Monday, November 5, 2012

An Inch Away from Death

It sounds really great to be able to say, "I'll leave behind my whole life as I know it to move to a foreign country. I'll be fine living on my own. No problem." I said those words as I boarded the plane in April, but as it turns out, I was lying to myself.

Before departing for Botswana, I remember reading a blog post from a Peace Corps Volunteer in another country who had a pet pass away during service. Immediately, I felt bad for this stranger who adopted a furry friend. Her words indicated her obvious heartache and I vowed to not let that happen to me during my own service in Botswana.

So much for that idea!

Away from any sort of familiar comfort, I couldn't help but feel the urge to get a pet. In the back of my mind, I always knew it could turn out disastrous (especially in a country where people don’t care about their animals the way Americans do). However, the voice of reason was overtaken by the offer to take a cute kitty off the hands of another Peace Corps Volunteer. Just under a year old, already vaccinated, fluffy, cute, and playful! Come on… I couldn't pass it up.

after giving kibi a bath
Enter Makibikibi. This sweet little kitty who I've taken to calling 'kibi' has completely stolen my heart. He can be very timid around strangers, but after a short time, we became good friends. I have gotten used to coming home and having him meow, begging for food. My family tells me my cat is "so fat & happy" and "he's the luckiest cat in Botswana" because I take such good care of him. Ok, so he's spoiled.

Everyone who knows me in my village knows I love my kitty. And yes, I may have become a crazy cat lady, but I dare say this can happen to anyone who becomes a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Well, my nice little life with my kitty came crashing down on Thursday. He stopped eating. His legs couldn't support him anymore. He fell while walking. He started breathing like he ran a marathon. His gums turned pale. He wouldn't drink water. He refused to do anything except lay limp on my bed, meowing every few hours.

My playful kitty turned into a very sick kitty in a short amount of time. Since I'm notoriously good at worrying, I put my cat into my Sherpa cat carrier and headed out for the vet office in my village hoping to find a doctor. Is it crazy to look for a vet at the vet office? The answer is yes. There was no vet to be found, only an assistant who explained to me that I would have to travel to a nearby village to find a vet (as there isn't actually a vet in vet office in kang - go figure). As I was getting ready to leave (and preparing myself to travel), they nonchalantly mention that the vet is away at a workshop in Gaborone until Monday.

kibi, just laying around my house 
I headed home to figure out what I was going to do, only to discover that his condition had gotten much worse. He started walking (stumbling) in circles, meowing like crazy, and walking into walls. He was panicking. And so I started to panic a bit too.

A dear friend here advised me to call a vet back in America for advice. Sounds crazy? Yup, it is crazy. But I had no idea what else to do. So we Skype her old vet office, explain the ridiculous situation that I found myself in, and ask for some advice. She was very calm and patient, explaining that she thought my cat was having heart failure. But since he wasn't an old cat, it could be asthma or some sort of infection. Unfortunately, there wasn't a lot for me to do except keep him still, avoid putting him in situations that scare him, and force milk and water into his mouth to keep him somewhat hydrated.

spending time with kibi 
Despite my previous plan to travel for the weekend to visit some friends, I decided I needed to stay home to care for my kitty as best as I could. And let me tell you, it was an incredibly depressing weekend. My cat's health deteriorated by the moment and my heart broke every time I had to force feed him. Pets have a way of really pulling on your heart strings… Goodness! I can't lie, I cried a lot, feeling very helpless and unable to help my cat. I just prayed he would make it through the weekend!

Monday morning came around and I was so pleased to find my cat still alive. Would he be able to endure the rest of the adventure? I got all my things together and headed to the hitching post in my village to hitch a ride to the next village over, about 115 km. Luckily, I found ride right away in the back of a truck. We arrived in Hukuntsi around 9:30, headed to the vet's office right away, and found a very friendly man waiting to help me. Although he focuses mainly on livestock, I found that he was very careful and kind to my kitty. He informed me that he used to work a lot more with small animals and misses the opportunity to work with them more.

After a quick exam, he found my cat had a temperature of 39.3 C (102.74 F), muscle atrophy, rapid weight loss, dehydration, rapid breathing, and confusion -all of the symptoms I described on the phone. Since my cat had all his vaccinations including heart worm medication, the vet decided it must be a really bad bacterial infection. He was shocked at how bad my cat's health was and told me that my cat surely wouldn't have survived the weekend without the little bit of liquid I poured in his mouth. My little kitty was an inch away from death  - truly - and I'm so thankful we made it to the vet office in time.

He gave two injections - an antibiotic and a drug to clear the body of toxins - to try to help my cat fight off whatever was killing him. The vet even mentioned how difficult it was for him to find enough muscle for the injection - my cat was losing muscle mass quickly!  Unfortunately, there isn't a whole lot I can do now except wait… and hope that it's not more than an infection.
kids crowded around the car door to see my cat 
I hitched a ride back to my village, stopped along the way to drop other people in other villages, greeted some school children who couldn't help but stare at my cat, and arrived home around 3 PM. I really despise being in situations where you can't help someone or something you love… so I'm grateful to have been able to get my cat the most help I could today. I hope that this is the closest I become to writing a depressing blog post about losing a pet during service. I'll keep nurturing little kibi to help him get back to the cat I used to know… and I'll do my best to stay emotionally stable in the meantime.

That's what is dominating my life the past week! As the rest of America worries about the elections, I'll be worrying about keeping my cat alive. More later about other topics :o)

Love & Light,

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