I knew something was very wrong when I found our cat, Lola, lying glassy-eyed and barely moving on the cold tile of the bathroom floor.
Lola had come to us five years earlier as a young kitten abandoned in the parking lot of my urban office building. She wailed so loudly throughout the day I could hear her in my fourth-floor office with the windows closed. I texted Hubby about how bad I felt hearing her distress, and without my asking he texted back, “You can bring the kitten home.”
She was completely filthy from hiding in car engines and required treatment for ringworm, roundworm and fleas, but other than those minor issues the vet proclaimed her a basically healthy kitten, approximately six weeks old.
Eleven days after I rescued her, Hurricane Sandy flooded the area around my office building. We thought it unlikely that Lola would have survived if she’d still been out on the street.
When Lola joined our household we already had two cats we’d adopted as adult rescues from a shelter eight years earlier, Tara and Margot. Lola promptly set about challenging Tara for alpha-cat status, and completely intimidating poor timid Margot. Lola would jump up on a shelf or chair so she could stare down at the adult cats, pretending she was bigger than they. When she reached adulthood herself she was bigger, 13 pounds of solid muscle, and a classic tuxedo-cat beauty. I referred to her affectionately as “my tough little street girl” and “the naughty one.” She was constantly getting into things.
The day in question started with Lola vomiting what looked like a long-skinny hairball onto the dining room rug. She had never had hairballs before – her fur is quite short and sleek – but we didn’t think much of it. Mostly, I was just annoyed because I’d watched her walk from the wood floor to the rug in order to vomit. Why couldn’t she have stayed on the wood floor, where clean up is easier?
That evening when I came home from work, Hubby reported Lola had vomited several more times throughout the day – and that when he’d cleaned it up he’d found short pieces of yarn in it.
This was odd, because I’d always been careful to keep my yarn away from the cats. Thanks to consistent training, they’d stopped trying to try to play with it while I was crocheting. They weren’t allowed yarn toys. And I kept my projects in Ziploc bags and tote bags, partly so the cats wouldn’t be tempted by them, and partly so I wouldn’t accidentally gift a cat dander-infused item to a cat-allergic recipient.
Lola was nowhere in sight. “Is she OK?” I asked. “And where is she?” Hubby said the last time he’d seen her, she’d seemed fine other than the vomiting – but he’d been immersed in his freelance work, and hadn’t seen her for a little while.
So I went looking for her. First, I found a couple more places where she’d vomited, and yes, each contained a two- to three-inch piece of yarn, frayed on both ends like it had been chewed. I recognized the yarn – it was from my most recent project, just completed.
Next I found Lola on the bathroom floor.
I went to the top of the stairs and called down to Hubby, “I found her – and something’s very wrong.”
We were kneeling over her, just starting to think through what to do, when Lola suddenly cried out, arched her neck, and vomited up stomach fluid stained reddish-pink.
“That’s blood,” we exclaimed in unison. “Call the vet,” I said urgently.
Within about 30 seconds Hubby had the vet’s office on the phone. Hearing the situation – the swallowed yarn, the vomited blood – they instructed him to take Lola straight to the emergency animal hospital, 45 minutes away.
As luck would have it, I had just that day come down with a head cold and was starting to run a fever, so Hubby took Lola to the animal hospital by himself. Normally Lola would fight like a hellion whenever we tried to put her in a cat carrier, but this time she didn’t even seem to notice, she was that out of it. While Hubby fetched his keys, I put my face down to the grate and told Lola over and over that I loved her. She was so sick, I honestly wasn’t sure I’d see her again.
Just eight months earlier, we’d had to make the decision to let Margot go peacefully after she was diagnosed with untreatable lung cancer. We’d comforted ourselves that she was a senior cat in her mid-teens, and we’d given her 12 good years since bringing her home from the shelter. Lola was young – and this was my fault. Somehow, she’d gotten a hold of my yarn.
Stuck at home waiting, feverish, miserable and wracked with guilt, I literally scoured the house for stray yarn – but found nothing. My yarn stash was all in the closet of my home office/craft room; my current works-in-progress were safely in their tote bags. Nothing was missing.
Hubby called from the animal hospital to report that the vet there thought Lola might have a life-threatening intestinal blockage from the swallowed yarn. If x-rays confirmed this, she’d need immediate surgery.
“How much would surgery cost?” I asked.
“Four to five thousand dollars,” Hubby said.
Thankfully for both Lola and our bank account, the x-rays did not show any blockage; she had apparently vomited up all the yarn. The vet gave her subcutaneous fluids – she’d lost half a pound from dehydration – an anti-nausea medication, another medication to help her bleeding digestive system heal, and released her with instructions to take her to our regular vet first thing in the morning for follow-up care. It was midnight when Hubby finally brought her home.
The next day, Hubby had two sick girls on his hands. I stayed home sick with my cold and fever. Lola – no longer vomiting, but lethargic to the point of seeming nearly comatose – had to go to the vet, where she got more subcutaneous fluids and medication and was sent home to recuperate.
I recovered before Lola did. She had a long, miserable week, barely eating, barely moving, and shaky on her feet the rare times she did get up. We celebrated every spoonful of food she got down; when she finally pooped in the litter box – dispelling any lingering worries about a possible blockage – we high-fived. When she was well enough to jump up on my desk and walk back and forth in front of the computer monitor while I was trying to work, instead of being annoyed I was thrilled.
I never did find out how Lola got a hold of that yarn. The only thing I could figure out was that I must have dropped some scraps on the floor without noticing. “Stop beating yourself up,” Hubby said, repeatedly. “It’s not your fault.” Still, I replaced our open wastebaskets with metal ones with hinged lids, and I’ve become scrupulous to the point of obsession about making sure any yarn scraps get put in them promptly.
Ten days and $837 in vet bills later, Lola is finally back to her old self, being naughty and getting into things as much as ever. Just not, if I can help it, any more yarn.