It’s the morning of my birthday, a fresh coating of snow outlines the branches of each tree. The temperatures dropped from the 60’s down to the 30s. The wind is picking up. It’s going to be a blustery day. Whatever plans I may have had are cancelled due to the worsening weather. I guess at my age, an age that I don’t even want to admit to, it doesn’t much matter if there is a celebration or if it’s “business as usual.” I don’t want to be old. I’m longing for my youth. I suppose that happens to most of us. We don’t have much choice. There are people who embrace their wrinkles as a badge of wisdom, but I’m not there yet.
©Robin AF Olson. Me, at 2. I was never a skinny kid.
I’ve dropped 4 sizes and very soon I will never have to shop in the “Women’s” department (a term I loathe) or the “Plus” section (it’s disgusting that there’s a separate area for these clothes. It’s just fat-shaming and you know and I know the plus-size girls have to shop in the dark corner of the store, not out in front).
©Robin AF Olson. The ever-familiar round face. I was 16 in this photo. After going away to college I really started to pack on the pounds.
Maybe part of my journey was inspired by sheer anger. Anger at the media for still making it ok to make fat people feel they don’t belong, of course because we’re lazy (are you kidding me?) and unhealthy, that we all must fit into an ever-changing height to weight ratio. We have to do this and do that. Don’t eat this, but eat that. No. Let’s change it and don’t eat the other thing we said was good because it’s bad. Let’s just all go insane worrying about what we’re eating, drinking, if we’re sitting or running because whatever we do we’re just not good enough as we are. I think that’s a crime of the century and a waste of someone’s life-to fret and fuss and feel unworthy or ashamed of their body. I wish we could all just look at each other as we look at ourselves and love each other and respect each other for our different shapes and sizes. It’s been said much better by others, but if we could only take away stigma of all kinds and be open and accepting of each other, wow, what a world it would be.
I lost the weight because I had two big health scares last July; diabetes type 2 and heart troubles. I don’t have diabetes now and though the heart issues aren’t sorted out, I usually feel a lot better day to day. I gave myself a gift through a lot of sacrifice and continuing day to day struggles, but it’s worth it. My health is not simply a personal thing, I have to be in good shape to care for my own cats and the cats who are in my rescue. I can’t assume someone else will step in and take over if I can’t. I could continue down the path of spaghetti and meatballs many times a week (partially to save money) or eat much better (spend a lot more on food), cut carbs down to the nubs and kick sugar and processed foods in the ass.
©2014 Robin AF Olson. Super-sized me at Toy Fair in 2014.
It’s a joke, but a painful one; who CAN eat just one potato chip? Well, that’s the whole idea. You can’t.
©2005 Robin AF Olson. My dad committed suicide a few years before this birthday, I went through a divorce and a year later my mother would be gone. Lots of reasons why I gained, but I own my choices. I could have not taken out my pain on myself.
It’s not adorable that there are a zillion combinations of Oreo cookie. It’s not good for any of us to believe that anything that says “all natural” is better and worth the cost. Arsenic is natural and so are a whole host of other things that are either poison or that screw up our metabolism and push us into taking acid pump inhibitors (by the way DO NOT DO THAT you need the acid and produce LESS as you age…look it up!).
For me, losing weight was terrifying because I feared 1: I could not do it, 2: I could not stick with it, 3: If I did lose weight I couldn’t keep it off because hardly anyone who looses CAN keep it off and 4: I feared the effects of diabetes on my body (amputations, neuropathy, macular degeneration and more).
It was not easy to lose weight and I had to re-tool my life and re-learn to cook. I doubt it’s easy for anyone, but I was lucky that I had already cut out most processed foods and no fast food, a long time ago.
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Me and Duck at Toy Fair 2016.
I feel a lot better. I’m happier. I sleep better. I have energy all day. In all these months I only once felt like I had to have a nap. Am I perfect about my eating habits? No. Do I expect to be? No. What I expect is that I will take it one day at a time for the rest of my life. That’s it. If I eat something on the bad list then I will go for a walk afterwards, but I find that less and less I’m even interested in eating those things. I recognize the addiction to carbs and sweets is a powerful one, but I’m trying to acknowledge it, but not let it rule over me. I’m not a bad person if I eat a cookie and I certainly felt a lifetime of guilt over doing just that.
©2013 Robin AF Olson. If looks could kill.
So on the morning of my birthday I know I will not have a cake or candles to blow out. I might have a scone with high tea or allow myself a few finger sandwiches on white (gasp!) bread, too. After I eat those things, when I start to feel a brain fog, a stomach ache and tired, I’ll remind myself that those things are what’s keeping me from my next birthday and maybe one day I’ll learn, but I’ll also go back to eating well as soon as I can.
And to everyone out there who is overweight, I love you as you are. If you want to lose weight, you can. If you don’t want to, then don’t. You have the power to give that to yourself, but you have to find motivation to stick to it and you most importantly have to FORGIVE YOURSELF when you have a misstep and not use it as an excuse to give up. Just start again and get back on track and again if needed. Keep at it. It does get easier AND in truth, better food tastes a lot better. You’ll find you feel gross if you don’t eat well.
©2016 Robin AF Olson. The new, older me.
We’re all just a skin bag full of chemicals and what works for me, may not be the best thing for you. Talk with your doctor, but also do some research, ask friends, ask another doctor or someone who works holistically. Don’t look to a pill to fix whatever ails. It’s on the plate in front of you. Put the right things on it and just like our cats, with good nutrition we can do a great deal to correct many of the medical issues we face and give us a much brighter future.
Happy Birthday to me. I made it another year.
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.
©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.
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.
©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).
©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.
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.
©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.
In my last post I wrote about trusting your gut instincts. My 14-year old cat, Gracie hadn’t been quite right after having a dental cleaning. She was barely eating and becoming less and less active. I kept taking her to see my vets, telling them something was still wrong. We all tried to sort out what was going on, but as often happens with cats, they’re great at hiding health issues until they’re in such bad shape that their life is in jeopardy.
Gracie's x-rays. Another good reason to do a baseline x-ray of your cat during a routine exam when they're seniors. (top) You can see how the center of Gracie's abdomen, where her liver is located, looks cloudy. That's the fluid buildup in her abdomen and her liver is enlarged. (Bottom) organs look more defined.
I knew we could get the ultrasound done at one of many emergency veterinary hospitals in the area, but Dr. Larry said he really wanted me to take Gracie to the one he considers top notch and that meant a trip to Pieper Memorial, which is over an hour drive away. Though other hospitals were closer, Dr. Larry trusted Dr. Sean’s expertise and he knew I'd do whatever was asked to get to the bottom of Gracie’s issues.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Waiting for Dr. Larry.
The thought of the trip gave me painful flashbacks to the last time I went to Pieper. It was in 2012 and I had Fred with me; a 10-month old kitten who had lost use of his back legs. Dr. Sean was to look for signs of FIP (Feline Infectious Peritonitis) because that was our fear. I remember pacing anxiously outside the hospital in their garden. It was early April and still cold, but I couldn’t stay inside and sit quietly waiting for the results. I prayed and prayed that Dr. Sean would tell me Fred was going to be okay. Ironically, he did tell me there were no signs of FIP, but sadly Fred did have it and died a few weeks later. I didn’t want to have the same experience now—a clean ultrasound and heartbreak later. I angrily wondered why even bother doing an ultrasound if the results are so questionable, but it was safer than doing exploratory surgery by far.
