On a warm Thursday night, I stood sobbing on the side of the road with a possibly dead cat in my cat carrier wondering how on earth people have pets in Cairo.
I bought Klaus from a pet store for 200 LE back in August and upon bringing her home, was struck immediately by two thoughts: 1) she is too cute, and 2) what kind of a commitment have I just made?
Of course, as the year went on, she grew on me unlike any pet I’ve previously owned. Aside from being abnormally adorable (and fluffy, to boot), she was a smart little kitten with a palate for anything that came across her path: pretzels, sugary caramel waffles, and white bread were only a few of her choice snacks. Once I realized that she could tear the plastic wrapper off the waffles and eat them, I made sure to keep all doors closed and all food out of reach. She was quite loyal, following me around the apartment. She greeted guests at the door in an oddly canine manner, spent many a minute meowing conversationally, sat on my lap and watched Animal Planet‘s “Too Cute,” Skyped my parents, jumped in the sink when I wasn’t looking, and generally spent time being freaking adorable. She didn’t mind showers and stood obligingly while I shampooed her. She instantly took a liking to people and poked her way around parties, unlike most cats I encounter who snobbishly pass up the company or cower behind furniture. If I wanted to pick her up, she never struggled. If I wanted to kiss her incessantly, she let me. Not once did I hear her hiss. Ever. (Until she got sick, anyway.)
Basically, she was the best cat ever. Everyone who came over loved her, including crotchety Simon who rapidly switched from being disgusted by her to falling in love with her.
A few weeks ago, Klaus ate a lily. The lilies had been on my table for over a week, but a piece of the stamen must’ve fallen off and Klaus, being a furry dumpster, had to eat it. She seemed fine, and so I paid it no mind until the following day when she suddenly stopped being her usual bouncy self and just sat in her room staring at me with sad looking eyes.
I took her to the vet I normally go to in Egypt, explained what happened, and watched as he gave her two injections, the second which sent her into so much pain that, for the first time, she hissed. Nothing changed. I took her back the following day, explained again that she’d eaten a flower, and again watched as the vet administered two injections. Again, nothing. Finally, on the third day, I gathered up the nerve to Google what happens when a cat eats a lily and came across the startling and sinking news that lilies are poisonous to cats and they die within days of consuming them. Helpless, I called my friend Danny who generously took Klaus to the vet. (Missing work on a Thursday [Egyptian Friday] would dock me two day’s worth of pay, and since Klaus’ dialysis was going to be expensive, I couldn’t afford the loss.) This time, I called the vet to tell him to put her on some kind of dialysis, even though I knew that it was probably too late.
This the vet did, but Danny informed me over the phone that during the dialysis, Klaus had had a seizure. This was sickening news to me; to be sure, all of it was nauseating. I was mainly angry with myself for being so careless, and for putting a poor, innocent animal in a fatal situation. I spent many a night sitting up with her and feeding her water from an eye dropper, talking to her, putting blankets on my bed so she could be sick on them and still sleep with me. The worst part about it was knowing I couldn’t do anything. I yearned for a vet who would understand the severity of her condition, who would know how to treat her and cause her the least amount of pain and suffering. To learn that she had a seizure was devastating. She wasn’t even a year old.
That afternoon was the school lock-in, an event characterized by fun activities like cookie baking, pawprint painting, and a new sport the kids invented called “Kick the Bottle Cap.” By the time Amril and Keyon were on our way home, I was feeling in better spirits. The vet had told me that Klaus was looking better; he’d given her an appetite stimulant and she should be eating regularly now. I arrived home expecting to see a more jovial little Klaus, but what I found instead was quite the opposite.
Poor Klaus was lying on the floor in her room, her back legs and tail paralyzed, her head shaking. Terrified, I plunged her into her cat carrier and darted out the door. On the stairs, I met two Egyptian neighbors who regarded the cat carrier delightedly.
“Oh, a cat!” one of them cooed, stooping to look into the carrier. Here my breath caught and, in a moment that might be humorous had she survived, I whined, “I think she’s dead.”
They quickly moved out of my way so I could get to the street. From this point on, I was in tears, borderline hysterical.
There was a 24-hour vet a few blocks over, so I rushed there, determined to save her. But as it is often in Egypt, the sign was only a sign. I ran up the steps to find the lights dimmed, and started bawling more fervently. A man in a little scarf approached me.
“You go to this vet? This your vet? You have number? He closed. What is wrong?”
