Chronicles of a Catsitter: IVs and IBS

Sat, 24/02/2024 - 01:01
Sat, 24/02/2024 - 01:01

When I heard that these clients were a lesbian couple, I was like, Great, I’m a shoo-in. They wanted to meet informally before they hired me, so I donned my best muscle tee, which had gaping arm holes down to the waist, a backwards baseball cap, and my usual sandals that put me a comfortable two inches above the city sidewalk. This was in my baby trans era, when I had just shaved my head and was still taking fashion cues from white lesbians (never again, folks).

I made my way to the Upper East Side, a place I only went to for the museums or when I needed to get to Central Park. The building’s exterior looked nondescript from Google Maps, so I didn’t think much about where I was going until I arrived and realized I was severely underdressed. I was greeted by a uniformed doorman who also operated the old-timey elevators. Everyone I passed in the hall was white, elderly, and wore business casual in the summer, as if it was their casual casual wear.

Upstairs, I sat on the edge of the couple’s couch so I wouldn’t get my sun-screened skin all over their upholstery. This was a place where I’d be intimidated into using a coaster. They carried their cats to me one by one and watched as we interacted. I always let cats sniff my hand first, then I go for the head, then chin scratches if they find that acceptable—none of that nervous, flat-handed, I-didn’t-grow-up-with-animals bullshit. I think the couple was pleased, because they asked what I did and what my rates were. When I gave them a lowball number because they were my first real clients, outside of my friends whose cats I watched for free, they exchanged glances and later emailed me with a rate three times as high, saying writers have to eat, too. They would also connect me to two of their friends, one of whom became a recurring client, and I learned how to offer an appropriate sliding scale, although no one ever paid me as much again.

There were also few cats who required as much care. Charlie was seventeen years old, and Daisy was eighteen or nineteen. Daisy had arthritis and often didn’t make it to the litter box in time. The couple told me this in advance, but it didn’t register until ten seconds into my first day of work when I accidentally stepped on a stray piece of poop and had to hop-step it to the shower to scrub the bottom of my heel with soap. I became accustomed to wiping up puddles and removing dry poop from the floor and from the main bed where they slept. The bed had a ramp alongside it, but in the early mornings Daisy yowled for me, and I dragged myself out of the spare room to manually pick her up and put her on the ground. She was a splasher and couldn’t groom herself, and therefore always smelled vaguely like pee. Every day I wiped her down with pet wipes and tried to get her to purr. When she wanted to nestle against my leg, I dissociated from my sense of smell and changed clothes before I left the apartment. Do I smell weird? I kept checking with friends.

The first time I commuted out of the neighborhood, I was in a rush and couldn’t find the subway entrance for the life of me, despite my using technology and spinning in circles. I approached the nearest group of people and asked them to point me in the right direction. One of the men laughed toward his friends and said, I don’t know. I don’t take the train. Some of them vaguely gestured around and tried to make helpful noises—obviously, I made it on my own.

When I returned from that excursion, I met C., a doorman who had been working in the building for years, lived a few blocks away, and looked like he was straight out of a Hallmark movie. He asked what I was reading whenever I carried books in from the library and randomly brought up going to the Wigstock drag festival in the ’90s, probably to let me know that he ran an allied building. C. was nice to talk to, but the concept of doormen annoys me in general, mostly when they act more like security guards and are hostile before they find out I am supposed to be there. They know my every movement in and out of the building, would receive my mail if I sent any there, and make me hesitant to bring friends over, in case they gave my friends a hard time. Most media portray doormen as cute therapists, though, which could be a way to view anyone, I guess, if they worked for you.

In the evenings, I rubbed a cream into Charlie’s ear to stimulate his appetite, and twice a day Daisy needed to be pilled. I rolled her meds into a rubbery treat and pushed it around her bowl, wherever it looked like her mouth would land next. When she was savvy to the pill texture and spat it out, I picked up the moist tablet and rerolled it into another treat, squatting in front of her and praying she would swallow. Charlie had IBS and couldn’t eat certain ingredients, so I monitored every feeding to make sure the cats’ food didn’t cross-contaminate. The couple used to have a third cat around the same age, who had passed away recently. I was worried these cats would die on me, too. If I needed to deliver the news, my plan was to text and ask if I could call them, then FaceTime if they wanted to. I texted photos of Daisy to my then-roommate, who couldn’t even hear mentions of cat death without thinking about their own cat dying and tearing up. Another cat-loving friend suggested there were only two options for grieving them: to adopt another one right away, or to be alone and wallow forever.

About a year after the first visit, the couple let me know that Daisy had passed. It was her time, as they say, and she had looked increasingly uncomfortable every time I saw her. I was invited back to watch Charlie, who was also becoming frailer and less amenable to people. He now rarely strayed from the bed except to eat and use the litter box. I sat a respectable distance away in the corner of the room to keep him company without petting him or disturbing his general atmosphere.

During my stay, the couple informed me that someone from the vet’s office would be stopping by to give Charlie medicine. I had to be home to let him in. Easy enough, I thought. When the vet assistant arrived, he told me to get a towel and throw it over Charlie, who had fled into the hallway at the first sight of the man. While I ran after him, the assistant rolled out an IV stand and started hooking up bags and syringes. I scooped up a yowling Charlie and carried him back to the bed, gently pressing him down with both hands. I could feel his vertebrae between my fingers. The assistant injected Charlie’s hind leg with two different fluids, and we made small talk while we waited for the bags to empty. I hesitantly asked how long he thought Charlie had left, since this kind of care seemed extreme, and I was also low-key trying to estimate the end of my revenue source. Honestly, I’m surprised he hasn’t gone already, he said.

The assistant had a Jersey accent and was pretty nonchalant about the whole cat-having-better-healthcare-than-people thing. I wondered if he did home visits often. I recently contributed to a friend of a friend’s GoFundMe when they were charged something like $10,000 because their cat needed lifesaving treatment that included an extended, overnight stay at the animal hospital. The cat didn’t have insurance, because why would a cat participate in human bureaucracy? Cats could hardly be trained, they didn’t pay rent, they didn’t work for cops, etc. Even though the GoFundMe was titled “Save Tuna,” I’m sure we were all thinking as much about the lovely friend, her well-being an extension of the cat, the cat an extension of her.

The assistant vacated as soon as his job was done, leaving me to dispose of the syringes and pack the meds back into the fridge. Charlie’s leg had formed a small hump of fluids where he was injected, which I was told would deflate over the course of the day. When I returned to the bedroom, he had already disappeared under the bed, sullen, so I assumed my usual spot in the corner to wait for him.