Sam had been working around-the-clock on a very challenging project and was exhausted. I was emotionally wiped out from worrying about Gracie and didn’t sleep the night before the test. I was going to take Gracie by myself so Sam could stay home and tend to the cats, but Sam somehow dragged himself out of bed, after very little sleep, and we both took Gracie to Pieper. I was so grateful he made the effort because frankly I didn’t want to be alone. I needed him to be with us.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. A very sick girl on the way to Pieper.
It was a sunny morning and the commuters were out in full force. I sat with the cat carrier on my lap with the top unzipped so I could pet Gracie. She was not happy to be back in the car yet again, but she was comforted by my gentle caress. I felt sick to my stomach with worry, but we had to know what was going on and if there was a chance we could do something about it.
We didn’t have to wait long before a cheerful vet tech took Gracie from us. I stopped her before she could turn away and asked if didn’t Dr. Sean want to talk to us first and she said no, that he had all her notes. I found that odd and wondered if they didn’t value my observations. I’m not a vet so what do I know. Maybe it’s not necessary. All he’s doing is looking into her abdomen. Whatever I say won’t change what he finds.
I sat against the side of an austere hallway lined with chairs with Sam by my side. Sam was drinking coffee, trying to wake up and I was trying to be calm while my heart was pounding in my chest. I saw a lot of dogs with their parents. I tried to distract myself by people-watching. Did they match their pets? Not really. Did one of them have a really big behind when the rest of her body was tiny? Yes. Did I wonder if the golden retriever with the white mask of fur on his face was going to be around much longer. Yes.
A few minutes later, the tech arrived and said the Dr. Sean was ready to talk to us. My stomach did a flip-flop as I stood. I reached out to Sam for support as we entered a nearby exam room.
We thanked Dr. Sean and left him to do the test. I felt like my heart was going to explode. I wanted to run away. How the HELL did I miss my cat having CANCER? How is this happening? Just the day before all I thought I needed to do was fine tune Gracie’s medications so that we could get her eating better and now I’m thinking my cat is possibly terminally ill.
I needed to go outside. I didn’t want people to see me react to the news. I raced out the door back to the garden. I paced. I cried. I prayed for a glimmer of hope. Sam tried to comfort me but I couldn’t stand still. I wanted Gracie to be okay. I wasn’t ready for this to happen. My mind was swirling with dark visions of what the future held-if there was to be any future-for my girl.
It didn’t take long for the test to be done. One of the techs came outside to find us to tell us we could check out and take Gracie home. It being a Thursday meant that the results would probably not be ready until Monday. MONDAY?! I wondered if Gracie would be alive by Monday—and sadly I wasn’t wrong to worry about that.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Gracie's little blankee area where she spends most of her day.
I’d set Gracie up inside a big dog crate with a cat bed and heated pad. She’d spent the last week on the bed, but now she wanted to lay on the cooler flat oriental rug near the crate. I imagined that her belly must have hurt based on how awkwardly she would lay down. I grabbed some soft blankets and made some bumpers for her to rest her head on and one where she could prop herself up. She’d sit up, stretching her abdomen, no doubt to give her enlarged liver and fluid build-up more space inside her. I wanted to keep her as comfortable as possible. I also had to figure out a way to get her to eat.
So began an all-too-familiar odyssey—trying to find the Holy Grail of cat nutrition to keep Gracie alive, at least for a few more days.
Part 2, to Hell and Back, next...and don't think you already know what's going to happen, because no one saw this coming.
Lisa was the Tech. She was a pretty blonde with a slight southern accent. I tried to chat with her but she was all business. The room was not much nicer than the waiting room and certainly not any more cheerful. There was a treadmill flanked by two computers with a hospital bed next to one of them. Lisa told me to remove everything on top and put on a smock with the front open. I balked, being shy, and said I wore a sports bra thinking that the underwire from my other bras would have caused a problem. She apologized and said everything had to go or it could interfere with the test.
I did as I was told, trying to have an out-of-the-body experience. I am not a fat girl, half naked in front of a stranger. It was bad enough having to be naked at all. I wished I was home, scooping one hundred litter pans over doing this.
I knew seeing my boobs was nothing of interest to Lisa because she’d seen a million bare breasts before mine. She was very careful to keep me covered as much as she could as she wiped my chest with rubbing alcohol so the suction cups attached to the leads on the ECG would stay in place. She did her job quickly and effectively, then asked me to lay on my left side so she could take a baseline ECG and ultrasound of my heart. The harness was bulky so I had to move slowly. Once I got into position she warned me that the gel might be a bit cold. I didn’t care. I just wanted to live through what was coming next.
As Lisa began to roll the ultrasound device into my flesh, I looked up at the screen and saw it moving in black and white…my heart. My little heart beating away reminded me of a Kissing Gouramis fish, gulping what looked like air, but I knew was blood. Very quietly I said; “Hello, heart” as tears filled my eyes.
I had no way to take a photo of the moment I saw my heart, but this is what a typical stress echo looks like.
Lisa explained that the cardiologist would be in soon to do the test. He would be monitoring me the entire time and that I shouldn’t worry. Meanwhile, she handed me some paperwork stating the inherent risks of the tests, including death, and would I sign it please.
Lisa left the room for a few minutes. I sat on the end of the bed noticing a readout on the wall. It was showing the beats per minute of my heart: 110. I didn’t need to see that to know I was in a panicked state. I tried to focus on my Buddhist training; settle your mind, let go of your thoughts. My heart slowed down to 89, but only for a moment before it returned north of 100. Pure adrenaline and terror pulsed through my veins with every beat. Not much was going to change that.
I started to walk and my heart felt all right. The doctor quickly increased the angle of the treadmill and I started to falter. I told him I had pain but it was coming from my gut and my lungs more than my heart. The aspirin had done a number on me and so had being sedentary for six weeks. I couldn’t do it. I broke out into a cold sweat and warned I was going to vomit. He asked me if I could go another 30 seconds. I did, but in the end I couldn’t reach my target heart rate. As directed earlier, I got off the treadmill as fast as I could and laid back down on the bed on my left side. I was panting, desperately angry at myself for not reaching the target heart rate, but glad I was still alive.
I heard the curtain move and I looked up. Sam gave me a small smile and sat down, not saying a word. He reached out and squeezed my toe. I tried to smile back while Lisa kept making records of my heart, switching back and forth from one computer screen to another. It took about five more minutes until she was done. She gave me a towel to clean up with and said we were all set and I could go home.
I was done. I was okay. I could go home and watch the next episode of The Bachelorette where Kaitlyn would continue to suck face with guy after guy; the romance of the show long gone. I used to love these trashy programs, but now I didn't care any more.
As I got dressed I held my breath. I felt shaky and stunned. I was certain my next stop was going to be Yale-New Haven hospital, not home. I didn’t say anything to Sam until we were back inside his car. Once seated and belted, Sam fired up the engine. I felt cool air blowing on my face. I looked up to see more geriatric patients entering the building, but I was leaving. I was going home. As the shock of the past few days began to wane, I felt my body slowly rock back and forth as tears ran down my cheeks.
The next morning I got a call from my G.P.’s nurse. She said my heart looked fine so there was no need for our appointment on Thursday. I told her that I was still having chest pain so I was going to come in. After all this, I had no idea what was bothering me.
