It was late one evening in May of 1993, when someone dumped a small pregnant cat in the driveway of the apartments that some friends of mine lived in. My friend and her husband happened to be immediately behind the car and saw them deposit the cat and hastily drive away. Being cat lovers, they were concerned for the little feline and brought her up to their apartment. Not knowing how she would interact with their own three cats, they made her up a soft little bed in their spare bedroom. Much later that night the abandoned mommy gave birth to a litter of six kittens. My girlfriend called and shared the sad story with me the next morning. Neither of us realized at the time how much those kittens were going to affect both of our lives.
My friend Debi and I had met a few years prior in school, and found that we shared a profound love of animals. We both had a history of rescuing numerous animals and both had recently suffered the loss of one of our cats. We shared our stories, looked at each other’s photos and cried together. It was the beginning of a very close friendship. After the kittens were born, Debi realized that one of them looked very similar to the kitty I had showed her photos of when we first met. His fur was short and cream-colored with orange ears, face and tail, and he had the most remarkable crystal blue eyes you could ever imagine; they almost appeared lavender. She decided immediately that I would be the one to have this kitten. Over at my apartment however I was facing a dilemma. I had moved in originally with two cats, and had since adopted another cat, and a young German Shepherd. We were living in a one-bedroom apartment and I was trying desperately to qualify for financing to buy my first home. Debi told me about the kitten and my first thought was “how will I find the space for another kitten?” Debi was insistent. She told me how special he was and how much he looked like the kitty I missed so much. That was enough. I agreed to take the kitten. I kept telling myself there would be more space as soon as we found a home.
Debi wasn’t exaggerating; the kitten was unique. His eyes literally brightened up a dreary room they were so blue. We named him Indigo for the association with the color. Indigo was such a good natured kitten. He ran circles around my older kitties leaving them overwhelmed and unable to keep up. My German Shepherd Cheyenne who was just a few months older than Indigo, wanted to play with him so badly she would literally pick him up with his entire head and neck in her mouth. It would terrify me so that I would yell for her to let him go and she would drop Indigo out of her mouth all covered with dog slobber and still purring up a storm. Debi had kept the runt from Indigo’s litter, and we would compare their habits and share stories of their youth as they grew. At one point we realized humorously that they both seemed to fancy the taste of an assortment of melons.
Eventually I bought a home, and we had more space, but of course that gave me room to adopt more animals. Over the next three years I rescued two more dogs, four more cats and four rabbits. At one point I spent three exhausting months saving eleven very sick orphaned kittens we had rescued that were only two weeks old. Cheyenne and Indigo grew up the best of friends, but then Indigo always proved an example to all of our other animals of the most unconditional affection. Indigo never seemed offended by a single person, animal or event. He was always the one to cuddle up with one of the other cats. Even when they were having little tiffs with one another, he would just snuggle up to them like he was trying to help them make peace. All of our other animals were kind to Indy, they seemed to sense that he felt nothing but love. He even proved non-threatening to other species. He played with our turtles and our bunnies and even liked to sleep in the bunnies’ cage with them. On his humorous side, Indy had an apparent glove fetish and there were many winter mornings when I was ready to go out into the cold and my gloves were nowhere to be found. Just when I would be yelling to ask if my husband had any ideas where they might have gone, a lone glove would sail straight up into the air from behind a piece of furniture. When I came home from work at night and sat down on the sofa to unwind from the trials of the day, Indigo would wait for me to settle in. Then he would quickly jump up into my lap, hesitate just for a moment, and lay himself down with an almost forceful plop, cradling like an infant with his head in the crook of my arm. He would lay in my lap for hours, happy as a lark. At night when I would go to bed, Indigo would insist on arranging himself under the covers to spoon with me, with his little head next to mine on the pillow and his body stretched out beside mine.
When he was about a year and a half old, Indigo developed a disorder known as FUS (Feline Urological Syndrome). The disorder is fairly common in male cats, and is usually controlled by maintaining a special prescription food, which chemically acidifies the urine to prevent attacks. Usually the attacks involve irritation in the bladder, which causes symptoms such as painful and frequent urination. In Indigo’s case, the urine formed crystals, which would then plug the urethra. The condition becomes very dangerous with the urine unable to pass. Over the two and a half years following his first attack we had to make several runs to the 24-hour emergency vet to have his urethra catheterized and the urine drained. I felt terrible for him each time it happened because he would be in such an incredible amount of pain that he would vomit, and his body would be rigid when I lifted him up. The catheterizatons were extremely painful and often he had to be sedated or even anesthetized just to pass the catheter. I had discussed with two veterinarians the possibility of having a surgery performed which would essentially remove the narrow end of the urethra so that he could never become plugged up again. The surgery is very expensive and has some risk of complications as with any surgery. The vets I spoke with said that it would be a last alternative since the special diet usually solved the problem. Indigo wasn’t so fortunate. He continued to have the problem in spite of the diet change. Incredibly, each time it would happen, he would recover afterward as if he’d never been through all the pain and trauma that he just had.
