“I’m afraid the news isn’t good,” our veterinarian told me over the phone. “Mimo has E. coli and enterococcus. The infections are creating a super-bug that’s destroying tissue. It’s like a flesh-eating disease.”
My heart nearly stopped. Our chubby, good-natured tabby was only six years old. “Can he be saved?”
The doctor didn’t know. He warned me that these bacterial infections were tough to eliminate and that treatment could involve multiple surgeries plus weeks of antibiotics.
Twelve days before that phone call, Mimo had sauntered home one morning with three harmless looking scratches on his head. This wasn’t unusual for my nature-loving, neutered male. Plenty of cats, dogs, and raccoons lived in our area. Mimo had greeted us with his usual meowing and purring that morning, gulped his breakfast and played with one of his favorite shoelaces.
Attempts to pick him up, though, sparked hisses and growls, something he did occasionally when he was cranky. There was no evidence of blood or serious wounds, so I let him be. Over the next three days, every time I tried to pick him up he reacted viciously. On the fourth day, Mimo’s appetite vanished and he became lethargic enough to let me touch him. The lump on the lower half of his left side was the size of a small egg, something I hadn’t spotted beneath his long thick fur.
Our veterinarian removed the abscess the same day, and Mimo came home sporting a plastic cone around his head and a thin rubber tube in his side. Liquid from the abscess needed to continue draining. Twice a day, I cleaned the ends of the tube with warm water and Epsom salt, and gave Mimo amoxicillin.
For three days, Mimo wouldn’t leave the sofa. He wouldn’t purr, respond to attention, or accept food and water. It was as if he was in shock. Out of desperation, I squirted water into Mimo’s mouth with a syringe, which seemed to inspire him to find his food dish, or at least attempt to. The cone distorted his perception so much that he clunked into furniture and remained frozen in place until we guided him around the obstacle.
At a follow-up appointment the vet said, “Mimo’s not recovering as well as I’d hoped.”
He removed the tube but left the incisions open so fluid would continue draining. He also prescribed a second antibiotic to administer with amoxicillin. Easier said than done. Mimo’s renewed interest in food had increased his strength and his intolerance for more medicine.
After several messy attempts to squirt antibiotics into his mouth, I resorted to ambushing him during naps and wrapping a blanket around his body. Once his paws were immobilized, I inserted the syringe in the corner of his mouth. The medicine he didn’t swallow dribbled down his chin and into his cone.
When his widening incisions exposed an inch of odd, yellowish gray flesh, I rushed him back to the clinic. The vet performed exploratory surgery, removed a bit of dead fat tissue, then took culture and sensitivity tests. Afterward, I learned about the E. coli and enterococcus.
“He probably picked up these bacteria in a fight,” the vet explained. “Super-bugs started showing up at our clinic about five years ago. I’ve treated five cats with similar conditions over the past eighteen months.”
Because these infections could be transferred to humans, he told us to disinfect any scratches we got from Mimo. I worried about possible transference to my family. I also worried about Mimo and the cost of lengthy treatment.
Mimo’s condition didn’t improve. The vet performed a third surgery and removed a large amount of dead tissue from his left side. The tissue had kept the antibiotics from reaching his healthy tissue. Given the seriousness of the infections and that Mimo now needed three antibiotics, preferably by injection, we admitted him to the clinic’s hospital.
I’d hoped he’d be there only a week. Seven days later, the vet telephoned.
“Mimo’s incorrigible and needs a break. Can you take him home for an overnight visit?”
We happily complied. By the second week of his hospital stay, we were visiting Mimo every day and bringing his favorite food and shoelace. Week two stretched into three. Every time the staff thought Mimo was improving, he’d develop a fever.
Frustration mounted at home as well. The medical bills were high, but Mimo was family. Giving up now, especially in a cat so young, wasn’t an option.
At the end of week four, Mimo was finally released from hospital. His weight had dropped from sixteen to twelve pounds, and his left side displayed three long rows of stitches. A few days later, some of the stitches split open. For the fourth time, Mimo was sedated, sewn up, and given more antibiotics. The same thing happened a week later. This time, the sutures stayed intact long enough for him to heal. Two and a half months after his ordeal began, Mimo was well.
Today, Mimo has regained his weight. Our vet suggested that he stay indoors, but Mimo’s too much of a nature lover to accept this. He’s learned to live with a curfew now, and I’ve learned to recognize that hissing and spitting can be a sure sign of medical trouble as much as mood swings. The vet tells me that super-bugs are here to stay, so I put away a little money each month for future emergencies. After all, he has eight more lives to go.