Staying Strong for Gracie: Part 13. Lost.

(Continued from Parts 1, 2 and 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12)

A week ago Gracie gave me a gift by jumping onto a bench and sitting on my friend Kendra’s lap. In and of itself, it wasn’t a particularly magical moment, but if you consider that Gracie was very ill and hadn’t jumped onto anything in weeks and that she was normally too shy to sit in anyone’s lap, then this truly was a milestone.

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A few days after the gift, I was finally able to get Dr. Larry, Gracie’s G.P., Dr. Gerald, Gracie’s oncologist and Dr. Carolyn, Gracie’s internist to talk to each other and discuss what the next steps in Gracie’s treatment. I knew that the Myelodysplasia was a secondary reaction to something much deeper, darker, more terrifying, but what it was could not be determined by the three tests we’d already done.

For the past two plus months there were no firm answers. We’d have to accept that we’d never really know what was going on and only be able to do so much before we ran out of options.

I’d just arrived at Dr. Larry’s office to pick up a refill of one of Gracie’s medications. One of the Techs invited me to come into an exam room because Dr. Larry wanted to speak with me. This was the moment I’d been waiting for since Gracie first became mysteriously ill after coming home from a dental in August. Dr. Larry entered and looked grim. He went on to tell me that all the Vets had agreed that Gracie must have a very serious cancer, possibly biliary cystadenocarcinoma. Whatever it was, there were no more treatments, no type of chemo, just to continue on with what we were doing and keep Gracie comfortable.

He said that Gracie probably only had a few weeks, if we were lucky, a few months left to live.

I nodded that I understood, too upset to say more. I wasn’t surprised but I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. Gracie had had her ups and downs so many times. We were told to put her down in August and here it was nearly November and she was still with us. Even with all the stress and heartache I wouldn’t have traded those days for anything, but now even those challenging days were coming to an end, no matter what I did.

I stood at the counter, to pay for Gracie’s prescription, trying to hold back tears and failing miserably. I just wanted to go home, to be with Gracie. I just wanted to go home and have this not be happening at all...

...but I had to face the truth that after all this time, all the tests, all the medications, nothing could beat down what was going on inside her body and it was going to take her life.

There were very clear signs of decline over the past two weeks. The hardest one to witness is called Cancer cachexia. It’s basically the metabolism’s shift to provide nutrients to the cancer instead of the cat so even though I was creating high calorie food to syringe-feed Gracie, none of it was helping put any weight back on her bones. Her belly was huge and bloated from fluid, but her skin was tight against her bones all along her back and her hips. I kept hoping every time I pet her that I’d feel a tiny bit MORE padding, instead of less. Not only did she lose weight but she lost muscle mass, too, so she was getting weaker. Even with all that going against her Gracie would still get up, walk around the sofa to the litter pan there and use it over using one that was closer. She would still fuss if Sam or I had to medicate her. She was still fighting to live and I wanted to give her every chance to have every day she could.

Making cat food r olson
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Getting creative making cat food blends I thought Gracie would like.

I tried to find a way to get nutrition into Gracie that would make a difference but I couldn’t find a solution. I read that vitamin B12 is something cancer cats often get as another way to help keep them going. I asked if we could give that to Gracie and was told it was safe. Gracie had become more and more reluctant to eat much on her own. Even though I was supplementing her to make sure she got enough, normally she’d eat a least an ounce of food. I broke my own rules and gave her what I consider crap food-something she really liked, but yesterday she wouldn’t even bother with that.

The demands of caring for Gracie have been very great. Between her medication schedule, her feeding schedule and just routine cleaning and care, a good part of my day was spent providing for her. It was vital that her bedding be clean because of her falling white blood cell count and that her litter pan constantly scooped, her water bowl refreshed and washed because she drank a good bit of water throughout the day.

After feeding
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Just another feeding time.

The most important part of her care was simple; just sit with her and let her know she was loved. It was something I did every night before we went to bed. I told Gracie I loved her, that she was a good girl, to make new red blood cells, to make platelets, to make white blood cells, to feel better, that I would see her in the morning. I’d kiss her head and tell her I loved her a second time, often while I listened to her purring. I couldn't take it for granted that I's see her in the morning, so every goodnight was our last.

Yesterday it was clear that the B-12 shot had worked. Gracie was up, wobbly, but walking, all over the house. She wouldn’t rest. She was restless. She would cry in a voice I didn’t recognize. She was uncomfortable. She kept wanting us to sit with her (which we did). I’d sit on the floor and she’d climb into my lap, almost falling over to get herself settled. Then she’d lay still. Her breathing was a bit rapid and it sounded raspy. I knew she was in trouble, but thought perhaps all I needed to do was help her manage her pain.

I couldn’t do a thing all day because Gracie was up and moving around so much. She began to hide. I knew it was a very bad sign. She couldn’t go too far without having to stop and rest so I never lost sight of her. After she rested and was up again, I decided to create a hiding place for her near her bed in the living room. Once I did that she entered her little space and laid there quietly, but only for a few minutes and was up again roaming around the house searching for something or some place to go.

The final photo r olson
©2015 Robin AF Olson. My very sick sweetheart.

Late in the afternoon I caught Gracie walking over to where her daughter Petunia spends her day. Gracie was tired so I sat on the floor and she climbed into my lap. I edged myself close to the low kitty condo where Petunia was sitting. I petted Petunia and petted Gracie, mixing their scents together. Petunia drooled as I petted her, the droplets narrowly missing Gracie’s forehead. The two seemed content to be together after months of separation. Petunia was too scared to cross the living room and Gracie was too tired to make the trip herself.

We sat there until Gracie fussed and had to get up again, but the moment wasn’t lost on me that perhaps this was the final time they’d be together.

Sam and I took turns keeping an eye on her. We continued her feeding routines and medications but she was not doing well at all. I called my friend Katherine that night and asked her about giving Gracie buprenex, which is an opiate-based pain medication. I thought it would relax her enough so that she COULD rest, but the problem was, as with EVERY conversation we had about Gracie, we didn’t know what we should do. I can’t tell you how many times every single day I’d ask Sam his opinion on what we should do about feeding Gracie, when to give her medications, IF we should give her the medications, which vet I should call and what I should ask. We never found answers to be simple because we didn’t know what was going on inside her.

The latest problem we needed to solve was that the buprenex could kill Gracie because her liver was in such bad shape, but Gracie was feeling uncomfortable to the point where we needed to help her. It was not right to let it continue on.

Gracie was due for her steroid so we decided to give that to her first, wait an hour and see if she needed the burprenex after that. We’d give her a tiny dose to get her to the morning and then we’d think about what to do after that if it worked.

It was about 11 p.m. on Halloween Eve. It was the first time I didn’t decorate the house or give out candy to the kids. I hung up a sign by the front door NOT to ring the doorbell because of our sick kitty and we put out a box of candy with a second sign on it to take some, but leave some candy for others. That was all we were going to do. My favorite day of the year might as well have been any day of the year. It didn’t matter any more. There was no joy left in my heart for such things.

