We All Need Nine Lives

MykeandscootinjuredMy most miserable Monday morning — ever. It’s 9 am and I’m still in bed. An ice pack chills the large swollen hump on the top of my right shoulder. I can barely move my right arm. Scooter the Siamese cat, leaning on my right arm, sleeps soundly for the first time in three days. He’s in far worse shape than I am. He wears a network of stainless steel rods in his right upper leg from his shoulder to his elbow. His shaved upper body reveals multiple deep lacerations on his left shoulder and two deep puncture wounds in his neck. One of his ears is shredded. We are wounded, beaten, sore, and depressed.

Thursday, April 27,2000, was a beautiful spring day in Atlanta. I told Ann how sleek and healthy Scooter looked — he had overcome some minor ailments and seemed to be completely well. At about 2 pm, Scooter came to the kitchen door and yowled to go out. I let him out even though I had some misgivings — we had seen a gray striped tomcat slinking around in the woods. Scooter went out just like he did every day.

I went upstairs to work. About 30 minutes later, I came down to see if Scooter had climbed the tree and jumped onto our deck — his usual routine. He wasn’t on the deck. Ann had not seen him. I went out onto the deck to look into the backyard. I thought I heard an angry cat yowl, but then silence. I went upstairs to work but I couldn’t let go of a feeling that something was wrong. I decided to walk over to look on our neighbor’s front porch, where Scooter sometimes hangs out.

As I was walking past our vegetable garden in our side yard, I heard what sounded like a brief cat fight. It seemed to come from neighbor’s back yard, so I ran along the edge of her yard into woods behind her house. I called Scooter and didn’t hear a sound. I walked through the woods, calling him, listening, with a growing feeling that something was wrong. My adrenaline was spiking as my uneasiness heightened. All my senses were extremely sharp as I tried to decipher the strange feelings I was experiencing and sounds I was hearing.

I trotted from the woods into our backyard, straining to hear a sound, hoping to see that little black face with blue eyes trotting towards home. I walked into our side yard again and heard a cat snarl. I ran into our backyard and listened. I heard the cat snarl again and got a direction for it. I plunged into the woods and saw Scooter, in a small depression with his back against a pile of old bricks in heavy underbrush.

As I got closer, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Scooter had a hole in his neck and blood covered his chest. The bricks behind him were splashed with blood. One of his ears was almost severed. He was panting like he had just run a long distance. Flies were buzzing around him — the flies of death — and about every 30 seconds he would hiss, snap, and snarl at the flies. Ironically, it was that occasional snarl that led me to find him. But he didn’t recognize me!

When I tried to pet him, he hissed and snapped at me. I backed off, yelled as loud as I could for Ann, and shouted directions for her to find us. He didn’t recognize Ann either. He just panted, hissed, snapped, and snarled at the flies buzzing around him, in a repeating cycle. Ann tried to touch his back to see how badly he was injured, and he bit her! We couldn’t get through to him. He was still fighting the demon that had almost killed him.

We were able to pet his head occasionally but his state of arousal had not changed. I called an emergency veterinary clinic — they said to put on heavy gloves, put him in a box, and rush him in. I brought Ann my leather gardening gloves and a parka. As I approached he tried to run but his front leg collapsed and he rolled into a heap in some brush. Ann put on the gloves and parka, picked him up, and put him in the box we use to haul him to the vet. I carried him out of the woods to our driveway. I opened the box and was glad to see that he had calmed down — at last I was able to pet him and he seemed to realize that he was safe from his attacker. Ann drove him to the vet and I tried to work.

Two hours later Ann called to say that Scooter had a severely broken leg, among other injuries. We’ll never know how it happened, but apparently early in the fight Scooter broke his right leg. It was a complete break at a 45-degree angle, between his shoulder and knee. After Scooter’s leg was broken, the stalker had obviously tried to kill Scooter. (He may have still been mauling Scooter when I ran by in my neighbor’s yard — I like to think that I scared him off.)

When we visited Scooter late Thursday night, he was truly a pitiful sight: they had shaved about half his body exposing some terrible wounds. In addition to two puncture wounds in his neck, his left shoulder had dozens of terrible lacerations, his broken leg had been bitten badly, and his right ear was almost cut in half. He hardly acknowledged us – he just sat miserably in the cage in severe pain. I felt terrible about letting him out that afternoon.

