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Monday, January 26, 2009

Merry Christmas To My Cat And My Car

The tree is at the curb and the decorations are back in the attic. All signs of the holidays are gone except for one, the credit card bills.

Previously, I’ve given insight into why Holidays make me nervous. I’ve also gone on at length about my car issues. But when those two concepts collide with my pets’ health and well being (1),(2), wackiness ensues.

I’ve been making small attempts at reducing my debt. I’ve been using bonuses to pay off credit cards and trying to get expenses under control to better weather the rough economy. However, Christmas always becomes a deal breaker. Presents are plentiful and utilities are utilized to their fullest. My wife grew up in a home where Christmas was a special time of year, so the house is always decorated above and beyond the norm and the tri-state area is subject to brown outs a la The Griswold Family Christmas. All night shopping trips result in the killing of small forests in order to produce enough wrapping paper to cover all the purchases and of course, the credit card bears the brunt of the weight. In essence, everything I’ve worked for towards reducing debt over the year reemerges come January first of the next one.

This year was supposed to be different. I was heading into Christmas with a small cushion. My wife took a second job, which used to be her first job years ago, to make some extra money. I was forgoing a lot of extra luxuries to keep my costs down. The result would be to give our daughter her first real big Christmas. In order to make this happen, we knew we had better start by getting the house decorated, ASAP.

One of my biggest pet peeves with decorating for Christmas is having to move furniture, especially my love seat. I’ve been having issues with my love seat since 2002. Every year because of the way my floor plan is laid out, I have to sacrifice seating in order to have the tree up and lit. For two years in my townhouse, the love seat resided in the dining room against the sliding glass doors that led to my patio. When we bought our current house, we had to move it to a spare bedroom. This also presents a problem because the hallway and spare bedroom door are too narrow for the love seat in its usual state. The solution to this problem is to remove the feet from the love seat and the door from the hinges of the bedroom doorway. You can see why I love decorating.

Two weeks after Thanksgiving when the Christmas shopping hits its full swing and decorating is usually completed we hit our first major road bump. My wife and I are attempting to do the majority of the work while our daughter was present. She’s free to roam around the room, within reason, and we didn’t have a babysitter to keep her out of the house. So, as she continually gets underfoot I get continually frustrated. Finally, about 10:00 pm we were ready to move the love seat to the bedroom. Because of my daughter’s age and her affinity for cat tails, some of our cats tend to hide out of reach. I had made mention to my wife that we were likely to move a couch and find a cat underneath, along with various toys and dust bunnies the size of the Cloverfield monster.

Truer words were never spoken, yet hardly followed as I prepared to move said love seat. I figured that by flipping it onto its end, I could remove all the feet and have it ready to slide without having to readjust it. Unfortunately, when I tipped it up on to its end, a cat that had been hiding and attempted to make a break for it in the direction of the movement. I looked down to see the hind quarters pressed towards the floor, legs flailing about the floor. I immediately grabbed the couch and lifted it off the ground freeing the poor cat. My wife did what any animal lover would do and freaked out. She went to console the cat while my daughter, noticing the drama of the trauma, began to cry. After a quick exam of the feline, she appeared to be no worse for wear and we moved her to our bed to take it easy.

We continued to finish moving the love seat and proceeded to put the baby down and relax with the evening news. My wife went to our bedroom to grab some pillows for us to lounge on and noticed the cat sitting next to a pink puddle. She did what any animal lover would do at the sight of their own pet’s blood and freaked out. She grabbed the cat and tried to determine if she was bleeding externally but from the shade of the stain, I concluded that she must have passed it in urine. In any case, something was definitely wrong and we sprang into action.

We called the vet but due to the late hour they could not accommodate us since we probably would require scans. They suggested a 24 hour animal hospital nearby. We woke the baby up and took her to my in-laws and then made our way to the hospital. Did I mention that it had been snowing all evening? The mild temperatures we were used to this time of year in the past were just that, the past. A front had moved in, icing over the roads and laying down a layer of snow on top, disguising the danger. I had just put snow tires on the car, against my usual argument that we get more ice than snow negating the benefits, and was sorry to have been right. We slid and spun most of the way to the hospital. Then, my wife told me to take an alternate route that put us right on path with a big hill that we had to first, descend. All the while, she worried that the cat was not going to make it to the hospital, while I worried that we all would not make it to the hospital.

