Good Things During a Hard Time

I seem to have taken something of an inadvertent blogging haitus, first for a lovely reason (a much-needed vacation), followed by the much-less-lovely reason of spending the last week caring for our cat Oliver, who got very sick on the last night of our afore-mentioned lovely vacation.

Bill and I went to bed early on that last night, knowing that we had to catch a morning flight home and wanting to get as much sleep as possible. Around 11pm in Chicago I woke up and checked my phone, which I normally do not do, but I think I wanted to just be very sure that my alarm clock was in fact set. What I saw made my stomach lurch: I had three missed calls from M, my friend and cat-sitter, who had texted me to let me know that something was wrong with Oliver and that she suspected he’d had a stroke.

There’s not a lot that can be done when you’re two thousand miles away from your sick pet, but I did what I could. Trying not to panic, I reached out to my friend and the love of Oliver’s life (seriously, the crush this cat has on her is adorable) Jill, who is our vet tech. She tried to comfort me and also recommended an emergency vet for M to take Oliver to. I talked to M and relayed the recommendation, and she bundled Oliver up and took him in. I called the airline and switched Bill and I to an earlier flight and then had nothing left to do but to try and sleep for an hour before we had to leave for the airport.

It was a long, long morning. In the cab on the way to the airport, I kept the window rolled down so that the air was hitting me in the face the whole way there. Normally I hate that sensation but for whatever reason it felt good then. On the plane I was too jittery to sleep, too anxious to eat, and too unfocused to read or pay much attention to anything. Ultimately I opted to close my eyes and listen to music, just hoping that time would pass quickly and I could get to Oliver.

As far as the time it takes to get from plane to baggage claim to airport shuttle to car, that Monday morning was actually one of the quickest experiences I’ve ever had. We had landed a little before 9am which put us on the freeway right at the tail end of morning rush hour, and luckily traffic wasn’t terrible and it didn’t take us all that long to get to the emergency vet. When we were led back to the kennel where Oliver was, I had never felt so relieved to see him.

He wasn’t pleased – on an IV, wearing a recovery cone, and clearly not feeling very well at all. His head was tilted, his eyes were darting to the left, and he was shaky and couldn’t stand. But he recognized us and started meowing as soon as he saw us.

We now know that Oliver developed what’s called vestibular disease, a condition that caused him to lose coordination and to become very dizzy. Basically, it was like having really bad vertigo. It’s unlikely that we’ll ever know what caused it, and there’s not much we can do to help him feel better other than give him medicine to treat motion sickness. During the first few days that we brought him home, we literally never left him alone. He struggled to stand and walk on his own, so we had to help him when he wanted to eat or when he needed to use the litter box. At night I dozed on on our couch with him by my side, so that I would hear him if he needed to get up in the night. Bill and I took turns working from home so that one of us could be with him all day.

It’s been a week and a half now, and Oliver is doing better. He’s still wobbly and his head is still slightly tilted, and we don’t know if those things will ever go away or if this is his new normal. We’re relieved to see his personality coming back though, and he’s able to walk around without our help. At night after he eats his dinner he comes into the living room and meows at me to put him on the couch, just as he always used to before he got sick. Bill bought a dog playpen that we’ve converted into a little house for Oliver by filling it with blankets, pillows, a litter box and a bowl of water, and for now that is where he sleeps at night. We positioned it right next to my side of the bed, so that he can see me and meow for me if he needs me. He seems to like it and settles right in at bedtime without complaint. Eventually I’m hoping that he can be out at night with our other cats, but for right now knowing that he’s in a soft, cozy place where he can’t accidentally hurt himself helps me sleep a lot better.

I could have a poor attitude about what happened and complain about how much the situation sucked, and it totally DID suck, but I’ve tried really hard to find the positive in all of this. Looking for the good in things really helps with the anxiety that I’ve been feeling since I saw that text message that something had happened to Oliver. I’m so, so thankful for M, who is not only an amazing friend but the best pet sitter I could ask for and who stayed calm and took care of my boy even when he scared the crap out of her. I’m also incredibly thankful for Jill and Dr. Chris at Fifth Avenue Animal Hospital, who love Oliver as much as we do and treat us like family, not like clients.

This experience also made me grateful for Bill and our marriage. When we said our wedding vows we of course included the vow to love each other “for better or for worse”, and the last couple of weeks have shown us both. Our vacation together was a high point; having fun together when we were each relaxed and able to be our best selves. And in the worst of times, when we weren’t sure our kitty was going to make it, we made a great team and supported each other and Oliver every step of the way. I truly think I might have lost my mind if I hadn’t had Bill by my side.

