Last week, my best friend Tammy said goodbye to her 16-year-old insulin-dependent cat, Wren, and I said goodbye to one of the only other diabetics I know in real life.
Wren was a wise old soul — unassuming and more discreet than the other cats in Tammy’s household. She wouldn’t try to climb up on your head and drool fish-breath drips on your face the way her cat-sister Cinder would. She didn’t rock one of those obscene fat pouches that some cats start swinging around once they hit middle age, and she didn’t skid maniacally all over the hardwood floors like the petite calico of the household, Zero.
On more than one occasion, I was tasked with administering Wren’s insulin when Tammy and her sister Tonia had to leave Wren on her own. Wren was the first cat — or other living thing, for that matter — that I’d ever given a shot to, and I was a little surprised by how nervous I was as a drew up her Vetsulin and flicked the bubbles out of the syringe.
But Wren was always a gracious patient. She was used to the skin around the scruff of her neck being pulled up, the little pinch of the needle and the push of the plunger. And judging by her enthusiastic purr/meow/growly noises, she very much looked forward to the little pile of Whisker Lickin’ treats that came her way after every injection.
Blood sugar checks were a different story. I tried a few separate times to milk a solid drop of blood from her calloused black paw pads, or from the teeny tiny capillaries that outlined the papery soft triangles of her ears. No go. Instead, Tammy had to rely on results from old-school pee sticks to get a grip on Wren’s blood sugar levels. Take a moment, if you will, and imagine trying to catch a cat at the exact moment it begins to pee, so that you can introduce a dip stick into the urine stream and get an accurate result before the cat starts kicking its litter around. Yeah.
Low blood sugars posed their own set of kitty-specific issues. Tammy always kept a bottle full of watered-down maple syrup at the ready, fully prepared to squirt the stuff into Wren’s mouth should she start seizing or showing other symptoms of feline hypoglycemia. Apparently cats don’t dig on juice boxes and granola bars.
I can’t say that I didn’t feel a tiny bit of diabetes kinship with Wren the cat. I came to think of her as a furry, four-legged version of myself — from the daily insulin injections she endured to the fresh haircuts she proudly sported. (Tammy is a retired pet groomer, and always kept Wren’s coat looking neat.) She didn’t say much, but I felt like she got me on some primal, diabetic level.
Most of all, though, I admire the attention that Tammy and Tonia paid to Wren’s specific health demands — especially throughout her last earthly days. Even when Wren grew a little too bony, the respiratory infections began to set in with more regularity, and a weird chin growth started to give her an Abraham Lincoln silhouette, my friends always made sure that their senior cat had a welcoming place to sleep, a fountain full of fresh water, a pristine litter box, and a bowl full of overpriced vittles within her reach.
Sure, you could say that Wren was just a cat. That her tiny little life with diabetes has absolutely nothing to with what diabetic humans deal with on a daily basis. But I’m a sucker, and a crazy cat lady at heart. To me, Wren’s life and her relationship with my friend was a reminder of the role that diabetes plays in the lives of so many people — even if they’re not people at all.