Iive ("ee-vay") was ushered to a back room, and Mom and I were shown to an exam room to sit and wait for the doctor. When he eventually came (a different vet from the one who'd taken her back), he confirmed what we already knew - the only thing to do for her would be a c-section. But things were more complicated now. The remaining kittens were all surely dead, and there was no real way of knowing how long they'd been so. Changes were, some nasty infections were setting in. She would need antibiotics, and there was more risk to her life than originally thought.
At this point, I was starting to regret or decision to wait until morning to get the c-section for her. "If we had done it last night", I thought, "maybe one of those kittens could have made it!" (I've since been told that even that was unlikely, as it still would have been over 24 hours since the onset of labor.)
The vet left to put together an estimate for the surgery. A vet tech came back about 20 minutes later with an itemized list of all the procedures and equipment, and how much each part would cost us. The list was more than a page long, and had many rounds of IVs, drugs, and other little unexpected charges. The c-section ALONE was something like $708! The total projected cost was listed as $1800-$2000. WHAT?!?! If we had stuck with the vet from the night before - the one who claimed she was more expensive than most vets - our estimated cost would have been $1300. And that was already way more than we thought we could afford. Now this was really getting out of hand!!
The vet tech told us it that the increased estimate was due to the fact that things were more serious now than they had been the night before - the risk of infection made many more interventions necessary. Now I REALLY wished we had just done it before! Tom and I had already been debating whether it was worth $1300 to save the life of a cat...but at the time, we also had to consider the lives of the three unborn kittens. Now, those lives were out of the equation...
Throughout all this, I was sending texts to Tom via his work e-mail, keeping him up-to-date on what was happening. I said "$2000 is a LOT of money!! I think we might have to consider...putting her to sleep." Poor Tom. All he wanted was to be with me at the vet to help make these tough decisions, but he was stuck at work, forced to communicate by text only. He said I should ask what Iive's chance of survival was, to help us make a decision. W were still were keeping in mind the generous offer of his parents to pay half the cost, and thought maybe we'd be crazy enough to go through with it all.
The vet tech went to get the doctor again. When he came back, my mom spoke up for me immediately, "listen - this estimate is much higher than we were expecting. You know, she's considering just having the cat put to sleep." The vet - who was actually a really nice guy - seemed taken aback. "Oh," he said, "we don't want you to have to consider that option. No. Let me take another look at this and see if I can cut out some of the less necessary procedures, and change out some of the drugs for less expensive ones..."
And this is when I learned a VERY IMPORTANT LESSON about visiting the vet. They often can give you a lower price: if you ask. When the initial estimate is put together, the vet will often choose all the "best" and top-of-the-line procedures. They will assume that the pet owner wants to do anything and everything to get their pet back to health. I used to think that they were just trying to gouge the customer, and take advantage of them during an emotional time to make a lot of money. But after all my interactions with various vets recently, I've come to see that they are actually just very passionate about saving the lives of their animal patients. It's not their money, so I don't think they really consider the cost too much.
The new estimate came back - only half a page long this time - and listed the final cost as $800-1100. Still a good chunk of change, but definitely more manageable. My mom and I were studying the paper, and noticed that the c-section itself was no longer listed there. The highest individual cost for something was $266 for "feline OVH" which didn't mean anything to us. We thought there was an error, and checked with a receptionist. Nope - that one item was the cost of a feline ovarian-hysterectomy (essentially, spaying, which we wanted). Of course. Why would they charge us for a $700 c-section of dead kittens when for $200, they would achieve the exact same thing by just removing the whole uterus? Again, I don't want to assume the vet was trying to cheat us with the original figure. But I think he realized he could save us money by billing it differently.
After a few more agonizing text exchanges with Tom, we decided to go for it. Tom made me promise to see Iive one more time, just in case she didn't make it (the vet gave her a 70% of coming out of everything fine). They brought her and the kittens back out, and I snapped a few pictures.
I asked what they would do with the two kittens, while Iive had surgery and recovered. They wouldn't be able to stay with Iive, they said. They'd be kept in a separate cage, and bottle-fed. "It's going to cost more money to have you guys lodge them and care for them, isn't it?" I asked. "Yes, a bit more" was the answer. So I asked if I would be able to take them home and care for them myself. They were fine with that, and went over what I needed to do. They packed the little ones into small box, and we headed home.
Kittens cannot regulate their body temperature well, and need their environment to stay between 80° and 90°. Thankfully, it's summertime, so we don't have the cold weather working against us. But the vet still advised us to use a hot water bottle or something similar. My mom remembered that she had a product called a SnugglePuppy (she had bought it for a pet dog, but never used it). This thing turned out to be perfect! It's a little stuffed puppy, and inside its belly is a mechanical "heart" that produces a realistic "heartbeat." It also came with heating packs which you could insert in the belly. The kittens took to it as their temporary mom. The only sad part was that they were constantly rooting around for a nipple on it, and mewing and mewing because they couldn't find one.
For the next 30 hours, we were dropper-feeding them kitten formula (yes, they do make such a thing) every two hours. Tom and I had to take "shifts" setting our alarms and waking up during the night. It was like we had a newborn baby in the house again!
But the kittens made it through, and we got to pick up Iive the next night. She was groggy and not eating enough yet, but at least she accepted back her babies (we had been warned that she might not)!!
It's almost two weeks later now [geez - it took me forever to type out this whole saga!], and the babies are still doing well. One is much chunkier than the other, and they both seem larger than kittens typically are at this age - probably because there's so little competition over the milk supply. Their eyes opened a few days ago (kittens are born blind), and their ears are starting to lift and become more pointed.
We gave them both intentionally ridiculous names - ones that we've often joked about being potential names for future children, but would never actually use: Odoric (actual name of an obscure Saint we found in our "Is it a Saint's Name?" pamphlet a couple years ago), and Suitbert (after Fr. Suitbert Mollinger, who founded St. Anthony's Chapel, one of the largest reliquary churches in the New World).