The Road To Santiago

Almost a week had passed since I first took Mama Cat and Bobtail to the vet. It was an arduous day. I arrived very early at the clinic because as the only clinic in town that has more or less good equipment (though old), it is always full with patients, sometimes from surrounding small towns; people who wake up and start driving since dawn only to get their pets to the vet on time. It’s no question that some of those pets died on their way, or on their last breath when they arrive to the clinic.

The first reaction of the newest vet there was “Oh, Mama, you are ready to deliver?” but as I explain my concerns she started touching Mama’s tummy and her facial expression changes. “No babies”, she said, “Only bumps, a lot of them. You’d better get her an X Ray as soon as possible because they closes at noon”

It was 10 am.

So I brief her about Bobtail, and as soon as she started with the litany of parasites names, she cut it short and tell me to go.

So I rushed back to the road with Mama Cat in her basket, drive 2 hours across the terrible traffic, registered, wait 20 minutes, go back to the cursed traffic, and back to the clinic at 2 pm. By that time, the other (more senior) vet already arrive at the clinic and looking at my face (they know me well enough), one of them walk straight to the cupboard and took all her surgery equipments, while I show her the actual X Ray.

She just shakes her head.

The vet clinic doesn’t have a light box, so we see the X Ray by holding it against the sun. To upload it here I use my laptop monitor as the backlight and take a picture with my camera, so it’s not clear, but I hope you can see round balls that lined up all the way to the chest cavity. The white big blob on both X Ray is the cancer. I am sure you know where the ribs are.

While waiting for the equipments to be properly sterilized, we have another emergency. A big Persian cat named “Bruce Willis” was taken back to the vet because he got urine blocking (twice already), the vets has to insert a catheter and since they have to helping hand, two of the vets dropped everything and  trying to hold Bruce with the help of a new volunteer, the only one I see after a year.

In a glimpse from next door, I know it’s not right. The new volunteer was more busy with her position and the way her hair fall down than the cat. However, before I slip back to Mama Cat’s side I hear my name called and go to the next room to watch the huge Bruce retaliate, is angry and bite whatever that comes across his face. The new volunteer was busy rubbing her arm and show it to everyone, including Bruce’s parents, say “He scratched me, aw” over and over and burst to another room showing it off to other patients and other vet.

The two senior vets looked at me, peeked at Bruce’s rear (that’s bleeding) retracted the damaged catheter and get new one. Then she gave me a syringe, a bottle of Aqua Bidest and say “spray”

Two minutes. Bruce was back on Cathether, and peed a full bowl. No scratch, No bite, everybody happy, including Bruce.

I took a mental note to be careful when the new volunteer ever tried to handle Mama.

After Bruce is gone, It’s Mama’s turn. She has been calm and relaxed on the surgery table, that she doesn’t even care the vet shaves one of her arm to insert an intravenous fluid. That’s when the new volunteer comes into the room, put her laptop bag on the surgery table, pull out a pack of sea weed chips and eat there while boasting about how great the taste is and offer everyone for a try.

Without words, I moved her stuffs to the other table, including her seaweed. She didn’t care and continue yapping and as she much off her seaweed, asking the vet what’s going on, to which the vet said Mama had cancer and will be operated immediately.

She said “Oh”, put her seaweed down, rub her hand onto her back, grab Mama’s two front legs, and push them against the table with all her weight.

“Ok, she’s ready” the volunteer chirps.

Mama gave a loud cry and started to trashed all over trying to break free. Mama cat, the calmest, most graceful feral cat I have ever met, is becoming a wild animal.

One of the vet said, “The legs are swollen”

It’s just a few seconds. I push her aside and stand between her and Mama with my eyes straight into hers. I tried as hard as I can not to open my mouth because I know whatever is going to come out of it will not be good to hear. I just hope she is smart enough to realize what my gesture means.

She rushes out remorseless after the other vet give her eyeballs.

Because of the swollen legs we have to shave the back legs, but with the recent experience Mama lost trust on us, again trashing around and so we have to wait another day.

Her belly was already so tight that day. We were afraid that one of the balls inside her tummy burst and spill infection fluid everywhere, but we have to wait.

During my recess, I wondered if Mama is ever going to be all right again, and remember The Road To Santiago.

Road To Santiago is a legendary pilgrimage route taken by European Catholics since Medieval Age. Pilgrims started from the doorstep of their home and walk more or less 700 km through various choices of route to arrive to the church of Santiago De Compostela in Northern Spain. (Santiago is Spanish version of St. James, Jacques in French)

In the Codex_Calixtinus, Pope Callixtus II, wrote about the road: 

The pilgrim route is a very good thing, but it is narrow. For the road which leads us to life is narrow; on the other hand, the road which leads to death is broad and spacious. The pilgrim route is for those who are good: it is the lack of vices, the thwarting of the body, the increase of virtues, pardon for sins, sorrow for the penitent, the road of the righteous, love of the saints, faith in the resurrection and the reward of the blessed, a separation from hell, the protection of the heavens. It takes us away from luscious foods, it makes gluttonous fatness vanish, it restrains voluptuousness, constrains the appetites of the flesh which attack the fortress of the soul, cleanses the spirit, leads us to contemplation, humbles the haughty, raises up the lowly, loves poverty. It hates the reproach of those fuelled by greed. It loves, on the other hand, the person who gives to the poor. It rewards those who live simply and do good works; And, on the other hand, it does not pluck those who are stingy and wicked from the claws of sin.