For the next few days I focused on my new eating “lifestyle.” I had to cut carbs very dramatically. I read that I should to try to keep it to about 50-55 grams per day. After a lifetime of eating a lot more than that. I had to work on portion control along with what I was eating. I never even gave myself a chance to say farewell to my favorite foods. I just stopped eating them.
I came up with a game plan. I’d work very hard to be careful for the next few months or however long it would take to lose enough weight to get out of the Diabetes-zone. I didn’t even know how much I had to lose. From what I’d read it would need to be a percentage of my weight and that would be a good bit of weight. Ideally I need to lose even more than that. The painful truth is I need to lose at least 30 pounds if not 50 pounds or more. I couldn’t look at it as one big number. I’d have to chip away at it. I’d do it reasonably and thoughtfully. I know I’d have bad and good days. I’d try to be as cutthroat as I could with carbs until I was out of danger, then slowly re-introduce SOME carbs back into my diet, as long as I was exercising (which I hate doing-yay!).
I'm a "Foodie." I love go on road trips and discover out-of-the-way diners, little mom and pop restaurants where the locals like to eat. I also know I use food for neurotic reasons like boredom or anxiety and God knows running a rescue means preventing stress-related eating is going to be a BIG factor...oh and I LOVE to cook. What am I going to do?
The best I could aim for is that I could do this for a few months, then maybe try to go a year, then maybe it would become my new routine and it would be harder to go back down that path full of sugar and carbohydrates since now I see what it will do to me...but can I do it?
Thursday arrived. It marked one week since I’d been diagnosed. This time I was anxious for the nurse to weigh me because I felt thinner. I thought maybe I’d lost a few pounds, but I prepared myself for only a pound or two. I lost SEVEN pounds! Not only that but my blood sugar was normal. This was a very good sign that maybe I wasn’t too late.
We talked about the weird lung pain, gut pain, neck pain, back pain on walking up stairs or some other activities. She said she had no differential diagnosis unless it still was angina and that was something I was not ready to hear. My heart might still be in trouble.
©2015 Robin A.F. Olson. My new BFF. Fortunately for me, I only have to test if I feel woozy to make sure I don't have hypoglycemia.
She told me that angina presents very oddly in women and that if not angina I might have some sort of problem with my stomach or esophagus. There’d be more tests to do, of course, but I was worried about doing too much and making things get worse. I told her that over the two months it wasn’t as bad as before and that maybe I should give it a week or two and see how I was feeling then. I did not want to take something to turn off the acid pumps in my stomach. I just wanted to give my body time to adjust. I prayed that maybe I’d luck out and it would go away because one treatment for angina is the same as diabetes—diet and exercise. That said, wondering if I have a ticking time bomb in my body is no comfort. I just want to be pain-free and well enough to begin exercising.
The problem is that I don't have a lot of faith in myself. As much as I love my heart (my new BFF) and treasure the health I have, I don't know if I can do this long term. I've already had dreams about eating carbs and repeated uncomfortable cravings. That said, I know what lies ahead for me if I don't do it.
It was just another morning feeding routine I do twice a day with the foster cats. I carried their food and a few plates up the stairs to the second floor of my house. Their room is at the end of the hallway. As I reached the top stair I started to feel a pressure in my chest, then a stinging radiating pain from my lungs, into both sides of my neck, down into my shoulders. My head was already throbbing from a headache, but now it was worse. I felt palpitations. I knew if I didn't drop what I was carrying and sit down I was going to be in trouble.
I got to my bed and sat down on the edge of it, trying to calm my nerves. Slowly I felt the pain subside enough to feel like I could stand. I could hear the cats crying and banging on the door to their room. I was already late feeding them so I had to get up.
The cats always crowd around me as I enter the room, anxious to be the first to lick at their food. I shuffled my feet so I wouldn't step on any of them, then began to lower the trays to the floor. Something didn't feel right. The pressure and pain began to return. I sat down on the bed in the foster room, my chest was heaving. Something was very wrong with me.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Just another day...or the first sign of trouble.
For the past few weeks I’ve been suffering a lot with these mysterious searing aches and pains. Hey, I’m no spring chicken any more. It’s to be expected. The thing is, with the ease of looking up symptoms on the internet it’s lead me to believe that I need to see a Doctor or two and right away, please. Am I going to have a heart attack?
So I went to the Doctor. I did the easiest thing I could. I had Sam schlep me to Urgent Care hoping that they’d agree to my assessment of the situation: that due to my sedentary life, the stress of running a cat rescue, not having a vacation in years, needing a bigger bed so there’s actually room for two adults and a few giant cats to sleep on, was the root cause of my woes.
So I left the clinic with more questions than answers. I feared I was going to have a heart attack at any moment. The signs for women are subtle and range from pain in the back, neck, chest, jaw, down the arms, pressure on the chest and more. I had most of those symptoms. I have a very tragic family history of heart issues and strokes. I have to face the fact that perhaps all this sitting around and carrying extra weight on my bones has caught up with me.
It’s amusing perhaps, that my Mother spoke to me about death. She was very matter of fact about it and got a bit terse with me if I pushed back, not wanting to have the discussion. My stomach would flip flop when she brought it up. I couldn’t imagine my life without her in it. I hoped I’d have her around as long as I was around. She didn’t smoke or drink so she had that going for her. Maybe losing her could be put off for some other day.
She wanted me to know what to do if I ever needed to make a decision for her if she was incapacitated. She wanted me to know she’d written her Last Will & Testament and where I could find it and who her lawyer was. She told me where the bank statements and investments were. She’d even quiz me about those things from time to time. She prepared me for many things, but in the end she never prepared me for what to do if she lied to me about her health problems. She died of heart failure, unexpectedly and I was the one to find her dead on the floor. At least during the worst grief of my life, I knew where the papers were and I knew what she wanted done.
©2006 Robin AF Olson. Mother.
We all want to live forever, but we won’t. Though it’s emotionally draining we have to face it and we SHOULD prepare for our inevitable demise. That way it not only ensures that how we want to spend our final days will be respected (if there’s a chance for that to happen), it also respects those who are left behind; the people we love.
That’s why I realized if something bad happened to me, not being married would mean my brother, who I have no relationship with, would make the decisions about my care. Sam couldn’t even visit me in the hospital. The thought made me feel even sicker. I don’t know what’s going on with me and as much as I hope I will have many more years to go, it’s not a certainty.
So I started the paperwork for a Living Will and other Advance Directives. The forms were very easy to find online for my state and by the way, you don’t even need a Lawyer (though you will need a Notary) for these directives. It made me think about the “what ifs” I may face one day. I didn’t want to imagine myself in a situation where I was in a coma with no chance of recovery, but I had to. I had to think about what I would want. Would I want to live if life only meant breathing while attached to a machine and maybe some sort of low brain-stem level awareness of the world? How would it be if I couldn’t care for myself, even scratch a simple itch? I couldn’t even be with cats anymore or smile at a joke. I would be a burden to Sam both financially and emotionally. So let me fly free.
I knew I could designate Sam to be the person to make that choice for me, but I also needed to assign an “alternate” if Sam could not or would not make the choice. The answer wasn’t tough to come by but it did surprise and sadden me. Most people would turn to a family member, but I have none that would be appropriate. I realized that I only have a very few friends I’ve even known long enough to trust with this responsibility. When I made my choice I asked Sam if was okay with him because it was someone I used to have a relationship with. Thankfully Sam was fine with my choice and even agreed with it. I’d known this person for a big chunk of my life and was still friends with him. I trusted him, now literally with my life. I had to call and ask his permission to include him in this paperwork and I felt like asking this of someone required having one of the most intimate and soul-opening discussions of my life.
