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A certain reproach inevitably comes from one’s friends, because their affinity for and bonding experience with domestic animals differs from their own. I suppose I’m really just trying to prepare myself to simply accept with grace such comments as well intentioned products of their own experience.

I’ve heard this a lot over the years: “Lauren, it’s a cat!” Thank you; yes—I studied taxonomy in college too. Felis catus. Yup. (Insert enchanting smile here.)

Here are a few numbers. Coolidge has been a very present member of our household for nearly 100% of his life—and 24% of mine. I have been diligently treating his diabetes for 47% of his life, and 12% of mine—never missing a blood test or an insulin shot. I spent a virtually 24/7 vigil with my cat for two entire seasons—10 weeks when he broke his foot when he was two, and nine weeks when he had a feeding tube and required six “belly snacks” a day, when he was eight. His broken foot required him to remain in a 4’x4’ kennel (it dominated our living room) so he wouldn’t run or jump. I also had to monitor him because Coodini figured out how to bust loose of his cast.

Six years later, Coolidge developed hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver; without a feeding tube, death by starvation due to inappetence is certain). He demonstrated remarkable talent for yanking his feeding tube out. My husband stitched it back in a few times until we discovered a plastic webbed athletic tape I could wrap around our resourceful cat’s middle to secure the tube, and unwrap it for each feeding. I ordered cases of syringes and tape from Amazon that summer.

It’s a small matter now, but I also turned down two very good job offers during the autumn of the broken foot. There just was no way I could leave Coolidge alone because of the potential catastrophes he could bring upon himself. If he spilled his water he would have none; or he would unwrap his cast in a few moments of boredom, or miss his small litter box that fit the kennel better than it fit him. I have no regrets, none. I should have become a vet instead of a lawyer anyway. Better still, I’d rather have been a vet tech. Vets have to deal with people; as a tech I would work mostly with animals who wouldn’t argue my emotional correctness. But I couldn’t handle YLDs.

Another thing people distressed over their companion animals do not appreciate hearing is, “Why don’t you just get another cat (dog, cricket, etc.)?” Several people actually asked me this about Coolidge when he was only two. They considered foot surgery appallingly wasteful. A cat, in their minds, is a thing you throw away if it breaks and get a new one. Good thing there are enough people who don’t feel that way to support a first-rate veterinary orthopedist in Seattle. We never asked anyone else to pay for Coolidge’s operations.

There is also the friend/psychic who thinks she knows your animal is suffering and it would be merciful to put him to sleep. An owner and her vet know whether or not the animal is suffering. Sometimes it is necessary and proper to face having to proceed with a pre-natural death. And because this very hard decision is the exclusive bailiwick of the owner and her vet, this uninformed suggestion is never appropriate.

I think the most supportive thing a devoted owner of a very ill pet would like to hear is, “How goes the vigil?” Then your friend could raise one finger for “It’s on,” or two fingers for, “It’s over.”

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spiral

Coolidge, my companion cat of 15-1/2 years: we’ve gone through some rough diagnoses together. We’ve kept each other comfortable. I’ve treated his diabetes since 2006, and he’s purred at my side and diminished my discouragement since my diagnosis with Addison’s disease in 2007. Now he has also developed hyperthyroid. It seemed a simple thing to regulate—just a very small half-pill, morning and evening.

But the methimazole was treacherous. My cat stopped eating. The pill form of the drug can cause inappetence. He refused any and all low-carbohydrate canned foods he had eaten before the hyperthyroidism arrived. This was especially frustrating because kibbles jack up his glucose so much. I fought back with gradual increases in his insulin. Untreated, his thyroid would blow up his heart. Surgery and radiation aren’t thinkable at his age. Better to stay with methimazole and chase down the glucose numbers.

My vet and I decided it was worth the additional complexity to ditch the pills and go with transdermal methimazole, which doesn’t have the liabilities of the pill form, but it doesn’t have the simplicity, either. This formulation is prepared by a compounding pharmacy. I have to syringe a small amount of the medication into my cat’s ear. It resolves inappetence and GI issues in most cases, but the pills are normally prescribed first because they’re so much simpler to administer. If this would resolve his increased glucose levels, and even more critically, restore his appetite, it would be worth everything.

