Life and school

Where did that tidal wave of tests and assignments come from for the last couple of weeks?

Well, okay, we’re getting farther into the program now, so of course there’s tests and things starting to turn up.

So far, though, I’m doing good!

Computer Literacy: I no longer have to take because I passed a competency test

Lab Animal Handling: first test in theory (legal requirements for housing and handling animals in pounds and research facilities) is next week, and I think I’m improving in the practical rat and mouse handling… although those are REALLY unfriendly mice

Livestock Care: first test week after next, but I’m pretty confident

Math: one test so far, I got 84%… but I know what I did wrong and won’t do it again

Pet Health: 97% on the test on clinical exams and basic anatomy

Surgical Support Skills: 9/10 so far on weekly quizzes — but I don’t get along so well with microscopes in practice

Vet Medical Terminology: 100% (but it was really basic stuff, and I’ve done human terminology previously)

Wildlife Care: 97% on the one test so far

Canine & Feline Handling (hands-on at the local Humane Society): going okay, no grades yet

Careers & Ethics: going fine, I get marks just for being there and being involved, and I think I did fine on my resume and cover letter assignment… I’ve been around the job-search block a few times in real life.

I discovered, however, that while I can deal with blood, feces, urine, vomit, or whatever to help an animal that needs me, there is nothing in this world that can make me dissect a dead rat. I walked out of the room before I could cry, throw up, faint, or some combination of the above. Luckily it wasn’t a required lab, just an additional bit of help for anatomy. Apparently it was highly unusual that no one fainted in the class… I guess being a bit older and knowing my own limits and getting the heck out of there has some advantages.

My class is, incidentally, overwhelmingly female… only one guy. Our teacher Jill tells us that vet support staff is a very female-dominated field.

Some of the folks in my class are great. There are some of us who are very serious about being there and are trying to learn as much as we possibly can. Then there are the others, who I’m guessing are mostly very young… the ones who chat on MSN on laptops during class, talk, wander in 15 minutes late, pay no attention and then keep asking the teachers to repeat things, and growl and complain that the review outlines cover things not on the tests and that the tests have things not in the outline (er, it’s not a copy of the test, it’s a review outline…) Those ones are getting annoying, to say the least. And they confuse me: why pay $3000 in tuition alone, if you aren’t going to even try? *sigh* I just know I wouldn’t want them handling MY animals.

In and around classes, well… I’m trying to do some extra volunteering at the Humane Society, but the bus runs only during rush hour in that area, and it’s tricky to work out my schedule. Might have a solution, but we’ll see. At the very least, I’m working on some enrichment ideas for the poor cats, with the support of the volunteer coordinator.

Outside of that, just keeping up with getting groceries, looking after the cats, and doing laundry is using the last of my energy. I’m falling asleep a lot when I get home from school. Not doing much for my social life, that, but I guess it makes some sense.

No sign of depression, other than the sleepiness which I think is actual fatigue, and given that this is usually my worst time of year for that, this is an awesome thing!

Gotta go, want to talk to the vet who’s coordinator of my program about a couple of things.

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.


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!