Gracie continued to roam the living room so Sam picked her up and I put a blanket on his lap. She settled in and he brushed and petted her. We sat quietly, the only sound was Gracie’s raspy breathing.

Gracie would often seem startled, then quickly get up and look around. She saw me and wobbled over to my lap. I was grateful to have her come to me, something she never did in over the decade she lived with us. She was always too shy to completely sit on my lap and here she was blossoming, letting go of her fear so we could connect in a way we never could before. I was so grateful to feel her warmth and silky soft fur. I sat as still as I could so she could rest, even if my legs fell asleep or I got a knot in my back. She’d move a bit here and there and I’d adjust myself to make it more comfortable for her. I prayed she’d just relax and sleep, but she could not.

Sam and I were both exhausted. We decided to set up a pen around Gracie’s hiding spot, heated bed, water dish and litter pan. That way we could get some sleep and not worry that she was going to hurt herself by falling down the stairs or hide where we couldn’t find her over night. I hated the idea of closing her off, but we knew it would only be for a few hours and in the morning we’d let her out to roam at will again.

No sooner than Sam placed her inside the pen, she collapsed. She laid down breathing rapidly. She was in distress. She cried, got up to try to make it to her litter pan, but ended up peeing onto the carpet. I scooped her into my lap and sat with her trying to soothe her. Sam got me paper towels so with one hand I cleaned up the mess while with the other I held onto Gracie trying to let her know it was all right and she was still a good girl.

I moved her over to her bed and she laid down. She couldn’t even lift her head. She was breathing quickly and moaning every so often. Sam unhooked the pen and put it away so we could both sit next to her softly petting her and talking to her as she began the last journey of her life. I tried not to cry because I wanted her to be at peace. The lights were low and the house was quiet. The cats were staying away and weren’t fighting for once. We all knew that this was Gracie’s time. We had to respect it and be there for her even though there was a strong desire to either run away or to yell at Gracie to FIGHT. Fight! LIVE! Please don’t die!

But I couldn’t do those things. As difficult as it was I had to be there for Gracie. This was when she needed us most. Bearing witness to these final moments was the price we paid for the years of unconditional love we had with her.

We sat with her for a long time and I noticed that Gracie was struggling more. I said to Sam that maybe we should bring Gracie to the emergency vet and have them help her. It was not something I wanted to say but I didn’t want Gracie to suffer any more than she already was. Here was the last, most difficult question we had to answer-quickly. We had promised ourselves that she would pass at home if possible but we couldn’t keep that promise if it meant Gracie was going to suffer so much.

It was difficult to make the choice, but I called the ER vet and said to expect us. I ran upstairs to get changed since I was wearing my pajamas. I had only started to dress when Sam called me to hurry and get back down stairs. I ran down the stairs with my PJs back on. He said that Gracie had stretched out, stiffened, then relaxed. I flashed back to my dear cat Bob. He’d done the same thing before he died. It was almost time.

We gave Gracie a few more minutes, then decided we need to get her some help. I dressed quickly and got my car out of the garage. I opened the passenger side door to make it easier for Sam to enter the car while he was carrying Gracie wrapped in a blanket in his arms.

I didn’t want to take her in the car. I didn’t want to go to the vet. I didn’t want any of this to happen. It wasn’t supposed to play out like this, not now, not in a cold, sterile vet exam room.

I carefully began the drive to the vet. It would only take about 10 minutes. The roads were strangely deserted considering it was a Saturday night and Halloween. As I drove along I asked Sam how she was doing and he’d give me an update. About halfway to the vet I asked about her again and he said in a very quiet tone; “I think she’s gone.”

I pulled over into a nearby parking lot and turned on the interior light. I looked down at her sweet face. It was clear that Gracie had passed away as Sam held her. I turned the light off and gasped hard, choking back tears.

Even though I knew what Sam would say I asked him what he wanted to do-“Go home.” was his answer. We knew that we had to bring Gracie home. The cats had to say goodbye. We needed time with her, too. I told Sam I would get us home safely. I would let myself fall apart later.

I realized with the Daylight Savings Time I didn’t know what day Gracie had died. It was just as Halloween was changing over to All Saints’ Day. It was just like Gracie to die even at a time we couldn’t make sense of. Nothing about any of the past few months made sense, yet here we were with our girl, lost to us forever.

Farewell
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Goodbye my love.

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Next up-a special look back at Gracie’s Wonderful Life, a memorial to one very special cat where I’ll be sharing never-before-seen photos, videos and stories about why she was so dear to us and so completely charming in everything she did.

Though her story ended with heartache far too soon, her life was filled with triumphs. I hope you’ll read on because I'm very proud of my girl and I want you all to know her as I did.

Mind if I sit here R Olson 2007
©2007 Robin AF Olson. We will always love you and never forget you, Gracie. Fly Free. 1/11/01—10/31/15.

Staying Strong for Gracie: Part 12. The Gift.

(Continued from Parts 1, 2 and 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11)

The weekend began with breakfast and gossip with my two friends, Gene and Adria. We’d been meeting for breakfast at the Sandy Hook Diner once a month or so over this summer. Gene and Adria have lived in Newtown (Newtown is the name of our entire town, though Gene and I reside in the district of Sandy Hook) longer than I have, which is saying a lot. They know everyone and everyone’s dirt. Silly as it might be, it’s fun to feel like a local, sitting in the local restaurant that’s buzzing with other folks that all seem to know each other, well, they know Gene. I think he’s the unofficial Mayor of the Sandy Hook Diner, if not all of Sandy Hook.

It was a welcome break to get away from the stress of life at home. I could forget for a little while as we all told each other stories and got caught up on current events. I guess it’s a sign of my own life changing that a good deal of our conversation was based on talking about our health issues and diagnosis each other’s maladies. I’d been struggling with discovering I was a Type 2 Diabetic in July and worked hard to change my diet. I’d lost a good bit of weight (but have more to go) and I announced that my Diabetes was GONE. I probably never had it in the first place because the A1C blood test I took a few weeks ago had dropped down to 5.6 which meant I was in “normal” range. I just had to be very careful for the rest of my life because I can become diabetic (my Mother was late in her life so I have a genetic predisposition), but for now I dodged the bullet. I really wanted to celebrate this milestone, but in all honesty, while I was beyond grateful, it would take Gracie feeling good for me to be happy again.

You need to understand that I live a very quiet life. My day is spent caring for Gracie, the foster cats, our cats. I start early and end the day very late, around 1 a.m. I don’t go out other than to get cat food, people food, or do a Vet run. Going out to breakfast is akin to attending a Gala. I rarely go out to eat or to the movies or to the mall or go on a what are those things called, a “vacation?” I’m pretty much always home.

It sucks.

Sam and I are woefully unhappy. We hoped to be able to finally get away for a weekend this month. It would have been the first time in 5 years we had some time to ourselves. I’m not complaining. It just didn’t work out. We need to continue to be home, but the toll it’s taking on us is palpable. You know something is deeply wrong with your life when you have a breakdown because some of your cats won’t eat their breakfast, yet again, and you have to fuss with their food, yet again, and you can’t take it one more second, yet again.