I was scared to ask him, not knowing how he might take the request, but his answer gutted me with his simply put reply; “Thank you for this gift. Of course I will do this for you.” I guess the comedian in me was on a lunch break because I couldn’t make a joke about how now he could unplug me after all the times I caused him grief.
Without saying the words, I knew that we still loved and cared about each other, but in a way that was not disrespectful to our mates. We both were willing to talk about that thing called Death and both stick our toes into the pool of ever-shifting “what ifs.” The beautiful thing I didn’t expect was the lingering feeling that this was the right thing to do and once done I could relax. I told myself that I have to keep facing situations that are difficult. I’ve done it for all my foster cats for over a decade and now I need to do it for myself.
I saw another Doctor today. She hates cats but I told her if she didn’t go on about why I’d still like her. She listened to my description of what I think is going on and what I’m experiencing. She asked many questions about my odd (to me) symptoms. I didn’t get a diagnosis, only next steps. She wants me to get my heart checked out more thoroughly so that means an echo/stress test. It’s more sensitive and better suited to test a woman’s heart, but the insurance company may deny the request. If that happens I’m not sure what I will do. (GOOD NEWS: I just found out I don't need approval and I can have the test done after the 4th of July holiday is over).
Tomorrow morning I’m having a lot of blood tests done to rule out things that scare the crap out of me. The blood tests will be looking for diabetes (no surprise, but darn it I’m sure I don’t have symptoms), high cholesterol, and just like so many of my foster cats, they’ll check my organ function, blood issues, and a surprise—Vitamin D deficiency. I guess if it’s really bad it can effect your heart and all sorts of other things, too and lots of people have it and don’t even know. Since I live almost like a Vampire, it might not surprise me to find out I’m low in that particular tank.
©2003 Robin AF Olson. As usual, everything is a joke, even with my mother in the hospital. Notice the line up of the magazine with my mom's chest.
Since she couldn’t weigh in on what was going on with me, I asked what I should do until all these tests are done. She replied I should not exert myself to the point of feeling pain and take it easy. On the drive home, I realized that Sam’s birthday is in a few days and we’re supposed to go to see his family in New York City. I can’t go. I can’t risk having to walk too strenuously and in the city that’s a lot of what makes up every visit. With not being able to do much I haven’t been able to even plan something for Sam but this really was the pits.
This may be the last post I’m going to write before I have some answers. I don’t feel too badly right now. I’m trying not to be scared. Facing your own mortality is no picnic, but if you want to have a chance to squeeze out as many good years as you can, you have to do it.
So please, get your Last Will & Testament written, get your health proxy set up, maybe organize your paperwork and let a few people, including your doctor and lawyer know what you’re up to. Have the discussion with your family. Don’t be shy. It’s tough to talk about this, but better to have it out in the open than hidden away because when your time comes no one will know what you wanted to have done and it could lead to all sorts of legal and family issues.
And after you have your affairs in order, you can forget about it and talk about something everyone likes to talk about (except my Doctor) — cats.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Morning wakeup call with Freya.
Saturday morning I got a text message from Warren that made me burst into tears. It was bad news about a cat named Big Daddy, a hunk of man-cat Warren had trapped behind Home Depot near his house in northern Georgia a few months ago. At the time, we assumed the cat was feral, but within hours after being trapped it was clear this cat was the exact opposite. He was SO charming we ALL fell in love with him. I wrote about Big D’s adventure in the post: The Accidental Feral, Big Daddy.
©2014 William Mahone. Used with permission. www.WilliamMahonePhotography.com. The face that launched 1000 sighs…Big Daddy.
Soon after my post went up asking for a shelter to take on Big Daddy we were delighted that Angels of Assisi, of Roanoke, VA, offered to provide a placement for him until he was adopted. [You can check out that story here The Accidental Feral's Next Journey is with the Angels]
After only a few weeks of being with A of A, Big Daddy was adopted, but sadly, was returned due to his serious fear of dogs. We knew he'd find his home so he returned to the shelter to wait. As far as we knew, Big D was fine until the shocking news on Saturday.
My own vet, Dr. Larry, had never even heard of anything like that happening before and neither had I. Though technically it could be possible, it was not something that happened with any regularity and also proved how seriously ill Big Daddy was…
I posted a PawCircle for Big Daddy right away on our Facebook page and so began the flood of good wishes, prayers and loving messages from over 30,000 people from as far away as Australia and the UK.
It was up to Big Daddy’s compromised immune system as to whether or not he would survive once he was getting IV antibiotics and other supportive care.
©2014 Warren Royal. Used with permission. Before Big Daddy got sick
I wanted to bargain with God to spare Big Daddy’s life. I promised I’d rescue more cats or be a better person…I was so busted up I couldn’t stop crying. For the next 24 hours I felt sick to my stomach with worry, hoping Warren wouldn’t update me or that he would, but only with good news.
Megan, Big Daddy’s foster mom at A of A relayed the story of how things unfolded. With her permission I’m sharing her words here with some minor edits:
Big Daddy first got sick last weekend, Chelsea and I saw him on Saturday April 26th and he had the typical URI symptoms - runny nose, sneezy, congested, a little lethargic. He was still in good spirits at that time, while he wasn’t coming to the front of his cage demanding love he was accepting when we reached in. He had been started on antibiotics at that point. Put a bowl of wet food in front of him and he chowed down. By Monday (April 28) he was getting worse – very congested, blowing snot, not eating. The vets changed up his meds at this point to guifasen cough tabs, clavamox, and some nasal drops to help with the congestion. On Wednesday (April 30) I brought him home to foster and help him recover, I have a very good track record with sick kittens and thought I’d give Big Daddy a try here. I was aware that because of his FIV he would have a harder time fighting this infection, but I had no idea what was in store for us over the next few days. … I was syringe feeding him (he was not eating on his own at all at this point), giving him his meds, nebulizing him twice a day, and keeping a humidifier running in his room all the time. He seemed stable Wednesday and Thursday, but Friday evening he began going downhill very quickly. He was wheezing and gasping for breath most of the night. As I was trying to syringe feed him Friday night he had started clenching his jaw so tight I was not able to wiggle the syringe in to feed him at all. At that point I started panicking, unsure what to do for him. I tried giving him subcutaneous fluids, but he was fighting so much that the needle wouldn’t stay in.
After another attempt at syringe feeding he got very agitated and started walking away from me… He got to the edge of the bed and walked off, not jumped, walked off the bed right into the floor. This is when I REALLY panicked and started to think maybe he couldn’t see, I had also noticed that he would sit with his face against a wall and paw at the wall.
Big Daddy first got sick last weekend, Chelsea and I saw him on Saturday April 26th and he had the typical URI symptoms - runny nose, sneezy, congested, a little lethargic. He was still in good spirits at that time, while he wasn’t coming to the front of his cage demanding love he was accepting when we reached in. He had been started on antibiotics at that point. Put a bowl of wet food in front of him and he chowed down. By Monday (April 28) he was getting worse – very congested, blowing snot, not eating. The vets changed up his meds at this point to guifasen cough tabs, clavamox, and some nasal drops to help with the congestion.
