Tissue alert, both sad and happy tears, and medical treatments.
On Christmas night, with a storm moving in bringing rain, sleet and snow and rapidly falling temperatures, someone messaged on Facebook, “On our way home heading 70 east seen an orange cat hit still alive dragging itself on the highway heading 70 east before Murtland exit in the left lane along the jersey barrier…Tried to pull over and help but almost got hit. Turned around and tried again but it’s too busy almost got hit trying again.”
Others messaged they’d seen him and tried to stop, but the spot on the highway was impossible for safety, especially at night. Conversations kept discussing what to do.
The first message was posted at 10:00 p.m. Amy saw the conversation at 1:00 a.m. and knew she could never sleep knowing this cat was alive, injured and suffering, trapped against a concrete divider with trucks and cars whizzing past him. If he was injured, he would never get back to the side of the road without being hit again. She got up, dressed for the weather, packed her car with blankets and food and anything else she might need, and headed for the spot described in the post.
She actually found the spot, saw him and knew he was alive. She contacted the State Police to help her by managing traffic so she could safely approach him and retrieve him if possible. While she waited, she watched him, speaking softly to tell him she was coming for him, and not to be afraid, afraid herself he might try to drag himself away, especially if she approached and he might be feral, or so terribly traumatized, try to get away and end up back in traffic.
But he didn’t. She saw him huddled against that barrier and as she approached she felt he knew she was there to help him. He was instantly a sweet boy, trusting, though he must have been in horrible pain, suffering from shock and exposure in the rain and cold.
She took him directly to the emergency hospital where she was thrilled to see a vet she’d always trusted at another emergency hospital. The cat’s x-rays show a severely fractured pelvis that might need surgical repair. She named him Malcolm.
Further diagnostics into the morning of December 26 showed he had kidney issues which may or may not have had to do with the accident, and later developed a pneumothorax or air between the lung and chest wall that had to be tapped, and ended up in an oxygen cage. For all that, he was alert and responsive, especially to Amy. When she visited and talked to his veterinarian, Malcolm heard her voice, awoke, opened his eyes full and looked at her for several seconds before going back to sleep.
The pneumothorax kept returning, making it difficult for Malcolm to breathe so he had a chest tube surgically implanted that suctioned the air to keep it from moving between his chest wall and lung. He did well through the surgery and his vital signs remained stable but began a recurrent spiking fever and started on antibiotics. His pelvic fractures were less important than keeping his organs functioning, letting his lungs heal and his kidneys back to normal levels. He was back in the oxygen cage, catheterized to monitor his output, getting supportive fluids and fluid therapy for his kidneys and medication to control his blood pressure.
All this sounds like just too many things to heal from, but traumatic injuries affect the entire body, not only the areas that were actually damaged, and exposure in the rain on cold pavement, and shock, the body’s natural response to traumatic pain, can and must take time to reverse. Rewarming the body or restarting organs abruptly can cause a seizure, stroke or heart attack. For all the issues Malcolm was fighting and all the support he needed to keep functioning, he was stable and actually doing well.
The next day he improved enough to leave the oxygen cage, though he still had the chest tube, but his blood pressure and temperature were normal and his kidney function was improving. And he was eating on his own. And PURRING. Purring and making biscuits and very affectionate. The veterinarians guessed he was quite young, only a year or two old. He had no microchip, and for as much as his information was shared locally on Facebook and farther, no one ever claimed him.
Once his lungs and kidneys stabilized he had to have pelvic injuries evaluated by an orthopedic specialist. Pelvic injuries from cats being hit by a car are unfortunately not unusual, but Malcolm’s were more severe than usual. Malcolm had been bleeding somewhat from his pelvic fractures, and on December 29 needed a blood transfusion to restore the blood he’d lost, though he was still stable. After the transfusion the chest tube showed minimal air leaking indicating his lungs were healing and the chest tube could be removed in a day or two. On December 30 Amy posted that “the temp spikes he was having are likely related to his pain meds. His lungs are healing well and they are getting very little air back on suction. His blood pressure and oxygen levels are stable. He knows he is loved.”
For Amy, the costs were mounting for the critical care, up to $5,000. She had constantly updated his condition and received $3,400 in donations prior to the transfusion. Spending this much on saving one cat is sometimes questioned, considering how far that much money could go to help more cats who don’t need as much care, but with a fighter like Malcolm, who had been hit and sat for hours helpless in the rain and cold on the highway, then rallied with each treatment given him against some pretty steep odds, Amy would not give up.
But another condition had been developing while the others were healing, and suddenly he was paralyzed in his hind legs and hips, and the paralysis was spreading. Myelomalacia is a softening of the spinal cord caused by either bleeding within or an inadequate blood supply to the spinal cord. Unlike an injury to the spinal cord that causes immediate paralysis, the hemorrhaging is almost undetectable at first until its effects, which can be as varied as tingling extremeties, hypertension and sudden limb jerks, all of which are common after traumatic injuries and in plenty of other conditions, point to damage to the spinal cord. Sometimes surgery can help stop the hemorrhaging but often it simply runs its course and ends in paralysis of the chest walls and diaphragm, which stops breathing and obviously causes death. Even before that the pressure in the spinal cord causes excruciating pain.
So after all that recovery and hope, Amy had to put Malcolm to sleep before his pain and suffering grew any worse. His paralysis had come on rapidly and was spreading. On December 30, just six days after she’d picked him up off the highway, Amy spent four hours just cuddling and holding him in the emergency hospital, with Malcolm nuzzling and purring in return. At one point he put his face against hers and just held it there. She let him go peacefully while he napped on her chest.
Malcolm won’t be easily forgotten by Amy, even though she’s rescued dozens of other cats. You’ve read about Amy’s rescued cats before, like Toby and Eddie and Booboo and Sprinkle, and several different hoarding cases. Because she helps so many she founded a fund in his memory she set up a fund called Malcolm’s Magic to help cover costs of rescuing and rehoming cats and kittens wherever they’ve come from.
If you’d like to donate to help Amy with the rest of Malcolm’s medical expenses and with the many other cats she rescues, you can donate to Malcolm’s Magic via paypal to amylbarrette @ gmail (dot) com, or email her at that address for other options for donating.
If you are local to Pittsburgh, there is a fundraiser bingo Sunday, February 12 at 11:30 AM – 5:30 PM at the VFW Post in Sharpsburg, 709 1017 Main Street, Pittsburgh Pa 15215.
Read other Rescue Stories on The Creative Cat.
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