There have been a lot of tears lately-a lot of breakdowns-but I must go on.

That’s why when Adria and I spontaneously decided to go to a local craft fair after breakfast that I experienced a moment of joy. It was something I used to do with my mother and hadn’t done since she passed away in 2006. The fair itself was small, but FREE admission (yay!). Adria and I had a lovely time and even chatted with a few of the vendors. It really helped my soul to see pretty things and not think about cats. It took less than an hour to walk the show, but it gave me enough fuel to keep going.

Kitty Mittens
©2015 Adria Henderson. I'm never far from cats.

Kendra, who adopted four cats from us over the years (the most recent one being Tink), has also become a good friend. About an hour after I got home from the craft fair, she came over to help me prepare a mailing for my rescue, Kitten Associates. Kendra is very cheerful and being around her always gives me a lift. Instead of doing our work straight away, we, of course, went to the store to buy cat food and a big dog bed (Kendra is bi-petual). We had a lovely chat in the car as we drove along the tree-lined roads. The autumn colors were at their peak and it was hard not to be mesmerized by them.

Since Sam was covering for me with Gracie while I was out, I had a chance to unwind a little bit. I think I may have even laughed a few times, which is a rarity these days.

Kendra and I decided to get a coffee (and lunch for Kendra) so we went to another local eatery where I ran into none other than Gene, who was there with his wife Marilyn, and his daughter’s mother-in-law. Clearly Gene is quite the social butterfly and I guess for that day I was, too.

By the time we returned home to get our task done, it was mid-afternoon. I peaked in on Gracie and she looked good so I gathered up the materials to do our mailing. I cleared a space for us to sit in the kitchen at the table, which is normally piled with cases of cat food. We went over our to do list, then began working, but shortly after we'd begun I heard Gracie meow.

She was sitting on the floor right next to us. She’d gotten up to see what we were doing. This was not the Gracie I’d known a few days prior. She barely left her special area in the living room and here she was matter-of-factly complaining that her dinner was late.

Before I could get up, Gracie dashed under the table, then jumped onto the bench next to Kendra! Kendra and I locked eyes. We were both thinking the same thing; “Oh my GOD, Gracie just jumped! Gracie wants to sit on Kendra’s lap! Gracie never sits on anyone’s lap!”

Gracie and Kendra 450
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Kenra and Gracie.

I raced over to the living room and grabbed a clean towel (I go through a lot of them for Gracie so I have a stash). I eased it under Gracie so she’d be more comfortable. Meanwhile Kendra sat there almost too stunned to know what to do. After a beat she did what she does best, she gave Gracie some lovin’.

The steroids must have given Gracie a big boost. Maybe she need the extra dose all along? Maybe she’d be feeling better for some time to come even with the dire news?

Gracie, restless, got up and jumped onto the table! I hadn’t seen her jump on ANYTHING for over a month. This was an amazing sight. I had to call out to Sam to come and see our girl showing us that she still had things she wanted to do and still had the heart to do them.

Kendra and I worked around Gracie as she kept us company. Even in her prime, Gracie never did things like this. You see Gracie was abused by her former guardians (and “guardian” is a polite term for what I'd really like to call them). I got Gracie as a rescue because her life was in danger (the man told his wife he was going to kill Gracie if she didn’t get rid of her. He’d already kicked and otherwise abused her, so Gracie needed to get out, fast.) and this was right after Gracie had given birth to three kittens. Gracie was timid for a good part of her life, but Sam and I worked with her and over the years she’d come to trust and love us, though she never would fully sleep on our laps. That’s why it was an amazing gift to see Gracie feeling good, feeling happy, wanting to be part of our life, wanting to be with us as much as we wanted to be with her.

Gracie on the Table 650
©2015 Robin AF Olson. My gift, Gracie.

I wanted more days like this with all my heart, but I knew we were running out of time if we couldn’t come up with a diagnosis.

next up...with no diagnosis in sight, three Vets join forces to reach a conclusion about Gracie's future.

Staying Strong for Gracie: Part 11. The Results.

(Continued from Parts 1, 2 and 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10)

Gracie was flat the next few days. The toll of the sedation and stress from the travel really got to her. We’d been through these lows before after every test and with any luck, Gracie would begin to perk back up. We just had to make certain Gracie’s medication schedule was kept on track and that if she wasn’t eating enough we’d syringe feed her to get the extra calories into her.

Gracie had lost some muscle mass and felt very thin, even though her belly was round from the fluids in her abdomen. I foolishly thought that if we were getting Gracie to eat 5 or so small meals, it would add up to enough calories for a day. I was very wrong. I knew it as I ran my hand along her spine and felt the padding slowly vanish over the course of a week or so. I knew I had to do more so that meant doing math, but first I had to find out how many calories to feed Gracie.

Dr. Carolyn said to aim for 200 a day. Once I sat down and read labels, then had to get on the internet to do research because far too many cat food companies don’t include calorie counts on their labels. I realized that Gracie was grossly underfed even though she WAS eating. She’d only eat about 1.0 oz of food per meal and many of the foods were only 20-25 or so calories per ounce. It meant if she was lucky she was getting a little over 100 calories a day. We HAD to do a better job ASAP.

I returned to my trusty notepad. Sam bought a food processor so we could blend down the foods we knew were better quality and higher in calories. We could also use prescription emergency support foods but I didn’t like some of the ingredients as much. We’d have to experiment because our goal was not just to provide nutrition to Gracie, but to make it as tasty and as positive of an experience as possible. We didn’t want Gracie to feel miserable even though we felt miserable having to take this step.

Furry New Year 2007

©2007 Robin AF Olson. My beautiful girl just after the New Year, 2007.

I always keep 35 mL syringes on hand. I like them for syringe feeding because the tip is rather long and they hold a good amount of food. There’s no hard and fast rule about exactly how many cc’s to feed because some cats can’t handle much and others can handle a bit more. It was trial and error all the way and some times the error really upset me because I didn’t want to make things worse for Gracie.

Friday arrived and Gracie acted a bit perkier. We’d just begun to give her a second dose of prednisilone (steroids) and it clearly was helping. Buoyed by her good spirits I could focus on getting some much needed and overdue work done, even though in the back of my mind I knew that today was the day we’d possibly get some concrete news about Gracie’s future.

Late in the day Dr. Carolyn called. The all-too familiar lump in my gut returned as I tried to calmly answer the phone. I reached for another note pad so I could distract myself by taking notes.

Delivering bad news must be something Vets get a lot of practice doing as Dr. Carolyn described what the report said. She was calm and not alarmist so I remained calm, but as she spoke I felt my body begin to slump against my chair.

She paraphrased the medical jargon by saying that we still had NO DIFFERENTIAL DIAGNOSIS. There was NO sign of CANCER, but…

…now Gracie had something called Myelodysplasia.


