Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Reincarnation of Sidi-Maree

It is said that there is no such thing as a coincidence.  I have come to believe this more and more since the unusual chain of events that led to my wonderful years with a black and white tuxedo cat named Sidi-Maree.  Sidi was happy, bossy, clever and playful.  We adored each other unconditionally.  How Sidi came to live with me is a strange story but, in retrospect, certainly not coincidental.

My story began in 1991 when I went to the SPCA and adopted 8 week old Isis, a black and white tuxedo cat.  Isis fit into my multiple-cat household very well at first.  She was an imp and a darling, enjoying her kittenhood immensely.  As she grew older, however, her enjoyment declined and when she was a year old, she escaped.

I placed ads in the paper and flyers all over town.  After several weeks a man phoned to tell me he thought he had seen her.  I drove to the area, (several miles from my house), walking around and calling her name.  All of a sudden, there she was, looking at me incredulously.  “Rats, she’s found me!” was the message she projected as she vanished into the underbrush.  I searched for weeks, glimpsing her three times, with the same reaction each time.  I finally figured she was seeking a new home where she could be the “only cat” and I gave up trying to capture her.

About a month later a woman phoned and said, “I found your black and white cat.”  I felt obligated to check this out, so I drove to her house.  The woman was aglow with excitement as she ushered me into her living room.  There, seated on a huge overstuffed chair was the tiniest kitten I had ever seen!  The little one regarded me calmly, with a queenly demeanor.  Yes, she was black and white, but she was not Isis.  Isis was a year old - this was a baby!  But – so self-possessed, and such a dear!  These thoughts flashed through my mind and I suddenly realized that there was no way on earth that I could leave that house without taking that kitten.  How could I leave her?  She seemed fated to be mine.

I named her Noko Marie (“Don’t mess with me”) which eventually became Maree due to a spelling error at the vet.

Maree was the best cat: sweet, loving, friendly, and cuddly.  It was obvious from the start that we were soulmates.  Our lives were idyllic until July of 1993 when she became violently ill.  She wouldn’t eat and became dehydrated.  She was hospitalized immediately.

The next morning I stopped on my way to work to check on her.  “Would you like to see her?” asked the receptionist.  These were the most amazing words I had ever heard!  You mean I was to be allowed into the “inner sanctum” to visit my cat?  Wow!

I was not the only one who was amazed.  Maree was clearly astonished to see me.  I’m sure she thought she had been completely abandoned.  She stood up, she purred, she ate – all good signs for recovery, I thought, until the vet diagnosed her with kidney failure.  I visited her every day and after a week she was allowed to come home.  The vet later confided that he thought she was going home to die.

She had plumped up from the re-hydration, but she was still a very sick kitty.  I fed her by hand, tempting her with tasty tidbits, yet her condition fluctuated between perky and lethargic.  Ten days after her homecoming there was a most startling development:  the fur on the back of her neck began falling out in huge clumps.  At the same time, though, she was bright-eyed, alert and eating.  It was a puzzle and I began hanging out at my local health food store, reading labels, buying books and supplements, asking questions.  The proprietor found an article for me by Dr. Wendell O. Belfield, DVM, about antioxidants and kidney function.  This article changed my life – and Maree’s.

I began giving Maree vitamin C orally and I slathered vitamin E and aloe gel on her increasingly hairless back.  She kept licking at it and worsened her condition.  The vet recommended a topical cortisone treatment, but I feared ingestion.  How could I stop her from licking herself raw?  Ever try to keep a bandage on a cat?

Maree had lost nearly half of her fur when an inspiration struck.  I cut the sleeve off of a sweatshirt, cut two holes for her front legs, and voila!  A turtleneck sweater!  Maree had a startled expression the first time I maneuvered her into this sweater.  She experienced a bit of trouble standing up (not used to armholes) but she quickly got the hang of it and her spirits and her appetite improved.  The sweater prevented her from licking herself, kept her warm and allowed the vitamin E and aloe to work their magic.  I made more sweaters and changed them morning and evening.  The angry red skin began disappearing immediately and the ulcers healed.  One week after the debut of the sweater her fur began to return.  The vet was amazed. 

