Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Little Flicker's Story...

I know.  I'm late again.  But we had some travelling to do this past weekend and it was a BLAST!!  Even Flicker didn't seem to mind the three hour drive each way, or having an entire hotel bed, blankets, and nest of pillows all to herself each day.  The hotel clerk at the front desk fell in love with her and wouldn't let us pay the extra pet fee when we discovered I'd planned poorly and we needed to extend our stay.

So.... Flicker's story.  Y'all do realize how long winded I can get when it's about cats, right??  Alrighty then. Hope you have your popcorn and caffeine pills handy.

I was able to catch Flicker on July 22nd of 2013.  Obviously, she was frightened of absolutely everything and spent the next few days huddled up on a pile of towels shivering in the cat carrier we'd used to trap her. We decided she needed to be kept isolated from the other animals at least until she'd seen a vet, and we honestly didn't have any plans to keep her long term anyway.  (It turned out to be considerably harder to find a home for an animal that is blind than I had thought it would be.) It was going to be a few days to a week longer before I'd have the funds to take yet another cat to the vet, so she got moved into a larger cage in our bedroom and I was the only person who had any real contact with her.  She was always cold, so I kept her bundled up in blankets and held her as often as I could manage.

Three weeks passed before we were able to get Flicker to the vet and by this time I was extremely concerned about her.  She didn't seem to have grown the tiniest bit, and I was beginning to wonder if she'd been separated from her actual mother and we'd just mistaken her as being one of Stain's kittens.  After all, she looked like she was maybe 6 weeks old, while the other kittens outside were obviously 5 to 7 months old.

Finally, we got Flicker an appointment to see the vet.  She did the typical exam, made a couple of comments about how cold Flicker's body felt, discovered that she could shine a light as bright as a supernova into Flicker's eyes without the kitten trying to escape, spent nearly 5 minutes "ooh"ing and "aahh"ing about being able to study the inside of a cat's eye so easily, and eventually determined that there was nothing physically wrong with her eyes and therefore there shouldn't be anything wrong with her sight.  Her theory was that there was some kind of a disconnect between the eyes and the brain, and that it was possible, albeit unlikely, that Flicker could get her vision back as she gets older.

Then she checked Flicker's teeth.

Vet: "How did she lose this tooth?"
Me: "We were wrestling a little bit and it just came out.  She didn't even seem to notice it."
Vet: "Uh huh.  And how big did you say the other kittens you thought were litter mates are?"
Me: "Six or seven months?  They're all about this big." *makes hand motions indicating animals roughly three times the size of Flicker*
Vet: "Yeah. That's sounds about right."
Me: *looks confused* (which, admittedly, is a pretty standard look for me)
Vet: "Flicker's probably 6 months old. She's losing baby teeth and adult teeth are trying to grow in."

I looked at that tiny little kitten and tried to reconcile what Dr. Wicks was telling me.  She did some more exam-type things; poking this, pulling that, mumbling about this, that, and the other.  She called in some other vets who poked this, pulled that, mumbled about this, that, and the other.  They all huddled up around Flicker and debated quietly while continuing to run their hands over what had to be every millimeter of her body.  Then they started to get excited.

I started to get nervous.

They started to get a little more excited.

I started to get this nagging urge to shove past them all and scoop up what suddenly looked like an extremely small and vulnerable bundle of fluff.

Their voices started getting louder.

I interrupted by obeying that urge.  And apparently reminded the whole lot of them that I was still there.

Then it was explained to me that based on everything they could see and feel, it appeared that Flicker has what they called Pituitary Dwarfism.  They told me that typical dwarfism in animals makes for misproportioned bodies; heads that are slightly too small, front legs that are shorter than back legs or vice versa, tails that don't grow as long as they should, etc etc.  Flicker doesn't have this.  Flicker is perfectly proportioned.  She's just not growing.

Eternal kitten!

Then they let the other shoe drop.  This is so rare that they can't tell me much about the condition except that there is a 99.9% chance she won't live anywhere near as long as the average healthy house cat.  They can't even guess at a life expectancy.  All they can tell me is that instead of the normal dwarfism where individual appendages or organs don't get enough growth hormone, Flicker's body is distributing the hormone evenly but not producing enough of it.  They believe that eventually this may lead to organ failure but they can't tell me when to expect this, what symptoms to look for, or even if this will happen at all.  What they CAN tell me is that her immune system is permanently weaker than it should be and she will always be at risk to catch anything another animal she is exposed to may have and not be able to fight it off.

That's a little scary but since all of her tests came back negative for illnesses I wasn't going to worry about it. Just means no more new animals allowed in the house.  (Steve LOVES this new rule!)  We took her home and let her have the run of the house.  (She still doesn't like to leave our bedroom...)  Everything was fun and games for just under a week.

Then she stopped playing.
And eating.
And drinking.
And got very cold to the touch.

And I got nervous.

