Loki’s health

Part of this, near the beginning, is probably already in the previous post, but I’m going to try to cover everything. This may be a little long, because of that. If you want just the summary, read the part in the box below. This is really, really not how I wanted to start a year I was hoping would be better than the last two…

Loki was diagnosed in May 2007 with borderline elevated kidney values. A change of diet has kept it controlled, with no change in Nov 2007 and Aug 2008. Due to more pronounced weight loss recently, we took him to the vet on 31 Dec 2008. In general he looked good for a cat of his age.

Blood work results came back today: his renal [kidney] values have climbed somewhat, although not to drastic levels, and other values all look good. This means that we now have to start giving him subcutaneous fluids once a week, he’s on a small dose of mirtazapine for a couple of weeks to help settle his upset tummy, and the vet and I agreed to try mixing some of each of 4 kinds of renal food (not all at once!) in with his regular food. If you want more info on Feline Chronic Renal Failure, check out this site.

I’ve been though this before, am not looking forward to doing it again, but Loki’s so much healthier than my Nermal was, and we caught it so much earlier, that it’s actually reasonably promising that even though there is no cure, we can give him plenty of time with no significant loss of quality of life.

Here’s the details, for anyone who wants them:

November 17, 2003, I took my beloved cat Nermal to the vet for a final visit to set him free — after a lifetime of sporadic health issues, a diagnosis of diabetes some years before (well controlled on oral hypoglycemics), and a final nightmarish three months of first trying to find why he was losing weight, then trying desperately to control late-stage renal (kidney) failure — it didn’t work.

May 2007, Loki went to the vet for an odd catch in his breathing, and had senior blood work done at the same time. Diagnosis: asthma, which is pretty well controlled on inhaled meds, and very marginal signs of renal issues. Diet is the key factor in controlling early renal issues. There is a huge debate over a low-protein diet designed specifically for cats with renal problems vs. a non-renal-diet of high quality meat protein. (This is an excellent site for feline renal failure.) After much debate and lots of research, we switched all three cats to a by-product-free, grain-free, moderate protein diet. Follow-up results in December 2007 and August 2008 showed his asthma under control, and no change in his kidney values. He has, however, been gradually but steadily losing weight since 2003, which wasn’t hugely noticeable, him being the long-and-lean type anyway.

In late December 2008, it was clear that he was losing more weight, more quickly. He was cold a lot, spending as much time as possible curled up under one of the reading lamps I’ve kept set up for him all his life (60-watt incandescent bulb, kitty bed underneath, makes a nice warm sleepy spot). Threw up a couple of times, but that’s not so uncommon for him. No change in drinking, eating, urinating, bowel movements. He’s had a few falls lately, jumping for high spots, but otherwise has still been active and alert and playful. Pupils don’t contract normally.

We took him to the vet day before yesterday, 31 Dec. Same vet who was Nermal’s primary caregiver. He’d lost about 10% of his body weight in 4 months (4.9 kg to 4.31 kg). No signs of pale gums etc, suggesting anemia. Retinas show no sign of hemorrhage, which can cause dilation (and is caused by high blood pressure). Right kidney is quite small, but no masses or tender areas. Breathing and heart rate essentially normal, no odd sounds. He stayed there for a couple of hours for a thorough blood pressure test and to get blood taken and have chest x-rays done. Blood pressure high normal, which is normal for a cat at a vet when they’re not very happy. X-rays showed no problems with his heart, no masses, and that his lungs are looking pretty good for a kitty with asthma.

I’ve been giving him extra wet food, trying to encourage him to eat more. The last three nights, he’s brought up a teaspoon or so of food at about 4 am, and been very hungry afterwards.

Blood work results came in this morning (blessings on the lab that worked through New Year’s!) and the vet called me. Thyroid is good, no anemia, potassium and phosphorus are good… but his kidney values are climbing.

