Friday, October 28, 2011

King for not even a day

I just read this morning, to my real astonishment, that at the meeting of the 54 Commonwealth nations going on right now in Perth, Western Australia, the 16 Commonwealth realms, of which Canada is one (and host Australia is another), have agreed to mutually change the monarchy. After 300 years or so, the Act of Settlement that we all use to recognize the rightful heir to the Crown (16 separate Crowns, actually, but worn by the same person, which is the constitutional point of contention) is going to be updated. From now on, whoever is born first, regardless of sex, will succeed to the throne. No more older sisters being superseded by younger brothers. If William and Kate have a daughter first, and a dozen sons afterward, it’ll be the daughter who one day becomes queen, which wouldn’t be the case right now. Secondly, the provision that anyone in the order of succession who marries a Catholic becomes ineligible will also be removed. The provision that the monarch must be head of the Church of England, and thus, necessarily a Protestant, will remain for the time being, however.

Well, it’s a start, I guess. I’ve had soft republican sentiments for a few years now, but I’m not lathering to see Canada instantly become a republic, and while we do have the monarchy (which we probably will well into the foreseeable future), it’s a least a comfort to see it beginning to catch up with the first few decades of the previous century.

Reflections on a second Friday

It’s funny how different sums of money can affect you in different ways. You’d think the larger the sum, the more distressing it would be. I’ve found it be to be just the opposite lately.

When I first took Twinkle to the vet, her initial treatment and the blood test they wanted to do was $280 or so. That made me grumpy. That was eating into what I would, and wouldn’t, be able to do in practical terms over the next few weeks. It had an immediate abridging affect on my lifestyle.

Later, when I had to have her admitted to the hospital, and the admission and first transfusion were going to cost $2500, it was a real slap. That was a sum of money I could understand on a personal level... it was an amount of money I could envision saving up for several months; it was the equivalent of, say, a really good computer, or a good laptop. And the idea of suddenly having to spend it was kind of a shock.

But later, when we started getting into much bigger numbers, the shock began to disappear. When we were getting up around $8000, crossing over $10,000, and so on, the numbers began to take on a theoretical sense. These were numbers outside my daily experience. They were “occasional” numbers... things you deal with a few times a decade, buying cars and the like. These were long term numbers, amounts of money I found I was automatically resigned to thinking of as things to be paid off over years. They lost their immediacy, and in a weird way, they were more settling. Today I’m making the second payment on the $14,000 I spent on Twinkle. Two years from now, I’ll still be doing this. It seems unfair that I won’t have Twinkle two years from now to show for it.

Today also finds me dwelling on the forked timeline... the difference between what is, and what I expected, or at least hoped for, by now. Today, in reality, I’m a day away from two weeks since Twinkle’s death (has it only been two weeks?). But in my mind, I had expected by now to be seeing some real signs of Twinkle’s recovery. By now, I hoped, even faintly expected, that her red cell count would be stable and over 20. By now, I’d been seeing her taking an interest in things again and, while still easily tired, wandering around, maybe beginning to get back up on things like the couch and chairs. By now, eating a little on her own again, or maybe even only getting her meds through the tube. What I mean is, I really thought that by now, she and I would be working out the “new normal”, as I’ve called it, and adapting to her long term needs. I didn’t dread it. I was honestly looking forward to helping her get there, and feeling good about it every time I looked at her for years to come, and wondering if, in some little way of her own, she might understand and feeling something like gratitude, or love, or whatever it might mean to cats. I’ll never know. Sitting here today without her in my life, that seems really wrong to me. It should have been. We did the right things. It should have been.

Moneyball

I was out with Larry, my former roommate, last night. Talked him into seeing Moneyball, the new picture with Brad Pitt and Philip Seymour Hoffman (I'll make the joke here—I thought I'd "see more" Philip Hoffman in the movie than I did).

As everybody by now knows, it's the story of how the Oakland Athletics ball team used metrics to build a contending team out of disregarded players on a shoestring budget. The movie is largely caught up in telling the story of the resistance Pitt's character, Billy Beane (a once-promising player who never hit his stride, now the A's general manager), encounters in adopting this new strategy of Peter Brand (played by Jonah Hill). Brand uses statistics to synergize the strengths of "lesser" players to eliminate the weaknesses of others. The underlying theme of the strategy is, in a nutshell, "slow and steady wins the race". The idea isn't to find players who can knock the ball out of the park, it's to find ones who can consistently get to first base. Find enough of them, the theory goes, and the runs will trickle in.

Beane's scouts, old men who men who've been in the game for decades, scoff at the new approach, and as they drift away, they badmouth the idea in public. The biggest obstacle is the team's manager, Art Howe (played with Sahara-esque aridness by Hoffman), who insists on his right to play the team as he sees fit, not as the numbers indicate. Consequently, the team fares poorly at the start of the 2002 season, and the public scorn goes to Beane for his apparently foolish experiment. When Beane and Brand conspire to rob Howe of some of his choices in an attempt to channel the team into their prescribed direction, its fortunes turn around, and suddenly it's Howe's coaching getting the public accolades. Beane's approach is damned if he does, damned if he doesn't.

The A's attended, but didn't win, the American League playoffs that year, losing to the Twins, but what they did accomplish was the first, and only, string of 20 consecutive wins in league history. The movie goes on to say that the Boston Red Sox offered Beane their general managership, which he turned down; nevertheless, they adopted Brand's methods and went on to win the 2004 World Series, finally breaking the Curse of the Bambino.

The movie is well-acted; much of the tension understated as you would expect in a picture like this. Although I wouldn't call it a great movie, it's interesting and you can learn a lot about the game without it being shoved down your throat. It's one I'd pick up on DVD and watch repeatedly and let it soak in. That's one of the highest compliments I personally can pay a movie.

