Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A bite to remember

"I told you.
Your hand was trying to kill you.
I had to stop it."

It's worth mentioning that if my sweet, loyal, writer-cat Gus can almost put me in the hospital, so can yours, whether he helps you write or not.

As most cat-owners know, but maybe, like me, choose to ignore, cats are hunters by nature. They can be the most playful beings around. They can be polite. If they feel like it, they can be trained to fetch, or come when you call them. And, if you don't want your bare legs ambushed by playful cats who are hunters by nature, they can be taught to go up or downstairs ahead of you. 

"Throw me a post-it toy."
Gus and I have an understanding. When I'm writing, his job is to nap on a soft blanket near my laptop under a little heat lamp that I set up. When he's bored, my job is to stop writing and make him a post-it toy, or a fort. 

I also know if I am in a conversation and gesturing, Gus considers this both an invitation to play and an opportunity to hunt. 

And this is where Gus begins to confuse himself with a cat 35 times his size, who does not have fresh bowls of kibble every morning, but is in danger of starving to death if he can't execute the cunning and stealth to bag his hand-prey.

And this is when Gus, like a soft little shark, will drift to where he can track hand-prey, his focus silent and serious, his dilated predator eyes on the prize until I lean forward and say, "Stop it, Gus. Go to your fort."
"How did you get in here?"

He's the best.

Last week, while my husband and I sat chatting in our living room, Gus appeared. I motioned him to the couch next to me where he flopped and began to bat at my hand playfully.  

And then he wrapped himself around my wrist and bit me.

"Hey!" I yelled, surprised. But now, Gus was crouched with his ears back, as if he'd taken his shot and now, it was my turn to be prey again. Instead, I dipped my fingers into my water glass and sprinkled him, saying "No! NO!"

Horrified, he fled the scene. Below the piano he crouched, staring at me, a hundred questions in his still-dilated, predator eyes.

This was on a Thursday. On Friday, a little area around the bite was red, but eh, I thought, he's a house cat. I worked at my desk and barely noticed it. 

The next day I was to fly and visit family overnight in Maryland. I woke many times that night, as I do before I fly, and also because it felt like I was wearing several rubber bands around my wrist.

By the time I was at my gate, my entire wrist was swollen. He's a house cat, I thought. How dirty can his mouth be? With a half hour or so to kill, I looked up "Infected cat bites" on my phone.

And discovered the following:

From Mayo Clinic: "...according to a new study by researchers at the Mayo Clinic, almost a third of the people who sought treatment for a cat bite had to be hospitalized. And of the patients who were hospitalized, two-thirds ended up needing surgery to flush out the bacteria and remove infected tissue."


I looked at my wrist. 
"Yes. They're talking about me," it said.

From WebMD:  "In some cases, a person who has been bitten by an animal may need a tetanus or rabies shot, antibiotics to prevent infection, X-rays, or immediate treatment at a hospital. Get medical attention if:
  • The bite is from a cat.
  • There are signs of infection.
  • You haven't had a tetanus shot for more than 10 years or you're not sure when your last tetanus shot was. 
I was sure my last tetanus shot was in third grade, after I picked up a chipmunk on a field trip.

I pulled my sleeve down.
I pulled my sleeve up.
I stared at my wrist.
Sleeve down. 
Sleeve up.

On the plane, spooked and sure things were becoming worse by the moment, I thought over my choices: Disrupt the entire family get-together with a trip to the ER which would take several hours and possibly end with a four-day hospital stay. Or, get hold of myself. Stop looking at my wrist, stop obsessing and wait until the next day. Visit a walk-in urgent care facility on the way home.  What's twenty-four more hours?

Problem solved.

Two hours later, I approached my host who happens to be a medical person and said, "Ha ha, interesting thing happened, I got this bite the other day from my cat who was just playing and—"
"Let me see it," interrupted my host.
He took a look, announced to the others that we would be going to the emergency room and told me that no, I didn't have to bring my bag. He'd come back for it.

At the ER, I told the triage person I had an infected cat bite and was placed in an exam room almost as quickly as I would have been after saying, "Well, first I had these chest pains..." 

The doctor  looked at it. "Oh yeah, that's infected," he said and calmly drew a large circle around the  area.

One tetanus shot and a prescription for oral antibiotics later, I was told that I was not only "borderline" for admission, but still a candidate depending on what happened on either side of that circle. 

It is a week later, the site is completely healed.  A more docile Gus is next to my hand, battling his hunter instincts as well as his memories I'm sure, of that humiliating water treatment. He looks as likely to attack me as he is to go down the hall and draw himself a bath.

I told him, it was a good thing I still think of him like this:

and not this:

and that, of course, all is forgiven.


  1. Gus is so adorable it's hard to imagine him going for your throat (or in this case, your wrist) but to be on the safe side, keep your hands at your side at all times. Just saying...

    1. He's also a quick study. I have a little water spritzer that only has to make an appearance on my desk for him to get over his lion self.