The cat is on the roof

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2005/03/14 07:38 -05:00, original URI:

Warning -- no technical content!

There is an old story/joke that has many versions, but here is the version I like best:

A man is house sitting for his brother -- feeding the cat, getting the mail, etc. The brother calls to check in. "I’m sorry," says the man, "but your cat died."

"What do you mean the cat died? How could you do this to me? You should have prepared me for the shock," says the man’s brother.

"How was I supposed to prepare you?" asks the man.

"Well," says the brother, "first you should have told me, the cat is on the roof, but don’t worry, we’re calling the fire department. Then the next time we talked you should have said, the fire department was doing everything it could and not to worry. Then the next time I called you can tell me that the cat had fallen, but not to worry -- the vet was doing everything she could to resuscitate him. Then, finally, you could have told me, the cat had died."

"Sorry, I should have thought first" said the man, who was quite embarrassed at this point.

"So anyway, how is the house?"

"Um," says tha man, "your house is on the roof...."

An interesting situation, one where on one level you understand what you are being told and yet on another just don't seem to get it.

I find this story oddly comforting at the moment.

You see, I just found out that my almost 10-year-old cat (Chelsea Antoinette) has cancer. It has metastasized from one mammary gland to several others. I have not heard from the radiologist yet but the veterinarian thinks it looks like it may be in the lymph nodes too.

Now this is a way outside my limited field of knowledge of medical matters, but I know that it has to be pretty big to show up in an x-ray. It is obviously still metastatic if it is showing up in multiple places, even if the X-ray comes back negative.

So why do the X-ray in that case?

Well, I think it is to give the person in my position something to hang hopes on. After all it can mean extra months of life, at least. And then if the results are bad then something to focus on in terms of the severity of the disease.

Yet even knowing this, even having this meta conversation with the veterinarian, it somehow does help.

I tell the veterinarian the story and she smiles, then apologies for smiling. I trll her there is no need for that -- it is comforting somehow to be eased into these things, and to try to smile when you can. =And then I smile. And I took Chelsea home. Now I will await the results and pretend it makes a difference, even if it won't really, in this case.

I went into work Sunday and did not say anything. As if that would make it less likely to be true or something. Idiot.

And Chelsea? Well, she likes the taste of Amoxicillin. And she seems to appreciate that she is getting Fancy Feast out of a can rather than the usual dry food, even if she does not know why.

I have to figure out where the line is drawn so that I can know the difference between being a heartless killer and being a benevolent caretaker. I'm afraid I will do what most people do in such situation -- I will wait, while she suffers. Thinking that there must be a resolution that is somehow moral, and compassionate. In the end it is incredibly selfish on my part, though in a world so backasswards that death can be act of love, a little selfishness in the hope that she won't hate having a little more time seems like more of a venal sin than a mortal one.

In the meantime, I'll keep bringing Chelsea's food up to her, on the roof. And try to keep the house from falling on her....

# Mike on 14 Mar 2005 8:36 AM:


I'm saddened to hear about Chelsea. You make good points about what to do. It's difficult to decide, I've been in the situation before. In the end we went with what the vet suggested, though you can't help but wonder what your cat is thinking.


# AC on 14 Mar 2005 8:37 AM:

I am so sorry for you and for Chelsea. You're a Heinlein fan, so you can probably appreciate her finding her Door Into Summer, right?

# Michael Kaplan on 14 Mar 2005 8:43 AM:

Thanks to both of you for your kind words....

Mike -- thats the biggest problem. It makes me laugh at the whole lack of a "living will" type discussion where people are not sure what to do if the patient's wishes are not known. You mean like the way it has been with pets since forever?

AC -- I hope she will find it, I truly do.

# Zach Glazer on 14 Mar 2005 10:36 AM:

On a similar lighthearted note, when my grandfather passed away, my brother called Grandma Faye to see how he was doing, and the way she let him know he had passed was "Josh, Papa Marvin is on the roof."

Sorry to hear about Chelsea.


# Michael Kaplan on 14 Mar 2005 10:54 AM:

Thanks, Zach. Very much appreciated.:-)

# Stuart Dootson on 14 Mar 2005 12:54 PM:

Michael - I feel for you - my dog was diagnosed with liver cancer when he was about 14. It came as a shock as we'd only taken him to the vet with a bad knee (he'd been chasing after a cat - he always liked to chase after them, even if they rarely ran away from him :-). After that, we just made the most of the days we had left. In the end, he was getting visibly weaker (walks took *forever*). When there was a strong possibility danger that he might suffer badly (from getting fluid on his lungs), we called the vet and said goodbye to him. My feeling it's better to see your pet go that way than to suffer real pain.


# Dean Harding on 14 Mar 2005 2:14 PM:

Sorry to hear that Michael, cancer has got to be the worst thing to hear coming from a doctor (or vet's) mouth, and nobody ever quite knows how to deal with it.

If you're in need of some inspiration, I cannot recommend enough "It's Not About the Bike" by Lance Armstrong. One of the greatest cancer survivors of our time, in my opinion.

# Larry Osterman on 14 Mar 2005 3:04 PM:

That stinks. Cassida, my constant companion for 18 years died two years ago, and her death still bugs me. We came home from a Memorial Day weekend in downtown Seattle and discovered that over the day we were gone that her rectum had prolapsed. Since it was a 3 day weekend, there were no veteranary surgeons closer than Pullman available, so we were forced to put her down.

Valorie lost her favorite cat three years ago, when we were looking for new kittens last year, she couldn't even hold the gray tabby colored one because she reminded her or Rascal.

I feel your pain, and I'm sorry to hear that.

# Victor Chew on 14 Mar 2005 5:57 PM:

Michael, I feel so sorry for you. I had to put down our six-month old kitten Sparkle about a year back, when she was diagnosed with FIP. It was a tough decision to make and we kept postponing the inevitable, but eventually we put her to sleep when it became obvious she was suffering more than she was enjoying life. She could hardly move due to her bloated belly, and she was having constant diarrhea. It was extremely heart-wrenching and I cried and cried.

# Michael Kaplan on 14 Mar 2005 6:08 PM:

And the official news came in from the radiologist's report today -- definitely metatstatic. But the vet gave me an interesting thought for when to let go.

She said just look for when you look in your cat's eyes and she looks in yours, and the look says "I'm tired daddy. Please let me go." That is when it is time. It is hard to argue with the logic....

Wolfie on 26 Aug 2011 3:33 PM:

You screwed that Joke up Bad... When the brother calls back he ask's "hows Mom" not hows the house....

Michael S. Kaplan on 26 Aug 2011 4:06 PM:

My version is funnier.

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referenced by

2007/11/11 Doing the right deed for the wrong reason doesn't always suck

2006/10/22 Relaping/Remitting ≈ it's over/maybe it isn't?

2006/10/09 Where the hell did Replacement Locales come from?

2005/10/06 I ask the cat-goddess Bubastis...

2005/06/24 Seeing red. But in a good way....

2005/06/10 TechEd Orlando: Day 5

2005/04/24 Trapped in Beachwood, Ohio?, Redux

2005/04/09 Feline Update, and See You at the Show

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