Maree: Pretty in pink
She wore the sweaters for two months, by which time her fur re-grew completely.  She was back to normal.  My theory is that since the skin is an organ of elimination, and since her kidneys had failed, the skin took over the job of eliminating toxins until the kidneys could regroup.

Our next seven months were wonderful.  Maree was my baby, my miracle cat.  We spent many blissful hours together, she purred and I read my new collection of books on the subject of alternative medicine.  I also collected many varieties of ingredients for an alternative pharmacopoeia.  I changed my cats’ diet to all natural ingredients. 

In May of 1994 Maree suddenly sickened and before anyone could do anything to help her, she had died.  I was disconsolate.  To think of all we had experienced and at the end there had been no magic cure for her!  Maree haunted my dreams.  Everywhere I looked, awake or asleep, there were black cats and black kittens.  I even saw this license plate:  BLK CAT.  Was I losing my mind?    What was happening to me? 

I waited only six weeks for my answer.  A family trip took me to cat lover Cousin Marcia in Ithaca, New York.  When I met tiger Allie, Marcia’s most recently rescued cat, I was the first to diagnose her pregnancy.  Allie gazed at me warmly and I swear I heard her say, “So, you’re the one!  No doubt Marcia thought I was crazy when I announced that the firstborn kitten would be black and white and that I wanted it.  Allie purred her approval and wove around my legs.  When the five kittens were born, the first kitten was indeed black with white trim and the rest were tigers like their momma.  (Marcia later admitted that had I not claimed him before his birth she would never have given him up!)

Baby Sidi, the Ithaca Kitty
I named him Obsidian, which was quickly shortened to Sidi, or Sidi-Maree, as I came to understand that he was the reincarnation of my sweet Maree.  When he was eight weeks old, I traveled to Ithaca to pick up Sidi and his favorite littermate, a little tiger gal named Lili.  I spent the weekend at Marcia’s to get acquainted with my new babies.  Sidi pretty much ignored me, Lili was skittish, and all the kittens galloped endlessly around the huge old farmhouse.  When the time came to leave, I wondered how I could possibly corral my new charges.  I opened the carrier door and much to my surprise, Sidi waltzed inside and Lili joined him.  

After the three hour drive to my home in Canada, Sidi’s first act in his new house was to charge into the bathroom to play with Maree’s toys.  Like he’d done it a hundred times!  He continued to mimic Maree’s unique behaviors until I gave him a final “test.”

I had a pretty fringed scarf hanging from a hook in my bedroom doorway.  Maree had invented a light-hearted game in which she pulled the scarf down onto the floor.  I’d hang it up, she’d pull it down.  We did this dozens of times.  She never chewed or clawed it.  It just had to be on the floor.  This scarf had been put away after her passing, as it saddened me to see it just hanging there all the time.  It was several months before I remembered this ritual game and decided to “test” Sidi.  I hung the scarf, turned my head a moment, and when I looked back – the scarf was on the floor!  Sidi sat smirking nearby.  He only did this once, but once was enough.  As animal communicator Dawn Hayman reported at a later session, “He knew that I knew, but he wanted to make sure that I knew.”

In the ensuing years Sidi developed into his own cat.  There was only one behavior left over from Maree’s lifetime.  Sidi resolutely refused to allow me to brush him.  He told once told Dawn, “It hurts,” and I believe this is a memory of Maree’s fur loss episode.  Sidi struggled with severe health issues in his lifetime, all the while maintaining his wonderful personality.  He was sweet and warm and simply amazing.  When my dad was in the hospital for six months before he died, Sidi was my friend, my comforter, my safe harbor.  I could not have survived without him.


Sidi’s first medical crisis came in late 1998 – struvite crystals causing a urinary blockage which required hospitalization and medication.  For the next two years he was in and out of the hospital a dozen times – and most of these events usually began in the middle of the night.  He began to display a split personality during this time:  happy and friendly at home and a little demon at the vet.  His bad temperament was on his permanent record at the emergency vet and one of the techs at his regular vet accused me of smuggling in a different cat because they were so amazed at his friendly behavior when I visited him.  One morning I phoned to see how he was doing and the receptionist told me he was “doing great - spitting and snarling as usual.”