T(w)inkle

It occurs to me that two weeks ago, as I write this, Twinkle was home from the hospital for the last time. By now, I would have fed her her morning 50 ml through the e-tube, and it would have been the little juncture between breakfast and her first meds, around 8. She had not quite a day and a half left to live. Hard to believe.

But what gets me writing here is the memory that I’ve been wrong. I’ve mentioned here Twinkle’s predilection for peeing on things, to the point that my former roommate used to make the joke that her real name was Tinkle and the shelter had just snuck an extra “w” into her name to get her adopted. It eased off over time even in the old place, and I’ve been saying that once I moved into the condo, that was pretty much it, except for a few shots she took at my sandals (still not sure what that was all about).

I realized this morning I was wrong. She did kind of keep it up even after we moved. The mat by the door. Before I moved, we had a mat by the door for leaving our shoes on. Twinkle was apparently using it as her third litter box, but it was a natural fibre and very absorbent, and we didn’t even notice till around the time came to move. I ran it under the tap in the tub and was astonished to see the water running out of it the colour of steeped tea. I realized that even if I got it clean, there was no point in bringing it with me if that was what it was going to mean to Twinkle, so I threw it out.

When I got to the new place, I bought a large rubber mat for the door. I noticed nearly immediately that Twinkle seemed to take this as an invitation, or a challenge, and started going for it. I washed it once, she kept it up, and so I washed it one more time, rolled it up, and set it aside on the floor of my bedroom closet, where it’s remained. I must have seen it (I was going to say “a thousand times”, but obviously, that’s hardly the case after three or four months) scores of times without paying it any mind, but this morning it all suddenly came back to me. I’m not sure how I could have forgotten that... probably because, to the best of my knowledge, she wasn’t peeing on anything else outside the litter box after I put that rug away.

Just for a moment, I thought about putting it back by the door, but that smacks too much of sticking my thumb in her eye after she’s died. So, I guess I’ll chalk that round up to her, and maybe later on when the weather gets sloppy I’ll go out and find something else. I don’t think I’ll be using that particular rug.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

White dwarf

Well, Twinkle's ashes arrived back at the vet on Tuesday. P-Doug offered to accompany me to pick them up, as he did 9 years ago when I got Jenny's back. He wasn't able to do it Tuesday so I put it off till last night. He arrived at my place and we went in about 8:30. I also took in the Kitty Kollars I ordered for Twinkle, but never got to use, and donated them to the hospital, in the hopes the next cat or small dog who goes home with an e-tube can use them and have a better time of it.

Twinkle's ashes were returned to me in a nice blue box that contained in it a blue velvet bag that had a cast of her paw print set in it, and under a divider, the little beige urn that is so much like Jenny's grey one. The card that accompanied it expressed their condolences and told me that Twinkle was cremated on October 19th, which was four days after she died, and three weeks to the day, I think, after I first noticed she wasn't that interested in food. It's hard to believe that it was only four weeks ago today that it really started dawning on me she wasn't well, and that a visit to our vet might be a good idea.

After we picked up the ashes, P-Doug and I first went to The Second Cup on York Mills near Leslie, but it was packed, so we went instead to good old Tim Horton's at little further east on York Mills. That's where we opened up the box over coffee, muffins, and smoothies. I guess we were there till about ten. I knew Twinkle was dead, but holding that little urn really underlined it for me... I'll never see that stern, dagger-eyed, pretty little two-tone face again, or that black, black, ropy tail, or hear that creepily human "meow" of hers. Never feel her feeding from my palm, never run the bathroom tap for her again. Those are all gone. Fourteen thousand dollars later, it's all about a little tan jar sitting on a shelf. It's hard to accept.

But I understand it. The speed and aggressiveness of Twinkle's disease has made me see that it was almost certainly genetic. She just wasn't ever going to live that long. Something just switched on, and really, her time was up. But we didn't know that, and we did everything we could to wind up her clock again. It just wasn't possible, at least yet. And so, I had this fiery little individual in my life for a year and a half. While I might have wished for a better, longer tale for her, I wouldn't have changed that much, at least. Brief though it was, she had a good life with us... me, Bonnie and Max, and while he was with us, Larry. That's all the consolation there is, I guess.

I haven't settled Twinkle's ashes properly yet. That's for this evening. I'm planning to take some photos and put them up to give those who've wondered some idea of what comes back to you, and how.

(Later...)

They had a flea market at work today. As fate and maybe Karma would have it, I found this wonderful little display, to hold her urn, and prop her little pawprint up.












This is the first picture I ever took of Twinkle. The day we brought her home, April 12, 2010.


















Below are the photos I took of Twinkle the first time I brought her home from the hospital, Sunday, October 9, 2011. The bottom one is the last photo I ever took of her alive. She is in her sunbeam, looking away into the setting sun.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Recent movies

Life goes on, at least for those of us still living, and I guess it's no disrespect to the memory of Twinkle if I start to mention some of the other things that have been going on lately. In this case, specifically, two movies I've lately seen.

The Thing

The first, which I went to see with Larry on Thursday night, was The Thing, confusingly named because it's the prequel of the 1980s movie of the same name, and not a remake, as the name might lead you to believe. I've grown to appreciate John Carpenter's movie more and more as time goes by, so I went in with ambivalent feelings. I wanted to learn more about the back story, but at the same time, I didn't want them to cheapen the original experience, which so often happens with these add-ons (witness the last three, "first" three, Star Wars movies).

I was pleasantly surprised. The movie gives the action lead to a woman, which is a nice change, but doesn't require her to get romantically involved with a young hunk or constantly require saving by a sacrificial avuncular older male. The character of Kate is scientific, sharp-witted, with just the right balance of sympathetic compassion and hard-headed practicality.