On Wednesday (April 30) I brought him home to foster and help him recover, I have a very good track record with sick kittens and thought I’d give Big Daddy a try here. I was aware that because of his FIV he would have a harder time fighting this infection, but I had no idea what was in store for us over the next few days. … I was syringe feeding him (he was not eating on his own at all at this point), giving him his meds, nebulizing him twice a day, and keeping a humidifier running in his room all the time.
He seemed stable Wednesday and Thursday, but Friday evening he began going downhill very quickly. He was wheezing and gasping for breath most of the night. As I was trying to syringe feed him Friday night he had started clenching his jaw so tight I was not able to wiggle the syringe in to feed him at all. At that point I started panicking, unsure what to do for him. I tried giving him subcutaneous fluids, but he was fighting so much that the needle wouldn’t stay in.
I slept in my guest bedroom with him Friday night, unsure if he would even make it through the night. Saturday morning I got him to the vet at Angels of Assisi with tears in my eyes because I was afraid there was nothing else we could do for our sweet boy, our fabulous veterinarian Dr. Raeann Foster immediately started working on Big Daddy in between paying clients.
He was started on oxygen via facemask; she gave him some steroids, and was planning on starting an IV to give him fluids. After describing how he walked off the bed and was staring at walls she tested his vision and confirmed that he was blind.
She believed that his brain had been oxygen deprived for so long and that’s what had led to the blindness. Obviously, with the blindness everything we tried to do was absolutely terrifying to him and he became very stressed and started lashing out at everyone who would touch him. Raeann (with the help of two great vet assistants!) was finally able to start an IV catheter so we could give him fluids.
We got him back on the oxygen, but he became very stressed and thrashed until he ripped out the IV. At this point Chelsea spoke with Warren to update him on Big Daddy’s status and let him know that we may lose him…Warren generously offered to sponsor Big Daddy’s care if we could/would get him to a full service clinic.
I high tailed it to Emergency Veterinary Services of Roanoke and they quickly took him from me to begin examining and working on him. The vet there updated me quickly and warned me that his prognosis was not good and that he could crash and go downhill very quickly. She told me the plan was to place him in an oxygen chamber where he would be able to get continuous oxygen to help him breathe better. When he was more relaxed they would start running blood work and get chest x-rays. They had to take everything very slowly as it didn’t take much to stress Big Daddy out and cause him to lash out at the staff. I left him in their very capable hands at this point. I called later that evening to check on him and was told that they’d been able to start an IV to give him fluids and antibiotics, had drawn some blood, and he was resting comfortably.
I called again late that night to check on him again and they’d been able to do all his blood work and x-rays, but did not have results yet. I tried to get some sleep Saturday night wondering if Big Daddy would make it. I called first thing Sunday morning for an update on him and was shocked to hear that he’d eaten a little on his own! The oxygen and fluids and antibiotics were working wonders! He seemed to be regaining some vision; he was more relaxed and very friendly with the staff taking care of him. She even told me that he was purring!
She told me that he was not out of the woods just yet, but that she was very happy with the progress he’d made over night. His blood work results were in – his WBC count was very elevated (Which was expected with an infection); his kidney enzymes were slightly elevated (possibly due to dehydration). His x-rays showed the he had a possible collapsed lung, which explained his difficulty breathing. She said they would begin trying to wean him off the oxygen then. So while he was not out of the woods, we became cautiously optimistic for a full recovery!
…I went to visit BD that evening at the Emergency Vet clinic and he was looking amazing, I could not believe this was the same cat I’d dropped off just 24 hours prior when he couldn’t breathe or see! He was now completely off oxygen, his vision was returning, he was eating on his own, he was purring and loving on the staff…
©2014 Megan Greer. Used with Permission. Big Daddy, down 3 pounds from being sick, got a visit from Megan at the ER Vet.
As the hours ticked by it seemed that Big Daddy was responding to treatment enough to leave the ER. By Monday he was back home with Megan, who would provide him with continued care and monitoring. With the good news spreading that Big D. was going to make it I think we all shared a sigh of relief and plenty of tears, but it also left us with more questions.
What was next for Big Daddy? How could he go back to A of A’s shelter after being so very sick and be exposed to other cats? If he couldn't be in the shelter where would he go? Could he stay in foster care for the time being…but how long could he stay there if it prevented the shelter from saving more lives?
Angels of Assisi has an Amazon WishList that includes some food for Big Daddy. If you'd like to send him a Get Well gift please visit THIS LINK. MAKE SURE YOU LEAVE A GIFT MESSAGE THAT YOUR GIFT IS FOR BIG DADDY (he likes Blue Buffalo and Spot's Stew and others).
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Of the six Clementine-kittens only one has been adopted. Marigold found her forever family while her brothers and sisters continued to wait. The Clems had been with me for over SIX MONTHS when Mari left us. The delay was mostly due to a reoccurring eye infection/upper respiratory tract infection. Though not seriously ill, I couldn’t let them be adopted until I had a better understanding on whether or not this was going to be a chronic condition. It wasn’t fair to adopters.
©2014 Robin A.F. Olson. Mandy, Blossom, Bert and Mango (I can FINALLY tell them apart!)
The reason Mari got adopted was that she had been one of the most healthy of the litter and I’d just started a new treatment that we thought would resolve her issues. She seemed to do well so I believed I could move on with adopting out the others, but I was wrong. Buttercup got the eye infection again and Bert looked like he was getting it back, too.
©2014 Robin A.F. Olson. Vampire Buttercup!
In March, one of our vets suggested we test the kittens for Bartonella. I almost slapped myself in the head when he said that. Of all the treatments and tests we’d never done that one and it made PERFECT sense. Bartonella is transmitted by fleas and the Clems were COVERED with them when we got them off transport. No wonder the kittens were never 100% well—especially Bert, who early on got hit the worst. I chose to test Bert for that reason and wasn’t surprised at the result.
©2014 Robin A.F. Olson. Rock Star Pose with Mandy (left), Blossom (center), Mango (right).
A week later the results came in. Bert was a STRONG positive for bartonella. This was great news because it’s treatable, but the bad news was for Buttercup and Blossom, who were on the cusp of being adopted by Ellen and her family. Sadly Ellen has to be extremely careful about her health and after a long talk with her Doctor and Vet they decided it would be safer for the kittens to get their treatment here, THEN finalize the adoption.
©2014 Robin A.F. Olson. Silly Mandy with her “Precious” toy. She is obsessed with it.
I could not argue that point, in fact, I wanted them to stay with me. Why have the first few weeks of an adoption include their new mom having to medicate them for 3 weeks? Also, bartonella, also called Cat Scratch Fever, IS contagious to humans and from what I’ve heard from a Vet that caught it, it’s a very painful infection.
The medication cost $235.00 for the 6 Clems and Biscotti, who I decided to treat at the advice of our Vet. I almost fell over at the cost. This litter of kittens was one of the most expensive to care for to date. Some times it amazes me just how expensive it is to care for a few kittens. It can really add up fast when they get sick.
©2014 Robin A.F. Olson. Bert and Mango want MOMMY while Blossom jumps down to rub against my legs
The risk of making the adopters wait was that the adopter could give up on doing the adoption and the girls would lose their home. There was nothing I could do expect hope for the best and that the family would still want the “kittens” now that their kittenhood is long past them. The “kittens” are huge, too, eating me out of house and home. I have to feed them at least 10, 5 oz cans of food a DAY. I can barely keep up with demand. I’m used to feeding a few little kittens, not the equivalent of 6 more adults who are pushing 8 pounds each (their brothers will be 9 pounds any second now). I really needed to get these cats placed before I ran out of money to care for them.