On one occasion, Indigo had an attack after about six months of being symptom-free. Our regular vet said that he could feel a large stone in the bladder. The stone was one to two inches in diameter and would have to be removed surgically. Surgery was scheduled for the next morning, but after the vet put Indy under the anesthetic, he again examined him and the stone was no longer there. He told me that it must have been fecal matter that he had misdiagnosed and did not need to perform surgery after all. It took Indigo two days to pull out of the anesthetic, and I started to consider the surgery to prevent the problem from ever occurring again. Six weeks later we were forced to make another emergency run to the 24-hour vet. This vet anesthetized him, catheterized him and then brought me in to show me that she could feel at least three stones. One of them was one to two inches in diameter and they would have to be surgically removed. I explained what had happened with my regular vet, with the prior misdiagnosis, and she nodded but insisted that he would need to have surgery as soon as possible. We brought him back to our regular vet in the morning and since he was already in surgery, we left a note and included the other vet’s report. In the note I again asked about the possibility of preventative surgery, and how he felt about the risks given the fact that Indy had been through so much recently. He was already aware of my reservations about anesthesia and surgery in general. He operated later that day without calling. When I called to find out what he thought, he informed me that he had not wanted to second guess the emergency vet after his own misdiagnosis and had opened up Indy’s bladder but found nothing there! Not even a granule of crystal to examine. The emergency vet had flushed all of the crystals, and had also apparently misdiagnosed fecal matter for bladder stones. I was frustrated that Indigo had been forced to have an unnecessary surgery and that neither vet had performed an x-ray or ultrasound to verify the existence of stones. I called the emergency clinic and complained to the chief of staff about the misdiagnosis, and the resulting physical and psychological trauma to indigo, not to mention the expense to us. He seemed less than concerned. He said that I should be glad that my kitty had undergone the surgery because now I could be sure that there were no stones. He argued that the vet who had misdiagnosed the stones had not written anywhere in her report that Indigo would require surgery. I assured him that while she may not have written it down, she had been absolutely adamant about it. I reminded him that I really had no reason to fabricate this story. I was appalled that he was so concerned about legal repercussion that he failed to acknowledge the point I was trying to make. I hung up the phone angry but grateful to have Indigo home again and recovering.
One week later Indigo blocked up again requiring yet another trip to the emergency vet. Another vet catheterized him and that night I telephoned a veterinarian friend of mine who I had consulted with in the past and had kept up to date of Indy’s history. My friend said that he highly recommended that I transfer my kitty over to his office in the morning for the preventative surgery. I stressed my concerns and he outlined the potential complications. They consisted primarily of the possibility of the opening they created closing up at a later date requiring additional surgery, or in the remote chance of accidental nerve damage during the surgery, the cat may suffer urinary incontinence. He stressed that these complications were rare, and in his history he had never had either occur. Indeed he had performed this surgery twice in just the past six months.
The next morning we brought Indigo over to his office for surgery. We were exhausted, and he was afraid and trembling, but we felt that we had run out of alternatives. We hoped this would be the beginning of the rest of Indigo’s life without pain. I felt anxious and tense. Debi had reminded me that Indigo’s fourth birthday was the very next day and I thought to myself that I would have to be sure to do something special for him after going through all of this on his birthday. The surgery could not be done until that evening and we were to pick Indy up the next morning. My vet friend called after the surgery that evening and spoke with my husband. He said that all had gone well, and that we should come about 9:00am so that they would have time to clean him up. The next morning as we were just about ready to leave, the phone rang. Before my husband had even answered I immediately had a sick feeling in my stomach. It was the vet. Overnight, Indigo had developed a temperature of 106 and was described as semi-conscious. They had administered antibiotics, and wanted to wait and see if they could get his temperature down. I was frantic and tried desperately not to think the worst. At noontime I spoke to the vet again, and Indy’s temperature had dropped, but something was wrong with his pupils. They were too small and not reactive and he had a rotten, septic smell coming from him. He said that we would have to wait and see if Indigo crashed and that if he did, the vet would have to operate again and see what was happening. I was beside myself with fear. I told the vet I wanted to be there to help give Indigo the strength to fight the infection. He said that Indy was not very conscious, but if he started to crash he would call me right away. I was crying and told him I was scared and couldn’t bare the thought that Indy might die without my being there. At around 2:30pm the vet called me and said that Indy was definitely getting worse and he was going to need to operate at about 4:00pm. He said I should come down as soon as possible. I was already on my way out the door.
When I arrived at the clinic, Indy scarcely moved as I knelt beside him and spoke to him. I tried to keep my voice as close to usual as I could manage. When it faltered, I would stop speaking until I could get back to my usual tone. I called to him as if he was in a dream state and I could get him to come toward me. I wanted him to hear familiar things so I started talking about Cheyenne and naming all my other pets by name. When my vet friend examined him before surgery, Indy’s eyes opened briefly and I was shocked at what I saw… My beautiful blue-eyed kitten had yellow eyes! I was horrified. I immediately pointed it out to the vet and he seemed surprised. He said that he had never seen the eyes turn yellow except in the case of jaundice, which would include yellowing of all the mucous membranes. Only the color of Indigo’s eyes had become yellow. I fought to stay positive in spite of the sinking feeling I had creeping over me.