Our family and friends came together to show us lots of love and support, too. I didn’t tell many people what was happening while we were unsure if Oliver was going to get better, but those I did confide in offered me so much love and comfort. To those of you who texted and called, it meant everything to me. Seriously, it helped keep me going when I felt exhausted and low and scared. Last weekend both of Oliver’s “aunties” came to visit him (and brought presents for me, which made me feel spoiled). Those visits gave me something to look forward to while things seemed bleak.

I’m also so thankful for my job and that both Bill and I were offered so much compassion by our bosses. We were allowed to work from home to be with Oliver, which is a huge luxury. I’ve had jobs in my life where I had to be in the office every day, for very specific hours (including mandatory overtime). If I had still been in those jobs I would’ve had to take time off without pay to stay home with my sick kitty, knowing that I was going to be written up for doing so when I did go back to work because you can’t file for FMLA to stay home with your cat. I’m so relieved that we were able to just focus on Oliver and not have to stress about money.

Even though I would have much preferred for none of this to happen to my kitty, I tried to make the best of a tough situation and now I’m just so relieved that he’s improving. I wish I knew for certain that he’s going to be completely fine and that nothing else bad is going to happen, but life doesn’t work that way so I’m focusing on the good moments now and enjoying them. Right now every day I get with him is one I was afraid I wouldn’t have, and for now that’s enough.





Best Best Little Friend

Last August, I wrote about what it was like for our kitty Angel and for us to live with her advanced kidney disease. When I wrote the post, her kidney levels were actually a little lower than they had been the previous May, and with twice-weekly fluid treatments, she was managing and seemed to be comfortable and happy. Through the fall, she’d have some bad days, but we could always get her to bounce back.

In December, I noticed that she was getting thinner, and tried giving her extra canned food to see if I could get her to put weight back on. The weight loss concerned me but I was trying to stay positive. The holidays came and went, and she continued to lose weight. I tried to believe that because she still had a healthy appetite and was her usual social self, that it couldn’t be anything too terrible. Maybe it was her thyroid. I called and made her an appointment to be seen by the vet.

Thursday, January 12th, was the thirteenth anniversary of the day that I walked into an animal shelter and saw Angel for the first time. It was the day that I knew I had to have that sweet girl in my life. I had to wait two days so that she could be spayed, then I could bring her home with me. It is the day that I have honored ever since as her birthday, since I have no way of knowing when her actual one was. This year, I made a photo collage of pictures of her, I took a video of her meowing in response as I asked her about turning fifteen years old. I love that meow. Anyone who has had a Siamese knows how talkative they are, and I loved that about her.

We went to the vet on Friday for her six-month reevaluation and blood draw. I recently switched to a new vet, who had seen Saturday for dental work but hadn’t gotten to meet Angel yet. I relayed my anxieties over her weight loss. During the exam, the vet found that Angel had developed a heart murmur, and we talked about possibly discussing her ECG with a cardiologist after we had her blood test results back. I knew it wasn’t good news, but in the back of my mind I guess I believed that Angel would bounce back again and that this was just another bump in the road.

Saturday morning was January 14th, the anniversary of the day I first brought Angel home from the shelter. The vet called around 10:15 with the results of her blood tests. She was in renal failure. Her red blood cell count was around 17%. We had the option to hospitalize her, possibly give her a blood transfusion, see if we could bring her back. I said no. I knew I couldn’t put her through that. She would hate it and it might not even work. There was only one thing that could really be done now, the hardest decision that was also the right one. Even though our vet wasn’t actually working that day, he told us to bring her down in an hour. I will always be grateful for him and the compassion he shows my cats.

I took a quick shower, then sat in the armchair with Angel, snuggling her and talking to her and loving her. As always, she loved it and purred, snuggled into me for quite awhile before she decided she’d had enough and went to perch on the ottoman. I waited as long as I could before I gathered her into my arms and gently settled her into the carrier for the last time.

At the vet’s office, I held her and rocked her, told her I loved her. Thirteen years after promising her that I would always take care of her and that I would do anything for her, I did the last thing I ever would for my first fur baby and I let her go.

We drove down to the waterfront, and I sat in the passenger seat of the car looking out over Puget Sound for awhile. It was a bright, sunny day, bitterly cold. That night friends came over with a beautiful bouquet of flowers and a bottle of wine, and we toasted Angel’s wonderful little life.

Angel was so much more to me than just a pet. She was my best best little friend, the happy cat who would meow at my mom over the phone, who kept the boys in line even though she was much smaller than they are, the only constant in my life since I was 19 years old. She was there for me every bit as much as I was for her, she loved me unconditionally and taught me how to be a good kitty mom. She was patient with me while I learned, while we got to know each other, when I added more cats to our family. She had a huge personality and loud Siamese voice. She was loving, sweet, and funny. I was far from perfect, but I always loved her, and did the very best I could to give her a happy life.




