The three dreaded letters


Or, as you cat-lovers will know, feline immunodeficiency virus. Or, as you cat-unlovers will not know, HIV for cats.

Offa has been diagnosed with FIV, and I will likely hear tomorrow that Costa has contracted it as well.

I can hardly believe that it was only two nights ago that I rushed them both to the 24-hour Animal Medical Center on Jalan Tun Razak to be checked out for rat poisoning, as my brother had witlessly left our store room door open with the rat poison within reach. I had been somewhat consoled by the fact that they could be given antidotes for the poison and would be set to rights. It was only a little worrying, however, that Offa had spiked a fever, and his temperature was 39.5°C, a full degree higher than normal. But maybe that was due to the stress of being in a hospital among strangers, and Offa has always been nervous around strangers.

I left them there for the night so that they could have blood tests done in the morning to check for any effects of rat poison. I left them there after assuring them that I loved them and they would be home soon, and they would be fine.

Yesterday, after spending all morning on tenterhooks, one of the vets from the hospital called. Offa’s blood panels did in fact show signs of rat poisoning, but with the Vitamin K antidote he would be all right in time. The main cause of concern was his temperature, as it had not gone down since I left him at the hospital, and had, in fact, become even higher, reaching 40°C at one point. They wanted to keep him there longer to monitor it, and if his temperature continued to spike, they would run a virus screening to check for other possible causes. But Costa was fine, they said, and I could bring him home if I wanted, and continue to administer the antidote myself at home.

This afternoon, as I was driving to the hospital to visit Offa and ask to bring him home, another vet called and said his temperature was 39.8°C, and had not gone down at all. He should be tested for other viruses, she said, and I would have the results by the time I got to the hospital.

The worst thing about being in a hospital, whether human or animal, is the waiting. Waiting for your turn, while other people around you coddle their ill or injured pets. Waiting for test results to tell you whether or not your world was coming to an end. Waiting for the doctor to give you some form of miracle to save your baby’s life.

So I waited. I alternated between waiting and sitting with Offa, who showed no signs of being ill, and actually sat up when I opened his cage door. Again I told him I loved him and he would be going home with me soon. I told him I was sorry I had left him there, but he would be fine and he would be home soon, and I would take care of him.

I think in my heart I already knew; when the vet finally told me that Offa had tested positive for FIV, I wasn’t shocked. I wasn’t even angry. I was just extremely sad, and sorry for this poor little boy who had never done anything to deserve it. But cats with FIV can live relatively long and happy lives, she was quick to reassure me, as her own FIV-positive cat had survived seven years with the virus. All I could think of at the time was that seven years was less than half the lifespan of an FIV-negative cat and Offa was being robbed of more than half the life he could have had if he weren’t FIV-positive.

Could Costa have it too? It was possible, she said, as they have been living in close quarters and playing with each other for nearly six months now. And sharing food and water, and licking each other’s faces, I didn’t dare to tell her. But I sent him for virus screenings anyway, and I will know the results tomorrow. In retrospect, I don’t think it would make any difference. Even if he doesn’t have it now, he will have it eventually, as there is not an inch of this house that hasn’t been touched by Offa, and more importantly, I could never separate two cats who love and would miss each other.

After today, everything changes. I always said that I wouldn’t know what to do if something ever happened to them. And I don’t know what to do now. Oh, I probably do, but it’s something that is so complex, so unfathomable to me that it feels as though there is nothing I can do. For the rest of their lives, it will be all about managing diets to boost their immune systems, making sure they have no contact with other cats or step out of the house, and keeping them as happy and comfortable as possible, perhaps not so much as sick cats, but as cats who are destined to have short lives. I can’t decide which circumstance is worse.

It feels as though a part of me is dying along with them; Afham is much more stoic, and has taken the news in relatively good stride. But as I sit here and try to imagine my life without either of them, I find that I can’t. I can’t imagine a day that they won’t be sitting at my feet waiting for food, lying on my chest to sleep, or turning over on their backs to have their bellies scratched.

From the day I brought each of them home, I swore I would give them a good life and they would be the most spoiled, petted and envied cats. And that vow has never meant more to me — and maybe them — than it does now.

Be brave, my boys. I love you to the moon and back, a million times over.

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