We arrived at our destination and subsequently surgically removed my wife’s fingernails from the dashboard. After explaining the situation and filling out paperwork, they took the cat in for an exam. An hour later, they called us back to give us no news whatsoever. In fact they pretty much challenged us that this was the cat that bled on the bed. “Um, I’m pretty sure.” I emphatically stated. “How do you know for sure?” The doctor retorted. “Because, I dropped a couch on her.” I yelled.

The doctor reassured us that she saw this kind of thing all the time in healthy animals. I then asked how many of those had recently had a piece of furniture sitting on their major organs. Not wanting to admit that I knew this was the cat, we consented to getting x-rays done to verify if any internal damage was done. We then went back out to the waiting room and sat for another two hours, learning all the benefits of the Shamwow.

Just before I was ready to place an order for Mighty Putty, the staff called us back to go over the results of our pet’s scans. The first thing the doctor did was tell us that they managed to collect a sample of urine and did notice blood in it. Not exactly a vindication, but I’ll take it. The doctor then proceeded to show us the x-rays, but never actually said if anything was wrong. Slide upon slide came up on the screen and without knowing cat anatomy, I had no clue if she was giving us bad news. Finally, she said she could find no obvious damage or rupture to the bladder. Of course, never once telling us one way or another if the cat was going to be fine, she gave us options. We could take the cat home and follow up with our vet or we could leave the cat there overnight for observation to see if any changes occurred.

I asked if something were to be wrong, would we know it before it was too late. She would not answer that question and said that if we were really concerned that we should leave the cat there. Again, I asked her if it was possible that the cat just experienced some bruising and would be otherwise fine. Again, she would not answer that question and said that if we were really concerned that we should leave the cat there. Again, my wife did what any animal lover would do, she freaked out…on the inside. We decided to take the cat home and follow up with our vet when weather permitted. I think the poor thing suffered enough just from the trip and the treatment. Total bill for the evening, $400.

Two days later, our vet did an exam and found no evidence of trauma. The cat was still passing blood but we were told that this is common in a bruise of this kind and could last for a few days. Everything soon returned to normal and the house eventually got decorated for Christmas.

The week before Christmas I decided to use up my last few vacation days left in order to finish up my shopping…actually, that’s a lie. I hadn’t even started shopping yet. Regardless, I knew that car I had been driving, a Pontiac Sunfire, was due for inspection. The car is paid for and is depreciating faster than most businesses traded on Wall Street. I was fully prepared to spend at least $200 on tires, inspection, and emissions. Again, I went against better judgment and asked for winter tires. When I got the call from the garage I did what any normal car owner would do at Christmas, I clutched my chest and groaned. Turns out the car need a new brake line. The existing one was rusted out. It also needed new rear brake drums, new hoses, and a few other items that were rusted.

Once I was able to breathe at a normal pace, gave in and said do the work. The inspection was up at the end of the month and I needed the car for shopping and holiday travel. My Mother-in-Law asked me for a Christmas list and I said, how about new tires. That at least saved me $140. That along with the rest of the charges brought the total cost to $527.

Everybody that had heard my tale said I should just get a new car. In fact, as if he were psychic, the salesman who helped us buy our family trickster, a Malibu Maxx Wagon, even called to try and pitch us on incentives for new cars. I wasn’t about to get involved with a loan right now and conceded that if I have to pay a little over $300 ($527 - $140(Tires are a given) - $40 (inspection & emissions)) a year to keep that car on the road then it is worth not having a monthly car payment.

So it came to be the 23rd of December and I had already spent close to $1000 without buying one present. I actually made out pretty good this year, despite all the expenditures. My boss presented me with $200 in prepaid credit cards, I managed to find $100 in gift cards that I had in a drawer from birthdays and last Christmas. My wallet contained another $100 in gift cards from returned items from birthdays and last Christmas. And, one of my Christmas purchases ended up being refunded due to a shipping error. All these savings probably amounted to almost all of the total car/cat. That puts it all into perspective. And, at least I don’t have to worry about my car and cat asking for the receipts for returns.

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