Myelodysplasia (myelodysplastic syndrome, MDS) is considered a preleukemic syndrome characterized by ineffective hematopoiesis, resulting in a nonregenerative anemia or other cytopenias. MDS has been described in dogs, cats, and people. The disease can be primary or secondary and is commonly seen in cats with feline leukemia. Primary syndromes probably arise from mutations in stem cells. Secondary syndromes are caused by other neoplasia or drug therapy. Some cats and dogs respond to treatment with recombinant human erythropoietin and prednisone. Supportive care with transfusions may be helpful. Survival is variable because MDS can progress to leukemia; many animals are euthanized or die of sepsis, bleeding, or anemia.”

So basically Gracie’s bone marrow wasn’t working right any more and with low white blood cells and platelets it was dangerous for her to be around other cats because she could easily pick up disease from them. Since she didn't have Feline Leukemia (she'd been tested multiple times for it) I asked what this could be coming from and Dr. Carolyn said either a toxic event or most likely a very bad cancer, probably in the liver. I asked her if there was anything more we should do, treatments or medications. She replied that what we should isolate Gracie (that was NOT going to happen-it was too late now and honestly not fair to put her away in a room by herself at this point. We'd keep our hands washed and she already had her own dishes and litter pan) were doing was good for now and that we should re-test Gracie’s blood work in two weeks. If she was perking up, that was great, it could mean this was immune mediated and that perhaps she’d do okay for a time. We didn’t need to return to see Dr. Carolyn, but if Gracie improved enough we could think about doing the liver biopsy again.

Sam and I began to read as much as we could about MDS, but there wasn’t a lot out there. MDS is rare in cats and there aren’t a plethora of treatments for it. One of them, darbepoetin, could help for a time, but it's very confusing on whether or not anything would help her now. I kept thinking about how Gracie got so sick right after her dental procedure and how that my Vet had just moved his office, he didn’t do the procedure and things were chaotic at his practice. Maybe someone made an error and this, indeed was due to a toxic exposure. A rage began to build inside me that had my mind going to very dark places. At my Vet’s office we joked about not giving my cats Metacam, EVER and now I wondered if that was what was killing my cat, or did she get an overdose of medications with all the other chaos going on with the Vet's moving...because WHERE is the CANCER? We’d done THREE biopsies and NONE had shown cancer.

If this was a toxic event I realized I would have to end my 20+ year friendship with my own Vet—someone who I consider family, whose staff I count as friends. I had to tread very carefully if I was going to go down this path. I needed to calm down and get information about the details of the dental cleaning. I put in a call to speak with Dr. Larry. I was terrified of jeopardizing our relationship, but I needed answers. I knew he would be honest with me even if it was something I didn't want to hear. If they made an error then it would be devastating, but more than anything, I only wanted what I’d wanted these past three months, to find out what was slowly killing my sweet cat and I was desperate for answers.

next up...a consensus on Gracie's illness and the remarkable gift she gave us.

Staying Strong for Gracie: Part 10. Tested.

(Continued from Parts 1, 2 and 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9)

Sam and I returned to the waiting area. What was once a twilight zone was now beginning to fill with other people and their pets; many had dogs of varying sizes. For some reason a good number of the dogs were paralyzed in their hind legs. Some people in the waiting room wore the same sort of anxiety-ridden expression I knew all too well while others had retreated even further into a blank stare of total shock over what was happening to their pet. I didn’t want to see this so I took my homework out and began reading. Thankfully the medication was working well enough so I felt I could concentrate.

Happy face i waiting room
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Another happy client waits for his appointment.

A lady wearing lots of purple sat down near Sam and struck up a conversation. She bred Labrador Retrievers and somehow one of the puppies got Parvo. The dog was named Mabel and she thought that she just might survive after some very bad days.

The conversation helped me forget to worry until I looked up and saw Dr. Carolyn walking towards me. I held my breath as she knelt down by my chair. She said that the procedure went well and that Gracie was starting to wake up from the sedation. That she wanted to keep Gracie on an IV for a few hours to make certain she was well enough to go home. She also added that she wanted to send the sample to the University of Pennsylvania because she knew the specialist who read the samples. She added that bone marrow samples required a very specialized expertise and that she knew and trusted the person who would study Gracie’s sample. The problem was we wouldn’t get results for two more days. Did we have two more days to wait?

I nodded that I understood and thanked Dr. Carolyn, grateful that the worst might be over for the day. Now all Gracie had to do was relax and get some fluids, certainly something that would help her feel better.

It’s funny how your body stops working when you experience long periods of stress. I hadn’t eaten more than a few bite of food for two days and now I suddenly felt a bit hungry. Though I’ve been very careful about my diet for three months I decided that it was okay to get something from the vending machine as long as I didn’t go overboard. Sam and I chose to get a small bag of plain potato chips. They also had Danish rolls in the vending machine which I assumed had to be completely disgusting for a number of reasons. The thing that made me smirk was seeing the smattering of signs adhered to the vending machine asking to “Please Don’t Shake Me.” I wanted to peel one off and stick it onto my forehead.

Do not shake me 475
©2015 Robin AF Olson. I couldn't have said it better myself.

A few hours later one of Gracie’s team saw us and came over to tell us she was doing well and getting a lot of snuggles and that she personally had held Gracie on her lap for a long time. She remarked at how sweet Gracie was, but of course that was just how Gracie always behaved. She said it would be another few hours but not to worry.

So I returned to my homework, learning about litterbox aversion while Gracie got her fluids. You see I’ve been accepted into an online program held by the Humane Society of the United States. I’m going to become (I hope) a Certified Cat Behavior Counselor. That way I can help people keep their cats in their home any time a behavior crisis occurs. I’ll be like Jackson Galaxy, Junior. Now if I could just get my own TV show I’d be all set.

We’d been in the waiting room for six hours before it was finally time to take Gracie home. Dr. Carolyn came out and talked with us and answered some of my questions about continuing medications or whether or not Gracie needed us to give her subcutaneous fluids (not yet). She handed Gracie over to us. She was quiet, but she was alive.

This horror was over for now and we could finally go home together. There’d be no taking a dead cat to Dr. Larry’s to be sent out to be cremated. There’d be no euthanizing Gracie right then and there because her blood work was getting worse. For now we had this extra time together and we could find solace in that without feeling the need to be greedy for more. I suppose we’d already had two more months than many Vets had told us we’d get, so I’d accept this gift for what it was and not look for more.

Gracie after sedation at pieper
©2015 Robin AF Olson. A bit worse for wear after recovering from sedation, Gracie rests her head on my hand as Sam drives us home.

In two days we’d might not have “the” answer but we’d have a some sense of an answer. I doubted it would be good news, but we’d know what we were dealing with and what Gracie needed to help her feel comfortable. Until then all I had to do was keep her belly full of good food and love her as much as possible.

I could do that. No problem.

Coming up next…the test results come in and once again I’m left shocked to my core, but not before Gracie gives us a very special gift.

Sun bow on way home
©2015 Robin AF Olson. A sun bow guides us home.

Staying Strong for Gracie: Part 8. The Decision.

