My caregiving life involves more than my mother. I also have a very handsome tuxedo cat named Max who developed diabetes last year. He went from being a chubby 16 pound adult cat to a weak and frail kitty of 11.5 pounds. He had a voracious appetite, but couldn’t derive enough nutrition from his food as his pancreas was not making enough insulin to break down the sugar in his food to nourish him. The sugar was “spilling” into his blood stream and urine. He was perpetually thirsty, constantly urinating and literally withering away.
Last November, Max’s diabetes was diagnosed and a long process of adjusting his dosage of insulin every twelve hours began. We were initially horrified at the prospect of having to inject our boy with needles twice a day, but it really hasn’t been bad. Feeding Max as you shoot him, he barely acknowledges the thin needle.
Once the correct dosage was established, Max gained weight quickly and his vital signs all became more normal. The dosage did have to be adjusted, and I took him to the vet regularly to measure his blood glucose levels. In time, we got him down to 147. For cats and humans, 100 is considered good, but anything under 200 is acceptable. As we just learned, a little high is way better than too low when it comes to blood glucose.
Trace, Max is Screaming!
Part of our daily routine includes making fun of our cat. Max meows a lot. When he’s hungry, thirsty, wanting attention or snacks, he’s quite vocal. I do impressions of him, using a small squeaky voice to simulate his voice, providing snarky, silly commentary on how he must be feeling.
“Oh God, Mom, you have no idea what I’ve been through. My life sucks. Feed me, you negligent bitch!”
What’s really funny is, more often than not, there’s plenty of food left in his bowls when he’s screaming for more; he’s just forgotten it’s there. He tries to get me to come to the utility room with him to ensure he’ll be fed should the bowls be empty. And he’s finicky; what he loves at one meal may not suit him at the next. There are even position issues I’ve discovered and documented.
We inject Max with insulin while he’s eating so he’s distracted and the insulin has something to work on. As the morning progresses, I usually check on him to make sure he’s not having a bad reaction. Late Friday morning, he seemed a little out of it. I tried to get him interested in a toy, but he wasn’t going for it. Normally, he’s pretty alert in the late morning and early afternoon, so I was concerned.
Max’s vet had told me that if he seems lethargic, his blood sugar could be too low and could be addressed by rubbing syrup on his gums. I put a little maple syrup on my finger and applied it to his gums. His eyes widened immediately (I thought of the scene in Pulp Fiction where John Travolta’s character injects adrenaline into the chest of Uma Thurman’s character) and Max bit my arm. It took a few minutes for me to realize I was bleeding, but I knew he wasn’t being vicious; this was a reaction to the sudden spike in blood sugar. He clearly felt better, though, and I decided not to give him any insulin that night.
Saturday morning, I got up to feed Max at his regular time (7:30) and he met me at the door of the ground floor. He meowed, but not frantically. (Some mornings, he comes up to the bedroom to get me moving, signaling greater urgency). “About time you got down here” but not quite “Oh God! I’m starving!” I dished out some wet food and refreshed his crunchies. I also decided to decrease his insulin by a unit. I fed him, shot him, did some laundry, interacted with him a bit and went back upstairs.
Bob called to me about an hour later. Bob had found Max hiding inside the living room sofa, something he hadn’t done in a long time. He was howling, panting, drooling and breathing heavily. I called the vet, described his symptoms and told them we were bringing Max in.
Max is Bob’s child. He is absolutely crazy about this cat and tends to freak out in emergencies. He drove like a maniac and cursed every car that impeded our progress the five miles to the vet’s office. The second he’d parked, Bob grabbed the cat in the carrier from my lap and bolted through the door, parting the sea of people in the waiting room (Bob is 6’8″, so people can’t help but notice him), yelling “Emergency! Out of the way!” I moved as quickly as I could to keep up.
Two new vets saw Max immediately, asked us some questions and they drew blood for a glucose test. The meter read “LO.” That was bad. Max was going into hypoglycemic seizure. They shaved his forearm and started a catheter to deliver glucose and hydration to his bloodstream. He stopped screaming. The drooling ceased. The panting subsided. We wiped the slobber from his face and neck. Max got all bright-eyed as he watched the birds and squirrels scurrying around the bird-feeder outside the office window.
The doctors were kind and attentive. They suggested we leave Max for a couple of hours (they close early on Saturday). We might have to bring him to an emergency hospital for observation, but for now he was out of the woods.
Bob had gone out to the car to compose himself. He felt bad about bulldozing through all the other people in the waiting room and didn’t want to be seen weeping. But there aren’t many pet owners who couldn’t relate to what they’d just witnessed. We all love our pets and will fight to get them relief from their distress. A lovely woman came over to talk to me, holding her kitty in her arms, as I sat in the waiting room waiting for Max to be stabilized. She feared her cat was becoming diabetic. We traded stories of adopting and losing cherished pets. We’ve all been there. It’s nice to talk to someone who understands.
We did go home for a bit. I managed to work out and shower. Bob had a little lunch and cleaned up. We went back to retrieve our boy.
Max was in a cage, the IV still attached. He meowed at us on arrival.
“Oh God, you just don’t know what I’ve been through! Get me out of here!”
Opening the cage door, he clearly wanted to leap out, but I wouldn’t let him. I petted and comforted him. He leaned into me and I hugged him.
The doctor told me he thought Max was well enough to go home. No more insulin for the weekend. Let’s try some diabetic food. Bring him in Monday for another blood glucose test and we’ll see. He gave me his cell number so I could call him if anything happened over the weekend. Maybe the diabetes is in remission. It happens. Or maybe he just needs a lot less insulin. The titration process begins anew.
I just bought a brand new vial of insulin, so it would be consistent with the pattern of my life that he wouldn’t need it. And of course, it can’t be returned. But if it turned out that Max didn’t need insulin ever again, I’d be happy to eat that expense.
So, our little Sugar Puss is home, curled up in our bed and enjoying a quiet autumn weekend. Life is sweet for now.