She suggests a pill I can give him every three days, to settle his stomach and stimulate his appetite. She wants him to start getting subcutaneous fluids (fluids from an IV bag, directly under the skin, which can be done at home) once a week, to help keep him from dehydrating and to help his kidneys flush, sort of like a very ultra-basic dialysis. I’ve done it before, and I’m not looking forward to doing it again with my squirmy-beast who hates being held. And she really wants him on a kidney diet. I’m willing to try mixing some in with his regular food, although I have serious doubts he’ll ever be willing to eat just that. I have two cans/packages each of 4 types here, and the ingredient list on two of them looks much less alarming (ie, full of “meat by-products” and the like) than the other two. We’ll see how willing he is to eat them.

I’m in an immense amount of turmoil right now. Nermal’s final two months were hellish. But, Loki’s not diabetic, has always been very healthy, and this time, it’s been diagnosed EARLY. Everything else on his blood-work, including the all-important phosphorus, look quite promising. There’s no cure, but there are cats living quite happily, with excellent quality of life, with astonishingly low kidney function. I’m terrified, and the thought of my Loki-baby, who has always been so incredibly full of life and mischief, fading away on me is enough to make me cry.

This isn’t going to help the financial situation, either, and it was already rather worrying.

The vet left me with a copy of his last three blood-work results, which I’m going to turn into a page here later — I need to convert the values from International to US, since a large percentage of the folks on the Feline CRF Yahoo Groups are much more familiar with US values (why does the US feel the need to use a different system from the rest of the world, anyway?).

December, finally over!

Okay, December has never exactly been my favourite month. (Well, nothing between Hallowe’en and the spring equinox ever is.) Even though I don’t do the Christmas thing, it still always manages to be a hectic and stressful time of year.

This year, no exception.

The financial situation, after a year and a half off work due to a depression that lasted about six months, is a nightmare, and is periodically triggering some rather unpleasant anxiety. ‘Nuff said, I’ll spare you the details.

Getting enrolled in college and getting my student loan sorted out turned out to be a bureaucratic hassle, and for a while it was looking like I might not be able to go after all.

My mom moved to a nearby city in mid-December, to be with her new partner, a really nice guy who makes her happy.

Had a few minor computer headaches. The good news is, I have a brand-new MSI Wind netbook, which is basically a specialized and extremely inexpensive mini laptop (9″ screen!). You can even get them with Linux pre-installed and skip paying for Windows, a bonus since I would have (and have done, since it came with suse) put Ubuntu Linux on it anyway. Unfortunately, it’s pink, but it was on sale so I got it even cheaper. To tell you the truth, I haven’t been on my desktop since I got this little baby.

What have I been doing on it? Reading my own older stories, until the last few days, and trying to get familiar with it so I can use it for school. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I had planned to get the apartment all cleaned up, get back in touch with friends, all over the holidays proper. Well… I got sick. Y’see, I react very poorly to dairy products… it’s not an anaphylactic allergic response, but it’s a whole awful lot worse than “lactose intolerance”. Headaches that were originally diagnosed as migraines, nausea, body temperature spiking, very bad mood swings (mostly into anger), difficulty concentrating, and utter exhaustion… and this can last for up to a couple of weeks, depending on how much I got. I watch my diet very closely, as a result (oh, I hate potlucks!), and it restricts what I can eat quite a lot (I canNOT find chewy granola bars without whey powder or other dairy in them *sigh*). However, food ingredient labelling laws are a tad lax in North America, and sometimes something that looked safe turns out not to be. So, I got to spent from a few days before Christmas until day before yesterday feeling utterly miserable.

And now… for the past couple of weeks, Loki has been losing weight quite noticeably. It’s been a gradual trend for about three years, he’s about 14 and has always been the long and lean type, but he’s starting to look rather hollow behind his ribs, even though he’s eating. He’s alert, has playful moments, no litterbox problems or vomiting, but he’s cold all the time and more clingy than usual, and his pupils just don’t contract much. Took him to the vet today, even though we really could not afford it ($400, ouchie…). Vet checked him out. Blood pressure high normal, chest x-rays show his asthma is well controlled and there are no masses or fluid build-up, she couldn’t find any masses or sore spots in his abdomen, temperature’s normal, his teeth are excellent, no signs of anemia like pale gums, and yeah his pupils don’t contract much but there’s no sign of retinal problems, just very mild cataracts. At this point, we’re just waiting on the blood-work results, which we should have on Friday or Monday (oh, I hope it’s Friday… ’cause I start classes Monday!) I’m worried about him. At least Sean’ll be here with him while I’m in school.

