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  • Writer's pictureSarahHauer

Pain Relief

This is Friday, my daughter's aging cat. Friday has never been a particularly healthy or happy cat until recently. She came to us when she was at least five years old with a chronic pain condition not unlike my own. For years, she was on pain medications. In fact, because she was on the same pain meds as me and hers were oddly much more expensive, she actually took mine. My daughter would break up the capsules, measure the amounts as per veterinarian instructions, dissolve them in water, and then syringe them down her throat. She would get a few good hours of relief in per day. This went on for years.

Another odd behavior went on for years. She was never a particularly loving cat. In fact, she was quite grumpy. She would bite us a lot. Either we weren't petting her enough, petting her too much, not petting her in the right way or the right place on her body, etc. Something was always wrong as far as Friday was concerned. We avoided her as much as possible.

Not so much my daughter. She was willing to endure the feline abuse to care for her and try to connect with her. It rarely worked. Friday would want to play with toys now and then when the pain meds were working. Other than that and eating, that would be the extent of her days. She spent most of her time sleeping alone on someone's bed. She preferred solitude.

Guests to our home would ask if they could pet the tuxedo cat. We would say no, best to leave her be, she's a biter. Everyone would give her wide berth for good reason. Poor kitty didn't get much love and attention. She rarely bothered to come down the stairs at all.

All that has been changing lately. Something good has happened to Friday. She started vomiting when we gave her the pain meds and started losing a lot of weight. (That's good? Yes.) I told my daughter that when I no longer needed my pain meds, they made me feel sick. So she stopped giving Friday the meds. Sure enough, Friday started roaming around the house more. She started hanging out with us on the downstairs sofa. She started putting on weight. And, the best part, she started asking for scratches under her chin. For years, I wouldn't dare put my hand near her mouth. I would get bit. Often. Not anymore. Since her pain condition has subsided, she has become a loving, affectionate, happy cat. In that photo is my hand scratching her chin, something I now do quite often for her.

What happened? I don't know exactly, but I have a fairly good idea. She has the same degenerative disk disease I have in the same place. I was able to get surgery for mine which helped me a great deal. We were not able to get that for her. And often times these surgeries are not recommended anyway because they aren't always so successful. We did what we could to make her comfortable. Sometimes, these conditions do improve over time. That is what seems to have happened for her. She is more content and active and cuddly as a cat should be. We no longer feel any fear from her biting. She hasn't bitten anyone in quite a while now.

Why did she bite so much? Ever hear the phrase, "hurt people hurt people"? It's not only true for people. Turns out it's true for cats too. Hurt cats hurt people. And lizards. I'll get to that in a minute.

Friday reminded me of an important lesson on patience. When people do things that hurt us, it's good to know that there is a very good chance the reason they did that was not a personal attack on you but was actually a reaction to their own pain that got directed at you whether intentional or not. Friday was in a lot of physical pain (as was I). Her biting was a reaction to that pain; her attempt to protect herself from future pain that she was anticipating would happen if we didn't pet her correctly. She didn't want to hurt us. She very much wanted the love and attention that emotionally she needed. But she couldn't get it because of her deep fears, legitimate fears, of further harm we might unintentionally inflict on her. Not her fault. Not our fault. Those were the cards life dealt her (and me).

My pain condition improved, my life dramatically changed. Her pain condition improved, her life dramatically changed. Not right away. She had to test the waters and rebuild that trust that it was safe for humans hands to touch her. She could have stayed a recluse. Kudos to her for testing the waters and finding out life is still good.

When people lash out, regardless of intentionality, it's a normal human response to want to retaliate, an eye for an eye so to speak. What's beyond the normal, understandable human response is to look past the lashing out, see into the soul of the other person as much as possible, and internally question where it's really coming from. Is this a person in pain? Is this a person hiding behind a wall in self-protection mode? Is this a person testing the waters to see what is safe and what isn't?

This is the beginning of learning empathy and compassion. It's putting aside the urge to give back what has been received and instead look for an opportunity to do better, to be better, to give back better.

This is also an opportunity to ask ourselves, "Why did I do that? I didn't want to do that. Why did I lash out at my loved one?" It's always those closest to us who get the bite on the hand they don't deserve.

Who are you today? Are you Friday getting your chin scratched? Or are you Friday in protection mode?

The lizard? A few days ago, this cat who used to hardly ever move was discovered toying with a live lizard in my office. I don't know when or how the lizard got into my house. I was disgusted. Literally wanted to vomit while Friday was having a ball torturing this thing. I began the hunt to find someone to come and get the remains as I was too chicken to do so. She did eventually finish it off and left it in the upstairs hallway. Finally, a neighbor came to my rescue to rid my house of the carcass. But, the carcass was nowhere to be found, and Friday was lying on my bed flickering her tail in a total state of contentment. We never did find the body. In this particular case, I don't think her hurting the lizard had anything to do with her lashing out from pain. That was just her being a cat.

Are you a cat person? I am not. But I do love Friday.

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