Brian made it look so easy. Load the syringe with three units of NPH, gently press down on the cat’s hind quarters until splayed on the floor, pinch an inch, and inject. It was over in a few seconds, and Jimmy the Diabeticat padded over to his food dish unperturbed.
Last weekend, I agreed to check in on Brian’s cat while he was out of town for the long weekend. Like me, my youngest brother has Type 1 diabetes and lives in the Boston area. Although I’m not a cat person, it didn’t sound challenging to transfer what I know about injecting my own insulin to the feline care situation. Plus, cats don’t seem to need a lot of attention: a change of water, fresh food, clean litterbox, and a little insulin if they’re diabetic.
Friday night’s training went well, and I took notes. This, however, was more easily written down than done.
Saturday: Home Care Day One
Brian left on Saturday morning, so we weren’t on duty until that evening. Three of us — Grace my daughter, Jimmy my husband, and I — went together. The two of them came along for company. It turned out I needed their help to subdue the patient.
I prepared the insulin. Grace open two little cans of wet food. The feline Jimmy sat regally on the kitchen floor, following Grace’s actions. This was my chance. I pressed the cats hind quarters gently to the floor, pinched an inch, and –
GROWL! Bite. Claw. Wince.
Cats act fast. I examined my hands and counted the delicate wounds filling with their threads of blood. All of a sudden I knew enough to be scared. After an attack, it’s natural to want to protect yourself. That’s what I wanted to do: go away from my attacker (who no doubt viewed me as an attacker). But I knew he needed his insulin, and he was going to get it.
I murmured, “Jimmy, jimmy, jimmy.” I held my breath and tried again. More scratches and another bite. I failed.
From the living room, where he was waiting, Jimmy the Husband said, “Just do it. Let’s get out of here.”
I, in the kitchen: “He won’t let me.”
The helpful husband joined me. He sighed pointedly. “Just do it! What’s the problem?!”
The cat hissed. Grace started crying.
“Your impatience is not helping anyone.” I added, “And I need your help.”
We rigged up a system where Jimmy (the human) would take a bath towel, folded into a narrow strip, and use it to hold Jimmy (the cat) behind the head and shoulders so he couldn’t whip his neck and claws around to attack me. After an hour of stalking the cat around the apartment and one trial and error, I got that insulin into the cat. I sat on the floor, relieved. The cat would live another day.
Later, at home, I recounted the story to Lydia. She has her father’s impatience and rolled her eyes. “Mom, it’s just a cat.” How easy it is for these people who have never had to inject a sharp-toothed, sharp-clawed creature to diminish the task!
“Lydia,” I replied gravely, “A cat is a small lion.”
Sunday: Home Care Day Two
The same trio went again to Brian’s apartment. I was scared on the way over and felt my heart pressing on my chest. In the apartment, Jimmy the Cat seemed scared and tense, too, and he found a safe cave in the kneehole under a desk.
Jimmy the Husband seemed more sincerely willing to help, although still dour. “Why is this so hard?” he asked.
“I don’t know cats! I don’t know a cat’s body! Where’s the best place for insulin?”
Grace, of course, wanted to add her two cents. “Mom, why talk about it? Just do it.”
Me: “Once I say it, then I can do it.”
Sunday morning our task took only a half hour. Sunday night, almost pros, we managed it in 15 minutes.
I’ll say this: pinching an inch of flesh covered with fur and injecting it is harder than pinching an inch of human flesh not covered in fur and injecting it. I had to feel the injection more than see it.
Monday: Home Care Day Three
When we walked in the apartment, this time the cat lingered near me. We all sat in the living room for a few minutes, trying to be social. Cats need affection, too. I held out my open hand in a gesture of peace, and Grace did the same. Jimmy the Cat approached us, rubbing our legs with his sinewy and soft body. He sniffed our hands. I made a move as if to pat him, and he stiffened.
“Let’s do it,” said Jimmy the Husband cheerfully, and he got the dark blue towel and folded it into the strip. This time the cat seemed to know what was coming. He turned his rump in my direction and stood still. The folded towel went around his shoulders; the needle went in. Grace emptied the food into the dish. Jimmy the Cat ate hungrily. We were in and out in 10 minutes.
Would I do it again? Yes, now that the cat knows us a bit, and we have a technique, I am no longer scared.
And my brother should be able to take an occasional vacation without his cat.
And the cat, as we all know, needs his insulin.