Other than that, well, been writing just a little, trying to get back on a more stable sleep-and-wake schedule, and trying not to be nervous about starting college again on Monday morning.

And right now, New Year’s Eve or not, I think it’s about time to round Sean up and head for bed. With any luck at all, I can get back to my friends on ICHC tomorrow. I miss them. I wish Real Life didn’t get in the way of important things like friends and fun and writing.

PussPuss

Last night, “my” feral cat didn’t show up for her supper.  With a younger cat, or in better weather, that wouldn’t mean much, but given that by all reports she’s at least 15 years old and her heath has been failing lately, I have a sinking feeling she won’t be back.

From what I can gather about her life, she was brought by a farmer, to be spayed, to the vet clinic that at that time was around the corner from my apartment building, and escaped as soon as he opened the truck door.  Katherine, the superintendent at the time, along with others in the building, began to take care of her.  She had at least one litter of kittens before she could be caught, possibly three or more.  At some point, the kittens from at least one litter were found homes, and PussPuss herself was taken to the vet, where she was vaccinated and spayed.  A home was found for her, but she was so agitated indoors that she was released again.  For over a decade since, she’s been living in this area.  Katherine continued to feed her daily.  This building has parking for four cars under each corner of the building, and PussPuss’ food was left there, along with bedding to make her a comfortable place to sleep — most of the time.

Katherine developed health issues in May 2007, and asked me to look after PussPuss for her, neither of us expecting that she would be unable to continue the job herself at all.

I wasn’t sure she’d make it through last winter.  I set up a kind of lean-to for her in the most sheltered corner of the parking area, made of pegboard leaning against the wall and draped with blankets, and made her a bed inside.  She got through the winter.  And through this past summer, though the building manager told the new super that the blankets had to go for the summer.

When the weather got cool, I put blankets back down.  When it got cooler, I rebuilt her shelter.  She’s been losing weight, and her winter fur never came in.  Recently, her appetite’s been decreasing, and she’s had diarrhea, often in her bed overnight.  So, I’ve been changing her blankets daily, tempting her with tuna water and catmilk… someone else in the building takes her salmon every morning, and says she’s seen her more active and alert during the day.  I know she’s been showing signs of arthritis (?) in her right foreleg.

She’s been very aware of suppertime, hasn’t missed one in weeks.  Usually she’s either in her house or waiting by the food dishes for me.

Last night, she wasn’t there, and it was quite cold.  I couldn’t find her anywhere nearby, and usually she doesn’t go far.

This morning, her house showed no sign of her having slept in it.

That can’t be a good thing.  How could a 15+-year-old cat in poor health survive the cold — and why would she not come back to her home of many years, unless she couldn’t?

I’m hoping she reappears for supper tonight… and yet, given her health and her age, which is amazing for a feral… I’m also rather hoping she’s at peace and is safe and warm across the Rainbow Bridge now.

PussPuss, summer 2007

PussPuss, summer 2007

Memories of Nermal

Today marks five years since I made a final trip to the vet with my beloved feline friend Nermal.  Two and a half months before, he had been diagnosed with renal failure – which was fairly far along by the time we caught it.  From the day of his diagnosis on, my life was a blur of struggling to find ways to fight it, which turned into struggling to find ways to make him more comfortable and make sure he wasn’t suffering.  I was in college at the time, trying to create a better life for me and my cats, and was running home on the bus at lunch time to check on him and coax him into a bite of food when I could.

And, finally, he made it clear to me that he didn’t want to fight any longer.  Saturday the 15th, I ran him to the vet in a panic because he was slipping so fast; the vet called me after hours to tell me that his kidney function values were off the scale and there was nothing left we could do.

Sunday the 16th, we spent together – he wasn’t really aware of anything but me, I think.

And Monday the 17th, after farewells from various vets and vet office staff who had come to know and love him in the past years of dealing with his diabetes and the past months, after farewells from the friends who came to be with him and me, a very gentle and loving vet gave him a final injection while he was in my arms, and within a heartbeat, he was free.