(Continued from Parts 1, 2 and 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7)

Last week Gracie did really well. She started eating again; a good amount. Sam and I got into a routine of getting her medications to her on time and I continued to make notes in my log book about how she was doing. In the back of my mind was the weight of the decision about whether or not to have “one last test” done on Gracie’s liver (an ultrasound guided Tru-cut biopsy) or whether we should decide to focus on providing only palliative care and let her go when that no longer was effective. I’ve been sick about this decision. I even asked all of you to offer your advice.

For the most part, many of you were supportive and caring. You understood that the only way we can know what treatment Gracie needs is to know what Gracie is suffering from. The tiny liver biopsy will provide that information to us.

Gracie perky girl 475
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Gracie up and perky last week. What a delight to see her like this again!

One person was pretty cruel and accused me of being a Drama Queen and that I was unnecessarily harming Gracie by taking her to the Vet so many times. It’s really painful to hear something like that, even if I know it’s not true. I appreciate those of you who went to bat for me letting this person know that you had my back. I would rather not have to write this story at all. I don’t need attention, I just need my cat to be okay.

On Saturday, Gracie’s appetite started to fade. She’d done this just a week ago so I wondered if it was from her overdoing it. She’d been walking around a lot more the day before and maybe one of her liver cysts had started to bleed. We decided to give her another round of Yunnan Baiyo, a Chinese herb that helps stop bleeding. We also began to syringe-feed her, just as we had the week before. Once again I hoped that the same cycle would end and she’d begin to eat on her own after she’d had a few bigger meals in her belly.

I admit the one thing I like about syringe feeding is I can control what Gracie eats. I could blend together one of her favorite foods and add a bit of raw chicken liver and goat milk to the mix. It would help boost her iron and give her tummy some comfort. Though we had some struggles, Gracie was pretty calm about being fed, which was a good sign.

Yesterday Gracie ate a little bit on her own, but she wasn’t as perky as she had been so we continued supporting her while I wondered if she would even be in good enough shape to have the biopsy done. The truth is she’d have a transfusion first so she should be feeling quite good after that, but if she didn’t improve we’d have to re-think what we were going to do.

Gracie spencer and dood nap
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Gracie, surrounded by Spencer and DOOD.

Last night after giving her some dinner I gave Gracie a kiss and told her to hang on. She was still Gracie, still chirping, purring away, maybe getting up a few too many times to lap at water, but she was still there. I went to bed with a heavy heart. I knew that in the morning I’d have to face the music. Either we do this or we give up. Wednesday is the day of her appointment.

This morning I didn’t want to get up. No surprise. Freya heard me moving around and jumped on the bed. She curled up next to me wanting some snuggle-time
so I gave myself an excuse to delay getting up a little while longer. Freya drools like a fountain when I pet her so needless to say I got up a short time later.

I made my morning trek down the stairs, pausing on the landing to look across the living to see if Gracie was still there, still okay, still alive. Yep. She was sitting on her heated bed looking up at me.

Morning chores take forever so I got started: warm up cat food, scoop litter pans, clean up Gracie’s area, then put out freshly washed bowls with fresh water, add new litter if pans need them, clean up any “surprises” from the night before, go out to the garage to feed Barry and scoop his litter pan, then prepare some food for Gracie and pray she eats it (and that's only for OUR cats, then I do it all over again for the remaining foster cats, too).

Gracie in the Sun 475
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Resting in the sunshine.

Gracie DID eat, not as much as usual, but she ate. That was a good sign. I decided to keep syringe-feeding her because she’s getting thin. She looked perky and was doing about as well as I could have hoped, but today is the day we decide about her future so Sam and I sat down to talk about it once again.

Sam was surprisingly blunt. He felt we needed to do this or we needed to prepare to put Gracie down in about a week. She can’t go on as she is and she needs help-more than what we can do for her at home. Yes, it’s a risk and yes it could end badly, but we need to help her and that means we need to do the biopsy.

And now I will be blunt. We need help to make this happen. Our fundraiser for Gracie only brought in about $200.00 last week. We need to raise at least $1200, even though it will cost $1500+ for tomorrow’s procedure.

Perhaps you’re not sure it’s worth it to help this time because there are no guarantees of a happy outcome. I get that. But if you look beyond it, you could help just because you like what I’ve been doing, the cats I’ve rescued, the stories I’ve entertained you with. At this point of Gracie’s crisis, I hope you’ll find a way to share your love with us because we really need it. It doesn’t take much if a lot of people chose to donate. $5 here and $10 there can really add up.

For every person who donates more than $100, I will send them a special thank you treat (while supplies last and I have quite a few goodies!). I have some fun cat-centric things from books featuring cats to cute goodies and cat products.

We get more of your donation if you donate directly using our PayPal address: info@kittenassociates.org or if you go through our DONATE page on our web site.

You can mail a check to Kitten Associates, P.O. Box 354, Newtown, CT 06470-0354. Put a note "for Gracie" it so we can direct the funds to her.

Just SHARE this post with your friends who have kind hearts and love cats. That helps Gracie, too.

Your donation is Tax Deductible. Kitten Associates is a non-profit rescue and our IRS EIN is 27-3597692.

My Sweet Girl 475
©2015 Robin AF Olson. This is the face that inspires me do what it takes to help my sweet girl.

We will stop our fundraiser as soon as we’ve raised $1200.00, which we hope will cover Gracie's care. Any funds we don’t use for Gracie, we'll set aside for other kitties in our program who need help, like our recently rescued big guy, Barry.

Thank you.

PRODUCT REVIEW and GIVEAWAY: ZEN CLIPPER®

One of the things about sharing your life with cats means having to deal with their claws—claws that catch in the loop of your favorite sweater leaving a big hole or turn the side of your sofa into mince meat. Declawing your cat is inhumane and cruel and certainly NEVER a solution for dealing with your cat's claws-but even in a home full of cardboard and sisal cat scratchers, most cat parents are left with having to trim their cat’s claws from time to time.

Keeping claws trimmed is particularly important with older cats because their claws can grow faster and thicker, eventually curling under the toe and possibly embedding itself INTO the paw pad. This actually happened to my dear cat Gracie many years ago (You can read her story HERE) and after that nightmare we began checking her claws once a month and kept them trimmed. I discovered that ONE of her toes would grow a curiously thick, longer claw so being mindful of your cats claws is important.

ZC logo 475

As someone with lousy close-up vision, I am not a fan of doing claw trims. I fear cutting into the “quick” which is where the blood supply of each cat’s claw ends. If you cut it, the cat’s claw will bleed and, of course, it’s painful for your cat. If you’re really awkward, you can do more than harm the claw you could even clip the tip of the toe depending on the type of trimmer you’re using.

The other day the folks at Zen Clipper® contacted me about writing a review of their new nail trimmer. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but agreed to have them send me a product to try out. I couldn’t imagine it being any different than the drawer full of other clippers I had.

I was so wrong.

As a graphic designer, I enjoyed the bright colors and stylish design of the medium-sized clipper. Once I removed the clipper from the backer card, I noticed that unlike scissor-type clippers, these clippers cannot be opened very far apart due to a small spring that confines the movement of the clippers. What the spring does is causes the clipper to immediately go into an open position right after you close and release. This is a clever design feature because it gets the clipper ready to go faster than if you had to re-open a scissor-type trimmer after clipping a claw. It seems minor, but it ended up being an important factor.

