The call came in to the C.A.R.E. hotline on Thursday, April 7: A man reported finding a cat that, he said, had been torched and had a broken leg. Apparently the cat had been lying in a school lot for two days. He brought the cat, a young tabby-and-white male who he named Phoenix, to Howard Street Animal Hospital on Friday. There, Phoenix received tender care and treatment from Drs. Barbara Carlson and Allan Frank. They discovered that Phoenix had extensive burns on his left side. He didn't have a broken leg, but did limp due to the pain in his left front leg. No skin remained to cover his elbow and underarm. He ran a temperature of over 105 degrees. Phoenix underwent two surgical procedures in as many days to remove dead and infected skin.
During the first surgery, he was also neutered. Dr. Carlson placed him on antibiotics and painkillers. Intravenous fluids were administered the first three days. The staff also began a routine of bathing him once a day with Betadine, a disinfecting solution. Silvadine, a soothing ointment, was applied to his wounds twice a day. Howard Street's veterinary technicians who helped bring Phoenix through this critical time included Rachel Hendricks, Tammie Weiland, Linda Lester, Amy Johnson, Geoff Ball and Gilly Rank.
Meanwhile, C.A.R.E. volunteers and others responded generously to a call for donations for any special medical treatment Phoenix would need.
He slept sitting or standing the first few days and nights of his recovery, Rachel noted. He would start to fall asleep, lean over, then catch himself and wake up. But by Monday, he was comfortable enough to sleep curled up on his good side. A hot water bottle tent was set up for him, four bottles draped with a towel and enough space for him to sleep underneath. It was essential to keep the air temperature around him at 80 to 90 degrees. He often became cold because of the missing skin. To both cover the wounds and help him keep warm, he wore a long, tube-like cloth to cover his larger wound. He wore baby shirts over that, which Linda and Gilly brought in for him.
Fortunately, Phoenix ate well from the beginning of his hospital stay, a mixture of prescription food (C/D and A/D) and treats of Nutrical. About a week into his stay at Howard Street, more infection was found on his back flank. Additional skin was removed and Dr. Carlson now estimated the burn area covered 40 to 45 percent of Phoenix's body. The second week, Phoenix was taken to Dr. Claude Gendreau, at the Veterinary Specialty Clinic in Riverwoods, for his opinion on the injuries. Dr. Gendreau wasn't concerned about the side wound but recommended surgery for the elbow. Because of constant movement in this area, healing and formation of scar tissue would be difficult. Dr. Gendreau decided to stretch some skin up from the lower leg to cover the elbow. This surgery eliminated the need for scar tissue to form there. By the end of April, the last bit of dead skin had been removed and Phoenix was taken off oral antibiotics. New skin had started to grow in around the edges of his side wound. By mid-May, it had grown in about an inch. Also, Phoenix had gained three pounds and the start of a tummy. And what was this cat's temperament throughout his ordeal? Try sweet, good-natured, strong of spirit, loving, and yes, he stood still for his baths (pretty much). He walked around the hospital, liked to play with whatever he found, enjoyed being sociable with people, dogs and with D.J., the hospital house cat. Phoenix is continuing to get better at Howard Street Animal Hospital thanks to the genuine concern and loving attention of the doctors and staff. Soon he will be ready to move into a permanent home and, they say, they will miss this sweet and brave little Phoenix.
Epilogue: After Phoenix was completely healed, he was made available for adoption. It wasn't long before he found his new home. His heroic story and a photo with his new family even made the cover of the local Pioneer Press newspaper!