The movie tells the story of the discovery of the Thing, and the fate of the original Norwegian outpost in Antarctica. Since anyone who's ever seen the 1980s movie already knows they're doomed, the movie is largely about revealing how they underestimated the threat (not hard to understand; how big a threat is a 100,000 year old corpse, even if it is an alien?), and how the threat expands almost exponentially.

I was impressed with her ability to take a small observation and turn it into a means to separate humans from Things, or at least be sure who definitely is human. That itself was worth the price of admission.

The movie's not getting great numbers on Rotten Tomatoes, I don't think, which surprises me because I think they did a great job coming up with a plausible back story, and one that's true to the original right up to and including scenes interspersed into the credits. The two movies dovetail so closely they could be watched back to back, and one day, I'd like to do that. Recommended.

The Ides of March

I really like George Clooney, and I'm fan of Philip Seymour Hoffman too, so I was really looking forward to The Ides of March, which I saw last night with P-Doug. Essentially it's the fictional account of some of the cynicism behind the scenes during the Ohio primaries of a US presidential election, in which Clooney plays the Democrat governor of Pennsylvania looking to affix "Avenue" to that state's name as his address. Mike Morris, with Obama-style posters, says all the things the left only wishes could come out of the mouth of a US presidential hopeful with a real shot at the job. Not a chance, but it was nice to see.

The story's told from the point of view of a young assistant campaign manager (Stephen Meyers, played by Ryan Gosling) who is lured into a meeting with the campaign manager of the opponent. I can understand why this might be disconcerting to his co-workers, but I'm not sure why it would be newsworthy that Democrat campaigners, even those who are briefly opponents, should have things to discuss with other Democrat campaigners. It kind of seemed like a non-issue to me.

Similarly, the revelation that Governor Morris had a one-night stand with one of the interns, Molly, a young woman Stephen himself is seeing, did not strike me as earthshaking. A bit tawdry and sad, maybe, but not the kind of thing that's poison to someone on the left, it seems to me. That she'd become pregnant and was seeking an abortion might be, but since it was going to be handled in confidence, again, it didn't seem like a big deal. The character of Stephen seemed shaken by it all, and that read a little naive to me. Frankly, I would rather the crisis be not the kind of thing the Democrats seems to generate, which is trouble finding pants where the zipper stays up (ho-hum), as opposed to the kind the Republicans seem to generate, which if finding and fielding candidates who aren't running for the right to be the guy who gets to push The Button so that Jesus can come back.

I'll say this. It was a mature movie. It wasn't full of guns and threats and guys in dark glasses hustling people away in the middle of the night for smarten-up sessions. It seemed to me to be a glance into the world-weary dealings that are necessary to keep the average political campaign on wheels. I just wish the stakes of the issue at hand had been a little more profound.

One thing I did learn is that Ohio, apparently, has something called an "open primary", which means anybody can vote on who gets to be a party's candidate—including, significantly, the members and supporters of the other party. This strikes me as utterly insane. Who here thinks it's a good idea for Ford to have the right to make changes to GM's next model year, and believes those changes would really be in the best interests of consumers?

The movie's worth seeing, and it's extremely well-acted, but I wouldn't call it an Oscar contender, in my books.

A visit

I had my first dream about Twinkle last night... at least, the first I remember. At least it wasn't upsetting. Among other things, like running around a mall trying to find a washroom (a sure sign I needed to get up and use the facilities in real life), and opening the door for the Prime Minister who was visiting his riding association in an office in the mall, I remember being with some young woman I was trying to get closer to (no one real that I can identify), and that she was with me as I marvelled over Twinkle, alive and frisky and rolling around in her cat bed, delighted to see me. I remember the young woman and I trying to work out how Twinkle could have died a few days before, and still be here.

I didn't wake up to the memory, but sort of remembered it in a by-the-way, oh-yeah kind of fashion a while after waking, which is unusual for me in remembering dreams.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Twinkle's timeline

In trying to remember the sequence of things, I guess I owe it to myself to record how things went with Twinkle, while I'm still able to sort it out.

When did I first notice she wasn't eating? Maybe Tuesday, Sept. 27th? I'm pretty sure I'd noticed she wasn't interested in treats by Wednesday, because I was off that day. Thursday it was pretty apparent to me she wasn't well; she was sneezing and coughing a little, and threw up a little bit of something that looked like phlegm that evening when she uncharacteristically jumped up onto the back of my chair to sit with me. At the time, I took it for a cold or a flu, but I started to worry she might dehydrate, and I determined that if she was still obviously unwell in the morning, I'd take her to the vet. She was, so I did, taking a day of vacation.

I also remember now that during the week, she started hiding. That should have been a sign to me—it always is with Bonnie—but I didn't get "sick" from that with Twinkle. Of the three, Twinkle was the least likely to hang around with me. She was off on her own somewhere most of the time. I didn't take it as anything unusual. I don't imagine we could have done anything different if I had, but I didn't. I remember roaming around, trying to find her, and she seemed to find different spots. One evening, it all seemed like a game because eventually, she stood up in the little cabinet in the dining room and meowed to me... "Here I am." After that, she got really good at hiding, and I figured out later she was hiding underneath the old dresser in my bedroom.

When I took her in to our regular vet on Friday, Sept. 30th, she was there for a couple of hours. They thought it might have been an intestinal infection and they gave her some antibiotics she fought against. Just to be on the safe side, they took blood from her for testing. They charged me about $230, which seemed like a lot of money at that moment but looks like chump change in retrospect, and sent her home with me. At some point, I think it was Saturday, I saw Twinkle run and jump up onto one of the tables in the enclosed balcony to bird watch, and it made me happy. I think it was the last time I saw Twinkle well, or "normal".

