Circle of Life

I bury my nose in the top of the cat’s head and smell a faint odor of the peanut butter I’ve been using to try to get pills into him. He’s thinner and his coat is losing its luster. He’s spent the last few days snuggled in the back of my closet, hiding. Not a good sign in a senior cat. We know it’s probably time to make that call to the vet, but I keep putting it off, hoping for a miracle.

The puppy yelps as she and the older dog slam into each other in one of their frequent rounds of horseplay. They go at it hard, rolling around on the floor, heads in each other’s mouths, tails wagging the whole time  She is growing before our eyes, like one of those time-lapse videos in a nature documentary. We had to loosen her collar again, and she races to her food bowl with such excitement that sometimes she tips the whole thing over.

A month ago, the cat had most of his teeth removed due to a painful condition called resorptive tooth disease. “He’ll be fine,” they told us. “Cats adapt easily to no teeth.” Not this one. He’s been on a hunger strike every since. And then what was diagnosed as a mild heart murmur turned into post-operative congestive heart failure requiring a two night stay at an emergency veterinary clinic. He was traumatized. He now needs frequent medication which he refuses to take in pill pockets. The cat and I are both crying at pill time and my hands are covered with tiny pinpricks from his claws. We know we can’t keep doing this. All the online quality of life assessments point in one direction.

Life is pure joy for the puppy. The snow! The laundry! The toys! Her bright-eyed energy and enthusiasm  are a balm to our pandemic-weary souls.  She charmed everyone in the vet’s office at her check-up and then promptly fell asleep on the exam table after getting her shots. The puppy looks at each new challenge—stair-climbing, ball-chasing, pooping in snow—and says, “Hold my beer.”

We move slowly, gently, with the cat, trying to soothe his stress. There is no physiological reason for his not eating—no tumors or systemic issues and the medication, when we can get it into him, controls his heart condition. One of the vets said, “I’m not ready to pull the plug on a cat who just ripped the hell out of my hands when I tried to examine his mouth. I think he’s all up in his head. Maybe a little Prozac?” But then that could increase his heart rate. Just like in a person with complicated health issues, there are no easy answers.

Downstairs, dog toys and bones lay scattered everywhere. A roll of paper towels and bottle of cleaner stand at the ready for any indiscretions. Coats hang over chairs for quick trips outside and all shoes are placed out of reach. Upstairs, in cat hospice, a bathroom counter holds pill bottles, gloves for applying a transdermal appetite stimulant, bowls of partially eaten food, and syringes for popping the pills into his mouth. (Do not believe any YouTube videos showing how easy it is to do that. Those cats all had to have been sedated.)

Yesterday, for the first time in weeks, I heard the cat digging on his scratching board and he was not curled up in the closet. He’s eating a disgusting gruel of watered down canned food along with people tuna directly out of the can. I think he misses his teeth, painful as they may have been.

The puppy isn’t big enough to jump on the couch, and we have to give her a boost. She makes this little rumbly noise to let us know she’s frustrated because she can’t yet do it herself.  She now heads to the back door (most of the time) when she needs to go outside.

Our pets depend on us, but much can be learned from watching these animals at the opposite ends of life navigate their world.

My Cat Has a Cardiologist

My cat has a cardiologist. Neither of us does, at least not yet, but our twelve-year-old SPCA cat is officially under the care of a veterinary cardiologist and will begin taking Plavix this week. Seriously.

Baxter has always been the low-maintenance creature in our household. We have had a progression of beloved but high-maintenance pets over the years. The most recent, Vinnie, a rescue Westie who crossed the Rainbow Bridge in June, suffered from chronic liver disease which required multiple daily medications and frequent trips to an internal medicine specialist. For five years. Our other Westie has Addison’s disease, an endocrine disorder managed with monthly shots, daily Prednisone, and careful monitoring. Baxter’s cardiologist is associated with the same practice as Vinnie’s specialist and when I called to schedule an appointment, they said, “Oh, hi, Anne. Welcome back.” Dear God.