©2014 Robin A.F. Olson. Mandy and the faux-sniff.
Ellen and I volleyed emails and photos, making sure our connection wasn’t lost. She watched SqueeTV , our webcam, with her boys all the time so she could keep up on how the kittens were doing. I could tell she was anxious to get the girls and was willing to wait the extra time to be able to finalize the adoption. I was very relieved.
©2014 Robin A.F. Olson. Biscotti, always in the background with Blossom and Mango.
Finally on April 6th, Sam and I drove the girls to their new home, which is a block away from Long Island Sound. It was one of the first really sunny spring days so it was a very enjoyable drive to Westport, CT. The girls were a bit fussy in the car, but surprisingly Blossom got out of her carrier and sat in my lap, purring, watching the traffic go by. Buttercup was a bit more reserved but the trip wasn’t very long, so I don’t think she was too stressed.
©2014 Robin A.F. Olson. Mandy and Buttercup.
After over a month wait, the girls got to meet their new family. Ellen was making sure everything was set in the kitchen where the girls would start off their new life. We took away a few items that might cause problems, then let the girls out. Blossom fared better, but both girls were very scared. The room was big and bright with lots of windows for bird watching. I knew they would be happy, but I knew it would take time.
©2014 Robin A.F. Olson. Blossom, Buttercup and you-know-who watch Mango fly.
As we filled out the paperwork the girls began to explore a little bit. We gave them a snack and they both ate, which was a good sign. The neighbor’s cat, who looked like their dad, walked past the front window but the girls didn’t notice. I warned the family that the girls might flip out if they saw the cat again and that they could start peeing in the kitchen. I silently prayed there’d be no problems. The girls were very easy going and sweet. I hoped they’d get a kick out of seeing another cat.
©2014 Robin A.F. Olson. NOT photoshopped! Mandy (left), Blossom (center), Mango (right), Biscotti pose for the camera (for once!).
©2014 Ellen Gleicher. Used with Permission. The girls together in their new home.
I’m glad the girls get to stay together, because I always prefer litters to be split into pairs if possible. Now I had 3 kittens left from this family: Mango, Bert and Mandy.
But what of Biscotti, the shy kitty who always got overlooked? He’d moved in with the Clementines after his surrogate mom, Mocha, and her kittens were all adopted. I worried that Biscotti, who hides and seems to be completely mortified when new people arrive, would never find his place. The Clems are outgoing, fearless. I will find them homes, but I had my doubts about what was in store for the little tuxedo until a few days when I got a fateful call.
…to be continued.
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I sat in my car, in the dark, cold night and started up the engine. It rumbled to life as I grabbed the gear shift and slowly put the car into reverse. Shifting into first gear, I eased the car down the steep driveway of Susan and Barry's home. I'd just left Minnie in their bedroom and my mind was in playback mode, going over the last few hours and imagining what would yet come to pass.
I was fit to be tied.
Minnie is the mom to our most miraculous, stunning, kittens, Lil' Gracey, Confetti Joe, Jellybean Mel, Yukon Stan and Precious Pete. Minnie, who'd starved on the streets in Bridgeport, CT, then given birth, then got such a bad infection she almost died, had struggled enough in her short life. My only goals for her once in my care were to fatten her up and get her a wonderful home as she recovered from her difficult life.
As most of her kittens found their forever homes, Minnie found a new foster home right down the street from my house. I was thrilled to let Minnie go because it meant she'd have more space to live and the love of a family and their two children, one of whom, a young girl, had a gentle and affectionate regard for Minnie right away.
©2014 Robin A.F. Olson. Minnie.
While Minnie passed the days in her foster home, I searched for her forever family. Months passed. I checked in on Minnie once in awhile, but didn't worry about anything, figuring if there was a problem, I'd find out.
At first it was little things, like I'd heard Minnie had some fights with one of the family's two cats, but they seemed to be working it out. Minnie had long tired of the small bathroom that was her initial home, so she was allowed full run of the house. Since she was going to be there, potentially, a long time I thought it was fine.
Last week I got an email saying Minnie had a cut over her eye that didn't seem to be healing. I went over and took a look, brought some calendula cream (a plant-based antibiotic cream) and treated her. I assumed she'd been scratched. Clearly she was not the aggressor. Minnie was also behaving fearfully. I assumed, again, it was due to the cats, but I also knew that the 12 yr old boy in the home did NOT like Minnie and told me she'd scratched him. I asked him what he did to provoke her, but all I got was an innocent shrug as he repeatedly told me how much he hated her.
©2014 Robin A.F. Olson. Dr. Mary examines the injuries on Minnie's face.
As fate would have it, I got another email about the same time Minnie's problems were starting. This one was from a woman named Susan. She'd seen some news about Kitten Associates and wanted to let me know how proud she was of our work and she also told me about her boy, Duke, her beloved kitty who had died after struggling with heart issues for years, not long ago. Devastated by his death, she and her husband felt having another cat wasn't in the cards. I could tell her heart was broken, so I told her to come over and visit the kittens, just to cheer her up, no strings. No bothering her to adopt from us. That was all.
You can guess what happened next. They came over and fell in love with Buttercup, one of the "Clementines" orange foster kittens. Further surprises came shortly after that. Susan was pregnant. When they asked about possibly adopting Buttercup I had to say no. I couldn't let her go to a home with no other pets. Buttercup NEEDS that emotional support from her siblings and with a baby on the way, would little Buttercup be mature enough to handle this life-change?
©2014 Robin A.F. Olson. Injuries all over her face. What happened to you, Minnie?
Normally I would have just tabled the conversation, but I REALLY LIKED this couple. They were truly devoted to their last cat. They were respectful to my wishes about finding them a good match based on the cat and their life, not just picking a cute kitten. I thought about it a lot, then I realized that Minnie might be a good choice. She was grown, cute, and was able to get out of the way of any child and had a very mellow vibe about her. At the same time I was discovering that Minnie might be getting beaten up, so I told Susan about her story. Susan read some of my blog posts about Minnie's tough life and fell in love. We decided to take it slowly. Susan and Barry had never met Minnie and they didn't want to go to her foster home and meet her while she was scared. I agreed to do a home visit and bring Minnie to them. They'd foster her for a few weeks, then either they'd adopt or we'd take Minnie back. It felt right, so that's what we did.
I picked up Minnie last night, but first she had to be cajoled out from her finding place-inside the box spring of a bed. This is not a good sign, when there were plenty of places to relax all over the house. Why was this cat away from all the other rooms and hiding in a box spring? I didn't have time to ponder it since I had to get to Susan's.
When I arrived, we talked about Minnie possibly being attacked by other cats and probably having spent the past few months being afraid. That she HAD to give Minnie some time, maybe longer than we thought, to blossom again.
©2014 Robin A.F. Olson. A startling discovery-eosinophilic plaque.
I let Minnie out of her crate and she began exploring the bedroom where we were going to let Minnie start her new life. Her tail was up. She didn't run and hide. She came over to Susan and rubbed up on her. She did the same to me as she energetically moved around the room exploring all the furniture and rugs. I took out a catnip banana and she went crazy over it. The fearful cat I'd seen not even an hour ago was gone.