At some point overnight Sunday morning, Twinkle's illness really became profound. I woke to find her lethargic and tucked in by the door of the condo. Aside from shifting to the other side of the door and trips to the litter box, that's pretty much where she stayed all day. It's where she was Monday morning, too, when I left for work. Somewhere around 2 p.m. that day, the vet called with the terrible news that Twinkle's blood test had shown she was extremely anemic, with a packed blood volume (PBV) of 12, when the normal is between 30 and 40. And remember, that blood was drawn Friday, before her Sunday morning downturn. The vet advised me to rush her to the Toronto Veterinary Emergency Hospital just north of them for a transfusion. He mentioned that I was looking at $2500. I blanched at the figure, but what can you do? I had an internal interview for another job in the company that day, and I barely had time to send medical emergency email and beg off before leaving. The bus ride home took around half an hour, and my appointment was for 2:45. All that way I was wondering if I'd find her dead when I got home, but no, she was still there by the door. I got her into the cat carrier and off we went.

The next couple of days were about securing a line of credit from my bank to cover the costs of Twinkle's treatment, and listening to reports of how low her PBV was, and that she needed a second transfusion. Somehow it escaped my good sense to go in and visit her on Tuesday, and I regret that. A pound cat, Twinkle must have wondered if she'd been abandoned again. I went into work Tuesday morning but found I didn't have the stomach for it, so I took the laptop and decided to work from home, with my manager's permission. And that's what I did for the next week and a half.

It finally occurred to me on Wednesday that, since she was only about a 7 minute drive away, I ought to be visiting her and reassuring her. I went in around noon and she was just a mess of tubes. One in her side to drain excess fluid from her abdomen. One in her nose to feed her. One in back leg, one in her front. The poor little thing. It was all about tests, and trying to figure out what was wrong. I'm not sure what day it was now, but they shaved her belly and ultrasounded her, looking for tumors. Nothing showed up, and none of the tests indicated cancer. Eventually they ruled out the blood parasite possibility, which largely left us with autoimmune disease.

I guess it was Wednesday night she got a transfusion of fresh blood from an on-site donor. Michelle was with me, visiting, as we saw Twinkle get the last of that blood. When I visited her on Thursday, she ate on her own for the first time in a week, and it was amazing to see. At that point, I was more or less convinced she'd get well again. Michelle visited with me again Thursday night and we watched Twinkle eat for me again.


By this time her PBV was holding around 17. Not great, but sustainable and on the verge of a new normal, something she could potentially adapt to. She started going off her food again, and we discussed the option of a feeding tube. Given that I'd have to give her medication at home, to be honest, I was anxious to have it as an aid to doing so... the idea of forcing stuff down her throat several times a day was anathema... I knew she'd wind up hating me, and then what was the point? But by Sunday, they were ready to release her and give her a trial basis at home, hoping the comfy environment would stimulate her appetite. The idea was to bring her back Tuesday if she weren't eating enough, and she'd get the tube. Well, she didn't eat at all for me, so I decided to be proactive and take her back on Monday, rather than wait. One more fresh blood donation and she got the e tube on Tuesday. They began feeding and medicating her through that. Given that I knew that was where it was going, I ordered two Kitty Kollars from a place in California on Monday. These are designed to ease the cleaning and protection of a feeding tube over the long term. The order came to just shy of $120, but I was looking forward to getting them and putting them on her.

By Thursday night, she was ready to come home again, with a reassessment scheduled for Tuesday. She came home with a bewildering array of medications, six or seven of them, including a new one that has only rarely been used with cats... generally it's intended for use with humans who've had organ transplants. We hung our hope on this one in particular, that it would arrest the process of her body killing its own red blood cells, and put her into remission. I came home and wrote up the schedule of feedings and medications that would rule my world for weeks, maybe months to come. I had a Magic Bullet blender to puree all the food she'd be getting through the tube, and I learned to feed her 50 ml over about 15 minutes. It was good to be close to her, to do something for her. It was a sad way to do it, but I'll always remember how good it made me feel. I was taking real, critical care of another life. I was doing my all to make a difference. I was in for the long haul.

Of course, that's not how it turned out.

My thinking was that if she could at least break even on Tuesday with regard to her PBV, that is, she didn't need another transfusion (and she was getting to the point, they told me, that her body would soon be producing antibodies and rejecting them), I was prepared to soldier on. I was prepared to give her one more transfusion, to give the drugs a real chance. If after another assessment they weren't working, well, I was steeling myself to have her put to sleep, since that would be our indication that we'd done everything and she really was never going to get better or have any kind of a life. But then she died on Saturday afternoon of the complications of her condition, and spared me having to ever make that decision. And now, I'm waiting to get her ashes back, in a little tan urn, to place beside the grey one that houses the ashes of Jenny, a cat she never knew.

Twinkle was dear to me, not because she was a cuddly cat particularly, or very demonstrative, though she had her moments. She was willful and self-possessed, contrary and sometimes quite difficult. But all those personality quirks, in the end, were the things that endeared her particularly to me. I'm going to miss those things. The sad fact is I had her in my life so briefly, only a year and a half, that I think much of what I knew about her will fade quickly, and I'll largely be left with the broad strokes. But whatever... at least that's something, and it's a part of my life, what I've experienced, and who I've become.

Thanks, Twinkly-Dinkly. You were unique.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Effects

It's funny how things change. Around a month ago, I applied for a sideways move inside the company. It was a closer fit to my previous job experience, I'd have a chance to work with someone I've known for a decade but never actually worked with, and I'd been learning a new authoring system. And, I won't lie, I was hoping there'd be a chance to earn a little more with the job change... such things usually come with some incentive. The site was just a little further from home than the office location we just left behind... about one subway stop. My hope was, I'd be able to work from the new office location, which is considerably closer to my home: a single bus ride of about 20 minutes or so.

