For the last six months, Milo the Cat has had a lump in his side about the size and shape of an acorn. When it first appeared I took him to the vet.
"Its a lump," diagnosed the vet proudly.
"What kind of a lump?" I asked.
He stuck a hypodermic syringe into it and pulled the plunger. Nothing happened. "Well," he said, "it isnt an abscess. If it was an abscess it would have been full of lovely custardy pus. But theres no pus. It isnt an abscess."
He poked it with his finger. "It might be an acorn," he said doubtfully, "though Ive never heard of it happening before."
"So what can we do about it?" I asked.
"Keep an eye on it," he said. "It doesnt seem to be bothering him at the moment. If it changes size, or begins to distress him, or starts to grow into an oak tree, bring him back and well operate."
The lump stayed static for a while. It didnt seem to be affecting Milo at all. He didnt mind if you stroked it and poked it, but he got a bit upset if you squeezed it. Mind you, he gets a bit upset if you squeeze any part of him, not just his lump. Most people do. He was a little lop-sided to the touch, but nothing too drastic and he continued to hoover up his food like there was no tomorrow. All seemed well in his world, so I stopped worrying.
After a time, the lump grew slightly larger and he was, perhaps, slightly more sensitive about it. Whether this was vanity or whether it was actually painful was a little hard to tell.
And then one day, quite suddenly, everything changed.
I picked Milo up and turned him upside down (so that the dribble went back inside him instead of all over me) and I tickled his tummy as is my wont. He purred and wriggled with pleasure, as is his. My fingers passed lightly over the lump and it felt different, quite rough (it had been smooth before) and even though I touched it very lightly, he made his displeasure known. Milo is the most placid of cats. He never gets upset about anything and so I knew that there was something seriously wrong. I looked closely at the lump. It was scabby, as if it had been bleeding recently and there was an ugly looking dark slit in it that seemed to vanish into the depths of his body.
I put him down on the floor and he began to lick the lump and then to chew at it. Blood began flow and it dripped on to the floor and also into Milos mouth as he desperately massaged his lump.
He paused and sat there for a moment with a thoughtful look on his face. He licked his lips and pondered the taste. Hmmm. Nice! He went back for seconds. And then for dessert. It became obvious that much of the blood in his body was going to end up on the floor or in his tummy. Despite the fact that it was quite late, I rang the vet.
Fortunately there was still someone at the surgery. I explained the situation.
"Bring him round here straight away!"
No sooner said than done. I got the cage out and Milo went and hid under a chair. I moved the chair, picked Milo up and dropped him into the cage. Ginger looked on in horror! What was I doing with her brother? Then she ran outside in case I did the same thing to her. I put the cage in the car and drove off to the vet. Ginger peeked out from under the house and watched me go.
The trauma of being incarcerated was too much for Milo. He cried pathetically all the way to the vet (as is also his wont) and completely forgot to take reviving sips from the wound in his side.
Milo and I arrived at the vets to find him in the middle of a computer crisis. His system had crashed earlier that day and he was currently unable to issue invoices or receipts or to record the treatments he had given that day. He was surrounded with scraps of paper covered with indecipherable notes all of which would have to be transcribed once he managed to fix the computer. A badly bleeding cat was a welcome relief.
"Hmmm. Quite a lump. Definitely not an acorn. I was wrong about that. Not surprising really. It looks like a cyst and its breaking through the skin and bleeding round the edges. Ill give him a painkiller and an antibiotic and Ill operate on Monday. You can pick him up on Monday evening."
"Just as well, really," mused the vet. "I cant give you a bill at the moment. Much better to keep him here until Monday when I will be able to give you a bill."
He picked Milo up and plonked him in a cage. Milo stared in horror. What was happening? As I left the room without him he wailed piteously. I felt terrible.
When I got home, Ginger was very suspicious indeed. Where was her brother? She stalked around looking for him and seemed a little upset not to find him. However it soon became clear that there were distinct advantages to not having him around. Like most cats, Ginger prefers to take her meals in small doses. She is a snacker, returning again and again to her bowl during the day and taking dainty mouthfuls. This simply cannot be done when Milo is there because he immediately sucks up every scrap of food in sight (Gingers food as well as his own) and then asks for more. For the next few days Ginger was in cat heaven. She could snack properly for the first time in her life. She made the most of it, eating her meals in small, ladylike portions at genteelly spaced intervals throughout most of the day. She began to express her approval. Why hadnt I got rid of Milo years ago?
As I drove to the vet on Monday evening I felt quite apprehensive. Milo is nearly fifteen years old and the operation was not a minor one. Would he survive it? Also I was worried about the lump. What would the vet find when he opened Milo up?
I smiled at the nurse. "Ive come for Milo."
"Ah yes Ill just go and fetch him." An enormous feeling of relief washed over me. Obviously it had all been routine.
"Hes been talking to me all day," said the nurse. "He came out of the anaesthetic really fast, and every time I walk past his cage he calls to me and we have a long conversation."
She brought Milo out and he chirruped hello, obviously pleased to see me. There was a huge naked patch on his side where he had been shaved for the operation and an enormous wound with eight crude stitches in it.
"It was quite a straightforward operation," said the nurse, "and the lump wasnt malignant. We didnt even bother to send it to the lab."
"How do I look after him for the next few days?" I asked.
"These are antibiotics," she said, giving me some hideous blue pills. "Half a tablet twice a day for the next five days. Dont let him chew at the wound. Dont give him much to eat tonight, he might vomit after the anaesthetic. Bring him back in a fortnight to have the stitches taken off. That will be $177."
Milo howled all the way home. He really doesnt like car journeys and he makes sure that I know about it. I spoke soothingly him and, when traffic lights permitted, I stroked the pathetic paw that he stretched through the bars of the travelling cage, but it made no difference. He was miserable, and he wanted the world to know. I got home and I lifted him gently out of his cage.
Ginger went straight to his wound and sniffed it. She wrinkled her nose in disgust. She didnt approve, and she departed in high dudgeon. There was some food left in Gingers bowl; she was saving it for later. Milo inhaled the food in nothing flat.
"Wheres the rest of it then?" Milos expression was eloquent. But I was hard-hearted and didnt put any more food out. He sniffed around the bowl for a while and then curled up and went philosophically to sleep. Ginger returned and went for a snack. There was nothing left.
"What did you want to bring him back home for?" she said, and went outside to find a rat to eat.