HOW CATS HEAL
I was relaxing in bed a few evenings ago, watching a mindless TV series, when I heard a thundering bang. It sounded like a metal statue or a huge book case had fallen just outside my bedroom door. My cat, Star, let out a terrible cry and I jumped up see what had happened. I found her lying on the ground, moaning. I looked up and realized she had fallen straight down, about fifteen feet, from one of her favorite perches on a living room shelf. I know, cats don’t fall. Their balance is impeccable. But she must been asleep, turned over,
fallen the long distance and landed hard on her right back leg.
I was devastated as I watched her try to limp away. She was holding up her leg, she couldn’t stand up, so I took her in my arms and palpated her legs. I wondered if she had broken something but she didn’t flinch when I touched her. She was horribly freaked out, so was I, so I put her to bed with me. She fell asleep immediately but when we got up in the morning, she couldn’t bear her weight on her leg. I called a vet who couldn’t see her due to Covid (?) so we
ended up at a pet emergency hospital. They wouldn’t allow me to go into the back of the hospital with my cat. You guessed it. Covid again, and seven hours and a thousand dollars later, I found out that her x-rays hadn’t shown any breaks or contusions and the ultrasound didn’t show any fluid build up. That was a blessing.
I was overjoyed to have Star back home, but I was left with a bad taste in my mouth. The receptionists at the emergency unit had been
nightmares, trained poorly or not all, uninterested or unable to handle anxious pet owners whose animals required emergency treatment. When I asked them for updates during that interminable day, they acted like I was a royal bother to them – but that’s not what this piece is about.
It’s about watching my cat heal. I’m in awe as Star relaxes and surrenders to what happened to her. I feed her on the bed, she eats well, she yawns, stretches, and dozes. I carry her to the litter box and back to bed, where she licks my hand and herself for a while and goes back to sleep. I’ve heard that our best healing happens when we’re asleep, a time when all of our systems are at rest and can focus energy to the part of the body that needs it. That’s what cats do. They rest with no anxiety or guilt. It’s a miraculous thing that
we’re all built to heal, but going through it is hard for us human beings. When we get hurt, we put ourselves through the ringer. We’re anxious, frightened and crabby, filled with worst case scenarios and guilty that we might have done something to put ourselves at risk. How could we have been so stupid? When will
this be over so we can start running around again?
Granted, we have many things to do to keep our lives together and our pets don’t, but we could do a lot more self-soothing and a lot less blaming and wishing we were somewhere else. Cats don’t have guilt. Or regret. They don’t self-flagellate. They soothe themselves, they live in the now, sleeping when they’re tired, eating when they’re hungry and sleeping as much as possible when they’re hurt. They’re blessed with the inability to think into the future, to tell themselves stories with bad endings, and to wish something else was going on. They just relax and heal and we could all learn a lesson from them.
Healing comes when we meet our wounded places with compassion. These words from Stephen Levine are the heart of this process, both physical and mental. He said that healing is bringing mercy and awareness into that which we have held in judgment and fear. When we’re in pain, it’s not a good idea to beat ourselves up and cause ourselves more pain. If you had a broken leg, you wouldn’t keep kicking it. So why would we thrash ourselves when
something bad happens to us. The truth is that we are all broken and wounded. It’s the nature of being a human being who participates in life. But when we begin growing strong in the places where we’re broken, we see the gift that taking care of ourselves offers.
Being wounded asks for our kindness. The more I stroke my cat, the more she relaxes and the better she seems to feel. I’d like to have
the same compassion for myself instead of being anxious and frightened and wondering, “Are we there yet?” Getting better is a natural process, our bodies are equipped to do it, but it occurs in its own time. And it doesn’t happen in a straight line. It had dips and peaks. Yesterday, I found my cat at the top of the stairs. She had walked up by herself. Today, however, she doesn’t want to leave the safety of the bed. Whatever her internal instinct tells her, she follows it. But that isn’t always true for us. I know a woman who went dancing on high heels a few weeks after she had a hip replacement. It added weeks onto her healing process and she never put two and two together. I know a woman whose doctor told her she was dehydrated and she refuses to drink water. I know a man
who injured his knee but he refuses to take a break from playing tennis and it keeps getting worse.
Human beings are pretty stubborn, sometimes it serves us well, but at other times we simply refuse to do what’s good for us. I’m not sure why. I see the wisdom in something my friend told me. He pointed out that people don’t like doing what is inconvenient, like seeing a doctor when they need to or on the other end of the spectrum, refusing to use turn signals on the road. All it takes is a lift of one finger and people simply won’t do it. Go figure.
Islamic Persian scholar, Rumi, said, “The wound is where the light enters you.”
Buddhist poet and singer, Leonard Cohen, said, “There is a crack in everything. That’s where the light gets in.”
Finally, theoretical physicist, Stephen Hawking, who lived with ALS for years, said, “Where there is life, there is hope.”
There is healing at the end of convalescence. There is relief at the end of pain. When the clouds part, the sun shines through. We
don’t know how long it will take or how it will occur but if we work with ourselves instead of against us, we see that the body is a miraculous thing.