Then Twinkle got sick. I was able to work from home and go a see her a couple of times a day in the hospital. When I was offered the position, suddenly that sounded like it was going to be a problem, and at that moment, Twinkle's convalescence was still an open factor. Could have been months; I was honestly figuring it would be. I understood the business need, but my priorities had changed, and my current position didn't cause a conflict. I had to turn it down.

It wasn't just that; I started thinking of other things. I didn't want a longer commute. They weren't offering me a higher salary, and even if they were, I really did not want to be on the TTC even longer, making a third connection twice a day. Not with the new location being so much closer. And given that I was expecting to be looking after Twinkle day in and day out, I didn't really want the added stress of having to ramp up at the same time. Even after she died and some of those problems went away, it didn't change things. I'd kind of soured on the prospect.

The other change was the TTC itself. I was surprised how I took to transit last year, especially in the winter when I was off the road and all that nonsense was someone else's problem. And I had pretty much decided that yeah, it being just one bus ride, I'd keep doing it. Something changed while I was looking after Twinkle. The idea of having to keep standing around in the cold, waiting for the bus, marching a city block between the building and the stop, and spending $111 a month on the pass suddenly stopped making sense to me. The thing that got me on the TTC last year was the fact that the parking at work was $180 a month, and then still $120 a month even after we moved. Here, it's free. The drive is much shorter; about 15 minutes pretty much straight north and south on regular streets. As Twinkle's bills mounted, I found myself doing the math, and where I'd been saving over a hundred dollars a month in gas and parking before, suddenly I was spending about an extra fifty or sixty. It stopped making sense. And to my surprise, I found myself favouring the car again. The drive is about 8km each way (5 miles). Even with prices what they are now, that's still only about ten bucks in gas a week, or so. And now that I'm set up to work at home, I've decided to make a habit of bring the laptop back and forth. So if I see snow, I'll just set up at home. The money saved will help me live a little more comfortably while I pay back the money I spent trying so hard to keep Twinkle in my life.

Like I say, it's funny how your perspective can change.

Glimmerings

I thought I'd like to take a few moments and remember the ways in which Twinkle was special... not all of them good ways. :)

Well, I got her in April of last year. The Toronto Humane Society was going through some tough times and was about to undergo a reorganization, and they were trying to find homes for all the pets they were still sheltering (as I recall, they managed this). It was my birthday, and when my roommate Larry asked me what I wanted, I half-seriously suggested a third cat. He was okay with it, and we went to the shelter at Victoria Park and Van Horne and ended up with Twinkle.

When I first brought her home and isolated her in my bedroom, she was an extremely affectionate cat. Seemed very grateful to be out of the cage and into a much larger room. Not long afterwards she became aware of the other cats, Bonnie and Max, when we introduced them. Twinkle did not really react as well to them as she did to me and Larry. As I recall, the next six weeks or so were about Twinkle largely keeping to my bedroom, and my being awakened a few times each night by Twinkle's almost feral growling whenever Max crept into the room to look at her. At some point, Twinkle worked out that Max was a pushover, and started pushing him over. After that, she pretty much ruled the roost. I didn't seen Twinkle and Bonnie interact all that much, but Twinkle did like to occasional jump Max and put him on the run.

She peed on just about everything. I'm reasonably convinced that's what landed her in the pound, but I can never be sure. She peed on the couch, the armchair, cat beds, inside boxes, on anything soft lying around, and even once or twice the recliner I nearly always sit in at home. She utterly ruined a futon in the living room; we gave up on it and finally had to throw it out. One time, she peeped in cat basket right in front of the TV, while we were watching, sending drops up the screen. The only places she seemed to spare were the beds... thank goodness! Eventually, as she grew more at home, I guess, it tapered off, though my sandals were prone to take a hit now and then. I wondered if that weren't a specific message. The strange thing is, it pretty much stopped altogether when I and the cats moved into the condo last summer. A few times on the sandals, and that was it. If she ever peed on the rug or the furniture ever again, I'm not aware of it. My speculation is that since the new place wasn't soaked with years of the scents of Bonnie and Max, they were all "equal", and there was no need for Twinkle to keep asserting her claim.

Twinkle had a thing for the bathroom. Anytime anyone went in, she would squeeze in herself and climb up to the basin, waiting for whoever was in there to start running the water for her. She had a real sweet tooth for the fresher water, I guess. We got to the point where we left a slow, steady drip in the bathroom basin for her, which eventually started to rust a hole near the drain, and we had to have the building replace the basin (long overdue anyway). She continued this when I moved into the condo... the problem being that the mechanism there was a pull lever, making the flow much harder to regulate. But I managed.

While not as vocal as Bonnie, Twinkle used to meow at me to get my attention from time to time, usually in the kitchen in relation to treats, and when she did, she had a voice on her that sounded to me exactly like a teenage girl pretending to meow like a cat. It was slightly creepy how human it sounded. It even sounded less like a meow than someone saying the word "meow", clearly enunciated. I kind of treasured that.

Like Max, and utterly unlike Bonnie, she loved treats and catnip. Not long after I moved into the condo, I trained her to eat treats right out of the palm of my hand. It was a wonderful show of trust, I thought. That's something I'm always going to miss.

She wasn't a cuddly cat. She'd often lie in one of the cat beds near my chair, and didn't mind being stroked, but she was never really happy to be picked up, often balked at it and usually complained. A few times she really didn't want to be picked up. Once, she boxed my cheeks, claws in, just to register her displeasure. Another time, she leaned way back in my arms, eyes narrowed and ears flat, and I realized I'd better put her down, NOW. And I did.