We went back to the vet and when the staff saw me coming across the parking lot, I saw people start running off in different directions inside. Didn't think too much of it until I got inside and there were two technicians who had obviously just stuffed charts back into the pile in the back and Dr. Wicks waiting for us.  Their "oh she's back! She's so cute!" expressions instantly vanished when they saw my face and we were ushered straight into a room and I had her taken from me.  It was determined that she'd gone from 2.6 pounds to 2.2 in six days and her body temperature was at 95.1 and dropping.  There was a flurry of activity in the room as everyone who worked there seemed to want to be doing something to help and it got a bit overwhelming for Flicker and me.  Dr. Wicks had to shoo everyone out and gave me a crash course on feline body temperature and weight while trying to prepare me for what they were fairly certain was about to happen.

Of course the barrage of tests that no one can realistically afford began and I was just too numb to object or say anything.  I'd had her less than a month and I felt like they were taking one of my arms away when they carried her into the back for overnight observation.  After ruling out low blood sugar, they needed to run blood work but she wasn't stable enough for that, so they had to keep her.  I found out later that half of the staff volunteered to stay with her, but Dr. Wicks is ultimately the one who wouldn't leave her side.  I kept getting calls every two to three hours with updates; the first one saying she'd stabilized enough to allow for the needed tests and then more calls with result after result coming back as negative.  Then her temperature started to tank again, and I was informed that the only test remaining was for a simple infection in hopes of ruling out FiP.  If that test came back with the wrong result, I'd be able to come pick her up and take her home as there was nothing that could be done for her.

The next morning we learned that while they couldn't find a definitive infection, they did find some markers that might indicate there was one they just hadn't located.  It was decided that since it was really their last shot anyway, that they'd go ahead and treat her for an infection and see if that helped at all.  Later that afternoon, I was allowed to come visit her and she looked so frail, I was afraid I was going to break her.

This was supposed to be the point where I'd pick her up and bring her home to be comfortable as they had done just about everything they possibly could.  Instead, Dr. Wicks said she had one last medicine up her sleeve that she wanted to try because Flicker was still obviously fighting to hang on and not just giving up.  "If she isn't giving up, then we aren't giving up on her."  It meant staying another night and most of the next day while they watched her, and they were careful to remind me that this was honestly a losing fight but a losing fight they were determined to stay in until the end.

The next evening we were informed that Flicker was responding to the antibiotics despite them still not being able to find any infection. She was still in danger and could take a turn for the worse at any moment, but they could find no reason that she couldn't come home with me as long as I kept giving her the medication and kept her on a heating pad to maintain her body temperature the best we could.  Even though it was obvious she still felt like complete and utter crap, she was glad to be home and I didn't let her out of my sight for the next two days.  I even took her to work with me!

Three days later, she was released from vet care and we were told she was one bottle of antibiotics away from an almost complete recovery.

I say "almost" because she still can't seem to keep her body temperature up where it should be.  She has a heating pad under her bed that is kept on 24 hours a day unless she's curled up beside me on the bed while I stitch.  She can't be left alone very long because someone needs to be able to turn the heating pad back on every couple of hours, but this is a minor thing and we have all easily adjusted to it.

Flicker has a few oddities that we believe are side effects of her condition.  She doesn't make much noise.  She really has to struggle to get a little squeak out if she wants attention, but I've learned to identify the little cricket sound as her and seem to now be able to hear her from another room if it's quiet in the house.  She can purr like nobody's business though!  That little rattle of hers is NOISY!!

The other strange thing is her fur.  It takes forever to grow back!  At first we were worried it wouldn't grow back at all, but finally, after almost five months, her belly has peach fuzz on it again after her spaying.

Her eyes are also an unknown for us.  Some days she acts as though she can't see anything at all.  Other days she seems able to see large objects moving if the area is particularly bright.  We've discovered recently that she appears to be completely blind in her left eye and never reacts to anything on her left side unless she hears it.  But if we move things on her right side, it's a 50/50 chance that she'll see it and react to it.  This can be all sorts of entertaining when playing with a laser light.  It doesn't hurt that we enjoy setting off her laser eyes for no apparent reason.

February 1st was the date assigned as her birthday by the veterinarians so, despite still being small enough to balance (sorta) in one hand, she'll be a year old in a couple of weeks.
Her first exploration of the second level of the house. 12/28/13

She is the youngest of our fuzzies, but easily the feistiest as well.  She tends to swat and hiss at the other cats when they get too close which leads to tense relations as you can imagine.  Zippy has decided she flat out doesn't like Flicker and it's fairly common to have to break up arguments between the two.  Lea still hasn't quite figured out how to handle this odd little creature that doesn't know SHE'S the one in charge.  Jack tolerates the constant abuse he suffers at Flicker's paws and will occasionally curl up with her and bathe her.  Usually they just try to avoid the inevitable swats and smacks that seem to come out of nowhere when she's in the vicinity.

This means that the target for 90% of her ire defaults to my arm.

But she still finds time to bully the big cats too.

She just thwacked Jack and he's wondering what to do now.

You gotta admit.  This little girl is living up to the nickname our friend Rona inadvertently gave her.  She is definitely "Cuteness Overload".

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