“I think she’s dead.” I managed to pant hysterically.
“OK. Okay, I help you find vet. You have a car?”
I shook my head.
“Okay. Come on. We will get a cab.”
Normally I am wary of getting in cabs with strangers, but I felt desperate to save Klaus and jumped in the first cab he hailed. I was down to two pounds of credit but managed to text Mo and get him to call me, which he promised to do every ten minutes or so.
“It is okay,” said my new friend as I choked on hysterical sobs in the backseat. “It is okay. In few minutes, your problem will be solved. We will fix it.”
Of course, a few minutes in Egypt is never a few minutes.
The cab driver, an unusually patient and content man, and my helper, equally patient and content, shuttled me around Maadi for two hours trying to find a vet. Two hours. Two hours on a Thursday night driving a hysterical western girl in sweaty work clothes and her potentially dead cat all around Cairo. Every vet was closed. These men, bless them, stopped to ask every person we encountered where we could find a vet. I watched as they took numerous business cards and phoned numerous vets, only to be disconnected. Sometimes the driver would stop and our copilot would get out and explore on foot while the driver darted into a flower shop or a pet shop on the side of the road. All the while, I sat uselessly in the backseat, oscillating between hysterical sobbing fits and lapses of silent acceptance that my cat was probably dead. We stopped at two 24-hour vet clinics that both boasted emergency hotlines and emergency services only to find them both closed, no answer on the phone.
As it inched past 9pm, I began to feel hopeless. The driver and copilot had darted into a bird shop across from the local pub that didn’t seem to hold any hope for us, but I saw them both leap down the steps excitedly and jump back into the cab.
“Yes?” I asked hopefully.
“Yes! Finally!” The driver and copilot patted each other’s backs, grinning triumphantly as we sped down the road toward our possible vet. The copilot got him on the cell phone and confirmed that he was open.
When we arrived, my scarfed friend ran down an almost back alley with me, straight to a fluorescent-lit tiny office, and watched as the vet removed Klaus from her case. I repeated my phrase of the night: “I think she’s dead.”
“She is still alive,” he replied, turning her over.
Then, as if to prove it, she had a seizure on the table.
It was absolutely heartbreaking. Again I stood by and cried. I filled the new vet in on everything that had happened and, unlike the other vet, this one gave her a full checkup and immediately put her on an IV. He would keep her overnight and Friday, but couldn’t do an ultrasound until Saturday. He was off on Friday, but he would come in to give her an IV and check on her.
All the while, the scarfed man sat with me. At one point, he patted my arm consolingly. For this, I have been infinitely grateful. My opinion of Egyptian men has, unfortunately, been tarnished by the amount of harassment I receive on a daily basis, but here was someone who spent two hours of his evening with a total stranger without asking for anything in return. He left shortly after we found the vet, which was fine by me.
I left the vet with renewed hope and came in the next day just to visit Klaus and see how she was doing. He said that her temperature was up and she was doing much better, and he’d call me after the ultrasound on Saturday. But on Saturday morning, he arrived in his office to find that Klaus had died overnight.
I have never really felt sympathy when pets die, perhaps because most that go have been terminally ill or well into old age. But it was absolutely heartwrenching and miserable to lose my little companion. Fortunately for me, I have a solid group of friends here in Cairo; Loraine came over immediately to sit with me while I cried and Steve messaged me cute texts about cat heaven that were cheesy but appropriate.
It was a horrible experience – not nearly as horrible as losing a person, I admit, but horrible nonetheless. It was exhausting, driving around for two hours, trying everything to save her. It was also a helpless and guilty feeling to know that I had, in some way, brought this on her and been completely unable to help her.
But with all horrible experiences, there is a silver lining. While the experience added to the negative perception I have about Cairo and its healthcare for animals and general treatment of animals and its overtly false advertising, it restored in me a bit of faith in Egyptian people. I’m still in awe of how quickly that man, who had appeared to be going out when I showed up at the vet and threw a wrench in his plans, resolved to get in a cab and help me find a vet. And the driver as well, being so willing to spend two hours driving around aimlessly. (In addition, my bank card was declined at the pharmacy the day before while buying her medicine, and the pharmacists told me to take the medicine anyway and come back the next day to pay. When would that happen in the US?)
And, of course, it reiterated the fact that I am blessed with a generous cohort of friends here, especially Danny, who spent nearly three hours on his day off sitting in the vet’s office while Klaus was being treated. Life could always be worse; for now, it’s just lonely.