Medicine Cat - A Story of Love and Healing

Dec 26, 2023
cat being lazy laying on bed being loving and supportive to its owner

The doctors sent my mother home to die. A fifteen-year survivor of breast cancer, she had suffered two heart attacks when advanced cancer was found in her lung.

Mom had struggled to raise three daughters while holding a full-time job, yet worked hard to maintain a cozy home for her family. Growing up, I knew only two things about my mother: She had an iron will and she loved nature. During her days of illness, she told me a third: “I’ve had a miserable life”.

My dad was a difficult man to live with, but my mom did not complain, probably because she could not put words to her own needs. But when it became clear that, because of her progressive deterioration, my dad regarded her as a burden, she and I decided that she would move to my home.

I had three weeks to make a myriad of arrangements. I changed my work schedule, found transportation, an oncologist, cardiologist, hospice care, medical equipment, a caregiver, and bather. My plan for Mom’s final days was simple: She would live with love and die with grace.

Upon her arrival, after an exhausting five-hour trip, Mom was examined by the home health-care nurse. The nurse took me aside and asked, “How long do you think your mother has?”

“Two, maybe three months,” I said.

The nurse looked at me sadly. “Adjust your thinking,” he said. “She has days, maybe a week. Her heart is weak and unstable.”

My home, small and comfortable, was a haven to four cats and a golden retriever. The animals had the run of my house. During my parents’ infrequent visits, they’d seen the cats prowl the kitchen counters, the dog snooze on the couch, and knew the cats shared my bed. This made my father angry and my mother uncomfortable. I was worried my mother would be bothered by my pets.

We installed the electric hospital bed and oxygen machine, which frightened the cats from the bedroom. I’d moved their furniture and they were peeved. The retriever, on the other hand, an immature dog with bad habits, was excited by all the changes in the house. She jumped up, barked and shed more profusely than usual.

One cat, however, seemed to adjust perfectly. Otto had been an ugly, smelly kitten adopted from the animal shelter, but he grew into a handsome cat. His short coat was white with black and tan tabby patches, accented by bold orange spots. The veterinarian decided he was a calico. “Unusual”, she said, “because calicos tend to be female.”

Otto was as smart as he was unusual. He had learned to retrieve paper balls, ran to the telephone when it rang and even gave useful hints about how to fix the toilet. Once when I was trying to repair the toilet, he kept reaching into the open tank, pushing on the float with his paw. Since I was not having any success with the repair, I decided he might be on to something. I went to the hardware store and bought a new float mechanism. It worked.

Otto was the one cat who was not afraid of the hospital bed, the oxygen machine or the medicinal smells. Nor was he afraid of the frail woman who had scolded him down from the kitchen counter. Otto jumped onto the foot of Mom’s hospital bed and stayed.

He was not startled by the nurses. He did not interfere when Mom was fed, nor when she was transferred from bed to commode and back. Whether the disturbance was from changing her bed or because of bathing, he simply waited to resume his post. With the exception of eating and using the litter box, Otto never left Mom’s room.

Days passed and Mom started to rally. “Not unusual,” I was told, “a rally is often a sign of imminent death.”

I grieved. But Otto would not give her up so easily. He used her improved condition to reposition himself from the foot of her bed to her side. Her thin fingers found his soft coat. He leaned into her body, as if clinging to the threads of her will to live. Thought weak, she caressed the cat and would not allow me to take him.

Days turned into weeks and Mom continued to fight. Once, after the nurses had gone for the day, I heard the sound of Mom’s voice coming from her room. I found her with the head of the bed raised. Otto was tucked into the crook of the elbow, listening adoringly as she read from the newspaper. I will forever cherish the memory of Mom’s face with Otto’s paw, claws retracted, caressing the side of her chin.

Being vigilant, I made sure juice, water and pain medications were always available. One evening I was surprised to find Mom, unassisted, in the bathroom filling her empty medication dish with water. “Mom, what are you doing?” I asked.

Without looking up, she replied, “Getting a drink set up for Otto.” I helped her back to bed. Mom sipped apple juice while Otto drank from the stainless steel dish. Getting that drink set up became her evening ritual.

Eventually, using a walker, Mom began to take walks through the house. She was trailed by oxygen tubing and Otto. Where she rested, Otto rested. Where she moved, Otto shadowed. It seems I had forgotten my Mom was a mother. Somehow, Otto knew, and during those days he became her cat child, giving her life purpose. We had come a long way from the days when she used to chase him off the kitchen counter.

Exactly three years have passed since then. The hospital bed and oxygen machine are long gone. The medicines and nurses are gone too. But Mom’s still here. And so is Otto. And so is the bond that united them in days of sickness.

“You know, I swear that Otto knows my car when I drive up!” Mom says.

He does. Whenever Mom returns home from running an errand, he greets her car at the curb. She carries him up the driveway. They just pick up wherever they left off, with his front paws wrapped around her neck.

Happily, I prepare meals with Mom watching from a stool and Otto next to her on the counter.

When we saw the oncologist a while ago, he patted himself on the back. “I can’t believe it, Lula,” he said. “I can’t find your cancer and your heart is strong. When your daughter brought you to me, I thought you were a ship that had sailed.”

We let the doctor think what he likes, but Mom gives the credit to Otto.

Thankfully, my mother has put off dying and Otto continues to share his gift of love – a medicine more potent than any drug a doctor could prescribe.

Chicken Soup for the Cat & Dog Lover’s Soul
Submitted by Joan M. Walker

Have a great idea for a topic you would like to see? 

Let us know, we love hearing from our readers.

Contact Us

Blogs that help you LIVE your BEST life.

Sign up today and never miss this amazing information!

You're safe with me. I'll never spam you or sell your contact info.