Life with My Terminally Ill Cat

When I was 19, I went to the local animal shelter “just to look” (any other pet owners out there know how that goes?). I played with the cats that were up for adoption. They were cute but I was able to resist. But as I was leaving, the volunteer who had showed me the cats told me that she had one more, in the back. The cat had been there too long and was scheduled for euthanasia, but was healthy. The volunteer asked if I’d like to see her, and of course I said yes. She brought out a beautiful Siamese, who proceeded to meow at me and perch on my shoulder like a parrot.

I was in love.

I adopted that Siamese that day, without hesitation, without even checking with my then-husband about whether he was agreeable to my bringing home a pet. Two days later, after she had been spayed, I brought her home. I loved her instantly. My ex named her Angel. When he and I divorced, Angel and I stuck together and she made me smile in spite of my sadness, patting my face and meowing at me if I cried, snuggling up with me at night. She was always one of the bests parts of my life. I got older, added additional cats to our little family, and moved to Washington with those cats in tow.



Angel in 2004

Three years ago, Angel in for a routine vet checkup and found that she would need to have her teeth cleaned. There is nothing abnormal about this, but because of her age (11 at the time), the vet asked if I would like to do pre-op labs just to make sure there was no reason that Angel couldn’t handle the anesthetic for her cleaning. I readily agreed, knowing myself well enough to know that if I declined the blood test and something went wrong, I’d never forgive myself.

I really thought it was just a silly precaution. I really thought I was being a paranoid cat owner and that I was wasting my sixty dollars to satisfy some kind of irrational fear. I never dreamed that the blood test would show anything wrong with my sweet girl.

But it did.

Angel’s kidney levels were elevated, and she was diagnosed as being in early stages of chronic renal failure, or kidney disease. I changed her diet, switching her to a senior diet with kidney support. I took her back monthly for blood tests to make sure she was stable. After several months of this, her kidney levels remained the same, and ultimately I decided that as long as she was doing well, we could resume normal semi-annual checkups.


In 2013, after her surgery

Angel is now 14 years old. Her kidney function remained stable until her most recent blood test, which revealed that her kidney disease had worsened greatly since her last checkup the previous fall. The news was rather grim: she would need to be given IV fluids under the skin every other day (eventually, it will be every day), and be given potassium supplements twice a day.

When the vet’s office called and told me, I tried to pay close attention to what they were telling me and to stay calm and objective about the whole thing. But as soon as I hung up the phone, I started crying. Even though I had known for three years that this would eventually happen, it always seemed like something far down the road, something I didn’t need to worry about.

When we first started her treatments, Angel perked up considerably and was more like her old self again. Three months later, we are again noticing that she is having some quiet days, where she prefers to curl up in a patch of sun on the special blanket I put by the back door for her. Her next blood test is tomorrow and I honestly don’t know what to expect. On the one hand, I feel like I should stay positive, but on the other, I know that the news will not ultimately be good, and I’m trying to be realistic and prepare myself.

Over the last three months, I have learned to accept the fact that my beloved girl, the sweet kitty that came into my life when I was only 19 and has been my best little friend ever since, is not going to get better. I am focusing on giving her the happiest life possible in the last months of her life. I pay attention to her good days and her bad days, because I know I have to be careful not to let her get to a point where she is in pain and suffering.

Having a terminally ill pet in the house is an adjustment. Twice a day, I administer medication that Angel does not like, all while telling her that it will make her feel stronger. Every other night, Bill and I sit on the bathroom floor, and he holds Angel in his arms while I start her IV and give her fluids under her skin. I do my best to comfort her, and he does his best to comfort both her and me, for the few minutes it takes for her to receive the required amount. There are frequent vet visits that must be scheduled. I dread those seemingly endless minutes, the time dragging on and on, while I sit first with her in the exam room and then by myself when a vet tech takes her back to have her blood drawn. In the days after her appointments, I anxiously await the test results, both wanting the vet’s office to call right away and wanting them not to, because they call me back faster when the results are bad.

Bill and I recently took a much-needed vacation, which I was only comfortable with because my amazing friend takes care of my cats for me and was unfazed by Angel’s newfound treatment routine. She texted me and let me know when Angel was having bad days, but knows my girl well enough to be there for her and to take care of her when she’s not at her best. If I didn’t have someone who could do all of it, Angel would have had to be boarded at the vet’s office in order for me to go anywhere.

We’re doing the best we can. For now, Angel is happy and that’s all that really matters. Now more than ever, she brings a smile to my face when she shouts at Bill to let her go outside, or sits with him in his armchair and kneads his stomach with her front paws (he says she likes to squish him). I watch her as she chases bugs on our back patio, and I laugh when she sits on the back of the couch and licks at my hair the way she always did when she was younger.

There is no real timeline, the vet cannot tell us how much longer she will be with us. Every cat is different, and there’s just no way to know. And so we keep her happy, and spoil her, and if nothing else I know that her life with me is good.