While 2012 got off to a very promising start, Pink, the youngest of the four Panache Cats, suddenly became critically ill and our world turned upside-down.  

Listen while you read to “Edge of the Ocean”, another unpublished Panache piece that we now have much more motivation to arrange and record at broadcast quality. This piece is about transitions….

February 28, 2012

The Panache Cats have always played a central role in activities at Panache House and are a constant source of happiness and inspiration to us. Our eldest girl, Gureyo (age 7 ½), is the Panache Orchestra’s Music Director, and her son Pink (age 2 ¾) is her intern. While the other two are vitally important members of the household, they do not play quite as prominent of a role in TPO’s music, although Jaco (age 7) is always wildly popular whenever we tour due to his friendly, outgoing disposition. When Gureyo is not busy supervising our rehearsals, she and Pink often play together while we are rehearsing, and for several months Pink has had a ritual of running into the living room and jumping on Chi’s chair as soon as we finish our rehearsal asking to be petted. It’s really cute!

All the Panache Cats are rescues, and Pink was found dirty, sick, starved and abandoned in a parking lot in Venice, California when he was about 10 weeks old by another cat-crazy Japanese couple who gave him to us after they commenced the quite expensive process of getting him cleaned up and medicated, and into an adoptable condition. We finished where they left off, and he has been extremely healthy ever since. Jaco, the world’s best “dad cat”, immediately welcomed him as soon as he joined our family, and the two have been inseparable ever after.

Baby Pink when we first adopted him not quite three years ago

Pink after his first bubble bath

Pink in his very favorite place in the whole world: in “Dad-Cat” Jaco’s lap

Pink has always been a big eater and drinker with an especially flamboyant and exuberant personality, so I was perplexed to see him leave half of his breakfast one morning in mid-February. He NEVER does that. Pink has always been the most enthusiastic eater in the house, devouring all of his food at each meal and then trying to go eat the other cats’ food, so we have always had to lock him in a bedroom until the others have finished eating and then let him out to clean up whatever scraps are left.

Pink impatient to get his dinner

Pink devouring his bedtime treat, raw chicken heart this time

Chi usually feeds the cats on the weekday mornings and I feed them on weekends, but when Chi has a film shoot with an early call time, I feed them on those days too before I go to my day job. That was a Friday (Feb. 17), and since the next couple days were on my watch, I saw the same pattern recur.

Since I had more time during the weekend, when Pink again walked away from his half-eaten dish Saturday morning, I picked him up and put him back in front of his food and he finished it. The next day I had to put him back a couple more times to get him to eat all of it. I thought he must be just a bit under the weather from eating some weird thing he found around the house. Our cats are indoor cats, and only Gureyo and Jaco are allowed outside for brief periods under strict supervision, so no exposure to harmful stuff outdoors. I guess I should note that it’s not unusual for the girls (Gureyo and Pink’s sister Laxmi, a 3 ½-year-old feral cat) to leave a lot of their food in the morning since they don’t seem to like eating a lot at that time. That behavior was unheard-of for Pink though, which caused me alarm.

Pink had begun eating more slowly a few months earlier and I thought nothing of it since all the cats started eating more slowly once they stopped growing and their metabolism changed, and it was right about that time for Pink. What made me more uneasy still was noticing that he was drinking more and more water. As mentioned earlier, he had always been a big drinker, but this time he was going from drinking a lot of water to drinking a ridiculous amount of water very often, and going to the litter box more often, even stopping eating to do so. That was totally out of character for him. He ate less and less during the following week, and Chi and I knew it was time for a trip to the vet.

During the following weekend, Pink’s rapidly deteriorating condition cast a grim, dark pall over the entire household, much like the cloud of smoke from a devastating bushfire that blocks out the sun and fills the air with toxic matter. Not having him do his daily ritual after eating of dashing around and around the house, usually with another cat or two joining in the chase, took on an ominous tone that became increasingly so as he spent more and more time sleeping when he would normally be up doing his cat things. The other Panache Cats were unusually subdued too, as they knew that all was not well.

It was a cold, grey Monday morning in late February that Chi called me not long after I’d got to the day job to tell me that Pink wouldn’t even touch his breakfast, and we needed to take him to the vet pronto and find out what is going on. I called the hospital to make sure Pink’s regular doctor was in that day, went home from work and then Chi and Pink and I set out for Westwood. Fortunately the traffic was not too bad so we got there pretty quickly, but had to wait a couple hours before Pink could be seen. They work on a walk-in basis rather than taking appointments.

As the doctor was examining Pink while asking us what his symptoms were, he noted that one of Pink’s kidneys was enlarged and felt nodular, and we should take some X-rays and do a blood panel. After waiting awhile for the X-rays to be developed, we were called back in to look at them, and the doctor pointed out that there was a mass about the size of a golf ball in one of Pink’s kidneys. The doctor thought it was a huge stone, although he also said it could be cancer, and that the prognosis didn’t look too good at this point given his symptoms and the size of the stone, but we’d have to wait for the results tomorrow to see if the bloodwork corroborated that diagnosis. The kidney was so enlarged, more than double its normal size, that it was pressing on Pink’s digestive organs, and the mass inside appeared to be crushing and destroying the normal kidney tissue.

The exam, bloodwork and x-rays cost about $300, and we left in a state of shock, stopping to have something to eat at a great ramen shop Chi discovered that was just a couple doors up the street from the kitty doctor. We agreed that was a tiny silver lining to this awful situation: finding something quick and decent to eat in that neighborhood. We made a few more stops on the way home, and then we all went to bed and took a nap. We got up and did our nightly Panache rehearsal, but never felt hungry enough to make dinner. We were both too shell-shocked to deal with it.