Inappetence in a diabetic cat can quickly bring on hepatic lipidosis—it took Coolidge only four days back in 2006— and a feeding tube was necessary for nine horrible weeks that summer. Pancreatitis also menaces the inappetent diabetic. And, obviously, so does starvation. So initially we fed him kibbles and the most wholesome treats we could find. They were like junk food, full of carbs, but they were the best food in the world, because my cat would eat them.

I broke into sobs the next morning when the heartless glucose meter read 372. It was 365 the previous evening, after Coolidge’s first transdermal dose. I have a low tolerance for slow progress.

My vet wanted me to try a diabetes management kibble, Purina D/M. I picked up a bag this morning, along with two cans of D/M, in case he might still transition back to the lower-carb canned form. Coolidge is finicky, but by God’s merciful grace, he tucked into the D/M kibbles with renewed alacrity. He snubbed the canned D/M, but at least he can get off the high-carb kibbles. Not only did he eat a small but sustaining portion, which in itself was enthralling, but his evening glucose was only 95!

There’s a reason this chow costs $34 for a six-pound bag. It’s the only Hail Mary trick I have left. Time—I hope not much time—will tell whether the transdermal formulation will restore Coolidge’s appetite and lower his glucose to more tenable levels on the diabetic spectrum.

My cat’s diseases are necessarily complicated because they interact. You can’t treat any of them as a discrete circle, stack the circles, and celebrate a series of victories; you have to chase them through a pernicious spiral formation. You always end up in a broken ring. It’s like Mutually Assured Destruction, only it’s Assured Destruction of Patient. That is because all patients are mortal beings; there was a Fall, remember? And now all creation groans under the sentence of death. It sucks, but it is what it is, and for the very most part it is very beautiful and very wonderful. Still, there are snakes in every paradise.

I can’t know how long Coolidge or I or anyone else has to live in our unique assigned spirals. All I can know is that I’m throwing metaphorical hail Mary passes and we’re keeping each other comfortable, as long as there’s a goal post left standing.

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Coolidge’s new diagnosis

Our Covenant Cat Coolidge had a few dust specks on his bill of health today. His senior exam last week revealed a slight heart murmur, and given that and his being diabetic, I took his vet’s emphatic counsel to have his teeth cleaned. Bacteria from decaying teeth can spread germs to the heart and kidneys and result in disruptions like endocarditis and kidney failure, things clearly not to be countenanced. I had concerns about anesthesia, but our vet allayed those with her plan to use gas and no injectable anesthetic. Her assurance that the gas was far safer than the current state of his teeth was persuasive, but my anxiety was as stalwart as my reason. I managed to get past my anxiety and schedule his teeth cleaning for today.

I was truly afraid I’d have a meltdown leaving him at the office. But my vet’s exceptionally empathetic receptionist stilled the waters of dread. God’s goodness and mercy prevailed, and the event seemed routine and simple. This is the first time our 15-year old cat has ever had his teeth cleaned. I figure we won’t need to put him (not to mention me) through this again until he’s 30.

Our vet also detected a slight heart murmur at Coolidge’s senior exam, so she gave him prophylactic antibiotics before cleaning his teeth. It was actually my suggestion, having gone through this myself in the past. But she wanted also to check his thyroid level. I authorized the test; again, my own suspicious internist checks mine every year, too. By the time you have Addison’s disease, you become a universal suspect.

My cat has been diabetic for seven years. All these years I have tested his blood glucose level and administered his insulin shot twice a day, every day. Nothing has been more important than coming through for my companion cat and maintaining his medication schedule. And now we’ve added a new medication to his repertoire. Coolidge has hyperthyroidism, apparently in its early stage.

Another day, another pill. How good it is that there are such pills.

I can’t deny that these specks beget specters. But my resilient cat is here, with me. Today.

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Scooped! A Sequel

Nothing newsworthy. Nothing to see here, ma’am, move along.

All in a day’s work. It was nothing, really. Well, it was the Cat. Did I mention we have a Cat?

The Cat we have is elderly (well, a young 15) and infirm (just diabetes, arthritis, and high cholesterol). Sometimes he forgets where he is in space. Sometimes he senses a little poorly the precise vectors between his rear body and the boundaries of his litter box. In fact, he had an episode of poor sensing this morning.

