It's not really my story; it belongs to an ex-roommate J who was working her way through high school as a veterinarian's assistant. J had never assisted on a surgery before this story. They had a new doctor, Dr. Helmut Block (fresh out of A & M) at this vet's office and he had never performed a surgery outside the classroom. And if that doesn't spell disaster, consider this: if an animal weighs less than 15 pounds, it doesn't get tubed. Small animals are given an injection and surgery starts; larger animals have anesthesia and air pumped into their lungs.

It started when a young couple got their daughter a kitten for Christmas. Kittens being as kittens are, the little fucker chewed through an electrical wire (the lights on the tree, I'll bet) and fried its little lip. The kitten was being brought in to have the lip sewn back on.

Dr. Block was chosen to do this minor stitch-em-up, maybe because of the intrinsic humor value of his name, and J was chosen to assist.

Now, the kitten weighted maybe a quarter of a pound and had a lung capacity of two teaspoons. Dr. Block found the smallest tube he could and set J to watch the bellows.

Needless to say, the kitten died halfway through surgery.

The head vet told Dr. Block he needed to call the family and inform them of the death. The kitten's owner was non-plussed to say the least, and when mommy got on the line Dr. Block was in tears.

The head vet came by and witnessed this spectacle, grabbed the phone from the sobbing Dr. Block, and put the mother of the child in her place. But the time the head vet was finished, the mother was apologizing to him. They scheduled the pickup of the body for the following morning.

J was asked to put the body in the freezer for storage. Now...J never had an animal die on her before, so she never had to put a body in the freezer before, so she just sort of threw it in there. Usually, when an animal body is put in the freezer, it's curled to take up less space, and it more closely resembles an animal's natural sleeping position.

The mom and dad had come to pick up the body and had brought the daughter with them. Everyone was dressed in their Sunday best and they had stopped by a pet cemetery and picked up a little white casket with a satin lining and little brass handles.

J went to the freezer to collect the body when she discovered how you put a body in a freezer. What she was looking at was how NOT to put a body in the freezer because it came out looking like a frosted, unlucky bagpipe.

Okay, frozen kitten, no problem. J just had to thaw it out with a hairdryer… That took longer than expected.

Then there was problem of the eyes--they were stuck open. Well, J could solve that problem with surgical glue. If you're ever seen this stuff, you know what a mistake that was. Surgical glue is bright blue--a stroke of genius on the part of whoever invented the stuff. Pick the one color that never occurs in the human body to let you know when you've got too much.

J had too much. Bright blue goop was leaking from the corners of the kitten's eyes. No problem--she'd just use a scalpel to scrape off the excess.

Oh, but the scalpel was leaving raw spots on the kitten's face. No problem, magic marker.

The head vet came back to see what was taking so long. Now, J had managed to get the back legs thawed out enough to fit them into the casket, but the front legs were still at odd angles. They figured if they could thaw out at least one of the legs, the kitten would look like the famous sleeping Cheshie.

The head vet looked J square in the eye.

"You never saw this."

And with that, snapped one of the front legs. They stuffed the body in the casket and took it out to the waiting family.

It was the six-year-old daughter who made things difficult. "I wanna see him."

With certain dread the jig was up, J and the head vet opened the tiny white casket.

Apparently, their 'sleeping Cheshie' routine worked too well. "Kitty's not dead; kitty's sleeping." And before anyone could stop the little greased lightning that six-year-olds often are, the kid had the body out of the casket and to her chest.

I can tell you there are a lot of differences between a live, sleeping kitten and a dead, frozen, mangled one. It takes the six-year-old mind about .255553 of a second to calculate those differences.

The kid freaked, she screamed, she dropped the body. The other leg broke.

When I told this story at the Major Theatre, I got a bigger applause than the opening act.

Kids in Deep Ellum meow at me to this day.

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