In truth, I usually hold the cat needing the claw trim and Sam does the work. I had a bad scare with a kitten (she’s fine now) and since then I haven’t wanted to try trimming claws.

Laundry helper
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Woody "helping" with the laundry before we did his claw trim.

Since I promised to give it a try, I decided to test our foster cat, Woody. He was sitting on my lap, relaxed. I gently held his paw. All I had to do was line up the conical hole between the blades with a claw. I read on the package that you have to be careful the first few times you use it to make sure the claws don’t go too far into the opening. If they do go too far it means you need to exchange your Zen Clipper for a smaller size (Zen Clipper will exchange your clipper with no charge to you if you bring it back to the store where you originally purchased it). The claw easily slipped into the hole, not too far. I pressed the Zen Clipper closed and released. It made NO SOUND. Woody didn’t seem to even FEEL IT. His claw didn’t get crushed as it does with some types of trimmers. It was neatly trimmed back.

Niky claw trim r olson b 475
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Nicky.

I tried another claw and another. Eventually, I didn’t have to look too carefully since the hole would only line up with a claw and I was trimming off the tips. I trimmed one paw in a few seconds, tops, then did the other paw while Woody sat there purring away.

Energized by how effortless it was to use, I looked around for another cat who I could try it on. Freya was nearby so I did her claws, too. She fussed a bit, but again because she did not hear that telltale “Click” after each claw was cut and because the blades make a clean cut, she didn’t act as though she was uncomfortable.

 

I never thought I would be so blown away by product that I also never thought could be improved upon. The Zen Clipper out-performed my expectations and gave me confidence I’d lost long ago. I actually find trimming most of my cat’s claws a fun task since I don’t have to feel scared I’m going to hurt them in the process and I can get the job done quickly.

 

Niky claw trim r olson 475
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Nicky getting a claw trim.

Now, does this product calm a cat who hates getting their claws trimmed? No, but I believe that between the quiet operation and what it does for the cat-parent’s confidence might also make those tough-to-trim cat claws a thing of the past if you take it very slowly and only aim to trim a claw or two at a time.

All Clippers with text 475

The Zen Clipper comes in Small, Medium and Large. Medium is a good size for most cats. Older cats with thicker claws would need a Large and kittens and some reptiles and birds, too, would benefit from a Small size.

 

Thanks to Zen Clipper, I have a Medium-sized Zen Clipper (a $23.95 retail value) to give away to TWO lucky readers! All you have to do is leave a comment here on why you hate trimming your cat’s claws and I’ll chose the best two comments to win! Deadline is Monday, October 12, 2015 at 12:12 PM EST. Only ONE COMMENT per person. Multiple entries will be disqualified.

 

You can learn more about Zen Clippers on their web site http://www.zenclipper.com/ or find them on Facebook.

---------------------------------

After careful consideration, from time to time I write product reviews. If you see it here, it's because, at LEAST I think it's worth you knowing about even if I have an issue with it and, at BEST, I think it's amazing and we should all have one, two or more of whatever it is I'm reviewing. I get NO reimbursement for writing these reviews, though to write a review I am supplied with the item and I may be provided with an administration fee, as I was in this case. This review is MY OPINION, ONLY. The result you experience using this product may differ.

Staying Strong for Gracie. Part 7. Between a Rock.

(Continued from Parts 1, 2 and 3, 4, 5, and 6)

Both of my parents were scientists. I think that’s why when one of my cat’s gets sick I spend a great deal of time trying to sort out what is going on if we don’t have a clear cut answer. I’d been keeping a diary of when Gracie should have her meds, which meds she should get, what time I tried to get her to eat, if she ate and how much she ate. I also added other notes about her, like “Perky today” or “Kinda limp.”

When she’d do badly for a few days I'd look back over my notes for clues. Nothing added up. I also never knew if “this was it”-sort of decline or if she could rebound. We had no idea which, if any, of her medications were helping her. She’d go through periods of not eating for a day or a bit longer. I’d syringe-feed her and she’d perk up and eat again, getting her energy back, too. Though she didn’t return to her “old self” she'd sit up and meow at me when I came near or she’d, at least, walk over to the kitchen, far beyond her regular spot in the living room where she spends a majority of her day. One day I gave her a rainbow shaped catnip toy and she loved it. She even fell asleep with her head on it. She was still a cat by all definitions.

Gracie with Rainbow
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Although the catnip toy didn't make Gracie get frisky, she did really enjoy it and even nibbled on it with the few teeth she has left.

Monday arrived. Test result day. Once again my gut was in a knot. I had my phone ringer turned on and turned up. I carried my phone wherever I went. Every time someone else called me I jumped out of my skin. Would this be the day I find out my cat has a deadly cancer or would it be treatable? We’d been down this road before but truly this time we’d KNOW.

Or would we?

Dr. Carolyn called early that evening and told me that the test didn’t tell us much. There was, once again, no sign of cancer in the spleen. Gracie didn’t have hemolytic anemia. Gracie didn’t have a portal shunt in her liver. What DID Gracie have?

“We don’t know just yet.”

Dr. Carolyn went on to describe our next options. We had three:

1. Do a Tru-cut ultrasound guided biopsy of Gracie’s liver because most of the Vets on this case agreed that the culprit still is her liver. Yes, she has benign cysts there that we know of but there’s a chance there's more going on than we realize. A needle aspirate can't get enough tissue to give us a more complete picture, which is why we only found out there were cysts when we had that done a month ago. The Tru-cut would tell us what's happening in the surrounding liver tissue. Doing this type of biopsy, while gets good results, isn’t as accurate as doing a “wedge” biopsy (see below).

With this procedure there's a risk Gracie could bleed more and possibly not recover. It’s a quick procedure and the least invasive. There isn’t even a suture needed, the opening created is so tiny. They'd also do another transfusion, this time doing it FIRST to give Gracie the best chance to survive and feel good after the procedure is done. If she starts to decline they would do a SECOND transfusion, which of course adds to costs and is no guarantee she will come out of it.

Dr. Carolyn felt that this test WOULD tell us once and for all what is going on and if we knew, then there would be a chance for some sort of treatment, though a cure is very unlikely. It would buy us more quality time and we could treat her with appropriate medications and stop giving her ones she didn't need in the first place. It would cost another $1500.00 or so.

2. Do nothing. Keep Gracie comfortable and she may become so anemic she'll die. We could try to up her dose of steroids, but that's not a fix and we'll never know what happened or if we could have done something about it. She'll have much less time with us and potentially be much more uncomfortable.

3. Do a wedge biopsy of her liver. This way a surgeon would SEE her liver and be able to take a sample that was big enough to test, as well as suture closed any bleeding issues. It would cost about $5,000.00. It would likely KILL Gracie before she was even out of sedation.

It was pretty clear we really only had two options, numbers 1 and 2. I wouldn’t cut Gracie open like that. Sure, they could see what's going on, but that’s no way to die. The problem was…what DO we choose to do next?

