My Cat's Brush With Life-Saving Gender Reassignment Surgery
The doctors said that in order to save my cat's life, they would have to give him a vagina.
I never thought I'd find myself in the position of having to purchase my cat a $1,500 life-saving pussy, but I guess that's just the page I was on in this choose-your-own-adventure we call life.
Last Monday my cat woke up and almost died. The floor was strewn with vomit—putrid yellow, with chunks of pine bedding for added texture. The night before had been completely unremarkable. He greeted us at the door, flopped on his back to stretch out for a moment, just to show us he could, and cooed like a bird as he trotted over to his food bowl. He likes when I watch him eat. It seems to be a point of pride, like he's showing off a painstakingly crafted piece of art. He paused, admiring his work, and looked up at me.
"Get a loada this" he seemed to say. He says that a lot, whether it's prancing by with a cricket pinned between his jaws, conducting a bizarre yoga seminar on the throw blanket, or orchestrating a one-cat World Cup with the balls of foil I toss his way.
Back to Monday. Now, I am aware that Monday is, traditionally speaking, a day cats do not like. However, this violent display of guts and bile eclipsed anything I'd ever read in nationally syndicated cat literature. Even during that really weird week where Garfield thought he died, he still didn't repaint Jon's hardwood floors with his insides.
He yowled and coughed a bone-rattling wheeze of pain. Something was very, very wrong with my special boy. I knew this because I am his mom. He thinks I am his mom, and I feel like I am his mom. I know he thinks I am his mom because when he is feeling especially lovey he kneads his perfect paws into my lumps, searching for a teet to suckle. I feel like I am his mom because I was genuinely sad that he had to be alone on Christmas. This makes no sense, especially when you consider that if I am his mom it would make him a Jew.
We went to the animal hospital and they saw him immediately, which was not a good sign. At this point, I didn't know how close he was to death, but I was still worried. To a Jewish mother, everything is one step away from death. I slinked out to smoke a cigarette and saw a woman with an exposed midriff explain a situation to her boyfriend who was dressed as an Incubus song. Midriff was still unsure if their cat had "burned its bottom on the curling iron" but she didn't feel like waiting three hours to find out. Incubus Song didn't say words, but his beanie looked sad.
Time passed. I now found myself speaking to a very professional looking vet. I don't know why but I trusted her. She carried herself like the star of a network dramady, slightly frazzled yet composed in the face of an onslaught of life-or-death scenarios. I bet she has a sassy friend who encourages her to try online dating. Things were not good with my special boy. She was talking, but I couldn't listen. I felt like that scene in the movie where the character finds out he has cancer: the fuzziness, the down-the-hallway feeling, the strange tinny echo. It was all there.
"He has a snow globe of kidney stones." Jesus Christ, she's a fucking poet. The image of a painful asteroid belt swirling toward my cat's dick made my groin seize up like it was the winning prize in God's claw machine.
"We have to put a catheter in him."
"Your cat is dying. Please."
I'm no doctor, so I could totally be fucking this up, but she then explained that because cats' urethras are so small, it can be very hard to take out the catheter without causing permanent damage. In the event that they are unable to remove the tiny kitty piss tube, they would have to re-route his urethra to... well, an opening that looks a hell of a lot like a girl cat's vagina. They were going to give my precious boy a vagina.
At this point I should tell you that my cat's name is Murphy Brown. Murphy Brown's origin story is humble to say the least. My ex-girlfriend called me one day saying, "You've been talking a big game about getting a cat lately. It's time to put up or shut up, there's some kittens being given away right by your house." I had to check it out. I rolled up to the Food4Less on Figueroa Street to see two Latina teens and a laundry basket. By the time I got there, only two kittens remained. I picked one of them up and a wave of anxiety splashed over my big, dumb head. I've never been responsible for a life before. I held the tiny, helpless being, rolling over every potential catastrophe (heh, cat-tastrophe) before setting the kitten back down. Without a beat, a nice looking family snatched it up. One cat remained.
Pensively, I reached into the basket and lifted the last fluffball up to my chest. Memories of being picked last in everything resembling a sport flooded my mind. The miniscule, flawless being stretched out its perfect little paws and hugged me. I am a six-foot, 220-pound virile man covered in a thick mat of body hair, but I immediately melted into a pile of ooey-gooey cotton candy. Any reservations were instantly transformed into the certainty that me and this dirty little creampuff were about to spend a life together. The two teens informed me it was a girl, and I believed them. Murphy Brown had a home.
