May 23, 2006


"Oh no..." was the second noise I heard. The first was a sort of "ThaWHUMP!" that eminated from within the engine compartment of my 1996 Silverado, the second eminating from somewhere between my ears.

The engine continued to run. My intuition told me that something was wrong. See, my wife had run an errand that morning and had been kind enough to stop in at the Quick Lube to arrange an oil change. The uneasy feeling I had was festering. Did they leave a tool in the engine compartment? They had left a pair of wiper blades, still in the package, on the passenger side cowl; noticed only by my wife after one of them flew off the car and onto the road. It was pretty obvious to me now that these fellows were not the sharpest mechanics in their trade school.

I turned the ignition key and waited for silence. Once again, I started the engine. "Sounds normal. Nothing wrong." My Seven-year-old daughter, who is in the extended cab with her sister, 3, asks me what is wrong. "I heard a noise. It doesn't seem to be serious."

But why was I still uncomfortable? Again, I shut down the beast and popped the hood. I was looking for a shop rag, tool, oil filter....anything that some dumbass may have left in the engine compartment. Facing the grill, I clutched the latch under the now-ajar bonnet and pushed it upward. The sunlight flooded into the engine compartment and illuminated the myriad of wires, computers and body parts, most of them black and covered in a thin film of oily dust. Nothing obvious. No streaks of oil. No smoke. No fire. Just the ticking sound of metal parts cooling.

The fan shroud on this truck is a pretty massive affair and is at about my sternum. If something had fallen, perhaps it was now laying on the front transaxle, or in front of the fan, next to the radiator. It would require that I step up onto the front bumper and crane my neck to see around the fan shroud.

I was hearing words in my head again. "There it is! A .... uh..... Oh crap! It's a kitten.."

Laying on her back, the white underbelly exposed, limbs seeming to splay in directions not at all natural for a graceful feline, was our little calico kitten, barely four months old. I could see her head draped over the sway bar with a few drops of blood coming from her mouth and nose.

I stood there, dumbstruck. Somewhere in the distance, my two girls were happily pretending to be several characters from Star Wars..."Luke, I am your father....; No! Fatherrrrrrrr.......", says the three-year-old.

My wife was opening the gate to the dirt road that leads to civilization from this haven amongst the cows and noticed my approach. The sick look on my face was soon mirrored. "Honey, I need you to see something."

"Do I want to see it?"

"Just come see."

Discreetness is the key in these situations. Mom and Dad need to act naturally so as not to arouse suspicions in the little ones.

"Take a look over the top of that shroud. There's a cat in there."

"Oh no..."

I peered in again from the opposite side of the grill. It got worse. "Wow, she's still breathing." That meant that we wouldn't just be performing a car excorcism. We'd have to put her out of her misery. My first thought was to just slit her throat. She had to be broken inside something awful. Her left hip looked deformed and the leg crossed over the right. Yes, that would be the most humane. Also the safest. Discharging a firearm into the engine compartment wasn't the sanest idea that popped into my head and I immediately shook it off.

My wife, having the clearest head at that moment, suggested we remove the kitten from the engine compartment. Right. Good idea. It wasn't going to be easy. Our little kitten was underneath the fan and the only purchase one might obtain was by pulling her back legs and carefully working her around the fan blades and up over the top of the fan.

That wasn't going to happen. The only way to extricate her was to ease her limp body downward onto the ground below. This too would be tricky since there was a good 18 inches from her resting place and the gravel below. A towel was placed on the ground underneath the truck and my wife accepted the task of catcher. I gently pushed the limp kitten's head and body toward the only gap available and gravity slowly eased her into my wife's awaiting arms.

Now, wrapped in a towel, she seemed, to me, a bit less repulsive. My wife, cradling her like a newborn baby, quickly got into the car and tossed me an expectant look. The creature's impending death was a foregone conclusion but maybe we could make it into town so that the vet could ease her pain.

My oldest daughter was horrified, and once the initial shock worn off, full of questions as we sped onto the country road, gravel spurting from under the rear tires, in search of a veterinarian.

Our search was in vain for an hour or more. The kitten, apparently in an attempt to further increase the nausea and raw nerves of the older family members (the three-year-old was fairly oblivious to the scene), mewed pathetically at the most dramatic moments during the trip. A call to an emergency pager, painted just below the "Closed" sign on the town vet's glass and steel entryway, provided no immediate response.


Finally, the annoying ringtone on my Blackberry shattered the silence between mewings. The vet was on his way. He had been inseminating some farmer's cow, needed to wash up and would be in the office shortly. I stared at the kitten's face. Her injuries seemed to become more and more severe. Broken ribs, crushed hips, bleeding organs and a huge lump on her cranium representing a crushed skull, obviously. I never went to college and may have cracked a "Gray's Anatomy" once in biology class, but I was suddenly an expert in feline anatomy. And....."Honey, what's that smell? It's smells like death..."

"Honey!...the kitten pooped in the towel. Just relax."

"Oh God. Of course she's on the brink of death. That's what animals and people do when they are about to die. They shit on themselves. Where is that vet?"

I said this to myself of course. And now it was important to keep the children occupied and distracted. In noble fashion, I extracted the children from their cramped quarters and took them to gawk at sick and recovering livestock through the adjcent barn's windows.

We were teased by a pizza delivery van which stopped at the driveway. The driver apparently needed to organize his personal belongings. Finally, the vet, a down-to-earth looking man in his 50's, pulled up in a belching diesel monstrosity replete with a utility bed and grill guard. A comotion ensued as we impatiently crowded at the front door waiting for the man to find the lock and grant us entry. Our fragile package in hand, we anxiously pushed our way into the lobby.

The three-year-old and I, plopped down onto a comfortable wingback couch a likeness of which one might find in virtually any farmhouse in these parts, while my eldest and her mother consulted with the vet.

I could see from this vantage point the open door of the examining room. The "doc" was sitting on a wheeled office chair and would occassionaly float over the linoleum toward a wall of cabinets containing all sorts of mysterious narcotics and individually packaged medical supplies.

I could only hear snippets of the conversation but almost fell out of the sofa when I heard him say " doesn't look like she has any broken bones or serious injuries."

In fact, it was a bit anti-climactic. I was certainly relieved. For a couple of reasons. One, our little kitten was apparently in possession of eight more lives, and two, there wouldn't be a complicated surgery and multi-thousands in fees to pay.

After the kitten was sufficiently anesthetized, we headed home to care for the poor thing. It was Saturday afternoon and all of our weekend plans were out the window. Our weekend would be full of hand-feeings and constant checking and worrying over the patient. She had a laceration (apparently from the fan itself) next to her left eye and running down the bridge of her nose, and on her head a welt the size of a quarter. In fact, her entire head seemed to be swollen. She slept for a long while and that evening, she awoke and fussed a bit in the kennel. My wife tried to give her some water out of an eyedropper but she wasn't that interested. We surmised that it might be necessary to put her on an IV to avoid dehydration - which would mean another trip to the vet. On Sunday afternoon, the kitten ventured out of her portable kennel and tried to play with some string. She then laid down as if to say "Oh, yeah. I'm not quite right, am I"?

In two more days, you wouldn't know by looking at her that anything significant had happened to her.

Consequently, It has become my habit to bang on the fender before I enter any vehicle to wake sleeping cats. I have also renamed our little miracle kitten..