I miss him still, enough to cry for him sometimes.  He was with me when I moved out into my first apartment on my own, with me for my first real relationship, with me through so much.

I created the first incarnation of his memorial site that spring.  It’s been improved and streamlined repeatedly since then.  Yesterday was the most recent – although, as of this writing, I haven’t been able to get the photo gallery back up after a problem at our host, but I’m going to be working on it today.

Nermal in the Sun

Here’s to all of us who love them, even knowing the hurt that’s going to come, and keep opening ourselves to it anyway because of the rewards of the time we get with them – and to all our beloved furry friends who enrich our lives and wait for us across the Rainbow Bridge.

PS, added just before bed:

After struggling with multiple uncooperative photo galleries, I have a solution.  You can see pictures of Nermal here.

Nermal - goodbye

Nermal - goodbye

Happy Adoptiversary, Trick!

Today, four years ago, Trick showed up on our doorstep on a cold, drizzly day, a cute small black-and-white cat about six months old.  Loki had been yelling by the front window for hours off and on.

And, after a few hours in a back room with a comfy kitty bed and food and water, he started howling incessantly.  Since he showed every sign of being a housecat, we cautiously let him out.  He promptly began to act like he’d been there forever, and instantly became Loki’s shadow.  I’m actually kind of happy that we could never find out where he came from, because he’s so very good for Loki, and for me – and I think for Sean too, no matter how he grumbles and calls Trick the alien.  ;)

Trick told his story in an earlier post.  Here’s a picture of Trick from his first couple of days with us:

Trick in early Nov 2004, just after finding us

Trick in early Nov 2004, just after finding us

All he’s done since is fill out a bit, get bigger and stronger and healthier – and less psychotic since we got him neutered (he got a tad aggressive a few times before then).

Welcome and happy adoptiversary, Trick!  I love you, brat-baby!

Good thing I’m changing careers anyway

I’ve had transcription to do for, man, ages now.  Weeks.  Which I’ve been trying and trying and trying to make myself do.  Now, to understand how weird this is, you need to know that transcription, typing stuff straight from dictation while using a foot pedal to control play-rewind-FF, is something that I’ve enjoyed ever since college, was one of my favourite parts of my 3-year psychiatry job, and was (in theory) the main part of the job I was in when I got depressed.  I’ve done it from home before.  I even recently bought myself a digital foot pedal, which came with some of the crappiest transcription software I’ve ever seen.

I’m running rapidly out of time.  I promised an ex-co-worker that I respect highly that I would have it done.  I’m getting paid for this, and I need the money.  I’ve been planning to do it.  I’ve been meaning to do it.  But somehow, I keep getting distracted.  The cats need me.  Sean needs me.  I need to go to the store.  I’m too tired to do a good job right now.  I have a headache right now.  I really need some social time and I’ll do it right after things slow down.

Today?  I was determined to do it.  No matter what.  Got myself all psyched up for it.

Since then, and I’ve been awake for just about twelve hours at this point, I have consumed:  enough peppermint chocolate for two to three days normally, some potato chips, a substantial handful of peanuts (the kind you have to shell first), at least 8 mini-croissants, and almost two liters of Pepsi.  And nothing else.  And my anxiety level is elevated.  How do I know this?  Well, I’m feeling pressured, feeling like getting this done is a wall between me and everything else I need to do.  I NEED to do housework.  I have an asthmatic cat I love like he’s my own child-of-my-body, for the love of Bast, and my apartment is so far behind on the housework it can’t be good for him even if dust isn’t a major trigger for him.  I’m hoping to foster kittens for the Humane Society, really looking forward to it, but where would I put them?  I can’t make myself do the housework until the transcription is done.  And my other major sign of something making me anxious:  my mind refuses to actually focus on it for any length of time.  Ten minutes, fifteen, and my mind is wandering everywhere.

Great.  So, now one of my best skills triggers anxiety.  Isn’t that just what I needed in my life?

