Tabby kitten sitting on brilliant red cushion staring like a demon

Note: This is a story whose ending is not yet written but is definitely on an upward trajectory.

As discussed in previous kitten reports, our kitten Charlie has been falling behind his brother George in terms of size and weight. His stertorous breathing was getting worse and he has not been thriving as he should. After several visits to the vet, followed by various scans, we all agreed that this was most probably a nasopharyngeal polyp blocking his airways. This apparently happens a lot to young cats who have had a lingering upper respiratory infection. Usually they grow bilaterally: two for the price of one. But the only way to find out for sure is to sedate the cat, and go after it surgically. This is pretty standard surgery, apparently; nothing to worry about.


Charlie is not a young cat, he is a kitten. A very small kitten weighing only 3 lbs who has been ill. He did have a polyp, just one, on the left, but it proved difficult to manipulate because he’s so tiny, and getting it out—it broke into three pieces—took a long time. During the operation he crashed, and for a couple of minutes had little to no oxygen getting to his brain. He suffered a neurological accident.

For the first 24 hours we were not sure he would survive and, if he did, whether he could have a good life. He did not seem to be aware of his surroundings. He could not see, hear, sit, eat, swallow, or void his bladder. He stayed under expert veterinary care for three days: steroids, antibiotics, pain killers. He was hand fed with a syringe, and helped to empty his bladder. He lost even more weight. But within 24 hours he could sit up. Not long after that stood—and tried an alarmingly wobbly stretch. He began to use the litter tray if placed in it. Then he began to eat on his own. He began to purr when held, then sleep without being held. He could take tentative steps. Now he began to eat a lot—making up for lost time. He started to track sounds and occasionally reach out to bat whatever was making the noise. He seemed to be able to tell there was something there, if it was black on a white background, or white on a black background.

Meanwhile, here at home, George was in a state. He loved the first twenty-four hours of having us to himself: all the attention and cuddles and food he wanted; king of all he surveyed! Without fearless Charlie to lead the way he had had to become a bit bolder himself. But after thirty-six hours he got restless, prowling into every corner, making querulous chirruping noises, and finally beginning to cry: What had we done with his brother? Fuck food, fuck feather, he wanted Charlie!

Fortunately, at that point the vet judged Charlie to be robust enough to come home. The first two hours we kept Charlie in his carrier so he could adjust slowly without George jumping on him. But we put the carrier on one side of their favourite sofa, I sat on the other side, and we put a cushion in between for George to sit on if he so chose. He did. And stared at Charlie in the carrier—who was curled up tight as a kitty ammonite. This lasted about 30 minutes. Then he sat on my lap and yowled piteously: Let his brother out to play! Then he decided he would make his brother play, anyway. He stuck his paw through the wire door and pushed at the kitty ammonite. The ammonite stirred slightly. So then George jabbed. The ammonite huffed a bit. George jumped on top of the carrier and tried to dig through the roof. At which point Charlie woke up and George got frantic: Out! Out! Let him out! So we did.

Charlie has always been fearless. Being unable to see has not changed this. I could write ten thousand words on the next 12 hours (I think I’ve lost about 5 years from my life) but let me just say: within an hour Charlie and George were racing around the kitchen and family room full tilt. This of course meant that Charlie hurtled headlong into the glass sliding door that he did’t know was there. Nearly decapitated himself on the cross bars on the kitchen chairs. And got fallen on like a ton of bricks by a brother who did not understand why he could rear up on his hind legs, giving Charlie plenty of warning, only for Charlie to appear surprised when George pounced. George didn’t understand, either, why when he ran to Charlie and tagged him, Charlie would run in the wrong direction. He brought Charlie a paper ball to play with, and Charlie stared about 20 degrees to one side.

The last two days have been amazing. This tiny, fearless kitten and his much bigger brother George, are utterly in charge of their world. They run around chirruping at each other and tussling, and sleeping companionably. Yes, Charlie still sometimes walks through his food dish. Yes, he still sometimes gives himself a good crack on the head when one of us forgets to leave a door open just the right amount. But by using his whiskers, keen sense of smell, those bat-like ears, and amazing spacial sense, I think some visitors might not be able to tell that he is, mostly, blind. And he is growing and gaining weight visibly.

There is nothing wrong with Charlie’s eyes. The visual impairment is a cortical processing issue. The vet—the wonderful Lora Schuldt from Cats Exclusive—suspects there’s still the possibility of further healing and improvement in the next five weeks or so. Selfishly, I’d like that. I’d like to stop nearly having a heart attack when Charlie jumps up on things and heads blithely for an edge he can’t possibly know is there. And it would be lovely to hear a crash and thud and not think: Oh my god he’s fallen and broken his back leaping from the counter onto my Rollator that’s no longer there. Or to feel confident that he won’t just knock over a boiling cup of tea and scald himself. But he seems perfectly happy; if he never sees any more than he does today, he will continue to adapt and have an enormously fine and adventurous life.

One thing: the vet thinks it’s possible, given that the polyp broke into pieces, that it might regrow on the left—equally, that one my eventually grow on the right, or that there may be no more polyps. (She thinks it seriously unlikely that George will develop polyps.) But I’ll keep you apprised of goings on. Meanwhile, here are a couple of pictures from the last two days.

For the first time since he’s back, Charlie finds his way onto my lap on his second favourite sofa and sleeps blissfully while I read a book I’ve been sent for a review, and George gets on the red cushion next to me and stares, making sure I don’t harm a hair on his little brother’s head:

Tabby kitten sleeps with its paws over its eyes

Charlie: Tell me when he stops staring…

Tabby kitten sitting on brilliant red cushion staring like a demon

George: I’ve got my eye on you

That evening, Kelley and I relax with wine while George sleeps on her lap and Charlie does his utterly, fearlessly unconscious, boneless thing on mine.

Sleeping kitten hangs upside down from lap of woman with a glass of wine, sitting cross-legged

Relaxing with kitten and wine

They are both spending an inordinate amount of time eating and running around, but I only remember to take pics when they’re still. So here’s one more of Charlie until I manage to catch them in fearless (oh god) action.

Little tabby kitten clinging in his sleep to his mom's arm

Charlie swears he will never go anywhere again