The vet opened Indigo back up at 4:00pm. It was Indy’s third major surgery in one week. I was terrified. One of my girlfriends came down to sit with me and keep me company during the surgery. Another friend had been calling the vet’s office during the day to see how Indigo was faring. My Christian friends offered to pray for him… my non-Christian friends offered to visualize for him. Everyone who knew us was concerned. Nearly two hours later my vet emerged exhausted from the operating room. Indigo had needed to be cut from front to back before they were able to find the problem. There had been a tear in the bowel. Toxins had dumped into his system and he was suffering from peritonitis. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. My mind flooded with questions. How could this have happened? How could this many mistakes be possible? Why Indigo? The vet had sewn up the tear and flushed all the waste, so now all we could do was wait. He said that Indigo had a strong heart and was a young cat so he felt that he had a reasonable chance. I asked about the tear, and he said that only two things could have caused it. Either the emergency vet had punctured the bowel during the catheterization by pushing through the urethra wall, or he himself had done it somehow during surgery. I was overwhelmed by feelings of disbelief and betrayal, but felt some relief that the problem had finally been identified and corrected.
They allowed us to see Indigo after they cleaned him up. He was immediately trying to lift his head out of the anesthesia. His eyes were still yellow, but he was opening them much more now and seemed to be trying to look toward his backside. Then he would succumb to the anesthetic, and lay his head back down in my hand. My husband had joined us, and we sat and talked to him. My vet told us that if he did OK until morning he would feel pretty good about it. If he continued to improve for a full 24 hours he would be considered out of the woods. We agreed that my husband and I would stay overnight so we could watch him. The vet showed me how to check his breathing, and pulse and make sure the IV was dripping at the right rate. After about an hour Indy stopped moving around and just slept. By 9:00pm his pulse had gone up and I called the vet to come back to check on him. He rearranged the way Indigo was laying, turned down his heating pad, and left again. Every 30 minutes or so I would check on him. At 11:35pm he seemed to be breathing much better and only let out a slight moan as I spoke to him gently. I hadn’t really slept much during the entire ordeal and I was exhausted from all of the stress. In between checking on him I would lay down on a loveseat in the office and drift away into a semi sleep state. Six months prior I had lost my oldest cat Flash from age-related complications. I dreamt that I was lying in my bathtub and Flash and Indigo were leaning up over the edge. This scenario was typical with all of my pets. Since I am a bath person, there are always three or more of my pets lounging around the tub when I bathe. Flash looked young and vibrant and stood slightly farther away, just looking at me. Indigo was closer to me, but somehow I couldn’t make him out. I knew somehow that it was him and not one of my other cats that was there with Flash, but strain as I might, I couldn’t quite see him. I could only sense that he was there. I shook myself out of the dream, and went to check on Indigo, and strangely I already knew. My precious, sweet angel had gone. He had moved only his arm since I had last checked on him. He died some time near midnight exactly four years from the day he was born; the final insult to an already bewildering nightmare. I drove home calmly and called Debi to tell her that Indigo had gone. We tried to console each other, but there was nothing either of us could say. It just seemed unbelievable that it could have happened. I collapsed into bed, but couldn’t sleep and by morning my mind was screaming, “Not Indigo!” I wanted to go back and change history; get everything back so that I could somehow do it differently. I wanted to reach all the vets involved so that everyone would know what they had done to him collectively. None of the vets or the chief of staff from the emergency vet ever returned my call. I guess now, in retrospect, it didn’t really matter. They wouldn’t have been able to say anything that would have made any difference anyway. I knew they would never accept any blame and even if they had, and offered me an apology, what would it mean? What would it have done for Indigo, who loved his life more than most people, and lost his life in error?
I remain someone who will always go out of my way to assure that not only my own animals, but any that I come into contact with during my lifetime receive the best possible care. Since losing Indigo, I have co-founded two animal rescue groups and continue on a daily basis to try to place as many rescued or abandoned animals as possible into new homes. I do it in his name, as if it would make him proud to see. Perhaps I should say that I do it in his spirit because he was so full of love.
I’ve struggled a great deal with the loss of Indigo. It’s still difficult for me to accept the insane number of ironies involved in his death. I guess the hardest part is knowing that I couldn’t have done anything any differently and perhaps saved his life. I find myself searching for some profound reason why something like this happened….some lesson I was supposed to have learned. I can find nothing. At times the grief is still stronger than any other emotion I can generate. My husband and I have no children and for us, our pets are our children. For me, the loss of Indigo was like losing a child to a tragedy of errors. I miss his bright little face staring up at me. I miss his little body snuggled up to mine. Most of all, I miss his sweetness and his sensitivity and the incredibly generous nature he always maintained. I guess I know in my heart that I will always miss my Indigo.