As Susan and I sat on the floor, petting Minnie, Susan felt something odd. I took a look and in the low light of the room I could see an open, bloody wound on Minnie's left shoulder. I couldn't get a great look at it, but the more I looked at her, the more scratches I saw on her face and neck. I was really pissed. What kind of foster home lets a cat get THIS bad and doesn't NOTICE IT? How MUCH had Minnie been suffering these past months when I was foolishly thinking she was doing just fine-even hoping her foster family would adopt her.
©2014 Robin A.F. Olson. Wondering what all this means and how it happened.
It was clear Minnie needed to see a Vet. I called right then and there and got an appointment for this morning. There is no way I was prepared for what we were about to find out. I spent a good part of the drive home guessing at what the vet bill was going to be, especially if we had to stitch up that wound or if we found more problems, like an abscess.
This morning, I got an email from Susan saying Minnie was scratching a lot. This had to mean she had fleas! Minnie was cleared of them months ago…in fact she never HAD THEM but we treated her just in case. Now what was I going to do? Susan is pregnant. Minnie had been in her bedroom! Fleas? Chemical agents to remove them? What was Susan going to say about this? Was I going to have to take Minnie home with me? Where in the world would I put her?
Frankly, I was pretty miserable this morning. I was angry and worried and scared we couldn't cover the vet bill. Fundraising over the holidays was a total bust. The account is scary-low, but if I'm careful we can limp a long.
Susan was right on time. She reported that Minnie wasn't hiding, she was playing eating, using her litter pan, happy to hang out, but itchy. Indeed, Minnie was quite calm in the exam room, too with her tail up, curious, happy, not stressed at all.
©2014 Robin A.F. Olson. Minnie while she was here with us this past summer.
I told Susan my fears about fleas and she took it well. I'd packed up every flea treatment I had and was ready to give Minnie some topical flea treatment, but the exam had to confirm it first. Good thing I waited.
Dr. Mary did the exam. As always she was sweet with Minnie and ever so careful with her. Minnie responded in kind, keeping calm and letting Dr. Mary do her thing. As Dr. Mary turned Minnie, I saw the wound on her side. As Dr. Mary spoke, in unison we said the same thing. "Eosinophilic plaque!"
I'd seen it the week before but was told Minnie didn't eat it, even though the bowl of kibble probably sat there all day long. Even though I provided her food. Even though I checked to make sure they didn't need more and was told she was getting it…there is it..she's so itchy from the junk that she's scratching herself raw.
She hadn't been fighting. She didn't have fleas or mites. Susan said she'd been drinking a lot of water, another indicator to me she was given dry food. If I see my cats drink water, I know they are likely SICK. Raw food has enough moisture-and, in the wild, cats get moisture from their prey, not by drinking.
©2014 Susan W. Minnie the first night in her new foster home.
Poor Minnie. If this had kept going, she really would have been a mess. As it is, it will take awhile for her to recover. Not being stressed out will REALLY help and so will a belly full of good, appropriate food. Susan understands what has to be done, but other than good food and love, there's nothing more to do other than keep an eye on it and make sure she's getting better.
While at the Vet, Susan remarked many times over how cute and sweet Minnie was, how easy going, how different she was than their old cat, Duke, who fussed and hated being at the Vet. Susan had a gleam in her eye when she spoke about Minnie, even though she's not making any declarations about her future. I have a sneaking suspicion that Minnie may not be in foster care much longer. I like this couple. I like their home. I like seeing Minnie with them. It feels right and in the end, that's all that matters.
I hope it's a match for life, but right now baby steps...
…speaking of baby steps…I have a new foster kitten coming. Some of you may already know him, but for months, behind-the-scenes, since I first saw his face, a little cutie pie is coming to Connecticut.
Wait! Isn't my home already stuffed to the gills with foster cats? Actually, no.
In October of 2012, we rescued two cats. One cat was on “death row” at a municipal shelter and the other was toughing it out, a dumped stray cat, who chose to seek help at an apartment complex where the owner was considering poisoning the many homeless cats on the property to “deal with” the situation.
©2012 Maria S. (inset) ©2013 Robin A.F. Olson (main). George with a lipstick stain on his forehead and ratty coat right after being rescued and now stunning beauty.
It's not easy for us to take on young adult cats because without a brick and mortar facility, where folks can come and see our cats, it takes a long time to find forever homes. People will make an effort to go through the application process and home visit for a kitten, but for an adult, that's another story.
©2012 Maria S. (inset) ©2013 Robin A.F. Olson (main). I can't get over the transformation of Bongo! He weighed four pounds on intake.
So here we are, eight months later with our cats Bongo and George. They've both blossomed from being underweight, flea-covered, suffering with ear mites and tattered coats, to magnificent, radiant, affectionate beings. Looking at their before and after photos surprised me. I hadn't realized how far they'd come. It makes me proud to see their positive transformation.
©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Oh George, I will forever swoon when I think of you.
There were a few bumps in the road, particularly with Bongo. I noticed he'd pant after a short period of playing and at rest his respirations were far faster than the normal, roughly 20-40 per minute. This concerned me greatly because I'd lost a cat to HCM, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and the only sign I had that something was off was his breathing had a “hitch” to it. By the time I knew he was really ill, it was too late and he passed away during attempts to treat him. Ever since that horror, I've been more vigilant.
©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Barney and George.
I brought Bongo to visit a new Vet, Dr. J., and he examined Bongo carefully. They did some blood work, a chest x-ray and some tests. One of the test was for Heartworm and the other was for Bartonella, either issue could cause Bongo's problems though it was less likely that Bartonella had anything to do with his respirations, but it might have an issue with his chronic loose stools.
The tests showed that Bongo was negative for heartworm, but a STRONG positive for Bartonella which is transmitted by flea bites and IS contagious to humans. In humans it's nickname is Cat Scratch Fever.
I urge you all to learn about Bartonella (which can also be called, Mycoplasma) because it can mimic MANY other health issues in cats. Look out for upper respiratory issues that just won't clear up, especially eye problems. Look for digestive issues, too, like chronic loose stool. If you run a stool sample on your cat and it keeps coming up negative and you've de-wormed your cats according to your Vet's recommendations, then consider testing for Bartonella. I mention this because more and more Vets are starting to test for this. They're seeing cats with very few symptoms or NO symptoms and have it. I do random tests on my own cats and was shocked that some of them had it and they do NOT go outdoors.
©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. The tail of tails.
We decided to do the treatment for Bartonella, then wait to see if Bongo improved before going to the next step, which would be doing an echocardiogram, the only way to see the thickening in the walls of the heart that is indicative of HCM.
Meanwhile, life in the foster room had improved for Barney, who during the past six months has been over grooming his fur, leaving shocking bald patches on his sides and belly. I'd been running Barney to see Dr. Mary and we did some tests, but nothing helped. I didn't want to put Barney on steroids because they truly harm so many systems in the cat that it's a last-ditch treatment in my book.
©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Bongo-loaf.
Since Bongo, Bunny and George joined Barney and after a few days of hissy behavior, Barney began to enjoy his new companions and his over-grooming began to wane. Looking back I think Barney knew that Fred was sick before we did and his anxiety about it was reflected in him licking off his fur. With new friends who are healthy and can play with him, Barney's coat is filling in and he spends the day rubbing up against his new friends and enjoying games of “chase me around the room” and “Ooo! Chase me some more!”
©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Geogre can you stop being so pretty?
The pace of each day fell into a familiar routine. Each night I'd sit with them for a few hours. We'd have play time, snuggle time and a snack. Bongo and George would often lay in my lap and give me those lovey-eyed looks that made me want to keep them here for good.
