Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Pickles Takes a Pill

Have you ever tried to feed pills to a cat? Probably not. It isn’t easy.
We used to have a beautiful, white, fluffy cat called Pickles. How she came to have such an unusual name, I can’t remember. I’m sure it was a family decision, but my daughter tells me forty years later that it was I who chose it and that she still thinks it was a horrible choice. Still, you have to agree it is distinctive.
Pickles came to us as a tiny kitten that no one wanted. We all fell in love with her. She was Gorgeous. Cute. Cuddly. Playful. Bouncy. The kids adored her. They wanted to take her to bed with them. They played with her in the lounge room. They found toys for her. They hugged her. They tugged her. And she seemed to enjoy it all.
Of course, they didn’t want to look after her. But they were kids.
The months went by and it was not long before Pickles the kitten became Pickles the cat. No longer so cute or playful. No longer so tolerant of childish touching and clutching. But she was still beautiful.
Her long white fur was shiny and smooth. She walked, as cats do, with a stately, unhurried gait. She began to take on the superior manner of the feline species, choosing where she would sit or lie, answering our call only if it suited her, expecting the door to be opened for her at her behest, sleeping through the day like a spoilt heiress.
People thought we must have paid a lot of money for her. But she was still just a stray that we had taken in and if she had wandered off, while the children would have been sad, it would have made little difference. We could always find another kitten as later in fact we did – several times – courtesy of Pickles herself.
Around that time, I was preparing to preach somewhere on a text from Peter the apostle’s first letter:
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect (1 Peter 1:18-19).
I needed a really clear illustration to bring home the implications of what Peter says here but I was struggling to find one. I decided to put it to one side, hoping that by the time I came to preach I would have found something relevant. But I didn’t. And after a while I more or less forgot about it.
One day Pickles became ill. A vet prescribed some pills and it became my task to feed them to her. Naively, I assumed this would be a simple task. I took her in my arms, prised open her mouth and forced a tablet in.
‘Pht!’ Out it came.
I tried again.
‘Pht!’ Out it came.
I decided to be more cunning. This time, after I inserted the tablet, I grasped her jaw and held her mouth tightly closed. She squirmed and struggled but I held firm. She settled down and after a couple of minutes I let go.
‘Pht!’ She spat it out again.
This was now a battle not only of strength, but of wits.
Again I took her in my arms. Again I opened her mouth. Again I squeezed in a pill. Again I held her mouth tightly shut.
And this time I waited longer. Three minutes. Four minutes. Five minutes. Surely by now, even if she hadn’t swallowed it, the pill would have dissolved of its own accord. Cautiously I let go of her jaw.
‘Pht!’ She spat it out.
This was getting serious. It was now a matter of honour. Man against cat. Human against animal. Someone created in the image of God opposed to a creature made in the image of pampas grass. No feral cat was going to outsmart me, no matter how beautiful she was. Human intelligence must prevail. I thought long and deeply. Then suddenly I knew what to do.
Take cat. Open mouth. Insert tablet. Close mouth. Wait. And this time watch. Watch carefully. Not the mouth but the neck. Watch for tell-tale signs of swallowing. Watch for feline gulp. Shake cat if necessary to ensure safe passage of pill through esophagus.
I gave the tablet and waited. We sat together unmoving for some time. I thought to myself, ‘I should have brought a book.’ But then I could not have observed the swallowing process closely and this demanded one hundred per cent concentration. And I was determined to win.
Pickles closed her eyes and began to purr, humming a soft siren-song. I said to myself, ‘Don’t be distracted. She is a woman. She is trying to charm you. She wants to seduce you, to lull you into a false sense of security.’
I ignored the alluring siren-song and focused on that esophagus, my eyes unblinking. But gradually, I too, began to feel sleepy and my lids started to droop. I sat up with a start, like a dozy driver behind the wheel of a swerving car. I shook my head and focused again.
The suddenly, there it was. The slightest movement of fur, the merest ripple of skin. But there was no doubt. Pickles had polished off the pill. I relaxed my grip. I waited. But there was no ‘Pht!’ The tablet was gone. It was a moment of triumph. A stronghold had been dramatically brought low. I had won.
My victory was momentary, for it was then that my wife asked, ‘Why don’t you just crush the tablet and sprinkle it on her food?’
‘It wouldn’t work,’ I replied testily, my male ego leaping to my defence.
‘Why not?’
‘Well, tablets have to be whole. They lose their effectiveness when they’re mangled.’
‘Well, of course they do. Anyway, Pickles would still detect a crushed pill in her food. She’s not stupid.’
‘I wasn’t suggesting she was,’ Vanessa murmured.
‘I beg your pardon?’ I asked.
‘Oh, nothing,’ she answered walking away with an enigmatic smile on her face.
As it turned out, crushed pills actually worked quite well. My male ego retreated into its cave.
A year or two later, Pickles got sick again. This time it was more serious. She had some kind of weeping sore on her neck that would not go away. Now it was not just a matter of pills. She needed injections and surgery to lance the wound and clear up the infection. The vet was skilled and the treatment proved successful.
The family was happy. Vanessa was happy. Pickles was happy. I was happy. Until the bill came. It was astronomical! I couldn’t believe it. All that money for a stray cat that we had got for nothing. We could have invested that amount and lived on the interest.
After that, I saw Pickles through new eyes. Now she was no longer a stray kitten taken in to give the kids something to play with and to teach them a thing or two about how to treat animals. Now she was an object of value. If she had been a painting we would have hung her on the wall and showed her off to guests. If she had been a diamond brooch she would have been locked up safely and insured. But she was a cat and she had to be free.
Now I felt like opening the door before she even asked and bowing politely for good measure. A cat on whom so much had been spent must be respected. How can you not revere someone who has turned you from prince to pauper?
The price we paid to save her enhanced her value beyond measure. Of course, the kids still treated her the same as ever, but not me. I wanted to get my money’s worth. I was going to make sure she lived a long and happy life. If I could help it, she wouldn’t get lost, she wouldn’t get sick, she wouldn’t die before her time. She was worth something.
And now I realised that Pickles had provided me with a wonderful illustration of that text from 1 Peter. It was not just the act of redemption that made the difference – it was the cost of redemption that mattered. And that’s what I would tell the people. ‘You are precious beyond measure because the price paid for your salvation was the very life of the very Son of God.’
When we realise this, we look at one another with new eyes. We treat one another differently. We honour one another more readily. How can we devalue those who have become indescribably valuable?
We all wear a price-tag labelled ‘the precious blood of Christ’. And that puts a new perspective on everything.

Barry Chant

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Barry Chant is a regular speaker at church services, seminars, conferences and conventions. Hundreds of thousands of his books have been sold around the world. He has degrees in arts, theology and ministry, a diploma in education and a PhD in history. He was the co-founder and former president of Tabor College, Australia.

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