It was going on midnight and I was ready to go to bed, but Chi succeeded in convincing me to eat a leftover hard-boiled egg, and after doing so, I decided to have a glass of wine. I sat down wearily at the dinner table while he divided the quarter bottle of Toscano left over from dinner last night into two glasses. Pink came into the kitchen to drink some more water, and then jumped up on Chi’s chair. He played with Chi for a little bit, but only at a single-digit percentage of the voltage he usually operates at, and after a couple minutes, walked across the table, curled up in my lap and purred himself to sleep. Meanwhile Gureyo and Jaco jumped up on the dinner table to join the family meeting. Laxmi has always operated somewhat in a vacuum and didn’t come out to the kitchen, presumably because she knew Jaco would give her the notes later.

Pink and Gureyo helping with a household construction project

Chi and I just sat there helplessly, weeping and sipping our wine, trying to make sense of this senseless tragedy we’d just been blindsided with. Again, given Pink’s behavior over the past week and what I already knew about kidney issues, I’d had a premonition that this was not going to have a happy ending, but it didn’t do anything to lessen the pain or mitigate the sense of helplessness. We reconfirmed our agreement that Pink should not suffer, and when it looks like his condition is deteriorating from stable to acute, we should put him down, but that no decisions are possible until we get the results of the bloodwork tomorrow and have a positive diagnosis.

Although we would be equally devastated by the loss or debilitating illness of any of our four Panache Cats, we were especially shocked for it to be Pink, the youngest and most joyful and energetic of the whole gang. The only thing we wanted at that moment was to be able to turn the clock back to when Pink was well and strong. When my sobbing got more and more uncontrollable, Pink sat up and looked at me as if asking, “Mommy, why are you crying?” Gureyo went and sat directly in front of Chi to ask why he is crying. Cats don’t perceive death the way that humans do, and we tried to explain that we’re heartbroken, and there is nothing we can do. Jaco just sat stoically, knowing there is nothing he can do.

Gureyo has been growling and hissing at Pink (and for that matter, at Jaco too) ever since we brought him home from the hospital Monday afternoon, and we noted that the oils are starting to build up on his beautiful, silky white fur since he doesn’t have the energy to groom himself anymore. When Pink stepped over me and curled up next to Jaco like he always does as I opened my eyes to get up to go to work the next morning, Jaco wouldn’t lick him. Jaco has always groomed Pink just as routinely and lovingly as he does Laxmi, and that made me start crying all over again so I could hardly get my makeup on to go to work.

Jaco grooming Pink

Hangin’ out with Dad

The call from the doctor with the lab results later that morning confirmed what I had already suspected from my observation of Pink and his precipitous decline over the past few days: that both kidneys are shot, his numbers are off the charts; his condition is at the terminal stage and even fluid therapy probably wouldn’t help at this point, so it made no sense to perform any further diagnostic treatment or surgery. He would probably go quickly, and the most helpful thing to do is keep him comfortable, perhaps give him some pain meds, and don’t make him suffer needlessly. As I made my way through that day, I realized that the sun was still shining just as brightly as it did when Pink was still healthy and strong, and that everything still looked the same. The only thing that had changed was our internal world, which was ravaged by the imminent loss of Pink.

I gave Chi the dreaded news when I went home for lunch. The other cats are aware that something is very wrong. The activity level at our house has been increasingly muted, and Gureyo and Jaco mill around looking concerned, seeming to ask each other in hushed voices why mom and dad are crying all the time. We know it’s not fair to Pink to openly grieve and mourn as if he is already dead when in fact he is still very much with us. He’s just not acting the same way as before. Nevertheless, it is heartbreaking to see such a young, formerly healthy, exuberant, energetic cat lying around with no vitality at all, as if he were 100 years old and bed-ridden.

Pink playing with Jaco not too long ago with Gureyo looking on

So now I know how it feels to lose a young child to a terminal illness. It totally destroys you when you get home after a not-too-bad day at work and he doesn’t come running to the door to greet you, and you are overwhelmed by the aching emptiness of the huge hole his absence has left in your heart and home. Now I know how it feels when a loved one suddenly becomes disabled. You see her slumped in a wheelchair with a vacant look on her face when she used to be so athletic and animated, and break into tears as you remember all the fun things you used to do together, but can’t anymore.

Chi was booked on a TV job with an early evening call time that day and he phoned me just as I got home from work and asked if I would research Pink’s condition and see if there was anything we could possibly do to try and save him. I’d already been giving myself an online crash course in feline kidney issues, and agreed to see if I can find anything worth pursuing. We resolved not to give up on Pink without a serious fight.

I found this site extremely helpful, and after doing my best to digest the enormous amount of information in it, the most important takeaway was that no matter how hopeless the diagnosis, if one is willing to be proactive there is an array of things to try for at least a couple weeks, and it may in fact be possible to prolong the cat’s life at a decent quality for a few more weeks or months, or even years, depending on the cat and its tolerance for impaired kidney function. The part about being proactive and fighting for Pink’s life rather than just giving up on him kicked me into high gear and filled me with hope. After creating an action plan to save Pink based on my research, I called the doctor back the next afternoon and he referred me to an advanced specialist hospital.

The situation is very fluid at the moment and we’re nowhere near out of the woods with this yet, but Pink is still with us and we’re all still fighting. In fact, he’s curled up on my Mac Airport purring as I finish writing this.

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Pink in Jaco’s tie box – one of my very favorite pictures of Pink

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