As an unabashed crazy cat lady, I recently decided to throw my kitten princess, Nala, a slight spectacle to celebrate for her second birthday. From a much too glittery banner whose remnants I keep discovering weeks later to bribing friends to attend with free dinner and copious amounts of wine, I only stopped short of slapping a party hat on her tiny face and holding her aloft for worship à la The Lion King. And that’s only because I knew such tactics would result in open mauling.
The festivities kicked off the evening before September 1, when I tried my hand at being a Pinterest goddess and, like so many others, failed spectacularly. Knowing I needed an extra special something to make my friends willing to indulge me and take photos of the party, I thought I would whip up some cupcakes and decorate them to look like cats. It sure seemed easy in mind, but the results looked like vaguely evil clowns. As you can see, after one attempt at a full face of whiskers, I quickly abandoned hope of precise detailing.
The morning of the big day kicked off with presents; new toys with which she played for five minutes and then promptly ignored, in typical finicky cat fashion. I do take pride in the fact that the toy that held her interest for the longest was a catnip-stuffed Donald Trump chew toy. Watching her gnaw on the head was a most enjoyable experience, and perhaps some of the best money I’ve spent in the past month.
After work, it was party time. Up went that aforementioned unexpectedly glittering banner, pop went the many bottles of wine being uncorked and as I threw together an easy pan of stir-fry, I also checked on the cat-friendly cupcakes whose recipe I found, of course, on Buzzfeed. Essentially tuna fish mixed with a dash of flour and one egg, then baked, I knew it was unlikely to entice my snooty kitten, but you bet I was going to fill it in an adorable floral cupcake tin and shove the oversized number candle in there for a photo-op. By the second line of “Happy Birthday,” Nala was clearly no longer having it and preparing to backflip out of my arms and scamper under the table, but I’ll take what I can get.
Now, before you openly scoff and prepare for a biting retort, I’ll preface this openly embarrassing cat obsession with Nala’s history. At six months old, we came home from work one day to discover she had lost the use of her back legs and was moving around the apartment by dragging her limp body with her front paws. We thankfully already had a vet appointment that evening, because she had been having difficulty jumping the prior two days, but this was a vast decline. We had simply assumed she had pulled a muscle in a back leg after getting herself into typical Nala trouble, like getting stuck behind the dresser. Instead, the vet visit was ripe with concern of a spinal cord injury because her back legs were entirely paralyzed – impervious to even reflexes, which apparently is the big bad sign – until the immediate X-ray showed no disc issues, just a tiny, heartbreaking fear-induced poo. Thus, it was straight to the ER, that concern even more ripe: if it wasn’t a spinal issue, it was neurological.
Thousands of dollars later in ER overnights and MRIs and spinal fluid taps (not to mention several pounds worth of tear-shedding on my end), she was diagnosed with meningitis and placed on a cocktail of steroids, painkillers, antibiotics and anti-fungal medications. The steroids worked miraculously (meningitis is the swelling of the outer layer of the brain – which thus placed pressure on the top of her spinal cord and caused the temporary paralysis) to return her limb control, but the true issue at hand was the cause of the meningitis in the first place, hence the antibiotics and anti-fungals. It’s not exactly a common illness in pets, particularly not six month old cats that live exclusively indoors on the 23rd story of an apartment building with no other animals. The most likely answer was FIV, essentially the feline equivalent of HIV, which in this strain was a firm, early death sentence. Many more tears later and days of waiting and petting the shaved square of fur on her head and neck from the spinal tap, she was cleared. The antibiotics and anti-fungals finished their courses, and we were left with a mystery and regular neurologist appointments – who admitted we would simply have to live with the assumption that Nala somehow got a really nasty virus that came, induced the meningitis and then left on its merry way.
She spent over six months on the steroids, before weaning off and retaining her full use of motion – despite the warning that she may have to stay on them for the rest of her life. It’s therefore now not only her second birthday, but also the approximate one year anniversary of her being drug-free and healthy. The long-term steroid use, especially at such a young age, certainly took a toll. Her inherent, sweet Ragdoll disposition evaporated and has only slowly been returning in the past few months. Despite her current clean bill of health, we both still worry about the impact this could have on the longevity or quality of her life, which is why we make the most of moments like these. It’s not easy to have organic, memorable experiences with pets, particularly apartment-bound ones whose waking hours barely overlap with your own. So it’s important to us to help create those experiences, and document them, so we have something both internal and tangible to hold onto.