In honor of Penn
Towards the end of August this past year, the Souderton Police stopped by one day with a very sad, very broken little orange kitten that they found, and suspected had been hit by a car. He was sitting up and alert, though very painful, and he was unable to stand or use his hind legs. As is our way at PRAH, we agreed to take him in to try to see if he had an owner, and to give him a chance. I examined him and took some x-rays that found he had a broken pelvis – broken in several places, his hip appeared possibly dislocated on that side as well, and on his right side – his femur was also broken adjacent to his knee. He was very sad, and very broken. But through all of his pain and sadness, he looked at me and meowed and I knew we had to try to give him a real chance.
We loaded him up on pain medications and antibiotics, and medications to help him urinate, and gave him time. Over the next few weeks, he won the hearts of our entire staff – his tiny little broken body was so resilient, and he wanted so badly to be ok. He played with toys and ate like a champ, and slowly started to be able to use his legs and the fractures started to heal.
Over the next few months, he continued to improve and spent his days in our cat ward, gaining freedom to run around when there weren’t patients in there, and having our team go in and out giving him love all day. As time went on, however, it became obvious that some things were not healing. The original injury had caused trauma to some of the nerves in both his digestive tract and his bladder – so that he was very prone to constipation and struggling to urinate – while he maintained ok on medications for both, he kept having setbacks and would have days where he really struggled to urinate, and would strain and strain in the litter box. He spent some time living with one of our amazing nurses, Abbie, and did wonderfully there, and even got to the point where he was doing well enough that a wonderful family took him home to give him a chance, to see how he did.
As time marched on, we come to this past week. Despite all of our care and efforts, and all of the time and management, and the dedication of his wonderful new family – Penn had worsened again. After a short time of doing wonderfully, he struggled to urinate, to defecate, he was not eating, and was so uncomfortable no matter what we did for him. His urinary habits had gotten to the point where he was peeing in his bed overnight, and spending so much time straining, that we tearfully knew this was not fair to him. It is no life to have nerve damage that is so severe, it causes you to not be able to pee normally, and to be spending hours a day just trying to urinate. We really hoped that we would see improvement as he grew, but unfortunately, we saw the opposite. We exhausted every possible management option for him – consulting with our surgeon, and radiologists, and multiple ultrasounds, urine cultures, medication trials – our hospital spent so many man hours trying to save Penn. At the end of the day, some damage is just too severe, and even when we do all the things, there are some patients we just cannot save – some problems we just cannot fix.
So this past Thursday, after tearful goodbyes from many team members, Penn’s new mom, Sammie, and I said a final goodbye to Penn, and he slipped peacefully away, no more pain – no more fighting.
Now, you may be asking yourself – why are you sharing this horribly sad story with this horribly sad outcome? The reason is that even though Penn’s life was way too short, and I have so much guilt that I couldn’t fix him, I still think he deserves to have his story told. The love and dedication that our team showed this tiny little broken kitten, deserves to be told. The outcome in medicine is not always sunny – even when you do everything right, there are times where we still lose. But that doesn’t mean we don’t try again. Practicing medicine itself is an exercise in resilience – even when we lose a battle in a heartbreaking way, and even when it feels so unfair, we have to try again. For the next patient – that one, we CAN save. The next broken kitten – that one, we CAN fix. I shed many tears over Penn….I loved that little goofy kitten, and I am so sad that we couldn’t save him. But I also know this – that the next time another little broken kitten comes into our hospital? I know that we will try all over again. Because that’s what we do, and even when we lose – we brush ourselves off, and we try again. The next patient still needs us.
Penn – wherever you are – I hope there are lots of snacks, and toys, and that you are running free – full speed, pain-free, and know that there are lots of people down here who miss you.