Just before she really got sick, one night she climb up onto the back of my chair and put her tail on her shoulder. She was sniffling and sneezed a few times, and threw up what looked like a little phlegm to me. At the time, I was convinced she had a cold or a flu or something. By then, she wasn't interested in eating, and when she was still off the treats in the morning, I took the day off and took her to the regular vet. They figured it was an intestinal infection... if only, if only. But just to be sure, they took a blood sample. When the numbers came back on Monday, everything changed.

I'm glad that I had her, but it hurts that it was so brief, and the last two weeks of her life were such an ordeal for her. But of course, that was all in the hopes it would be a brief, quickly-forgotten bumpy patch in a longer, happier life, so I shouldn't regret it. It's just that, having moved, she seemed much more settled, and it would have been nice for her to have had the opportunity to really enjoy that.

For all her weird ways, for all her self-possession and introversion, I won't say she wasn't loving or affectionate... just on her own terms. I miss her, and to some extent I always will. But at least I knew her and I had these joys, and I hope, soon, that's what's going to matter with me.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Twinkling

Some more musings about Twinkle, as time passes.

It seems to me now that probably what I was seeing on Saturday was a pair of heart attacks. I think the first one lasted just a few seconds, and was triggered by the stress of me trying to give her her eye drops. The second, and I hope there were only the two, was the spontaneous one that ended her life. Blood clots may have been involved in it; in fact, that makes sense to me as the likely trigger. In thinking about it, I suppose this is the best indicator that she really was not going to recover. There were just too many strains on her body with whatever disease she had... it was depriving her of oxygen and nutrients to begin with, and the treatments and two weeks in and out of hospital among strangers who were constantly doing things she couldn't understand took their toll on her as well. If having to put up with being dosed with eye drops was enough of a strain to cause a heart attack, then Twinkle had really reached the limits of her strength, reserves, and endurance. She really wasn't meant to live that long, I guess. Something in her genes, I think, just meant she'd live bright and short.

I was speaking with Michelle yesterday, and I asked her what she thought from the times she saw Twinkle in the last little while. She told me that the times she saw Twinkle in the hospital, she seemed viable and like she had a shot. But she formed the opinion, on her Friday night visit to my home, that Twinkle was a cat who had used everything up, and that the next thing to put a strain on her system would probably be the last. That turned out to be the case.

This morning I'm in a new office and location (same job) and trying to get arranged, and the place and experience are largely tainted with "this is life after Twinkle died". It won't always seem like that, I know, but right now it makes it hard to be comfortable here.

I'm all over the map about how I should be feeling. I'm sad, of course; I miss her; I ache to hold her again. But I'm trying not to screw that into myself. I know I could really mess myself up for a few days if I did. But what would that achieve to torture myself? I did all kinds of worrying about her when it made a difference, and now it can't anymore. It won't help Twinkle, and all it would really do is make my life so much harder for a while. And there's the rub—there's this part of me that feels like that's Twinkle's due; if she meant s0mething to me, shouldn't I be prostrate with grief? I feel guilty that her death hasn't incapacitated me. But I keep coming back to the realization that, as cats go, Twinkle lived the latter half of her life as a queen. For much of her time with me, she lived with two humans and two other cats; she never wanted for attention and affection, and she could have them on her own terms. She was never hungry or thirsty, never cold or wet, never in real danger. And when the time came, she was given every aid we could muster to help her recover. She just didn't have the means to make a go of it. It's very sad, but it's also a comfort, I think. I'm trying to see it that way. I keep trying to massage that into the wound. She sure was better off for knowing me and finding her place in my heart. And so was I.

Twinkle's passing has, somehow, also made me more aware of the hole in my life. Maybe it's because I had Larry for a roommate for two years, but I find myself wishing there were someone in my life. Not to belittle Bonnie and Max, who are pure joys, but there are other social aspects of being human that I'm beginning to feel aren't being met. Michelle found her fiance on a dating site and suggested I use that as my starting point, and so I'm looking into it. She's convinced there's someone for everyone, and that it's a big city. It's a hopeful thought. I guess the last couple of weeks have triggered some sort of fear of mortality and loneliness, or something. Anyway, I'd like to try to address that feeling. There may be someone out there, like me, who feels the same, and... who knows?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Little star lost

Twinkle died, quite suddenly, mid afternoon yesterday. She was at home and I was with her. Despite the fact that she still really wasn’t well, it was completely unexpected.

I haven’t been blogging about the process of her treatment and recovery because it’s been all I could handle going through it, and I had a few angels on my shoulders during the process to whom I gave frequent reports, and that was enough. But now that she’s gone, P-Doug has said I should write it out and put it into perspective, and I agree.

Maybe a little of her background first to remember who she was. Well, when Larry was my roommate last year, he asked me what I wanted for my birthday. Since the Toronto Humane Society was undergoing a reorg and they needed to place their animals quickly, I suggested a third cat. That cat turned out to be Twinkle.

I’ve had four cats in my adult life, and of the bunch, Twinkle was problematic in various ways. It took her over a month to get adjusted to living with Bonnie and Max, which meant me waking up several times a night as Twinkle warned off a curious Max with a growl that sent goosebumps up my spine. That settled down, but her propensity to pee on just about everything but my bed took a lot longer to sort out. She uttered ruined a futon; we had to throw it out. I had some very dark thoughts in relation to that... about taking her back, about even having her put to sleep, because it seemed to me her life would be nothing more than bouncing from pound to home and back to the pound. But I reminded myself that it was my idea for her to live with us, not hers, and it was up to me to find a way to put up with it. I did, and the episodes trailed off to at least a mere occasional incident as she grew more confident the place was hers as well... I guess that’s what it was. I think I’m right in that because when I moved last summer, it stopped. Aside from peeing on my sandals a few times, which I’m sure was meant as some kind of protest (for what, I’ll never know), she quit doing it.