Reeling from the news of Murphy's impending downstairs switcheroo, I couldn't help but feel like it was my fault. I had, after all, misgendered him his entire fucking life. Was this his way of proving me right? To be the perfect son, was he willing to risk his life to be the daughter he must've thought I always wanted? How do you have a pronoun conversation with a cat? How much does sex really factor into gender, anyway? Too many questions.
In addition to the philosophical quandaries, I had a few logistical ones. It seemed way too soon to bring up gender reassignment, right? I mean if this were my real son, a human boy, there would be so many more options in between "his bladder is all blocked" and "let's give him a pussy!" Did these vets, unencumbered by the burden of their patients' self-awareness, I dunno, have a little fun with it? Was every vet secretly just Dr. Nick? "Hi everybody! Sorry your cat cannot do the walking no more, how about we give him wings!"
As I soon found out, this penis puzzle wasn't nearly as rare as I imagined. My social media was full of people sharing stories of their cats' and dogs' surgically useless hogs. It made me feel like I wasn't alone. Murphy would be amongst the ranks of the proudly transformed. Alive. Fine. At this point, I almost wanted him to get the surgery, just to make my special boy even more unique. Of course, in my heart, I wanted him to go through the least amount of trauma possible, but hey, who knew a urethra could become a silver lining?
"Is it weird if I like, I dunno, like come visit?" I said into the phone. I was back at home, day two of his hospital stay.
My house is small, a tiny one-bedroom bungalow tucked behind a duplex and not even visible from the street, yet it had never felt so big. A 17-pound cat really tied the place together. Every few minutes another brief reminder of the lack of his presence fluttered deep in the well of my stomach. The creak of the refrigerator door sounded like a mew, the settling of the water in our old pipes were the pitter-patter of his paws on the hardwood. A glimpse of his empty food bowl was enough to send me back to bed. I picked up my phone. I wanted to come visit.
I don't know why it seemed weird to ask, but it did, y'know? He was scared, he was alone, just like me, but he was just an animal. I wondered if he knew I missed him. The technician on the phone didn't seem too put off about my request. I imagined Murphy in a human hospital bed, watching some heavily made-up TV judge shoot a glance to her sassy bailiff, IV in his arm, ambient beeps of monitors filling out the crushing silence. I peeled myself out of bed and threw a flannel over the sleeveless David Bowie shirt I'd worn three days in a row.
I made my way through the double doors marked "AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY" and into the hospital... holding area, I guess? It was bare, even for a hospital. Along the wall was a caged, purgatory version of the set for Hollywood Squares. Murphy was the center-right square, not ideal placement for such a shining star. The fucking Skipper from Gilligan's Island would be fine center-right, but my boy deserved at least a corner, if not the goddamned center square. The thought of an all-animal Hollywood Squares shone a warm light through the bleak cold cloud of depression that had engulfed me over the last few days. Almost on cue, his eyes lit up, too. He recognized me and couldn't wait to brag to the less-loved pets that I belonged to him. He rubbed his face all over me, headbutting his way through my beard as though every pass would lead him one step closer to freedom.
Of course I started crying. How could I not? He was at once both needy and comforting, relieved to see me but impossibly alien in the cold starkness of the hospital. It was my first time watching a life I cared dearly for come so close to being extinguished. I have been lucky up to this point. Death and I aren't too well acquainted. While I was aware that the true stakes of this encounter with the Reaper weren't nearly as high as they could be, it still showed me sides of myself that rarely emerge. In the meat of it, when I didn't know one way or another if Murphy would survive, I was able to lay the tracks for how I would deal with loss in the future. I got a chance to glimpse at what my life would be like if a parent or girlfriend suddenly left. When put that way, the $2,000 I spent on a cat's bladder in exchange for this peek into the future was absolutely worth it.
In the end, Murphy's urethra played ball, and he did not undergo emergency vag-surgery. While it was touch and go for a bit, I never truly felt like our time together would end so abruptly. I went to the bar next to the animal hospital on karaoke night and sang him "Nobody Does It Better," certain that he could hear me, that it would let him know that even though he couldn't see me, I was always near.
No less than two hours after his triumphant return home, he was rocketing into the Christmas tree, batting at the yarn ornaments we bought at Target, snatching one from its perch. Secure between his teeth, he proudly lifted his gaze to mine, showing off his plunder. "Get a loada this," he seemed to say.
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