But I was waiting. I knew I had a home for Bongo, not long after I rescued him. A friend of mine brought over a donation of cat food from a couple whose cat had recently died very unexpectedly. The FIV+ cat had had its' leg amuputated, and not long after, the Vet had over-prescribed medication for it, which ended up killing the cat.
©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. George and his mama-Beth.
I wrote the couple a very nice thank you note and sympathy card for their loss. A few weeks later, in late December of 2012, I got photos and a heartbreaking letter about their wonderful kitty. Clearly, these people LOVED their cat and even mentioned that “one day” they would want to adopt another 3-legged cat. I knew right then and there that Bongo was going to be theirs-maybe not today, but some day.
©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Bongo and Mama.
Six months later, the couple reached out to us and asked about Bongo. They wanted to make sure they could adopt him, but could I hold onto him for a few weeks while they do some home repairs? The last thing they wanted to do was bring in a new cat and stress him out. I didn't mind the added wait and they graciously brought me cat food to cover his extra time with us AND a PIE (for me and Sam!).
©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Newly minted brothers, Bongo and George.
©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Barney reaches out for a kiss goodbye, which Bongo graciously gives him-though it doesn't look like it in this photo!
Though having fosters cats here for many months is not ideal and keeps us from helping more cats, knowing that these two will be going to a fantastic home, where their every need will be met, where they will be looked after and cherished, is a thrill. They're both such deserving cats, I can't help but smile thinking about them leaving us.
©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Barney still waits for a home. His Petfinder page is HERE.
I love both cats dearly and will miss them very much, but this time there are no tears. I won't be worrying that they won't get what they need as I sometimes do after adoptions.
My focus now is to find a home for Barney, who just had his first birthday and who still has no one interested in adopting him. It makes me so very sad. Barney is the sole survivor of his litter and is the most easy-going, friendly cat you'd ever meet. He makes me laugh with his silly antics. I just wish someone else would see that and want to open their home to him.
©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Bunny is waiting, too! Here's her Petfinder PAGE.
Barney is also very close to Bunny Boo-Boo, who with her shyness is going to be tough to find a home for. She's sweet and playful and loves other cats, but she tends to hide when new people enter the room. Perhaps with George and Bongo on their way to their forever home, she'll have a chance to flower?
I guess we'll just go back to waiting and hope that one day the family for Barney and Bunny will contact me so they can find their rightful place in the world, just as Bongo and George have.
I looked over at Barney. He was playing with a toy held by a little girl who was taking part in our Kitties for Kids program. Barney was oblivious to the fact that the fur on his side looked like it had been wiped away. He wasn’t completely bald and with his white and orange coat, it was tough to see how much he was missing at a glance.
©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Barney's naked patch.
I’d noticed the foster cats have been itchy for a few weeks or more, but not so much that it caused alarms to go off. They’ve been checked a few times for fleas, but we find nothing, not even flea dirt. Last year was a VERY bad year for fleas so it wouldn’t be surprising that there were some in the foster room.
©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Dr. Larry takes a look.
What to do?
I’ve had a lot of experience with Miliary Dermatitis. My cat Gracie suffers from it. M.D. is basically “I don’t know that the heck it is” but it’s some sort of skin issue. Many times it’s related to a stress reaction, food or a mite or flea bite. In Gracie’s case, after YEARS of doing tests, seeing specialists, trial and error, only homeopathy worked to reduce the problem and steroids resolved it for a few weeks. The problem with steroids is-it will end up killing Gracie over time so for me, giving her more wasn’t acceptable.
©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Fred seems fine.
Gracie is covered with scabs. She stopped “barbering” (chewing) her coat and no longer has bloody lesions, but her fur is not plush and her skin feels terrible. I’m looking into acupuncture, but other than that I feel as though I’ve tried it all.
I look at Barney and think about the MANY things that could be causing him to lick off his fur. I knew a trip to see Dr. Larry would probably be a waste of time, but I had to start there.
Dr. Larry agreed with me that it was most likely M.D. and made some suggestions. One startled me, but also inspired me. He said to let Barney be an indoor/outdoor cat. That the stimulation of being outside reduced the need to over-groom because the cat was having so much FUN!
©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Caught in the act.
Then I realized I have NOT been spending enough time with the kittens. Playtime is for five minutes here and five minutes there. I’ve been too busy to do more than that. I figured since I hear them running around they must be playing. There are five cats in the foster room after all.
I also thought about the Kitties for Kids program. Was the stress of meeting all these strangers getting to Barney? Thing is, he is the FIRST cat to go over to a new person and say hi! He’s very social. If he was upset by the visitors wouldn’t he be hiding instead of playing?
©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. What the?!!!…the kittens are nursing on Willow!
What about diet?
Yes, that could be a factor. Since ALL the foster cats are scratching, something is making them itchy. The donations of food we’ve gotten lately is a mixed bag of canned, grain-free food. They get fed what I have on hand, not something consistent AND I’ve fed them a tuna based food recently for the first time. Did that set them off? Gracie seems to react to having fish.
It reduces stress, stretches the muscles and the mind, it helps them have an outlet for their prey drive. If we simply shake a toy at them once in awhile, it’s just NOT enough. Their mind needs to be engaged if they stay indoors. I’ve seen Jackson get very nasty with the other cats when he’s clearly bored.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Liftoff during one of our Kitties for Kids visits.
Normally, what you do is change ONE thing and see if it works. If that doesn't work, then go on to the next thing. Because Barney is so young and should NOT be having this issue, I’m going to do a few things and hope that one of them is the answer.
I’ll start with an application of Revolution®. I like it better than some other flea treatments and it does affect mites and internal parasites, too. I realize it could make things worse, but Barney’s skin is fine. There are no open lesions. He does NOT have ringworm.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Coco shows how it's done.
I’ve already started ramping up playtime. I got a new Da Bird donated to us. It REALLY tires the cats out as long as I don’t let the cats catch the toy. If so, they destroy it in about 2 seconds. What I do is basically make them go nuts for at least 15 minutes. After the cats slow down or start to lay down instead of chase the toy, I start up with ANOTHER toy. I use a Cat Dancer and Rainbow CatCharmer or a laser pointer or both. I throw balls around, mouse toys, Kong® Cat Kickaroos. I want to see the cats get to the point of just about falling over they’re so tired. I’ll even open up my old iPad and play Game for Cats for them to further stimulate their minds. If I see Barney lick at himself I distract him with more playtime.
Lastly I’ve simplified their diet. Ideally I would feed them raw but that’s not in the budget. I’m cutting out fish and only giving them chicken/turkey. It’s very high quality grain-free canned food and I’m feeding them more often so they’re less stressed when they get their food. I noticed they were gulping at their meal the other day so clearly they need more to eat and more often.
©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Entertained by his Kong Cat Kickaroo.
The hope is that one or more of these things will work and Barney will stop licking off his fur. The fear is that he won’t and this will be a chronic problem for him. I’m also thinking about letting him run the whole house instead of just the foster room. The extra space might do him good.
Last night I let him out for a few minutes and he was terrified, so for now I’ll go more slowly and only open up smaller areas at a time.
©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Poor sweetie.
What is ailing Barney and making the others itchy? Is it dry skin or is Kitties for Kids going to have to be shelved? I can’t say right now. All I know is that I need to find an answer fast before Barney makes this into an OCD-like reaction that will require heavy-duty meds for years to come.