And why does it do that?  I dunno, maybe the job I was told was largely transcription (and wasn’t), where the others in the office were more interested in blame (only if it was the vulnerable, i.e., newer members of the office, though) than teamwork and more interested in policing each other than efficiency, where I couldn’t win no matter what I did and didn’t dare tell the supervisor… maybe that had something to do with creating associations between transcription and anxiety.  Just a wild guess, of course.

So, either I have to somehow finish this work, by Saturday at the outside, or tell her I can’t do all of it and sacrifice $100 to get out of typing one of the interviews.  Oh, and sacrifice some of my already fragile self-esteem at the same time, by admitting I couldn’t do it.

Excuse me while I bang my head against the desk now.  Repeatedly.  Maybe it will feel better when I stop.

Autobiography in 5 Short Chapters

This isn’t by me, but I’ve found it very powerful ever since I first saw it in… high school, I believe it was, someone else in my class used it as a handout for a presentation she did.  I just thought I’d share it with those who haven’t seen it, and remind those who have. ‘Cause, well… this pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?

Autobiography in 5 Short Chapters

by Portia Nelson


I
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost….I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

II
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
But, It isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

III
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in. It’s a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault. I get out immediately.

IV
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

V
I walk down another street.

Furry alarm clocks

Yes, I am referring to cats.

I mean, it’s dark when the alarm clock goes off, and I am not a natural morning person.  I’m keeping the alarm set because if I revert to my preferred natural schedule of being up until about 2 am and then sleeping until 10 am, I’m going to have an awful time when I go back to school.  Plus, Loki and Sean both need meds on a fairly regular basis, and since there’s no alarm clock created that can wake Sean up (okay, be fair, he’s on heavy pain meds and has sleep apnea for which he uses a CPAP machine), it’s kind of up to me.

I can live with Loki headbonking me to encourage me to wake up.  I can even live with Angel washing my face, although I’m not sure if that’s a good-morning gesture or an attempt to get my attention.

The last few days, the two of them have started tag-teaming me when the alarm first goes off.  Angel heads for my pillow, drapes herself around the top of my head, and… well, have you ever seen a cat get a tangle out of her fur?  Bite into it and yank?  She lick-licks my forehead a couple of times, then grabs a mouthful of my (waist-length) hair and yanks.  And repeats at will.

While this occurs, Loki is doing his part.  I generally sleep on my side, one hand under my head.  Loki, yelling, hooks a paw over my forearm and pulls as hard as he can.  Usually after two or three repetitions, he can pull my arm right out from under my head.  This is interspersed with very strong headbonks to the stomach and chest, and a whole lot of vocalization.  I guess I should be grateful that he doesn’t use his claws.  *sigh*

And through all of this, Trick lounges in the hall, patiently, knowing that breakfast will be along shortly.

What a way to start a day.

Reflections on reflections

I don’t know why I ever bother trying to figure out what’s going on in my head, really, when all I have to do is sit down and start writing something.  Anything.  And just let it go in the direction it wants.  There’s generally an answer at the end.

This was proven to me again yesterday.  As I said, I’ve been having trouble concentrating on any one thing for long.  I went for a walk, came home thinking about autumn leaves and times of rest, and ended up writing a blog post that basically answered my confusion about the trouble concentrating.

I think my mind, my subconscious especially, is essentially recompiling, adjusting to a radically different chosen path for the future.  Adjusting self-image (from Steph-the-secretary to Steph-the-animal-worker-to-be), goals for short term and long term… all that kind of thing.  Preparation on a deeper level, I guess.

Now maybe, if I can put my motivations for getting things done in terms of that kind of preparation, I can actually concentrate.  We can hope, right?  Not getting things done that need doing is getting a tad stressful, and getting them finished would make life so much nicer.

Reflections on a fall walk

Being totally unable to concentrate on what I should be working on, I gave up, found my mp3 player, and went for a walk.

Until the last year and a half or so, when I started to feel the draining effects of the depression, I used to very much enjoy walking.  I could get lost in the music and the pleasure of my own body moving, just wandering around the city.  It’s a pattern reaching all the way back to when I was 17, when just before we left my dad, I would take my walkman and a couple of extra cassettes and make the hour-long walk to the village just to be out of the house and alone with my thoughts.  I’ve been known to get… almost high from it, I guess, from the increased adrenaline and blood flow and the enjoyment of it all.