Gracie in the Sun 475
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Laying on a pet-safe heated bed and some sunshine helps soothe Gracie's discomfort.

I’ve had a number of conversations with all the major players in our story. Two of the three said YES, do the Tru-cut. Dr. Carolyn feels there's a very good chance Gracie WILL survive the procedure. Gracie's 13, not 18. We would finally know what's going on and know if there is more to be done to help Gracie feel comfortable.

Not knowing would be a continuation of the painful roller coaster we’ve endured for months. Gracie would take a turn and we’d wonder if “this is it” yet again. If we knew this was part of her disease, it would be easier on us, too. I could ride out the lows and I’d know better when Gracie was in trouble instead of being terrified all the time. We could treat her more appropriately instead of throwing everything we’ve got at her. She would respond better, too…but there are risks and the price could be her life.

One of the Vets said not to do it because it was too risky and that some times you just don’t know and that we could come in to see him and he’d discuss treatment options. For what? What are we treating if we DON’T KNOW what it is?! Frankly, I think he was back-peddling because he should have caught something worse was going on with Gracie over a month ago and he didn’t.

Sam and I have discussed this a few times. I’ve asked questions and still have more to ask. Three days ago Gracie was not eating and I wouldn’t have done a thing to her. Today she she's on her third day of feeling perky and eating again, but how long will that last?

I want to know what’s killing my cat, but to find out she may die anyway. There’s a very decent chance she'll make it and we’ll have answers, but I have to be willing to let my cat pay the price if I’m wrong.

So now I find myself like a deer caught in the headlights. I don't know what to do. I think we should do the Tru-cut biopsy since Gracie is stable. The costs are an issue. In truth, we need help to make this happen.

If you’d like to take Gracie under your wing and help with a small donation toward her care, it could mean a world of difference to her and would honor our hard work helping others.

We get more of your donation if you donate directly using our PayPal address: info@kittenassociates.org or if you go through our DONATE page on our web site.

You can mail a check to Kitten Associates, P.O. Box 354, Newtown, CT 06470-0354. Put a note "for Gracie" it so we can direct the funds to her.

Just SHARE this with your friends who have kind hearts and love cats. That helps Gracie, too.

Your donation is Tax Deductible. K.A. is a non-profit rescue and our IRS EIN is 27-3 597692.

We will stop our fundraiser as soon as we’ve raised $2000.00, which we hope will cover Gracie's care and allow some funds to be banked in case she needs a second transfusion. Any funds we don’t use for Gracie, we'll set aside for other kitties in our program who need help like our recently rescued big guy, Barry.

My Sweet Girl 475
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Gracie.

Thank you to everyone who has been so kind to share their love, prayers and good wishes for Gracie. We can't do this without you. #ComeOnGracie #LoveYouGracie

Staying Strong for Gracie. Part 6. Too Close.

(Continued from Parts 1, 2 and 3, 4 and 5)


Words fail me. I can’t eat. I lost 5 lbs in 4 days. I don’t have the brain-function to work. I can’t sleep. I’m terrified that I’m going to find my cat, Gracie dead.

Every morning I wonder if I’ll see Gracie lying strangely still on her heated bed in the living room, where she spends most of her day. Every morning I hope I'm wrong and that she’ll be okay, sitting up, hungry. Even better, will she be in the kitchen meowing at me to be fed? Or worse, will she be quietly sitting in a “meatloaf” position that tells me she’s in pain and doesn’t want to eat even though her last meal was so many hours ago.

The ups and downs of Gracie’s health crisis are taking a toll, while Sam and I are working so hard to get a definitive diagnosis of what has been causing Gracie’s hemorrhaging and serious anemia. We’ve seen an oncologist, three general practitioners, and two Board Certified specialists. We thought we had a diagnosis of biliarycystadenoma and while that may be partially true, it wouldn’t cause Gracie’s other issues.

A week ago Gracie wasn’t doing as well as I’d hoped, so I brought her in to see Dr. Larry. Her blood work showed the anemia was back and Dr. Larry could feel that Gracie’s liver still felt enlarged. I was shocked and scared. He asked if we could do yet another ultrasound to find out what was going on. I was reluctant because I didn’t think we’d find anything out, but he reminded me that we’d see if the bleeding was worse and if the liver looked bigger or smaller. We had to act fast, but I was already exhausted and couldn’t face the idea of making the hour-long drive. Sam had worked all night to make up for all the time he’s been on Vet runs with me and unable to work. How could we make this happen?

Super-Deb and I made calls, trying to find a place to do the ultrasound. In the end I realized we had to go see Dr. Sean, who did Gracie’s previous procedure. I was able to get an appointment two days later, but what I wasn’t ready for was that we ended up being at the hospital all day.

Gracie’s appointment went quickly, but Dr. Sean strongly felt we needed to meet with an Internist to discuss his findings. It was 11:30 AM, but she couldn’t see us until 3:00 PM. Did we want to wait? Neither of us wanted to drive over an hour back home, turn around and come back so we opted to wait. Sitting in a waiting room with nothing but a blaring TV and patients with their pets in different states of decline was not my idea of a good time. Sam and I both just wanted to sleep. Gracie was in her carrier between us. We had the top unzipped and we were both gently petting her. I knew she wasn’t strong enough to run off, so we each took turns closing our eyes for a few minutes at a time.

Dr. Carolyn finally came to get us a little after 3 PM. She seemed very clever and was eager to give us her take on what she thought was Gracie’s issue. We were all looking at Gracie’s liver, but no one bothered with the fact that Gracie’s spleen also had a strange shape that was seen on ultrasound. Something was wrong with it, too and no one had even considered it as part of the equation. Dr. G carefully described how Mast Cell cancer could be in the spleen and be the culprit. Gracie could also have hemolytic anemia or a portal shunt that basically meant something was blocking blood flow from Gracie’s digestive tract into her liver.

She further explained that she’d like to do another blood test on Gracie to make sure she could clot, that she’d do another type of blood test (I forget what it’s called) that measures her blood differently and would tell us if she had the hemolytic anemia. Lastly she wanted to do a needle aspirate of Gracie’s spleen to rule cancer in or out. I was having a bad flashback to a few weeks prior when we’d done the needle aspirate of Gracie’s liver and Gracie was in terrible shape afterwards.

Dr. Carolyn added that Gracie should get a transfusion and stay overnight with the theory that the new blood would help her feel better and give us more time to find out what was going on. Once again we’d have to wait until the following Monday for the results. We just had to keep her going until we had more information.

We decided it all made sense and agreed to let her take Gracie. The bill for that day was $1600.00.

The traffic was terrible going home and we didn’t arrive until nearly 7 PM, to a house full of anxious cats who needed to be fed right away. We finally got everyone settled when my phone rang. It was Dr. Carolyn-

She asked me if something went wrong did I want them to do CPR on Gracie? I said YES if it was appropriate and if she could be revived, but why was I being asked this? Then Dr. Carolyn dropped the bomb: Gracie was not doing well at all. The needle aspirate was done quickly but now Gracie was flat. She was rushing the transfusion and hoped it would be enough to help Gracie recover, but that she wasn’t sure and that it didn’t look too promising.