We had many, um, interesting adventures during this time period. After a three day stay at the vet In February of 2000, I was bringing him home and my car’s brake pedal broke and we barely made it.  Twelve hours later, in the middle of the night, we had to take a taxi to go back to the vet – Sidi was again blocked and so close to death the vet inserted a needle directly into his bladder (without anesthesia) to extract over 50ml of urine.  Sidi came back to life in my arms that morning – I am positive his eyes were on the Rainbow Bridge when they slowly refocused on me. 

In March of 2001 another early morning crisis resulted in yet another taxi ride.  My car was snowed in at the house end of my five hundred-foot driveway; there was well over a foot of snow on the ground, and it was still snowing and blowing.  I bundled him into his carrier, wrapped it in blankets, bungee-corded it onto my little red plastic sled, and laboriously and carefully waded out to the street, only to find the taxi waiting at a neighbor’s house, across the street.  I had to climb over the plow drifts and managed to signal the taxi before he left.  Then I was forced to flounder back and retrieve poor Sidi and haul him over to the taxi.  Whew, we made it!  Sidi had to stay at the vet’s for another five days because that was when they made the decision to operate on him.

The surgeon performed a perineal uresthrotomy, essentially creating a larger opening so crystals would be more easily passed.  This seemed to be the solution to his recurring problems and he was fine and fit and feisty for two months when suddenly his new opening developed scar tissue and closed completely.  My vet had to insert a needle right through his bladder wall to extract 90ml of urine!  He then referred me to the vet school surgery in Guelph, so on a sweltering June day (thank god for air conditioning!) I had to drive him up there (after taking the wrong turn and ending up in Mississauga), and just leave him (after putting down a hefty deposit, of course).  They catheterized him (wow!) and performed surgery the next morning.  They had to open his “angry looking” bladder to remove over 200 stones (a record!) and also several dozen stones in what was left of his urethra (also a record).  Amazingly, they were successful in reconstructing his plumbing, so his episodes of blockage ended. 

I changed his diet to raw ground organic turkey, cooked polenta, supplements and minerals (a variation of Anitra Frazier’s recipe), and Sidi’s health rebounded.  Sidi (and eventually all of my cats) came to view vitamin E and cod liver oil capsules as cat treats.

On a Friday morning in November of 2007, Sidi began to refuse food.  None of the usual treats (yogurt, baby food, tuna) tempted him and by late evening his breathing had become rapid and shallow.  The vet returned my frantic call and it was decided that Sidi would be better off at home than alone in the hospital for the remainder of the night.  By 5:30AM his breathing was ragged, his mouth was open and he was crying.  I phoned my vet but his service told me I must call the emergency clinic in St. Catharines. 

By the time we checked in to the emergency clinic at 6:45AM, Sidi was in surely peering through Death’s door.  He was immediately whisked into the back.  The doctor finally came out to speak with me and showed me Sidi’s X-Ray.  His lungs were obscured; it could be fluid or it could be a mass.  Sidi’s heart could not be seen on the X-Ray.  He had been given bronchodilators, pain meds, diuretics, and placed into an oxygen tank.  The doctor told me his lungs were so noisy he could not hear the heartbeat.

An hour later the doctor came out again with a fresh X-Ray.  Sidi’s lungs had cleared a bit and the oxygen was making his breathing easier but his condition was far from stable and the doc did not think he would make it back home alive.  And of course, since this was an overnight emergency clinic, they were about to close for the day so it was suggested that Sidi be transferred to the convenient cat clinic only next door.  The ER doc carefully carried Sidi in his clear acrylic oxygen tank and they disappeared into the bowels of the cat clinic.

Finally the clinic doctor emerged and sat me down with an “estimate of the costs of the tests” that they could perform to diagnose his problem.  $800-$1400 to see what was wrong – not to remedy his problem!!!  I was gobsmacked.  Mind you, Sidi was always more important to me than anything else in my life but I just could not agree to plunging even further into debt this time if he was going to die anyways.  I asked if I could spend some time with my poor dying kitty to think things over.  The doctor agreed and said it was a lot of money to spend and none of the outcomes were at all bright.  I could tell she was really recommending euthanasia right then and there.

