Doing This One Thing Will Change the Course of Your Injury Recovery: Wisdom from The Mighty Kitty

Don’t hold it against me, but I’ve never been much of a cat person, probably because 2 strands of cat hair used to bring my immune system to its knees, leaving me gasping for air. Plus, admit it, cats are a little capricious–scratch a cat on his head and he’ll be purring, but move two inches away and just like that you get nipped.

After 8 years of shots to address all of my allergies, I can now hang with a cat without ruining my day. That’s fortunate considering what just happened around our house.

First some background…

Almost 4 years ago a tiny white cat with a black spot on her head started greeting me every time I pulled into the driveway. Desperate for attention, she’d stand on her hind legs meowing and pawing at me. She became a permanent resident following a cold late winter hailstorm during which she huddled up against our house underneath a protected front porch.

She belonged to the neighbor who adopted her, but he wasn’t interested in taking care of her. Plus, he had an angry dog that made her life hell.

She and I developed a love affair. Every morning I sit in the front yard playing Frisbee with my Wise Red Dog, Bella, and Kitty (that was her name for about a year) jogs over demanding attention. Ignoring her isn’t an option.

If I don’t see her, I holler her name. She has a recall better than most dogs I know. Come to find out she’s really a dog trapped in a cat suit.

Case in point: She’s not afraid of either one of our 50-pound dogs, loud noises, or most other things that make cats run for their lives. We love and admire this about her.

What we don’t love is her long hair. Long-haired cats aren’t suited for hot Texas summers, so after she morphed into Rasta-Kitty-covered-in-dread-locks, we took her to a friend for grooming and shaving. I wore two heavy shirts, a sweatshirt, jeans, and cactus gardening gloves. I thought she’d slay us during her grooming. Instead, she patiently sat, allowing us to bathe her, pick about a hundred fleas off her (her owner hadn’t been taking care of her, so this is when we took over), and shave her. She acted like a new cat when we got home, running around the yard grateful to be released from her burdensome dreadlocks.

kitty sunning

The Mighty Kitty with a fresh haircut (notice how she looks like she’s wearing furry chaps)

After hanging out with her for a year, her name came to me: The Might Kitty. She’s all but 6.5 pounds, but she’s a brave, mighty little thing.

In fact, she’s so brave that every time I’m wheeled off for surgery, Dan says “brave like kitty” as I disappear down the hallway to the operating room. The nurses and anesthesiologist give me a quizzical look. I respond, “It’s a long story.”

I’ve learned many lessons from The Mighty Kitty over the years, but only recently did I learn a lesson that will be a linchpin in your recovery (or during any life challenge): the importance of sleep.

On a recent Sunday morning I went outside and called Mighty. She didn’t come which is abnormal. A few hours later I went outside and called again. Nothing. Later that day I walked around the block to see if I could find her. Nothing.

At about 8:00pm I decided to head outside and play Frisbee with Bella. Mighty never missed a chance for attention during games of Frisbee.

Heartbroken and very worried, I sat on the ground throwing Bella’s Frisbee over and over, calling for Mighty. Nothing. Her normally-perfect recall failed. I knew something was very wrong. Finally I saw her emerge from our back yard–her leg was grotesquely swollen.

I took her to the emergency vet, and he confirmed that her leg was broken in two places and her elbow was dislocated. The break near her wrist would heal on its own, but her dislocated elbow needed surgery.

injured cat broken leg

Mighty the day after her visit to the emergency vet and just before surgery. She still purred despite being in pain.

The next day, Monday, The Mighty Kitty became The Mighty Bionic Kitty when she had a screw inserted into her elbow.

We picked her up on Tuesday afternoon and brought her home to her strange new environment–a large dog kennel with lots of towels, a box to sleep in, and a litter box. Mighty’s world had just been turned completely upside down. She went from an adventurous outdoor life to Al-cat-raz.