Scooter survived the night and underwent surgery on Friday. Surgeons put a stainless steel pin in his leg to stabilize the bone, with three wire loops to hold it in place. At each end of the steel pin, they bolted two short pins that exited from Scooter’s leg at the shoulder and knee, connected by an external steel pin. He survived surgery and was doing well for a cat that had just turned eighteen years old.Scooter_injury1

We picked Scooter up on Saturday morning. He was glad to be home but he was in such pain that he couldn’t rest or sleep. He moved by hopping and dragging his broken leg. Demonstrating the unbreakable spirit that makes him an inspiration to anyone who knows him, he insisted on sleeping in the bed with us. We were very concerned about him getting hurt jumping down from the bed in the middle of the night. Consequently, neither of us slept well — every time Scooter moved, we woke up.

On Sunday I decided to follow my usual routine – a 21-mile bike ride through East Cobb County on low-traffic streets in quiet neighborhoods connected by sidewalks along busy roads. Even though I felt bad due to lack of sleep, I was hoping that the exercise would rejuvenate me. Early in the ride I discovered that I had forgotten to put on my sunglasses, a telling indication of my mental sharpness.

About four miles into the ride, I was cruising down a sidewalk along a busy road when I spotted a walker ahead. I slowed my bike as I approached a chunky middle-aged man with a headset, listening to music. As I passed him he yelled at me "Get off the sidewalk!" I slammed on my brakes and stopped. "What’s your problem?" I said, not feeling very friendly. He yelled "Riding a bike on the sidewalk is illegal!"

I replied, "I know it’s illegal but the traffic here is too dangerous for riding on the road. You’ve never done anything illegal?" We continued to throw comments back and forth about riding bikes on sidewalks, endangering walkers, and consciously breaking laws. Suddenly the mood changed and he said "I wouldn’t ride a bike on this road either; I don’t blame you." He stuck his hand out, smiled, and we shook hands. I was elated, feeling that we had turned a potentially hostile situation into a peaceful agreement. I kept replaying the exchange in my mind as I coasted down the sidewalk.

Suddenly I realized that I was almost in a busy intersection. Rather than slamming on the brakes, I looked up and saw that the traffic light was green in my favor. I glanced around and started into the intersection. Next, I was rolling on the pavement in the road! I jumped up, grabbed my bike, and got out of the intersection. As I stood there trying to get my bearings, a boy on a bike across the street yelled to ask if I was OK. I said yes. A woman in a minivan pulled up and asked if I needed help. I said no. She asked if I needed a ride home. I said no. Then she turned right and pulled off the road. She got out and yelled for me to come up to her car — she wanted to talk to me.

I felt strange. My knees and elbows were scraped, and I noticed a burning sensation in my right shoulder. A large bump was rising on the top of my right shoulder. I pushed my bike up to her vehicle. She was looking at me very closely as she asked some simple questions. She asked if I was sure I could ride home. I was starting to have doubts because I felt somewhat sick. She insisted that she drive me home — I didn’t have the energy to argue, so I said OK. She opened the tailgate door on her minivan. I was going to pick my bike up and put it in her minivan, but I didn’t have the strength to pick up my bike! I started sweating profusely and had to lean against her vehicle to keep from blacking out. She picked my bike up and put it in her minivan.

I crawled into the front passenger seat. Her baby and young son watched from the back seat. She stopped by a Jewish Community Center nearby to tell her husband what she was doing (he was coaching a Little League baseball game). I was sweating and trying to stay coherent, while she drove me home. Ann was in working the garden when we arrived. She was most surprised to see a strange minivan pulling into our driveway with me riding in the passenger seat. We thanked the Good Samaritan for bringing me home – I never knew her name.

Ann was horrified by the hump on my right shoulder. Getting my wet shirt off took both of us — raising my right arm above my head was very uncomfortable. For the second time in three days, Ann drove to an emergency room. After the x-rays the attending physician diagnosed my injury as a third-degree shoulder separation. He said that physical therapy would restore the functionality and that he only recommends surgery for professional athletes and models.

I have reviewed the few seconds before the accident many times. I made several mistakes in quick succession. I was listening to the replay of the conversation in my head and ignoring my surroundings, while my bike was accelerating. I continued into the intersection rather than stopping. I was going too fast. The actual accident was triggered by the design of the sidewalk – it veered to the right just as it sloped down to the street. It was designed to connect to the sidewalk across the street to my right, rather than the sidewalk straight ahead. I was watching traffic and looking at the sidewalk straight across the street when I was bounced off my bike.

Scooter and I are still affected by our mishaps. My shoulder works well enough, it’s just ugly. I’m more cautious on my bike. When I am sleep deprived and stressed, I try to be more careful. Scooter has not climbed the tree to jump onto the deck behind our house since the day of the fight. We don’t let him out of the house alone now – an escort is always with him when he is outside. He’s quit hunting – I’ve seen chipmunks try to tempt him and he ignores them. Scooter has retired from active cat life. As of today (April 10, 2003), he is 21 in human years, 105 cat years old. He has lived long and used many of his nine lives. May we all be so fortunate.