Writer’s Note: Because I am recovering from a wrist injury, typing is difficult. For that reason, this blog entry consists of a short excerpt from the book, Hannah Grace. Here’s a window into chapter 4… Hannah’s (and my) first visit to the vet in 2007. I welcome reader responses in the comment box below this post!
When we entered the Porter Square Veterinarian Clinic’s quiet, sterile reception area, Hannah, in her blue plastic carrier, grew silent as death. To our left, a young man sat with a large maroon plastic carrier housing his crying gray tabby. To our right, a quiet mutt sat with his head cradled in his owner’s lap, his front paws beside the woman’s thick brown nursing shoes. Ahead, on the wall above the reception desk, was a bulletin board full of photos of pet patients, both past and present.
A friendly young tech sporting a perky ponytail led us down a short hall and into a small exam room with a waist-high metal table, a computer atop a short counter, and a bench at the far wall, where I sat, placing the carrier on my lap and holding my arms around it.
“Dr. Parker will be with you shortly,” the tech said, her eyes lowering and smiling at the cat carrier. “You can let Hannah out if you want.”
“Thank you,” I said as she left, closing the door.
I moved the carrier from my lap to the bench and opened the metal gate.
“Hannah,” I coaxed her softly. “You can come out now.”
Hannah huddled deeper for a moment, then ventured out, one trembling but graceful white paw at a time.
“It’s okay, baby,” I said.
Hannah’s head emerged slowly, her whiskers probing the atmosphere outside the carrier, her nose sniffing frantically at the smells in the air, her eyes widening at the glaring ceiling lights. She hopped down onto the floor, quickly crouching between my legs and the bench, and intertwined her tail around my calf. I recalled the way I, as a very small child, latched onto my mother’s leg, how I grasped onto her with my helpless, desperate hold.
Melancholy washed across my chest. I took a breath.
“Sweet girl, sweet girl,” I found myself singing to her with my out-of-tune voice, bending down, running my fingers along her back, tracing her calico colors. A layer of fur sloughed off and stuck to my skin.
Hannah’s ears pricked up suddenly and the next moment the door opened and a clean-cut dark-haired late-thirties veterinarian wearing a white lab coat entered.
“Hi, I’m Dr. Parker,” he said, offering his hand.
“Hi,” I said, shaking his hand, smiling politely, trying to hide my qualms about being an unpracticed human in a vet clinic, unsure how to proceed.
“Is this Hannah?” Dr. Parker continued, putting his palm out to her. She cowered momentarily, then lifted her head and sniffed his fingers.
“Yes,” I said, trying to stop my mind from spinning.
“Hello, Hannah,” he said as she shrunk back. His soft eyes moved from Hannah to me. “Let’s put her up on the exam table.”
I lifted Hannah, feeling self-conscious, sure that my way of holding a cat would show myself to be the naïve and untrained pet owner I knew I was. Hannah pushed her head into my stomach like a little girl crying mommy, mommy.
My attention was fixed on her. “She – I – the other day – ” I started but my train of thought was disjointed, disorganized. I had questions but they were fleeting. Hannah had begun peeing in places she shouldn’t be, such as my hand, when I pet her.
I was surprised by the way Dr. Parker spoke with a gentleness to Hannah, to me, as he examined her, explaining the different scenarios of what could be happening.
“It could be a behavioral problem,” he said, stroking Hannah’s head, “or it could be something physical. I’d like to test her urine.”
He looked at me directly, and within a pregnant pause, I realized he was waiting for my permission.
“Oh,” I fumbled, then found my words. “Sure, yes, let’s do that.”
“Okay,” he said. “I’m going to take her for a moment.” He picked Hannah up so that she sat in the crook of his arm. She appeared quite comfortable that way. “We’ll be right back.”
Then they left for the lab in the rear of the clinic, and I stood alone in the exam room, my heart palpitating. How strange it was, I thought, to see him take Hannah away, how it touched a mournful and unsettled place inside my soul. I took a few slow breaths, until Dr. Parker appeared in the doorway with Hannah. He entered the exam room, shut the door, and set Hannah on the floor. She scampered into the carrier, my eyes following her rapid movement. Dr. Parker grinned.
“That’s okay,” Dr. Parker said. “We’re done for now.”
He diagnosed Hannah with struvite crystals, a condition, I learned, that, left untreated, could quickly turn to kidney failure.
“She was trying to tell you something,” he explained Hannah’s behavior, then looked to where she was hiding in the carrier. “You did a good job.”
I was unsure if he was talking to Hannah or to me.
Treatment, he continued, included a change to prescription food to regulate the acidity of her urine.
“For how long?” I asked.
“For the rest of her life,” he said.
As I remembered the Saint Meows’ warning about veterinarians only wanting to make money, a part of me questioned the integrity of Dr. Parker’s treatment plan, but I was also aware of a sense of “rightness” in my gut so I agreed to the prescription food, which turned out to be the same cost as the high quality store-bought food Saint Meows had endorsed. Dr. Parker described the manner in which I should introduce Hannah’s food gradually: a cat was a creature of habit. Doing anything drastic could cause a mutiny.
His gaze was congenial, confident and clear, assuring, and direct as he asked, “Do you have any other questions?”
“No,” I said, relieved to have the appointment over and a solution in place. “Thank you.”
Dr. Parker offered his hand. This time I took it a little more easily.
“It was nice to meet you,” he said, then called over to the carrier. “You too, Hannah.”
I appreciated how he treated Hannah, with dignity.
Hannah remained quiet during our walk back to the apartment. Once we were safely inside, I placed the carrier on the foyer floor and opened the metal gate, and Hannah flew up the stairs, raced into the kitchen, and devoured all the kibble in her food bowl, as if it were her last meal. Then she searched the apartment, as if to confirm that her things – her life – were still there, intact: the litter box, the mouse toys, my shoes in the hallway, her cat bed. Several minutes later, her movements a bit calmer, she hopped up on the loveseat and curled her body against the backrest, placed her head between her front paws, and fell asleep from the exhaustion of it all.
I’m pleased to announce the publication of my story, “The Wreck,” a chapter excerpt from my first book, Personal Effects, which chronicles the story behind my PTSD. Check it out in the Solstice Literary Magazine’s Summer 2011 Awards Issue!
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