Baxter has always cast a supercilious glance at the dogs constantly being hauled out for their frequent vet appointments. He sits at the top of the stairs, paws crossed and regal in his bearing, probably thinking to himself—“See what you get when you buy purebred animals? Nothing but a genetic shit-show requiring a separate bank account for their medical bills. But, hey, look at me, straight off the streets and healthy as an ox. You don’t always get what you pay for.”

Until this fall, when I noticed a bloody spot at the base of one of Baxter’s teeth. He didn’t seem to be in any major distress, but I figured this warranted a vet visit. The vet looked up at me and said, “I think this might be resorptive tooth disease where the animal’s body actually starts reabsorbing the teeth. It can be very painful, but we won’t know for sure until we can get in there and take X-rays.” Procedure number one—dental cleaning and radiographs under anesthesia and when the vet asked me to make a separate trip to look at the images with her, I knew we were in trouble.

Apparently Baxter’s teeth were severely affected by this disease and in some places, he had two fully formed teeth growing out of the same socket. Makes me cringe just thinking about it. The only treatment is tooth extraction by a veterinary dentist. So, several weeks later, we fasted Baxter overnight and stuffed him into his carrier for a 7 AM appointment. We were told they would examine him and then do the procedure the same day. Of course, it was a contactless appointment, so we sat in the car for what seemed like an eternity until the dentist, a young woman who looked about sixteen, came out and cheerfully informed us that Baxter had a “significant” heart murmur, and they were recommending a cardiac evaluation before putting him under anesthesia. “There’s a group in Lancaster…” Yes, we know it well.

Six weeks later we get to the cardiologist for procedure number two. This involves  an “echocardiogram full and ECG single lead” whatever that means and the pleasant British voice of that vet telling us that Baxter was a “lovely boy” but that there was damage to the heart, possibly as a result of his hyper-thyroidism, and surgery would not necessarily be “dangerous,” but would involve “increased risk.”

Long story short, this week Baxter had all of his teeth behind the canines on both jaws removed. When the vet called she exclaimed, “I’ve never seen anything like those double teeth. It was just insane,” like it was the highlight of her day. Baxter came through the surgery well, and as I write this, is gradually descending from the high he has been enjoying from the pain med they shot him up with. “He’s going to be loopy, for a while,” the nurse told us. ”Don’t be surprised if he sees things that aren’t there.”  Um, how exactly would we know that? Meanwhile, we must watch him for any signs of post-op congestive heart failure that could occur as late as three weeks following surgery,  (“Make sure you know where the closest emergency vet is.”) I mean, I know it’s all about CYA for liability but give me a break.

Ever the gluttons for punishment, in the midst of all this, we recently brought home a new Westie puppy. We’re getting pet insurance for this one.

Dispatch from Ft. Quarantine

As I write this, someone is doing my grocery shopping for me. I am reminded how incredibly privileged I am to be able to choose whatever I want to eat for the next week from an app on my phone and have it promptly delivered to my home. Thank you to everyone, especially the hourly workers, for making this possible.

It has been a week of sharp contrasts. A week filled with the joy of puppy-hood, of being around a creature for whom the simplest things—a romp in the grass, chewing on socks, eating supper—are causes for celebration. We could all take a lesson except for the chewing on socks part.

It’s also been a week for sober reflection. I feel like I’m still recovering from watching my fellow citizens wreak havoc and violence on the building that represents democracy, not only to our country, but to the world. Frankly, I’m terrified for what may happen at the Inauguration. As has been made all too clear, nothing is beyond the reach of the evil political forces raging war on this country right now.

And then as we were getting ready for bed one night, one of us got an email that we had tested positive for Covid. Huh? No, wait, that can’t be right, especially since the other of us had gotten a negative result earlier in the day. We’re fine, we feel great. We only got tested as a precaution because someone who had been working in our home called to tell us they were experiencing symptoms.