I was ushered into the back room, fearful of what I would find.  There he was, sitting up in his little acrylic box.  He looked bright and alert.  I put my hand on the side of the box and he rubbed his head against the acrylic.  I put up my fingers and he matched my fingers with his paw – it was like a scene in a prison movie!

The doc was convinced Sidi would die as soon as he was out of the oxygen tank.  I described all of this to him, told him about the costs involved with testing, and the seemingly diminishing likelihood that he would make it back home alive.  I told him I loved him and that I was trying to make the decision that would be best for him – hang the expense.

I may not be an animal communicator but I received the clearest message from him, “GET ME OUT OF HERE.  TAKE ME HOME!!!”

I endeavored to point out to him that he might die in the car on the QEW.  He blinked and said, “HOME.  NOW!”

After delivering my decision to the clinic doctor she warned me that his breathing would become labored and it would be a horrible death for him and an even more horrible experience for me.  I assured her we would go directly to Sidi’s very own vet for that final needle.  My heart was pounding but Sidi was alert and did not seem to be in any distress for the ride.  Thankfully traffic was light as I wept most of the way home.  My plan was this – if he seemed to be going downhill, we would go directly to the vet.  Otherwise, we would say our private goodbyes at home.

By the time we reached our exit, Sidi was sitting up and looking around.  Are we there yet?”  Once inside, I let him out of the carrier and he began touring the house.  I brought him a bowl of baby food and he ate it.  I gave him yogurt and he ate it.

I phoned the vet to make an appointment for an examination only.  The vet said his lungs sounded good, his heartbeat was strong and regular, and we went home with a couple of cans of A/D, Furosemide, and good old Clavamox.  When I opened the first can of A/D, Sidi’s eyes widened and he did a double take. “Holy cow!  She’s giving me canned food!”  He dove in and polished off half the can.

Sidi and I spent a blissful weekend and he seemed unusually smug.  He was completely normal.  On Monday, I took him in to his vet for blood work and an X-Ray to see how his lungs were doing after his strange ordeal.  Was there a mass in his lungs? 

Sidi’s blood work was normal and his lungs were clear.  The only problem that showed was his heart – it was a “Valentine heart” instead of the normal egg shape.  He was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy and the vet sent him home with Fortekor to strengthen his heart muscle.  The vet did say that there was not much he could do for him; he said Sidi could throw a clot at any time in the future and it would all be over for him.

Sidi and I had two more wonderful years together.  He was the kind of cat whose whole body vibrated from the intensity of his great purr which could be heard across the room.  He delighted in stealing my food and more than once I had to eat standing up to keep him away.  One time he burned his tongue by plunging it into a fresh mug of hot chocolate – such a baleful look he gave me!  My fault!  He stole a baked potato right off of my plate after I left it on the table as I turned to answer the door.  He ate half a bag of Hershey’s Dark Chocolate Kisses (tinfoil and all) and threw up the whole mess on my Persian carpet.  He always slept under the covers with me, purring breathily in my ear.  He comforted me when I was sad and never failed to amuse me with his antics.

Sidi, July 17, 1994 - December 13, 2009

On December 12, 2009, I was awakened to a thumping sound and found Sidi thrashing on the floor in the bathroom.  His legs were wooden, his paw pads were pearly white and icy, his eyes were unfocused.  I rushed him to the vet.  Blood work showed low potassium, X-Ray showed heart enlarged but not as bad as previously.  The vet did not say it in so many words but I believe Sidi had a stroke.  All three of us knew that our grand fifteen year adventure was reaching its end.  Sidi crossed over the Rainbow Bridge the next evening, lying on top of my chest, listening to the beat of my heart.  We had spent our remaining hours together in peace and quiet; I told him his story and at a later consultation with Dawn Hayman, he thanked me for our life together and for his “perfect exit.”  He said, “I will be with you again and you will know it as you knew it before.”
I have come to the belief that Maree was sent to me so that I would find a new life path.  Maree’s brief life was a lesson that led me to the path of natural healing, greater spirituality and the sure understanding of the interconnectedness of life.  Sidi’s lifetime of joy and tribulation was a both a gift and a lesson. Our animal companions can lead us into a better world, but only if we allow them into our hearts. 

In the meantime, I am awaiting Sidi’s return.