My gut hit the floor and I tried to choke back the tears. I told her to go; to take care of Gracie and not bother with me on the phone. I hung up and told Sam the bad news. What made it unbearable is that we just did what we promised we would NOT do to Gracie—let her die alone, without us, surrounded by strangers. I asked Sam if we should drive back to Middletown, to Gracie, to be there for her. I knew that even if we left right away, odds are we’d be too late. If she survived, they’d want to keep her there overnight so we decided to stay home.

With Boo boo leg
©2015 Robin AF Olson. My sweet girl.

Less than an hour later, Dr. Carolyn called. Gracie had bounced back and was eating and up on her feet! Sam looked at me while I got the news. I gave him the thumbs up sign while I tried to choke back the tears, telling Dr. Carolyn to please give Gracie a kiss from us and that we’d see her in the morning.

I hung up the phone and sobbed. I cried so hard I started to hyperventilate. My heart felt really wonky and I knew I was in trouble. Sam sat near me and put his arm around me and helped me calm down. I couldn't stop saying; We almost lost Gracie, but we didn’t. She's still with us. I was so grateful and relieved.

Gracie didn’t come home the next morning. Dr. Carolyn wanted to keep her longer so we picked her up that night. Gracie seemed perkier and even ate for me when we got her home. I hoped the effects of the transfusion would last, but I also knew that Gracie’s updated blood work showed she didn’t bounce back as well as Dr. Carolyn would have hoped. I have the paperwork but I don’t have the heart to even look at it. Knowing what that number is didn’t change that Gracie survived the procedure. Frankly, I didn’t know if I could take much more. I just wanted to sleep and feel certain that when I woke up Gracie would still be with us.

Part 7 is next...where we have to make a life or death decision for Gracie and I sure could use some advice on what to do.

Karma is a Wasp Queen

I thought a lot about Karma last week when Sam and I decided we had to call an exterminator to rid our house of a nest of social wasps. They’d built a home under the siding over the summer and although I knew they would perish naturally in a few weeks, there were so many of them swarming outside that I worried they’d be chewing through the walls breaking inside the house next.

As a Buddhist I am told to consider every living being in the same way as I would think of my mother. Every fly is my mother. Every spider is my mother. Each creature has a precious life and to take even one on purpose is definitely not something you want to do.

The morning of the event, I wept. I really did. My cat Gracie is constantly wavering from circling the drain to maybe feeling better. I didn’t want to kill other creatures. I thought about the Queen wasp and all the drones. I thought about how they would be dead soon and how could I do that while my own cat was so ill. I knew that there would be a price. I just couldn’t imagine what it would be. I just hoped Gracie would be left out of it.

Joe, the exterminator arrived. He has a Brooklyn accent and a friendly demeanor. When I told him my concerns he said that the wasps would have to go because they really could case a great deal of damage. In my own defense, last year they built a big nest on the underside of a bird feeder so we just didn’t go out on the deck much and the birds got fed elsewhere.

Joe explained the process. It was a powder. It was safe for us. It would work pretty fast. I didn’t want to see the wasps die but it was happening right outside my office window. As he applied the powder I heard the wasps making a familiar “tick” sound inside the wall. They were moving around trying to get out. Some were trying to get in because the alarm, sent via hormones through the air, had gone out and the wasps who were outside were coming back to save the Queen…but it was already too late.

I said a silent prayer. I said I was sorry to the dead wasps. They aren’t just bugs. They are part of the natural world and now they were gone.

Joe said that we should be all set and wished us well. I tried not to dwell on it and went back to fussing with Gracie, trying to get her to eat.

Until that night when Fluff Daddy knocked over a lamp.

He was trying to get at the wasps. Yes, that’s plural, WASPS. They had found a way into the house and there were about a dozen of them skittering about around Fluff Daddy’s head. He and Freya were having a blast racing after their newest toys.

It’s funny how quickly things can change. I went from pure remorse to hyper-protection-mode. I had to get the cats away from the wasps and I had to get the wasps OUT of the house, fast.

I ran for the vacuum and Sam and I spent a few minutes sucking up every one we could find. We managed to take a very few of them outside, but there were too many. We decided to leave the vacuum out because we didn’t know if there’d be any more. A few minutes later the cats would go crazy, signaling that there was another…and another...all in the same room by the front door. But where were they coming in from?

We looked around and found nothing. Only the front room had wasps so it had to be from that room. I flashed back to a day when we found a mouse in the house. I figured out it came in from inside the coat closet by the front door. The sheet rock from the back of the closet didn’t go all the way to the floor. There was no molding at the end of the sheet rock so anything inside the walls could get into the house. It took me until the next morning to figure out that was the problem.

Vespula germanica Richard Bartz 350

Creative Commons. Wasp. Thanks to Richard Bartz.

Joe returned and we began emptying out the closet. Sure enough wasps continued to come into the house from inside the closet. The tables certainly were turned. I was struggling to consider the wasps as blessed living creatures. I just wanted them out of my house.

Joe treated the areas and he took another look around. We thought that things were settled once and for all. Joe cautioned us that maybe we’d see one or two more wasps but they’d be heavy with the dust and too off-kilter to sting any of the cats.

It was late morning so I went upstairs to the foster room. I began doing the daily cleanup when I noticed Piglet playing with something. It was a dead wasp. Their room is directly next to where the nest was in the wall. Joe told us there was no way they could get into the ducts and fly into the rooms so I couldn’t understand where this lone wasp came from.

I had shut the window when the spraying was going on so I decided it was okay to open it again. A few moments after opening the window about 10 wasps appeared in the foster room. I called out to Sam to bring me the vacuum quickly. I couldn’t risk the cats getting stung and these wasps were none too happy. Though I would have preferred to catch the wasps and let them go outside there was no time. I sucked up each one, then waited, then another would appear. I wondered if they, too, had an entrance route through the closet in that room.

It seemed as though I’d turn my head for a second and another would appear, but it couldn’t be from the vent, right?

Wrong.

I decided to put a flashlight on the vent. I turned it on knowing it would attract the wasps. A moment later, a wasp appeared IN the vent. I called for Joe yet again. The receptionist was stunned when I told her, no it wasn’t just one or two wasps, it was over a dozen. She told me to cover the vent with a doubled over garbage bag, to seal each edge of the bag perfectly because wasps can slip through a space the thickness of a piece of paper. She promised me that Joe would return, but not until the next day. I was to cover up the vents near the nest and report back if it got worse.

The next morning Joe returned, a bit embarrassed. He’d never seen wasps get into duct work, but we have a cheaply built house so I’m not surprised. He told us to simply leave the vents in my office and the foster cat room sealed shut for the next few weeks. Any remaining wasps would die once it got cold enough outside. He did not want to put any chemicals into the duct, nor did I want him to do so.

He re-inspected the area outside the house and declared that the siege of wasps was over and this time he was right.

I’m pretty sure I’m going to have a crappy re-birth over this, but at least I don't hear buzzing.

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