Lysol-ing bathrooms at midnight. Texting the few people with whom we had had contact in recent days. Getting conflicting messages—is it ten days or fourteen days? Is it from time of exposure or time of testing? Panic and fear and frustration that after doing everything right, the virus still found us, just like it did the millions of others who were playing by the rules. I remember seeing a friend’s post from early in the pandemic that said sooner or later, we’re probably all going to get it. True words.

So far, we remain symptom-free, thanks be to God. We separate ourselves with a guest room and second bathroom and use different tables for meals. We scrubbed every surface in the house, wear masks when we’re in the same room and are hoping for the best, knowing that so many around us don’t have the same opportunity to comfortably quarantine in their homes. Was the testing accurate? Who knows? We can only make decisions based on the knowledge that we’re given. Assuming the exposure date is correct, we should be on the home stretch.

If you would have told me a year ago that we’d be living like this, I wouldn’t have believed you. Or that going to church, singing in a choir, or enjoying a restaurant meal would be forbidden. That games would be played in empty arenas accompanied by the eerie computer-generated sounds of crowds. That national guard soldiers would be sleeping in the halls of the Capitol to protect the lives of legislators, and the celebration of a new President taking office would be fraught with danger. That 400,000 lives would be lost to a disease terrible beyond anything imaginable.

Huh? No, wait, that can’t be right. Bad dream, dystopian movie, could never happen here. But it has, and right now, our country does not feel fine, nor does it feel great. I just hope we’re on the home stretch with this, too.

What I’ve Learned from Quarantine, Part 2

I wrote about what I learned from quarantine way back in the spring and thought I’d revisit, now that we’re closing the books on 2020.

I am incredibly grateful for my health.

I never dreamed the new reading chair I bought in fall of 2019 would get so much use.

Our twenty-three-year-old, no-repairs-ever-and-still-going-strong dishwasher should be in the appliance hall of fame.

I don’t know if it’s a result of the pandemic or my age or having endured a year of the ghastly festering wound that is American politics, but my tolerance for artificiality and spin is at its lowest ebb. Speak honestly, be real, and please, lose the buzzwords.

My new bread machine is significantly more advanced than its 90’s predecessor but still has a tendency to want to hurl itself off the counter in a frenzy of over-enthusiastic kneading.

Sitting back and watching the world on a screen instead of living in it is frustrating, and yet, I’ve learned a lot from being a quiet observer.

There are wonderfully kind and knowledgeable Comcast customer service representatives. Seriously. So many are working so hard trying to get it right.

Much as we love supporting restaurants with take-out orders, it’s just not the same eating the meals at home at your own kitchen table.

I am very much a creature of habit. In a world where familiar structure and routine have been upended,  I find myself clinging to those habits even more fiercely. That being said, I’ve also learned to appreciate  new and different ways to accomplish something that I may have resisted in “normal times.”

I always feel awkward in zoom meetings—not knowing when to talk or accidentally interrupting someone who decides to talk at the same time. Meanwhile, the cat is lurking on the back of my chair or padding across the keyboard.

Technology, love it or hate it, has flat-out saved our butts this year. Same to be said for streaming TV.

I am determined to use the calendar on my phone instead of my trusty pocket planner even though I could write things down in half the time it takes me to text in all this stuff and scroll through the start and stop times. And there will be no stickers, ever.

Even though I will forever miss them, I am relieved not to be shepherding elderly parents through a pandemic. I know friends who are on that journey and cannot imagine their pain and isolation.

I’ve learned so much (including South African slang) from my online writers group of Chicago-based ladies who have very different backgrounds from mine.

When this is over, I may need a 12-step group for addiction to online Scrabble and Solitaire.

I greatly miss in-person worship. But the view from the virtual pews of other churches, especially the Washington National Cathedral, is reshaping my faith in surprising ways.

Sometimes I need one of those signs found in senior facilities that remind residents what day it is, what activities are planned and when happy hour starts.

You’re never too old for new life, even if it’s in the form of a puppy. (Check back with me in a month and see where I am on this.)

Wishing all of us some form of new life in this next and has-to-be-better year.