“Life comes at you fast,” tweeted a cartoonist friend of mine, Julia Gfrörer, along with a photo of herself in a hospital bed, her arm bandaged. She referenced another photo she’d posted two days before—this one of her arm covered in small red scratches and bites, captioned: “I fought a cat and the cat won.”
Gfrörer is a New York-based Gothic fine-art cartoonist whose stories frequently delve into magical worlds where the real terrors are human relationships—the monsters merely observe human self-destruction. She’s been known to tweet joking, martyr-like selfies—such is her brand—but the hospital setting was a new one. I was shocked that something as innocuous as a cat bite could put my friend in the hospital! Gfrörer, though often private, answered my questions about her run-in with a mother cat who—all things considered—was terrified and doing what she thought was best.
MERCURY: Julia! Under what circumstances did a cat bite you?
JULIA GFÖRER: My friend was fostering seven feral cats—six of whom were kittens and pretty tame. The remaining adult cat was not tame. They needed to go to the vet, and—rather than see my friends take the subway with all these cats—I offered to drive them. I’ve dealt with feral cats before, but I was worried about getting to the vet on time and I wasn’t as careful as I could’ve been. I tried to catch the adult cat and put her in a carrier, and she fought back.
What did you do after the cat bit you?
I poured hydrogen peroxide on the bites. Then I adjusted my strategy and successfully got the cat into the carrier.
Why did you need to go to urgent care? What were your symptoms?
Within a few hours my wrist hurt badly and was swollen. There were red blotches around the bites and red streaks going up and down my arm. It was hard to drive home—because I couldn’t really use my left hand—so I had to steer with my forearm when shifting gears. When I got home, I splinted my wrist with cardboard and masking tape.
The next morning I outlined the red blotches in marker. In a few hours, they’d grown beyond the line and I couldn’t move my hand or wrist without pain.
What was the thing that made you realize you needed to go?
I had therapy that morning, and my therapist urged me to see a doctor, so I went straight to an urgent care clinic. The doctor at that clinic told me to go to the emergency room.
I understand you saw a guinea pig in a purse at the urgent care clinic?
I was sitting in the waiting area, and somebody had left a large purse on the chair next to me. Quiet grunting noises were emanating from the purse. I assumed it was a text alert or something. Then the bag began to shake, and before I could even guess at an explanation, a black-and-white guinea pig wearing a pink harness peeked out of the top of the bag. That was a delightful surprise.
But then you had to go to the ER.
Yeah, by then it was early afternoon. I waited in the ER. They moved me to various chairs and rooms. Once in a while someone would come in to ask questions or do tests. At first I was reading Stephen King’s IT (which had been in my purse) while I waited but, gradually, I became very sleepy and shaky and began to doze in between visits.
Do you have insurance?
I have insurance, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, thank god. I tried not to think about the bill because I didn’t feel that I had any choice other than to go to the hospital and hope for the best.
Was your infection life-threatening?
If it had been left untreated, yes.
What was your treatment like?
They gave me IV antibiotics every six hours for several days, and I had to stay in bed—which was boring. After I was discharged, I had to take oral antibiotics for another couple of weeks.
How long did you have to stay in the hospital?
For five nights. It felt like a year, it was so boring. My left hand wasn’t working and I was scared to move my right arm—because it had the IV port in it—so I couldn’t even hold my book to read.
How are you feeling now?
My wrist is okay but I’m still recovering. I developed a rash from a mild allergic reaction to the antibiotics. I got kind of fixated on probiotics. I eat a lot more pickles now.
What’s the hospital bill looking like?
I shudder to think. I haven’t received one yet.
I don’t get the impression that you resent this cat for putting you in the hospital.
No, not at all. She was scared for her life. This experience has in no way dampened my affection towards cats in general. I would help transport feral cats again in a heartbeat.