Around 10 a.m. the vet's office phoned. "Ms. Morgan, this is Yvonne with Dr. Schneider's office. I'm calling about Buttercup."
"Oh my," answered Julia, fearful that Buttercup had expired on the operating table. "Is Buttercup okay?"
"Buttercup is fine," said the technician, who then paused for an unbearable period of time, before saying, "But ... well ... when the doctor made the incision . . um."
Julia's mind jerked into gear making a long list of sentence finishers: When the doctor made the incision ... he slipped and cut off Buttercup's tail ... he noticed that it wasn't Buttercup he was sawing on but a Chihuahua ... he got a notion to skin and quarter Buttercup and sell her to the Chinese restaurant next door ... he discovered the first cut really is the deepest.
"I can live with it if Buttercup doesn't have a tail anymore," Julia comforted the stuttering Yvonne on the other end of the line.
"No, Buttercup still has her tail," the voice confirmed. "It's just that, you see, Buttercup doesn't have a uterus."
"Oh no," gasped Julia, panicked that while spaying her kitten the veterinarian had discovered a serious malady. "That's terrible. What causes something like that? What's wrong with Buttercup? What do you mean?"
"I mean," said Yvonne, "that Buttercup is ... well, she's... a boy." Then she added, "Dr. Schneider wants to know if you'd like to have him neutered."
Julia, incensed at this obvious case of malpractice, wanted Dr. Schneider neutered. But that wasn't the option. She consented to allowing the doctor to take care of Buttercup's short boyhood. When she hung up the phone, her gut flipped. How would she explain to her children, whom she shields from issues like gender reassignment, Buttercup's transformation from a her to a him to an it?
Later that day, Julia marched in to collect her cat, which in her mind no longer seemed like her cat since the one she dropped off that a.m. was a girl and the one she was retrieving had been declared a boy mid-procedure. She demanded answers, questioning the receptionist about how the vet could misidentify Buttercup's bare essentials and cut without consulting a diagram of the feline anatomy.
The receptionist excused herself to go share Julia's thoughts with the doctor. When the receptionist returned, Julia said, "Well?"
"You told us Buttercup was a girl," defended the receptionist.
"The person who gave her ... him ... to me told me she ... he ... was a girl," exclaimed Julia.
"Well," began the receptionist again. "your kitten's name is Buttercup."
"So," said Julia. "My other cat's name is Nibbles. You tell me, what sex is Nibbles?"
The receptionist attempted to make peace. "Your bill is $100 less. Neutering doesn't cost as much as spaying."
"Hey-hallelujah, Buttercup's a boy!" Julia effused.
I guess you never know what you've got 'til it's gone.
(Lucy Adams is a syndicated columnist and author of If Mama Don't Laugh, It Ain't Funny. E-mail Lucy at email@example.com.)