Sometimes my husband is home during a poor-sensing episode, and he takes charge, restoring pristine order to the Cat’s litter box and its surroundings. He does this so that I don’t have to, because he is loving and helpful, and he knows how much my infirm spine would hurt if I undertook such a task. But I have methods that make it possible. It just takes a bit longer, carrying out one or two scoops of litter at a time in plastic grocery bags designed for such moments, so that I can clean the entire box, and the floor beneath it where the Cat’s trigonometry got a little off trajectory.

And as a matter of fact, my husband isn’t home; he is seeing clients at the jail, and I am halfway through my adaptive methodology, taking a break till my arthritis/fibromyalgia meds kick in. But I think the meds have met their Waterloo.

The Cat is pretty cavalier about the whole thing—which is fine, because purr therapy isn’t going to fix this.

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Does Coolidge have a future in purr therapy?

I read in the UK Guardian about a new café culture springing up in Paris. Café managers are now recruiting rescued cats as purr therapists. Pet-starved people can enhance their café experience by having a cat in their lap. The cat will purr, and the patron will receive some sort of real or imagined relief from psychosocial stress or whatever purring is believed to mitigate.

Why don’t customers simply have a cat at home? Or, if they do, why don’t they just stay home with the cat? Because housing is evidently so expensive in Paris that many people live in very small apartments—too small even to share with a cat. So now they can rent out a purr therapy cat for the price of a coffee.

I’m a little skeptical as to whether purr therapy actually works as a stress tonic. When my cat jumps into my lap and starts purring loudly, it’s a warning that if I don’t notice that he has finished his food and that he requires it to be replenished immediately, he will launch himself by digging his claws into my quadriceps. He will repeat this sequence until I apprehend the urgent nature of his errand. I think he does this because I refused to take him to Paris, but it wasn’t my fault. I have no idea how he got on the no-fly list.

purr therapy 9.24.13

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The Cat’s enchanted evening

My husband began harvesting the strawberry popcorn for real this evening, picking about half a bushel. The Harvest Moon rose bright, ascended into a cloud that produced the appearances of a series of mustaches, and rose higher to clear sky. Venus was brilliant in the west, but too wobbly in my binoculars to resolve the planet’s phase.

The most notable thing was Coolidge’s presence with us in the garden. For his entire 15 years he has been an indoor cat, and for a few very good reasons. He was terrified of the outdoors, and to all of our attempts to introduce him to earth’s bounties, he responded with sheer panic. The focus of his explorations was finding an inaccessible place to hide, while eating grass along the way that made him sick.

But the evening was so lovely, with the Harvest Moon and Venus and the small ripe ears of red popcorn and dry straw-colored stalks–and just being the first evening in, I think, about five months cool enough to warrant a sweater. Then it occurred to me that we’ve been at Rabbitbrush (I’d been thinking we needed a pretentious manor house name) for three years, and Coolidge had never been in this garden, and I thought it was time he should be.

The garden is completely fenced and gated, so I didn’t worry about him bolting. I carried him outside, into the garden, and closed the gate. He used the concrete paths at first, and then he began to explore between the cornstalks. He tasted a little wild millet–that was all right; he sniffed a lily–not all right; they’re toxic to cats, though I’m not sure how much once they’re dried up. He didn’t seem the slightest bit afraid. Maybe the merits and wonders of a patch of cultivated creation weren’t entirely lost on him after all. Maybe he is still a creature in tune with some kind of cognizance of creation–and its Creator.

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Intensity

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July 6, 2013 · 3:59 pm

Season’s first snow

Coolidge watching 1.7.13

Coolidge sat in his front-window observation post (FWOP) feigning his unfeigned-wise-and-gentle look for a long time, watching the thin clouds overtake the hills until the hills appeared to be one another’s shadows. Then the snow came, blanking out the hills; he lost interest, able, while I was not, to turn his back on the lavish flakes so perfectly sized for catching on one’s tongue. Our street is still; my neighbors’ horses, unperturbed, proceed with their grazing, aligned with some unspoken imperative of silence. However briefly the snow remains on the ground, winter has staked its claim.

first snow 1.7.13

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It can be a fine thing

to stay in the closet.

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mutability

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