Three Days of the Urethra

It is a truth long known that when a man’s floor is covered in chick peas and he’s cradling a syringe of urine, he is compelled to take stock of where his life has gone.  

Tuesday, 4:20 pm

My day of teaching done, I was ready to celebrate with an early evening of not speaking at all and not looking at my computer. It’s at this time that I noticed that my cat was visiting her litter box more often than I will in about four decades.  

Though unlikely to pay off, I decided on the direct approach: “Hey, why do you keep going to the bathroom?”

She decided against answering just then and I was forced to look into her box and push around her sand. The presence of no clumps made me go “Huh.” But over the next hour, back she went every few minutes and posed herself in the urine-stance. To no avail. Nothing came out and she just stared at the wall with a blank-confused expression that I will probably mimic when I’m 86 years old and my prostate has its own gravitational pull.

We went to google. Cat’s constipated. Cat can’t pee. What is a blocked urethra? The first option I commiserated with. The second was probably a urinary tract infection. The third would kill her in a day. I called the vet.

The vet. When we moved in to this little neck of the Prague woods, I did the “walk around.” You know, when you mosey around your new neighborhood in search of pubs, but pretending you’re excited by other facilities, shops, and services you find there that don’t offer booze.

That is, of course, unless it’s a medical service, a grocery store, or a brothel. Medical services near your house are always welcome. Sometimes I leave my house holding my breath and try to make it to the vet without passing out, just to see if I choke on a chicken bone what my chances are. I figure a chicken bone’s a chicken bone whether it’s in the windpipe of a Doberman or an over-zealous ESL teacher. A local grocery store is wanted for obvious reasons. And brothels, well, there’s nothing more comforting that sitting on your couch with a good book and knowing hookers are delivering joy and gonorrhea somewhere nearby.

So two years ago when I came across the vet/animal ER on the main road, I initially wondered how great the place was for a pub, and then I thought, oh this will probably come in handy.

The other thing about a call to the vet is the second language issue. I needed some vocabulary I don’t use in order to explain my cat’s problem. Urinary tract infection and blocked urethra aren’t phrases I use on a daily basis.

The vet was nice, patient. She told me to come in the next day. I took the cat carrying case out of the closet and put it on the floor in the hallway. I wanted the cat to get used to it. I went to bed.


In the morning, we stood over the litter box with our coffee and I pushed the sand around until I excavated a couple little clumps of urine. We celebrated. Again, I imagine, how I’ll probably celebrate over my own toilet in thirty-five years and preaching the wonder powers of a medicine called something like flow-max or prost-flow.

The cat came out of her carrying case, where she’d been sleeping, and asked to be picked up as she does every morning. I did it, but I felt a little bad picking her up, as if I was going to harm what was surely an inflamed urethra.

We walked up to the vet. It was cold outside. I had lined the case with some old T shirts and she seemed content enough to sleep. Nevertheless, our three local homeless guys, who had never once greeted me, said hello to her with sympathetic looks as we passed. Sick animals are the great equalizer.  

At the vet, I took out my notebook. I had scribbled notes and vocabulary in it which I thought I might need. I practiced silently.

The vet was a pleasant woman in her early fifties. She greeted me in Czech and I greeted her back. She asked if my cat was the one who couldn’t pee. I told her yes it was. She then squinted at me and said, “Do you speak English?”

I was happy to be able to describe my cat’s urinary habits in English. I held the cat so she could get her anti-inflammatory shot so she could pee. I was handed a syringe pump and instructed to collect my cat’s pee for analysis and to bring it as soon as I could. “The fresher the better” she said in impeccable English, though, as I am not a tracker or a vet, I had never once used degrees of freshness to describe pee.

“If she pees at night and you can’t get here immediately, put it in the fridge,” said the vet.

“In the dairy box, the crisper, or on the condiment shelf?” I laughed to let her know I was being cute. She squinted her eyes to let me know that I was not. I left with my cat and my syringe.

The plan was to clean out the litter box and to collect the urine in the box when she peed. Unfortunately, she didn’t want to pee in the box without sand. She did, however, begin eyeing up my couch and living room rug. I did my best to thwart this, but it degrades a person to guard a rug so strongly. One day you’re a reasonable middle-class language professional, the next you’re carrying around a syringe and yelling at a cat with a urinary tract infection to stay away from your rug. The fall happens quicker than you’d think.


The cat peed on a towel we’d left on the kitchen floor to sop up some water from defrosting the freezer. Though this didn’t help me in any way, it was better than the rug. I gave up on the towel and tucked it into a trash bag. I put a little sand in her box, hoping to coax her there so that I could collect a pee sample. My wish came true (we wish smaller in hard times) but she peed directly onto the sand and made mud. This was not going to do the trick. I distinctly remember the vet saying “Don’t bring me mud.” But I could have invented this too.

I was at wit’s end. Burke looked up some tips on Ye Olde Google.

“Do we have any dried beans?” she asked.

I think I knew where she was going with this.

I went to the closet.  

“Does it have to be beans? We have chick peas.”

“The good ones from Country Life?”

I shrugged.

“It’s OK. We’ll get more.”

And so I dumped an unopened bag of all natural chick peas into my cat’s litter box. She spent the early morning pushing them back and forth like pool balls. I told my students in my first class that I might have to run to collect some urine.

“Cat has a urinary tract infection,” I said.

They wrote it down.

Just after my class the cat decided that the chick peas would suffice, she assumed the position, and let fly a stream that would make the manufacturers of flow-max proud. We ran into the room and stood above it. There it was, right in among the little chick peas, a puddle of urine. I collected a dutiful bounty with much left to spare. I was excited. Should we bottle some for later use, I asked Burke, who gave me a look that I couldn’t quite decipher, but assume I’ll see more as the years toddle on.

As carefully as if it was plutonium, I put my cat’s urine in the fridge on the condiment shelf (between the Brown Sauce and the Sriracha). And when my second class was finished, I carried it proudly to the vet. I showed it to the homeless men, but they waved me on. The vet took it and I was mildly bummed that she didn’t congratulate me on the volume of urine collected. I desired more than I ever had (by a long shot) to talk about chick peas and urine. She did an analysis on it. I watched on.

“Is this diluted?” she asked.

“Only through chick peas,” I responded.

“So far, everything looks fine. But maybe you should bring her for blood tests to make sure her kidneys are OK. She’s getting older, you know, and cat’s kidneys become a problem with age.”   

“But you’ll do that, right?”

She squinted again. “What do you usually feed her?”

“Sheba. Dry Wiskas.” And in a more understated, silent, purposefully unsaid way, I added “smoked salmon, sausage, fried chicken” with my eyes. I wasn’t worried as those things are good for kidney health.

I left.

It dawned on me as I walked home that it was Thanksgiving. We had ordered a meal from a local restaurant/food truck, and I planned to imbibe several drinks to wash it down. I decided to be thankful on my way home, and I was. I was thankful for a healthy cat and a healthy household, especially in the midst of this turbulent time. I was thankful for the mind-boggling genius on this plant that went into creating a vaccine to a novel virus in under a year of its arrival. I was thanking for my my comfort, which is often overlooked until you’re chasing around a cat asking for urine, and I was thankful for my local grocery store. I got home and opened a beer, which I was also thankful for – all seven of them. I lounged on my couch, resting with the knowledge that the chick peas on my floor could now be a detail in a funny story and I was thankful that some few blocks away, hookers were giving handies to Russian businessman. And for them, I was thankful for penicillin.

Happy Thanksgiving.    

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