On the cat-to-dog spectrum of cat nature, she was further back on the cat end relative to Bonnie and Max. She was self-possessed, didn’t really take guff from me, and gave and showed affection on her own terms. There were definitely endearing things about her. One quirk I never really figured out was that she loved to follow me, or anyone, into the bathroom, and see if she couldn’t get that person to run the water in the basin for her. We developed a rust spot in the basis at the apartment last year catering to her. I also got her to eat treats right out of the palm of my hand a few months ago after we moved. I’ve had cats I could feed from my fingertips before but Twinkle was the first to trust me and put her whole head into my hand. I’m going to miss that daily display of trust.

She was energetic, she was the boss, she used to love to jump Max and put him on the run. Hard to believe it was over two weeks ago now that Bonnie and Twinkle used to quietly vie for position on the table by the window to keep a watch on the landing birds just inches the other side of the glass. Seems like yesterday. On the other hand, some of the things I’ve been through with her more recently seem like months ago. Taking her in feels like it was in August, but was itself in October.

So, as previously said, I took her in Monday about two weeks ago. She was extremely anemic and needed a couple of transfusions over the next couple of days. I was very lucky in two things: one, the responsibilities of my job made working from home an option, and two, the emergency clinic Twinkle was at was about a seven minute drive from my home. I didn’t go in and see her that first Tuesday. I was overwhelmed and guess I had a blind spot. But Wednesday I remember she had been a pound cat and I was concerned she’d think she’d been abandoned again. So, from then on, I did my best to get in and see her twice a day, and unless she was undergoing a procedure, I managed that. I don’t think the was day in there she didn’t get a visit from me at least once.

Since she wasn’t eating, they’d put a little tube in her nose to feed her. There was fluid on abdomen and they had a tube in her side to drain it. A tube in her hind leg, another in a front leg. She was a mess, and it really broke my heart seeing her like that. But she purred for me, knew I was there, and seemed grateful to see me, meowing.

Michelle was goddess of mercy. She talked with me, sat with me, visited Twinkle nearly half a dozen times. Text messages went back and forth daily. She was as privy to Twinkle’s progress as I was, and I’ll always be grateful to her for her compassion and patience.

Wednesday night, they gave Twinkle a transfusion from a fresh donor. She ate for me with surprising gusto when I came in on Thursday, both times, and it made my heart sing. I felt sure then that this was her coming out of it. After that, she only ate on her own a couple of time, but it was still good to see. After Wednesday, her PCV (packed cell volume) was low, but stabilized in the 17 range, give or take, pretty much from then on. Tubes started coming out. Ultrasounds eliminated the fear it was cancer, tests kept coming back negative, and eventually they settled on an undiagnosed auto-immune disease that was causing her to destroy her own red blood cells. The treatment would be immunosuppressant drugs till her disease went into remission, if ever.

She was well enough by last weekend to try going home for a couple of days. The idea was to see if she’d recover her appetite in a home setting, which sometimes happens. I took her home Sunday. She seemed content and comfortable at home, but her appetite was still pretty much zero. I’d wished for more but was ready for the next step, which was an e tube, placed through the left side of the neck into the esophagus. Not uncomfortable, I’m told, and many cats live with them for years, though obviously we were hoping it would be just a few weeks or months for Twinkle. In a way, I was happy, because it meant she could be looked after at home, that I could be sure she’d get the nutrition she’d need, and I wouldn’t have to fight her every time I turned around to give her the life-saving meds she needed. I saw it as a good thing and settled in for what I started calling “the long haul”.

Sometime last week Jim, a fellow blogger and one with dedications that have always delighted and fascinated me, offered to put me in touch with a friend who had mastered the home care of her cats. I’ll call her Astra. Several times a day we exchanged emails about Twinkle’s condition and progress, and I got encouragement and ideas from her. I told her it was like having an angel on my shoulder. Being able to talk hopefully with someone who really understood was a great source of strength and solace for me. Astra, in turn, put me in touch with Erica, and we engaged in a three-sided conversation for days, days full of wisdom, sheered experience, compassion, and encouragement.

Twinkle got her e tube on Tuesday. At some point, she also got one more top-up transfusion from a fresh donor to try to boost her PCV over 20 (turned out the donor was a cat owned by one of the technicians, which I found touching). It never got quite that high, but she did stay stable in the high teens and they figured the rest was a matter of her bone marrow catching up. Thursday night they ready to send her home.

I have an enclosed balcony and my intention was to set her up there where I could keep an eye on her. Had a table set up for feeding and medicating her, a cat bed near the desk, water, food, a litter box a little further away. Once she was home, Twinkle quickly had other ideas. She wandered off to the dark seclusion, once again, of the front door. Fine, I decided, work to her comfort. So, for most of Thursday and Friday, we did our things there. Friday evening, a little before Michelle came for a visit, Twinkle wandered into the spare room, and figuring I’d have to fight to get her out from under the bed, I put her on the bed, with a step down so she could use the litter box. We visited with her there and to my joy, Twinkle climb into Michelle’s lap to be stroked. I decided to rearrange the spare room for Twinkle... but I honestly can’t remember if that was Friday night or yesterday morning. That’s a blur. But I wanted to give her a place she was happy, and maximize my access to her for food and medication. So I managed to get her out from under the bed and move her, temporarily, to my bed, while I moved things. I put the box spring against the wall, with the mattress beside it on the floor: a place for me to lie while feeding her. Put the cat bed near the rad, since that’s where I found her sitting under the bed, probably for the warmth. Moved the food, water, and litter box in. And I hope she was happy with that.

