray of his heart, but all you get from this photojournalist is a cat at his most puddle-like.

Friday did not go as planned, as is frequently the case, but the case rarely involves contact with three different veterinary services nearly simultaneously.

You may recall, Na Ki’o was not moving very well, and I got a Thursday morning appointment at his usual clinic but with a new veterinarian — an appointment that didn’t go very well as it veered far away from the concern at hand.

After writing about it, I determined to call the mobile vet who only takes on senior and hospice patients. Which I did, promptly at 10 when her website said her hours start for the day. I had to leave a message, and she didn’t call back. With the weekend looming, I decided at 2 to call the vet Ki’o has seen off and on, even though she currently has two other vets on staff and I was afraid of a repeat of the Thursday experience.

Fortune was with me, though: Dr. Seward herself was available at 3 for an “urgent care” appointment (urgent = $$). Lynn and I packed up Ki’o for the second day in a row and headed for a vet’s parking lot. This one was a happenin’ place, with vets and technicians hustling from car to car and dog to dog, which made Oz a very whiny presence in the back seat.

Even though it wasn’t my original plan, I think this was the best option for Ki’o on Friday. Despite the hubbub, Dr. Seward gave our cat a thorough exam, x-raying him at our request, because both Lynn and I were convinced, despite a vet’s opinion on Thursday that the limp was related to an old injury near his back legs, that the problem was with a front leg.

While we didn’t get to see the exam took place, we further benefited from the weather, which was warm and sunny, positively springlike even though Dr. Seward said she wasn’t falling for it yet. It was easy enough to stand in the sun and converse.

But Dr. Seward did not have particularly good news for us. She did agree with us that he seemed gimpy up front, but after manipulating and stretching out his forelegs, it seemed the limp was switching legs and not easily identifiable. Her concern is that this has nothing to do with musculoskeletal issues and everything to do with his heart. The really bad news is that there isn’t much to be done for kitty heart disease.

This diagnosis, which Dr. Seward was going to confirm with a veterinary cardio service, did not actually come as a surprise to me, because several times over the course of Wednesday through Friday as Ki’o sat with his foreleg in odd positions, it almost seemed like he was reacting the way people describe feeling the symptoms of heart attacks or strokes. I even wondered if he was having a heart attack, but if so, it was unwinding in super slow motion.

Dr. Seward thinks what he did was throw off a clot. Usually they go to a cat’s back, she said, speculating that the limp he had in January might have also been a clot. If they are clots, they should break up and dissolve within a week or so.

She brought out pictures of the x-rays, which is always my favorite part, as veterinarians and doctors say, oh here you see this and over there is that, all the while I’m squinting and trying to see anything that looks like something.

But Ki’o’s heart was plenty easy for even the most lay of laypeople among us: it was a large white mass completely filling the space inside his ribcage. I could not see at all the vessels emanating from it, two of them, one vastly larger (I was told) than the other. They’re both supposed to be the same size.

Now, there is arthritis (if I squinted, I could maybe pretend I saw that on the x-rays) in his shoulders, so it isn’t — yet — definitively his heart, but at the moment that’s the best guess. We were sent home with gabapentin, a pain reliever that acts on the nerves rather than the opioid we were prescribed by the other clinic, and told to boost the steroid we give him to keep his asthma in check.

Now, while this was all playing out, I was getting calls from all kinds of other vets. The first call came while we were in the car waiting for Dr. Seward, but in my phone ineptitude I didn’t get it answered, so instead I got a voice mail telling me a bottle of the liquid joint medication had arrived at the first clinic. It’s expensive, but apparently a lifetime supply — and this was in a message where they don’t know about the potential heart condition.

My phone also rang while I was talking to Dr. Seward, and it was the vet I had called that morning. She had an excuse for not calling back sooner, the kind of excuse I don’t like hearing as my time in the queue grows shorter: she was laid low by her second covid vaccination, administered the day before. (Gilly was out from work with the same issue on the same day.)

Otherwise, Dr. Portmann’s was a reassuring, calm voice as she left a thorough message detailing what she could and could not offer with her all-mobile vet service. In hindsight, it worked out that we went to Dr. Seward with her diagnostic capabilities, but I called Dr. Portmann back when we got home.

It was a touch unnerving, because I only left my name and she knew not only Lynn’s but Oz’s, and even though we were briefly neighbors on Irwin (her family moved in not too long before we moved out), I didn’t think we’d had any interaction other than saying “hello” as Oz and I walked past.

But she was warm and soothing over the phone, listening carefully as I caught her up to date on Na Ki’o’s revised status. She said she works in tandem with Dr. Seward all the time, and has several strategies for pain relief and quality of life. Once we see what the cardiac consultation says, we will definitely have Dr. Portmann come out to see what can be done to keep Ki’o comfortable.

Saturday morning he felt well enough to lie on the floor and play with his little stuffed fish, and he’s been enthusiastic enough about food (like that’s something new). But Saturday afternoon and almost all of Sunday he crawled up on the couch and didn’t move, perhaps feeling like Dr. Portmann and Gilly under the effects of vaccination.

This morning he’s again almost running for his food and he’s a bit more mobile, but I don’t know that it would be wise to expect a long-term outlook for our 13-year-old cat who’s had diabetes for more than half his life.

He’s a gamer, though, never one to complain, unless we aren’t feeding him promptly enough. He has that big loud purr, and he and Lynn made a cute picture together as they slept Sunday morning in the recliner, his nose in her neck. The x-ray only confirmed in medical terms what we already knew about this sweet boy: he has a big ol’ heart.

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