W.When I wake up, my left eyelid is heavy and sore, like I was hit the night before. I don’t remember, but I suspect that short-term memory loss could be another symptom. Maybe I’m in a motel room, I think the floor is littered with empty bottles and my car is still on fire outside.
But I’m in my own bed with my left eyelid half closed and, as I’ll soon find out, red and swollen.
“So is it a pigsty?” says my wife in the kitchen a few hours later.
“It’s a pigsty,” I say.
“It looks painful,” she says.
“Painful and disfiguring,” I say.
“What is it, some kind of blockage?” She says.
“If you want, I can tell you all about it,” I say. “I’ve read very well on this topic.”
This is true. I started with some basic facts, but within minutes I was looking for crazier, more interventionist advice: videos with doctors in Hawaiian shirts showing me how to handle myself.
“There is nothing you can do,” I say. “They just go away on their own.”
The cat shoots its way into the room through the cat flap and walks towards me.
“Bren”, they say.
“I’m not Bren,” I say. “But I’m not surprised you don’t recognize me.” The cat looks at the ground and then hobbles away.
“Why is the cat limping?” I say.
“Is it?” says my wife.
Later that afternoon I manage to corner the cat and then my wife.
“This cat needs to see the vet,” I say.
She looks at her watch. “They’re closed now,” she says.
“Then tomorrow,” I say.
“I won’t be here,” she says. “You have to take it once.”
“I’ve taken the cat to the vet before,” I say. I’m not saying it’s been so long since it was a different vet. And another cat. My wife is looking at me.
“Your eye,” she says.
The next morning after my wife leaves, I try to make an appointment. I press two and a receptionist answers.
“Hello,” I say, trying to sound concerned. “I would like an appointment for my cat, please.”
“Has your cat been here before?” She says.
“He has ingrown claws,” I say.
There is a brief silence. “OK, Graham,” she says. I think who is graham?
“It’s strange that I didn’t notice before, but you know what cats are like,” I say.
“Sorry, you said the last name was Claus?”
“What?” I say.
“Graham Claus?” She says. “I can’t find it in the system.”
I take a deep breath and explain.
“I thought Graham was a strange name for a cat,” she says. “We can do nine tomorrow?”
“I was hoping for today,” I say. “I’m worried he’s in pain.”
“I could press you in at 4.30?” She says.
“Afternoons are bad for me,” I say.
The next morning I took the cat in a cage on the 20-minute walk to the vet. On the way, I speak reassuringly to keep him calm.
“So the idea,” I say, “is that you haven’t shown any signs of discomfort yet.”
The cat looks out of the cage and enjoys the ride. I stop to switch arms.
“You are very independent,” I say, “and gave me no reason to believe anything was wrong.”
“Graham,” says the cat.
“You are Graham,” I say. “Keep it straight.”
Half an hour later I’m in an examination room – the vet and I are both masked. He examines the cat’s paws in turn with the cat’s uncanny compliance.
“That claw has grown in too,” he says.
“Yes,” I say. “He’s not one to complain.”
“Claws can get thicker with age,” he says.
“Well, he must be 13 or 14,” I say.
“Twelve,” says the vet, looking at his computer screen.
“Yes, exactly,” I say.
The vet presses a stethoscope to the cat’s ribs and says nothing.
“I mean, until two days ago you would never have …”
“He has a heart murmur,” says the vet. “Did you know about it?”
For a long moment I think about saying yes – I take health issues very seriously. But the doctor looks me straight in the face: two eyes over a mask, the left one swollen.