I thought she’d fight her restrictions and get bored silly in a cage when we weren’t letting her lounge on our laps. I asked friends how I could enrich her environment, and one cat-loving friend said, “Don’t worry about that for about a month. She’s going to sleep her days and nights away.”

…and sleep she did.

I can’t confirm this with stopwatch accuracy, but I’d bet she slept 23.75 hours a day for 3 weeks.

Mighty spent her days sleeping in our bay window

I was fascinated, so I watched how she cared for herself every day. Indeed, just as my friend predicted, her extreme sleeping routine lasted about a month.

When people get injured, we wonder how we can keep going. Our minds constantly perseverate on how we can stay active despite just having had surgery or an injury. We fight sleep, deeming it for the weak, or, better yet, we judge ourselves for feeling exhausted and run down.

We’ll busy ourselves with senselessness just so we don’t sleep “too much”–whatever too much is. We measure our worthiness by the computers calculating data during our next workout or how much our to-do list we tackled.

cat sleeping in liter box

The Mighty Kitty’s low point–falling asleep hanging over the edge of her litter box

When we can’t do that, we feel unaccomplished and unworthy. Then we come unglued.

The Mighty Kitty did none of this, and she didn’t fight it either.

Her body instinctively knew what it needed to do to heal. Sleep.

I realize The Mighty Kitty doesn’t have a family to take care of or a job. The honest truth is that it doesn’t matter how much or how little you have going on in your life. If you’ve just had surgery or are injured, the only way for your body to achieve optimal healing (mental and physical) is to sleep.

Why?

Healing takes untold amounts of energy, especially if you’ve had surgery.

Don’t let a medical professional fool you into thinking that just because you had day surgery you’ll be up and at ‘em with your regular energy level in a couple of days. The truth is it may take months to regain your energy and feel like yourself. Anesthesia takes you to the brink of death. That’s hard on your body, and so is post-operative repair and rebuilding.

Injury leads most people down a path of frustration and anxiety, not to mention pain. Your body follows your mind, meaning you likely aren’t going to heal as quickly or as optimally if your mind is in a ditch. How can you keep your mental game on track? You guessed it! SLEEP! You may freak out finding yourself sleeping 10-12 hours a night. Maybe instead of freaking out, honor your body’s healing process.

Sleep, and, if necessary, ask for help with daily life so you can sleep more. Spread requests like meals and errands out among several friends so you won’t burden anyone too much.

dog and cat sleeping together

Bella and Mighty took many naps together

My favorite sleep quote comes from Martha Beck. That woman is serious about sleep. She says, “I invite you to join me in something called the Adequate-Sleep Life-Enhancing Experimental Project (ASLEEP). The requirements for membership are simple: we sleep until we aren’t tired, whenever possible. And I mean WHENEVER POSSIBLE, as in, if you show up at your best friend’s wedding tired, you take a pillow and sleep through the ceremony. Better yet, don’t show. Stay in bed.”

I realize that idea is over-the-top, but I love it just the same.

I’m traditionally more prescriptive in my blogs, but this one doesn’t beg for lots of steps to follow. The foundation of your recovery all boils down to one thing. Sleep.

My real-world challenge will help you sharpen your competitive edge that has perhaps dulled post-injury. Sleep as if your injury recovery depends on it…because it does. Pretend you are out to win a gold medal in the Sleeping Olympics. Ready. Set. ZZZZZZ.

Forward>>>Heidi

6 Comments
  1. Love it.

    J

  2. Thanks for the blog Heidi. Yes I learn so much from my animals. They are the best teachers. Mighty kitty is a wise one to choose you.

    • Thank you, Paula. We feel lucky that Mighty chose us. We love her.

  3. I love this! The Mighty Kitty is indeed wise. 🙂 The low-point litter box nap was hilarious! Laughter+sleep+animal love = road to healing!

    • Thank you, Stacey. I think animals are little Yodas and furry angels. We can learn all kinds of things by just watching them (or petting them) :-).

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