I don’t believe in coincidence, but I do not want to believe it’s a premonition.

On the second day, a friend send me a message over facebook:

…believe me when I say I haven’t been an animal lover and rescuer/advocate since I was a kid w/o having had gone through this to many times to count, and while it never gets easier, as you get older you tend to know the right answer, for yourself anyway, a lot sooner than when you were young

On the third day, another friend wrote me a message, also over facebook:

Oh my, her cancer condition is extremely bad. It takes a miracle for her to be cancer free. The best thing you can do is to provide the best care to her and allow her to enjoy her remaining time. Especially make her feel loved every moment. That’s what I would do. Thanks for helping them.

During the tenure of that 3 days Mama Cat start slipping out and medication start to stop working, gradually. Her chest started to be filled with water. She shed a lot, and eat only a little. Looking back at those days, I should have known. Yet I choose to run away and continue my denials.

Besides, Mama Cat is finally ready. She is as calm and relaxed as she used to be, and we sedate her without any incident.

When the vet was about to put down that scalpel on her, however, she breathed deeply. Jerks for a second, took one more deep breath,

slipped the surly bonds of Earth

–and touched the Face of God

None of us in the room said anything. The vet was petrified with her scalpel still in mid air. I was gripping on the IV fluid’s staff as I gaze on the fluid that was still dripping.

I don’t know who was the first between us to jump back to reality, but whatever we did after that was surreal. Taking off oxygen mask, turning off the anaesthesia, pulling off IV. And then my vet dropped everything, go to the corner of the room and pray. I saw her trying very hard to keep her tears from flowing out.

I took Mama Cat to my arm and lay her down on my chest, still hoping that she is asleep. And then a friend of the volunteer who she brought along came inside and commented

“What a peaceful sleep”

She took my cell phone from my hand, took a picture, and gave it to me so I can see how she looks.

I didn’t even realize until now that I was still holding the IV staff then.

A narrow road to life, indeed, but it’s the road of the righteous, love of the saints, faith in the resurrection and the reward of the blessed, a separation from hell, the protection of the heavens.

It was already late when I arrived back home with Mama Cat’s ashes. The night sky was light by the big full moon, right on top of the cattery, perhaps lighting the way for her to cross the rainbow bridge.

The cats are lining up at the background, watching the ashes flown off

I put her ashes there, in the middle of the backyard and have the wind carry her everywhere, as far as where she once roam the streets of the mountain side, and to cover the entire backyard where she will always belongs.

When I came into the house, Bobtail was on top of the refrigerator. He has been hiding at the side of the fridge all the time since he went home. He still tiptoes wherever he goes, to his food bowl, or to drink, or to the bathroom, afraid; but staying in one place and not moving a lot helps his paws heal faster. His stubby tail is still bald, and all the wounds that start to crust made him very ugly, but with that charred paw he taps on my cheek, when I approach him, and then he pushed his head onto me.

It was that push that blow the dam I build so high to keep my tears inside.

Like Mama Cat, his path to life is narrow, though of different route and it’s going to be a very long time to heal the depth of his heart. I cannot stop apologizing to him for letting him go to a wrong house, but I also never stop praising him for running away (?) and take his pilgrimage, on foot, few hundreds meters away, to find himself back home.

On my cellphone tonight, there’s yet another message:

We laid him in a cool and shadowed grove

One evening in the dreamy scent of thyme

Where leaves were green, and whispered high above —

A grave as humble as it was sublime;

There, dreaming in the fading deeps of light —

The hands that thrilled to touch a woman’s hair;

Brown eyes, that loved the Day, and looked on Night,

A soul that found at last its answered Prayer…

There daylight, as a dust, slips through the trees.

And drifting, gilds the fern around his grave —

Where even now, perhaps, the evening breeze

Steals shyly past the tomb of him who gave

New sight to blinded eyes; who sometimes wept —

A short time dearly loved; and after, — slept.”

It’s a poem by John Gillespie Magee Jr., an aviator poet in World War II. He fly for Royal Canadian Air Force, and his poem: High Flight, part of which I quoted on this post, is officially used by Royal Air Force, Royal Canadian Air Force, and United States Air Force Academy.  A choice made to bow respect to all of Mama Cat and Bobtail’s supporters who come from USA, Canada, Australia and Netherlands.

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Josie And The Whiskers' Syndicate

The first and only cat refuge in Bandung (West Java - Indonesia) a capital breeder of a nation without animal welfare law. We care for Bandung's unwanted animals, operate a TNR as much as our budget allows, and continue to educate people about compassion to animals

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