So, with a mixture of Depeche Mode, Heather Alexander, Evanescence, Roxette, Nickelback, and assorted other music to listen to, I went wandering.  The posters of missing cats made me sad, and the coolness of the air reminded me that summer is over.

Still, it wasn’t so cold that after a few minutes of moving I was uncomfortable in a lightweight sweatshirt.

Then I happened to step under a maple tree just as the sun came out from behind a cloud.

If you’ve never seen sunlight hit a maple turning in fall, I don’t know the words to convey the sheer beauty of the sight.  I’ve seen it compared to fire, but I think it’s a bad analogy.  Yes, it’s yellow and orange, but the glow is far more mellow and soft than fire, I think.  There’s something almost unreal about it, and yet, it’s absolutely real and elemental, the product of the earth and the sun.

My mood changed instantly.

Everywhere around me, for the rest of my walk, I couldn’t help noticing maples in all stages of changing.  Some still almost entirely green.  One that was a fascinating motley of green leaves and yellow leaves, even right next to each other, and another with great swathes of green and swathes of yellow.  Some that were farther along and turning from yellow to orange.  Some red maples that were all but black now.

Being me, I of course started getting all philosophical about time and cycles and all that stuff.  It’s cliche, of course, but some cliches become that way because there’s truth in them.  It’s the twilight of the year, a time for thinking about rest and shelter and preparing for winter.  Which made me remember a really fascinating Wikipedia article I saw a couple of weeks ago:  Segmented sleep And while Wikipedia is of course not the source of all knowledge, what I can find from other sources seems to confirm it.  Here’s part of the beginning of the Wiki entry:

Segmented sleep, divided sleep, bimodal sleep pattern and interrupted sleep are modern Western terms for a polyphasic or biphasic sleep pattern found in medieval and early modern Europe and many non-industrialised societies today, where the night’s sleep is divided by one or more periods of wakefulness. This is particularly common in the winter.

The human circadian rhythm controls a sleep-wake cycle of wakefulness during the day and sleep at night. Superimposed on this basic rhythm is a secondary one of light sleep in the early afternoon (see siesta) and quiet wakefulness in the early morning.

<snip a paragraph on various names>

This period of wakefulness was often only semi-conscious, as the French term implies. It was highly valued in medieval Europe as a time of quiet and relaxation. Peasant couples were often too tired after a long day’s work to do much more than eat and go to sleep, but they would wake later on to talk and make love. People would also use this time to pray and reflect, and to interpret dreams, which were more vivid at that hour than upon waking in the morning, and even to visit. This was also a favorite time for authors and poets to write uninterrupted.

What have we lost, I wonder, as we’ve lost touch with natural cycles, both of the individual day and of the year?

Winter has stopped being a time of rest for humans–and I’m not romanticizing this, I know winter is a harsh season, especially on the very poor, but it’s also down-time for farms, a rest period after harvest and before the next year’s calving, lambing, foaling, ploughing, sowing, and so on and so forth.  Now, we go-go-go all year round, except those lucky enough to have a job with vacation time, and even then, I’ve heard more stories of non-restful vacations than restful ones, no matter how fun or satisfying or productive it might be.

Sleep expectations have changed, too.  How many of us fall into bed, sleep until morning, drag ourselves out of bed still tired after less sleep than our bodies insist we need?  And, more in line with my current subject, how many of us feel tense, anxious, stressed all our waking hours, from waking to sleeping?  By sacrificing that hour or so in the middle of the night, a quiet time for introspection, sharing with one’s nearest and dearest, creativity, spirituality, in favour of more productivity, what have we lost?

Does modern life’s lack of these slower periods to regenerate, rest, recharge, have anything to do with the prevalence of depression and anxiety disorders, I wonder?

Ah well.  There are no answers on any of this.  There are countless factors that contribute to making modern life rushed and fixated on frequently destructive values and priorities.  Still… can’t help but wonder if this is one of them….