Thoughts from the sick room

Tiberius, with his breakfast syringes

At four am, awoken from a deep sleep by the need to feed a small person who counts on me for all their substance. Padding down to the kitchen by the light of LED night lights cycling between cyan, green, yellow, I go to the kitchen and mix the meal, standing over the sink. Warming it in the microwave and carefully shaking to make sure no hot-bubbles remain to disturb small and sensitive tummies. Back upstairs, across cold linoleum, to the nursery. “Hello little one,” I call softly into the dark.

But this time, of course, it is not my sweet baby – imperative for a bottle. I will not snuggle a son on my chest while I stare out the darkened window in the lyric trance of the late night feeding. This time, I will scan the floor for more evidence that the food I so carefully place in my cat is not remaining in my cat. Most often, I find it. And then I feed him again. Unromantically, through a syringe in his neck. The stopper is hard to press with the grainy cat food in it. I pet him. He’s got food stuck at spots in his fur (port feeding is harder than you think it would be, and messier). I daydream about coming in one morning to find him vigorously grooming himself to get it off.

Even dying cats like watching squirrels
Even dying cats like watching squirrels

I bounce back and forth between hope and grim suspicion. I think grim suspicion currently has more evidence on its side. Four days after the feeding tube was installed, he is losing ground fast against starvation. He mostly sits in that miserable posture that cats adopt when all is not well with them. He looks at me reproachfully when I present him with real food. “Woman! You know I can’t eat that. I wish I could.” But other times, there’s a little more hope. There’s an appreciative stretch of the neck when I scritch his ears. This morning I have him out with me on the porch, and he seems really quite interested what’s happening out there. But his breathing is also a little too fast and shallow, and his coat is clumping over his revealing bones.

Why do people have pets? I do not lack for people in my life whom I love, and who love me. My caretaker impulses are more than fully satisfied. Why did I want shadowy pawed figures walking through the dream-halls of my sleeping home, purring on the back of couches, or trying to sit on my husband’s head? I do not know.

I do know that these animals teach us life’s great lessons, but without the “life will never be the same again” weight that happens when we learn these lessons with the people in our lives. Tiberius has taught my eldest son to look with both eyes at a sickened, disfigured animal coming from surgery and not turn away his face. I am teaching my son fidelity in nursing and care. He is learning to walk with me between hope and fear – and that sometimes when we are walking that walk we forget for a bit and enjoy what we are doing. Grey is learning to plan for death while hoping for life, and to do so unafraid. I prefer him learning these lessons, in which the heart of humanity is held, on a feline scale before he ever needs them on a human dimension.

So we watch, we hope, we pray for God’s presence to be with those who suffer, and we make those faithful midnight wakings.

And as I wrote, he threw up again. He kept his meager breakfast down for two hours. There’s only one place that road ends, silly Milkstache. But I will walk it with you if that is where you are bound.

Peace or…UTTER DESTRUCTION…it’s up to you.

Peace or…UTTER DESTRUCTION…it’s up to you.
— Kirk in ‘A Taste Of Armageddon’

Beware pickpockets, loose women and TIBERIUS

Yesterday morning, I took Tiberius to the vet because he wasn’t eating well and seemed a little lethargic. I was expecting maybe a fluid injection, an appetite improver, or a statement that I was crazy and he was fine. In my mental worst case scenario, his preference for eating weird stuff had gotten something stuck in his digestive tract and he’d need surgery.

Instead I discovered that he lost THREE POUNDS (on a cat!) since I brought him in a month ago. He was down 6 pounds since his original owner surrendered him. (no cat And he was jaundiced. He has heptatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease). This is often fatal. The good news is that he was still strong and responsive. He actually looked pretty fine, so I was rather gobsmacked. After some extensive testing, we signed him up to have a feeding tube installed, and several weeks of helping him eat. The surgery to install it was last night, and seems to have gone ok. They’re doing blood work and getting his electrolytes in balance. I’m hoping we can bring him home tonight, or maybe tomorrow.

Then it’s tube feeding, four times a day, for weeks.

It’s hard to figure out the right way to care for an animal. This will end up costing around $4000 – if this is it. I don’t believe – for people or animals – that the right answer is to throw everything at the problem at all cost. I care a lot about quality of life, prognosis and all those other things. But Tiberius is youngish, still strong, and may make a complete recovery. I feel very lucky that I can pay for his care without worrying about groceries or mortgage payments this month. But it certainly still stings. It’s not just the cost, either. About an hour and 20 minutes every day for the next month will be spent helping my cat eat. That is a significant sacrifice.