I went home with seven different medications. Combined with the feedings, it was almost overwhelming. So I sat down with Excel and charted out what she had to be given and when, and I pasted it up over the cabinet in the kitchen. I started pureeing cat food. I would lie with Twinkle and count out the minutes and feed her 5 ml at a time. Took 15 or 20 minutes but I was surprised how little time it seemed. I was helping her get well. I felt good about that. She took well to the tube, both for the feedings and the meds, though she was a little balky about it a few times. And it seemed hard on at 8 Friday morning when I gave her four or five meds at a shot, so I decided I’d stagger those out over 15 minute intervals in the morning from then on, and yesterday morning it seemed to go off great.

I had eye drops I was supposed to give her... two in each eye, once a day. It went terribly wrong yesterday morning and I’m always going to wonder if that’s not what set it all off. It was hard giving her the drops, and some of the fluid got into her mouth. I don’t imagine it’s toxic, but it put her through agony for a few minutes. She was writing and moaning, and it broke my heart. I swore to her, no more eye drops. Because she’d just been through so much, I cut her next feeding an hour later down by half, just to make sure she didn’t get nauseous.

After that, I had a three-hour window, so I met up with P-Doug at Swiss Chalet and we talked. It was good. I needed it. One of the thing I touched on was, if the time came I should have to let Twinkle go, I asked if he’d be there, and he kindly offered to. We split up about 2, and I hurried to get cat food for Bonnie and Max and then head home.

Twinkle was a little drooly, which can be sign of nausea, and I thought it might be because she had so little on her stomach. Well, it was time for one of her meds, so I gave her a mil of that, and went out to prepare some food, another half-meal of about 20 ml. Since it’s kept in the fridge, I had to warm the syringe in warm water, and that takes a few minutes. I heard a cat being sick and rushed to the foyer to find Bonnie horking up a fur ball. I told her, “You could have time that better.”

But it was just a couple of minutes after that that I started hearing loud thumping. I found Twinkle twisting in her litter box, moaning, drooling. I petted her, tried to calm her down. It was the worst I’d seen her. My mind was racing... should I take her in, or would this pass again? Was she rejecting the medicine she needed to get well, and if so, how could she ever recover? If I took her in, what would the bill be? And if I took her in, was I admitting that the time had come to let her go?

I decided I’d better take her in. I grabbed the phone, called P-Doug and left a massage saying I thought maybe this was it, and to please meet me there. I went back into the bedroom, and she was just gasping. Just a couple of times. And I realized she’d died on her own. It was hard, but it was quick. But so unaccountably sudden. She hadn’t been great, but she’d been stable, and comfortable, and there was every reason to believe in the weeks and months to come, she had a shot at some kind of recovery and a new normal. But she was just gone.

I gathered her in a towel and took her in on the off chance she was in a coma or still needed help. She was just limp. I think that was the worst part; it was a horrible feeling. Called the vet as I got in the car. They began resuscitation work but the doctor told me she wasn’t breathing and there was no heartbeat, and by then it had been about 15 minutes since the spell. I told them to stop. There was no point.

The doctor brought her in and we sat and talked for about 15 minutes. His speculation was that it had been a blood clot, which cats in her condition are prone to. As it turned out, he himself had had to have his own dog put to sleep a couple of weeks before. I decided to get her ashes back, in a beige urn the same style as Jenny’s grey one, as well as with a paw print made.

P-Doug raced back up to see me. We spent a little time putting things back the way they’d been so everywhere I looked I wouldn’t be reminded of the disjointment of my life over the past two weeks and the reason for it. We gathered up her meds and disposed of them. We put together the sterile, unused medical supplies. We talked for a little while, and then we went out. Took the supplies back to the clinic; they’re needed there. Went to the Working Dog Saloon but it was packed with a couple of parties, so instead we passed a couple of hours at the pub that used to be The Beaver and Furkin. I didn’t drink, but we talked and I ate a little. Strangely, the evening was cut short when G called us up because she’d fallen at home, and we headed back to make sure she was alright. She was, but had tripped over one of the cats, Oscar, and come close to crushing him. He, too, was alright.

They gave me a few sleeping pills for the next few nights... I don’t want to be tormented by dreams; that I would find hard. Right now, I’m fairly emotionally stable. I’m avoiding looking at pictures of her because it seems just like poking at a wound to make it bleed and I’d rather just let it ease slowly than in some big burst. I guess in the back of my mind, after seeing her go through so much over two weeks, worrying about maybe getting phone calls in the middle of the night about sudden downturns, or that she was rejecting transfusions and her cell count was too low and there was nothing more to do... I guess I was kind of steeling myself to have to make a decision. Even this Tuesday she was supposed to go in to see how she was doing, and I knew I might have to make the call then. So I guess what I’m feeling now is sadness, disappointment, loneliness, combined with a sense that, well, it’s over, and the realization that, probably, she wasn’t really going to get better after all, so maybe it’s good she didn’t just linger on in this semi-life for weeks or months where the big accomplishment for the day was a couple of trips to the litter box. Something just went wrong, something we tried but couldn’t fix, and living much longer just wasn’t in the cards for little Twinkle.

Well, the whole thing cost about $14,000. That’s going to take me about three years to pay off, probably. I don’t know what, if anything, I’ll get back from the pet insurance, but that’s how it is. I only wish I’d still had Twinkle to show for it once it was all paid off. But I did everything I could for her, right down to the tube feedings, and arranging things to work from home to look after her. I stood by her and I never gave up. I think in her own way, she loved me, and maybe even knew I understood how she was feeling. I sure hope so. For her part, Bonnie seems to know I’m sad, and she just looked at me and crossed the room to be with me. The ironic thing is, when I got Twinkle, I thought of her as the much younger cat who’d see me through the rough times, one day, with Bonnie and Max. None of this seems right.

But I had her, a year and a half. And the little tigress delighted me and often thrilled my heart. I just wish it had been a lot longer than that.

There’ll probably be more later, but this has really rambled, and I’ll just close with my thanks to everyone who cared, and all of you who made this easier to bear. Thank you all so much.