I opened the door to the bathroom and switched on the light, not at all sure of what I would find. I was more than a little afraid that Dinah might have died during the intervening five hours.
Two things struck me immediately: a rancid smell and the sight of Dinah's shoe-button eyes staring up at me. With most cats, you notice the colored irises first. With Dinah, her prominent feature was two huge black pupils.
I stepped inside and shut the door behind me. Thinking that the odor came from the litter box, I glanced in that direction, but the sand remained undisturbed. It took several moments before I realized the smell's origin was Dinah's head wound. Now that her wet fur had dried, the underlying odor had surfaced.
Dinah was alive and alert. The only other positive I could see was that she'd eaten half of the wet food I'd left her. Uncertain of my next move, I knelt down next to the blankets and spoke softly to her. "Hey, little girl, how are you feeling?"
She was purring softly, but that didn't encourage me. I've had cats who never purred much, but who suddenly started to purr 24 to 48 hours before they died. I think it's a self-soothing mechanism.
Her eyes never moved from my face, not even to blink. I reached out a tentative hand to stroke her right side. She flinched ever so slightly. I continued to caress her long fur, noting the presence of some good-sized ticks. Now that she was dry, I could see the long twisted strands of dead skin and fur sticking from the wound to her everywhere.
Operating on instinct, I decided not to disturb her any further. If I could keep her warm and calm on Sunday, I'd bring her to see my vet Tim on Monday morning. She ate and drank during the day, but did not use the litter box, which worried me a bit. I checked on her frequently, crooning to her and petting her for very brief moments. She continued that strange passive behavior, but didn't seem to be deteriorating.
When I went into the bathroom early Monday morning, I noted with relief that she had finally used the litter box. Expecting difficulty, I scooped her up and put her into the pet carrier. She didn't fight me.
At the veterinary clinic, Tim's technician gasped and grimaced when she removed Dinah from the carrier. "Ohhh," she hissed. "That's not good."
Tim walked in and asked, "Have I seen this cat before?" I shook my head and launched into her backstory. While I talked, he used a scissors to cut off all the dead fur and skin. When I was finished, he said, "Where do you want to begin?"
I said, "I guess we need to test her for leukemia."
He nodded. "If she has leukemia, we need to put her down." By now he was handling Dinah, running his hands across her body, feeling her organs. A funny look crossed his face. "I think you need to change this cat's name to Dino."
"It's a male?" I asked, stunned.
He nodded. "An intact male."
"Was I at least right that she ... he's about a year old?"
"Yup, you got that one right. Want to call him Dino?"
"Absolutely not. I'll come up with another name before I leave. Did he get his head caught in a car fan belt?"
"Nope. Cat fight. He ran into a tom bigger than he was. Took a bad scratch and it abscessed. That wound is at least two weeks old. He's a pretty sick kitty. I don't know that we can save that ear."
The former Dinah stayed quietly on the exam table while we waited for the test results. I stroked him, and he began purring. This time it felt like he was happy to have me petting him.
In about 15 minutes, Tim came back. No leukemia or feline AIDS. He put Revolution on the cat to address all the fleas and ticks. Cleaned the wound and gave me a liquid antibiotic and a topical antibiotic to give twice a day.
"Have you come up with a name yet?"
I nodded. "I think I'll call him Van Gogh."