With the hard decisions made and my sweet Milkstache in recovery, now we just cross our fingers (or paws) and hope. Please keep your fingers (or paws) crossed too!

Data and Tiberius

Grey's cats Tiberius and Data
Grey’s cats Tiberius and Data

I’m sure you all remember a few weeks ago, when Grey earned the 170 required checks to prove to us he was responsible enough to get a cat, who he was going to name Data. We came home a little early from camping, and Monday morning of Labor Day we were ready to go find Data. The only shelter open on Labor Day was the Northeast Animal Shelter, so that’s where we went. It was a really lovely shelter. The cat rooms were fantastic. I almost felt badly about taking the cats away from such perfect, lovely rooms!

It was Western Day at the shelter.
It was Western Day at the shelter

Oh right. Cats. Plural.

Well, we found Data. He was this beautiful, friendly, affectionate seven year old black cat. (His original name was Salem.) He was perfect. Just one thing, he had a bonded brother, Simon. They were a team, and only went together. Now you might think that putting two cat carriers into the car was an admission on my part that I thought this might happen, and you’d be right. Simon, or Tiberius as he quickly was dubbed (for, you know, James Tiberius Kirk), is a big, outgoing, adamant orange tiger.

Data checks out the heights.

Mr. Mikstache himself
Mr. Mikstache himself

In case you were wondering, the cats’ full names are Tiberius Milkstache Flynn (seriously, check out his moustache coloring!) and Data Android Flynn.

They spent a week in Grey’s room. The cats are apparently unaware that cats should eat cat food. They have turned their noses up at the very high end wet and dry food with which they have been provided. But Tiberius especially likes to eat bran flakes and pretzels. (Not that we let him, but that’s his preference.). Neither is particularly interested in playing with cat toys, but (of course) Tiberius loves playing with computer cables. I’m hoping we can eventually convince them to eat cat food and play with laser pointers and little kitty wands, but these things take time. The two of them are finally comfortable enough to be annoying in that way that cats are uniquely skilled in. They seem to be very good with kids, although Data doesn’t like to be put into a dark room.

I have to say, it’s really nice to have cats in the house again! And Grey HAS feed them every day. Win!

Tiberius
Tiberius

Data the Cat

Magic and Justice

In 2012, both my dear cats died. Magic died of an illness, and Justice died in an accident. We took a break from pets after that (kind of enjoying leaving doors open and not having a litter box, if I can be honest). Grey, a seven year old, strongly remembers his cats as beloved. Since about Christmas, Grey has been on a full court press to get another cat. And I will confess, for all my logistical challenges with cats, I miss having a cat in the house.

So I sat Grey down in the dark of winter and told him he could have a cat if he could *Actually* prove to me that he would provide the daily care for the cat. This is not an easy bar. So often with kids we have pro forma promotion – if you just kind of do the work you get the pass. But in this case, it wasn’t just about him going through the motions… I actually needed to believe that he would (most of the time) take care of the cat.

We settled on a proof of responsibility, and Grey named the cat in his imagination. The cat is named Data. I’m not sure why he picked Data, but as a geek I have to love the name. I imagine a robotic but affectionate feline. Grey has spun stories and yarns about his future, to be cat, and talks about readying for Data.

We set a chore chart on the fridge. The deal was that at 170 checks (the target was selected by my son) I would get him a cat. The checks were a mix of easy and hard, dos and don’ts, which evolved over time. At first, I had trouble thinking of five or six chores that Grey could actually do. Now I have more chores than checkmarks on the board – several of them being actual things that make my life easier if he does them. He got up to about 120 and then decided to spend a bunch of his points on Skylanders (a video game). But he got right back up on the horse and worked on earning his checks.

The chore chart is great for setting expectations, reminding him of his chores and helping with long term planning and arithmetic.

Finally this week, with a marathon day of chores, Grey got his last check mark and reached the 170 mark. It was reality. Grey had earned Data.

Now, this is not actually the best time of year to bring home a new cat. Grey is headed off for Camp Gramp in two weeks (how does that happen, that summer flies so fast?) We have one more four day camping trip before school starts. I’d rather wait until we were here all the time. But somehow I found myself perusing the adoptable cats at the local shelter, and I stumbled across this guy:

Mud Pie- unfortunately he doesn’t have the right personality for our home

All together now, “Awwwwwww!”

He’s a little young for my tastes (I’d actually rather have a two year old cat), but he is SO DARN CUTE. Last night, Grey and I went to get the cat gear we’d need. Then we came home and filled out an application for adoption together. I’m waiting to hear back from the kitty’s foster parent to see if we can set up a time to meet some of their cats. I do want to make sure that proto-Data will be a personality match for our family.

