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Them's The Breaks

"I think I want to be an actor when I grow up," said Porgy the Cat. "I'd be great at Puss in Boots. And I've been practicing Dick Whittington's cat. Do you want to hear me miaow in character?"

"Not just at the moment," I said. "I'm sure you do it wonderfully."

"Miaow, miaow," said Porgy anyway.

"Break a leg," I said.

And so, being an extremely literal cat, that's exactly what he did…

One Monday evening, after Porgy had been unusually somnolent for a couple of days, even by his extremely loose standards, I picked him up to give him a cuddle. He screamed in agony.

I put him down gently and he cowered against the wall, refusing to put any weight on his right back leg. I phoned the extremely expensive after hours vet.

"Bring him in immediately," said the lady. "And bring three credit cards as well."

The vet examined Porgy carefully. She poked and prodded and gently moved his leg backwards and forwards. He wasn't happy about it, but he let her do it.

"He is presenting with two symptoms," she said eventually. "He has an extremely full bladder and he obviously doesn't want to put any weight on his leg at all. I'm more worried about the bladder. He might have a blocked urethra and that can be very serious – we often lose them when that happens. I'll take a urine sample."

She produced a huge syringe with a fearsome needle and thrust it deep into Porgy's body. She pulled back the plunger and it filled with urine. She took it over to the other side of the room and put a paper strip impregnated with sinister chemicals into it. After a few seconds, she took the paper strip out again and compared the colours on it to a chart.

"Well there's no blood in the urine," she said, "which is a good sign. But the pH is a little abnormal. I'm very worried about his bladder. Have you seen any sign of him urinating?"

"He's been lying on a chair for two days," I said. "And he hasn't moved at all."

"I think we need to keep him in overnight," said the vet. "I'll give him an anaesthetic and relieve his bladder and at the same time we can take X-rays of the leg. It's going to be hugely expensive."

"Let's just do whatever is right for Porgy," I said.

She looked things up on pieces of paper. "It will cost you somewhere in the region of your limit on two credit cards," she said happily. "Plus GST. And a tip."

We took Porgy into the back room and put him in a cage. He looked a little bewildered. He crossed his eyes and he crossed his legs and he looked pathetic. The vet put a dirt tray in the cage. Porgy blinked at it for a moment and his eyes uncrossed and he began to smile. He hobbled into the dirt tray and squatted and an expression of absolute bliss appeared on his face.

"About bloody time," he said.

The vet watched the dirt tray closely and stuck her thumb in the air gleefully.

"He was obviously just holding it all in until he found a socially acceptable place to pee!" she said. " Look at him – I don't think he's ever going to stop. OK – plans all changed. You take him home overnight. I'll send a fax to your vet and you take him in there for an X-ray tomorrow."

We took Porgy home.

"It hurts!" he said, and he just lay on a sheepskin rug in his travelling cage and refused to move.

The next day, we picked up a few more credit cards from the drawer and took Porgy back to the vet. They gave him an anaesthetic so that he was immobile while they X-rayed him, though given the fact that he did not appear to have moved a muscle for at least the last twelve hours, other than to twitch an occasional eyebrow, I felt that perhaps this was unnecessary.

The verdict was not long in coming.

"Porgy has broken his right rear leg just at the place where the bone attaches to the ball and socket joint in the hip. He will have to have surgery on the hip. The ball in the hip joint is now isolated from the blood supply in the body and will simply die. So we have to remove the ball completely. He should make a full recovery. He's a young, strong cat and the bone will form a callous round the joint. The muscles in the thigh are very dense and will also hold the bone in place. In a few weeks, he'll be right as ninepence."

"Good," we said.

"Have you got ninepence?" asked the vet.

"I might have to apply for another mortgage on the house."

"We'll send him off to our surgery on the Kapiti coast," said the vet. "Sea air and lovely views. It will do him the world of good. You can pick him up in a couple of days."

The next two days passed very slowly. The house seemed empty without Porgy in it, even though, when he was around, all he ever seemed to do was sleep. We rang the vet.

"He's still out in Kapiti," said the vet. "He's making a remarkable recovery; quite the best patient they’ve ever had. They've all fallen in love with him. Are you sure you want him back?"

"Of course we do!"

"Well you can pick him up from us tomorrow," the vet explained, "or you can drive out to Kapiti and pick him up yourself."

"We'll drive out to Kapiti."

And so we did.

Porgy was in a cage. He stood up as we came in and moved to the front of the cage and gave a little chirrup.

"Just look at him," said the vet who had done the operation. "He's walking on the leg already! Usually it's at least a couple of weeks before they put any weight on it at all. But he's walking already! He really is a remarkable cat. It's the most amazing thing I've ever seen. I think I'll write a paper for Vet Surgery Monthly."

It was hard to tell whether the vet was more pleased with himself for having done an extra specially skilful operation, or with Porgy for having done an extra specially unusual recovery. Either way, he was pleased as punch. Pride oozed out of every pore.

Porgy had been shaved from the middle of his body, all across his side and down his leg almost to the ankle. A wound about five inches long stretched across his thigh, the edges held together with a dozen or so stitches.

"I usually do horses," said the lady who assisted the vet. "But I just pretended that he was a small horse while I shaved him. He didn't seem to mind."

We all looked at the vast areas of naked skin that Porgy was exposing to the world. He blushed a little and shuffled his feet.

"We charge extra to make them look like a poodle," said the lady, in a hopeful tone of voice.

"I don't think we need to go to those lengths," I said. "He'd only get a swollen head when he realised how handsome he was."

"Woof!" said Porgy. "Woof, woof."

"Stop messing about," I said. "Nobody is gong to fall for that."

The lady put her clippers away and looked disappointed. Porgy drooped noticeably.

"These are the X-rays," said the vet, and he showed us where the bone had broken. "And this is the bit I took out of him."

He handed me a small plastic jar with the ball joint from Porgy's hip rattling round inside it. It was smaller than I had expected. And redder. There was a jagged edge where the bone had fractured. Something small and squishy was hanging off it.

"Can I keep it as a souvenir?"

"Oh yes," said the vet. "You've paid several fortunes for it, after all."

"When I was at university," I said, "I had a friend who took his tape recorder apart to service it. When he put it all back together again, he had a ball bearing left over. He never found out what it was for, but the tape recorder ran quite happily for years without it." I shook the jar with Porgy's ball joint in it. "I suppose cats are a bit like tape recorders really, aren't they?"

"That's right!" said the vet. "In a couple of months time he'll be bounding about as if nothing had happened."

"That will be interesting," I said. "I've never seen him bound about before. Will he be able to play the violin as well?"

"I imagine so," said the vet. "He really is a most extraordinary cat. Look! He's putting all his weight on it. Unbelievable!"

"How do you think he broke his leg in the first place?" I asked.

"Probably he jumped down from a place that was a little bit too high. It's not uncommon."

"What do we do now?"

"Keep him inside for the next three days. Encourage him to exercise the leg. The more use it gets, the faster it will heal. Bring him back in ten days to have the stitches out."

We took Porgy home. As soon as we let him out of the cage, he walked around a bit, just to make sure that he really was home, and then he went into Robin's room and hid himself in the darkest corner of the deepest closet he could find. He stayed there for two days and made the world go away. He poked his head out only for the occasional drink, the occasional nibble and the occasional visit to the dirt box.

After two days, he decided that he didn't need to hide any more. Perhaps the world wasn't so bad after all. As I write, he is asleep on his favourite chair, shaved side down so that nobody can tell he was ever injured at all.

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