Not about being pregnant, mostly!

It’s rather mentally all-encompassing, this 40 weeks pregnant thing — especially as most of my other interests have been shelved for the time being. The state of mental readiness is tiring to maintain. I notice this morning, for example, that I seem to have forgotten that there will be a BABY as a result of the eventually-coming labor. I’m so focused on when when when that the what is obscured.

I digress back to pregnancy. See how hard this is?

We have two cats: Magic and Justice. They’re both about 8 – 9 years old. (They’re rescues, so we’re not sure of their age.) Magic is a fat, lazy, happy cat whose favorite things involve sleeping, eating, and sleeping. She’s an indoor-only cat because she’s perfectly happy being an indoor-only cat.

Justice is the friendliest dog you’ve ever met, trapped in a cat’s body. He LOVES people. He LOVES adventure. He loves attention. He will walk up to complete strangers and demand scritches. He will purr at the drop of a hat. Everyone loves Justice. He’s in the middle of every party, making friends.

About a year ago, we decided to transition Justice from being 100% indoor to being an indoor/outdoor cat. We’re aware that this reduces his life expectancy, but we’re willing to exchange that for quality of life. I think he would make the same choice if he were capable of doign so. He was miserable and making us miserable being indoor all day. Now he smugly waits for us at the front porch when we come home at night, tired from his escapades. He’s much, much happier getting to play outside. He actually loves to go on walks with us and will follow us for blocks and blocks. 

We try to be responsible pet owners, though. We got him chipped and signed him up for one of those pet recovery services and he has his vaccinations in order and a bunch of collars and tags.

That darn cat gets called in ALL THE TIME. I tried putting his address on his collar so that people nearby would see his collar and notice that he’s like 2 blocks from home — he doesn’t usually wander far. There are a goodly number of outdoor cats in our neighborhood — I know about 5 by sight — so it’s not like it simply isn’t done or he’s the only one. And our neighborhood is relatively cat-safe. But at least once a month someone reports him lost — usually within 3 blocks of the house. (Our old neighbors actually had toys and treats for him — he used to invite himself in to their houses when he got bored.)

Saturday it happened again. We identified that he was less than two blocks away. We asked them to just let him out. They said they weren’t comfortable with that. After all, he was pregnant and declawed. (Um, no HE’S not pregnant. And no, he’s not declawed. As a matter of fact, he’s an alarmingly efficient hunter as several squirrels in the area have learned the hard way.) So we walk the short way to retrieve him. And the woman just GRILLS us about the cat. Why wouldn’t he eat her shrimp? (Don’t feed him that! He’s on a special, very expensive diet to try to prevent bladder stones. And shrimp? Ew!) He probably wouldn’t eat her shrimp because he WASN’T HUNGRY having already been fed. Were we planning on keeping him? Yes we were? Were we going to put him down? Uh, no. What part of the well-cared-for, slightly fat, double collared, prescription-dieted, microchipped bit indicated that we are unwilling to care for him? Were we sure we wanted to keep him? (This whole time she has a death-grip on him standing behind her screen door.)

I looked at my husband. This was our big chance! But of course we want to keep him. 

But light was shed. She was hoping no one would claim him, or she could talk us into giving him up. I do understand — he’s a great cat. But really, she probably doesn’t want him. He’s also a VERY EXPENSIVE cat. Those bladder stones? You don’t want to know. 

He followed us home. 

This week, both cats had their vet appointments. Justice, our usual money-sink, only required the standard $100 of cat food and $100 of vaccinations. But it turns out that Magic has gingivitis. For which she needs a tooth cleaning. For which they need to sedate her. For which they need to do preparatory blood tests. Do you hear the sound of money exchanging hands? I do.

Ah, the joys of pet ownership!

 

Justice investigates a strange interloper about 3 years ago
Justice investigates a strange interloper about 3 years ago

No, I have not given birth yet

I promise you are not as disappointed by this as I am. (I’d forgotten that about this stage of pregnancy not only do people get *really excited* when you call them, but if you — heaven forfend — do NOT contact them they get all excited.) But no. Still pregnant.

I do, however, have significantly less hair than I did this morning. I just washed it, and I’ll let you know tomorrow if I like it. But it needed to be done — I couldn’t do anything with it but put it back and it failed to please me. To the headsman! Or the stylist! Pictures will be forthcoming.

One of my cats has gingivitis. Let me tell you how excited I am about paying for full anesthesia for appropriate dental care. I increasingly suspect these two felines are the last freeloaders I’m going to have for quite some time.

These and other FASCINATING events are the substance of my life. Now, if you will excuse me, I have some terribly exciting things to do. Like pay bills.