"Madame, bear in mind That princes govern all things--save the wind." -Victor Hugo, The Infanta's Rose

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

For Shelly

I was greatly saddened recently to learn of the death of a fellow blogger in Oregon. I first heard from Shelly around the end of 2005, when she found my blog after searching for one of my keywords ("pulmonary fibrosis"). She wrote me:
I found your blog when I first started this thing last month. I was interested in PF and lung disease in general, that's how I found you. It was a coincidence that I found your writing interesting, as I too am a free thinker (I prefer that to dirty liberal) and thought your musings.....for lack of a better word, amusing!
As this message hints, we shared a number of things in common besides the fact that both of us had pulmonary fibrosis, including a sarcastic (some might say "twisted") sense of humor and a general disdain for George W. Bush. For the next couple of years, we continued to send each other links to the latest news about current research and developments in lung disease, updates on the current state of our health, not to mention the occasional poop joke.

Shelly's illness was, unfortunately, much worse than mine due to the fact that she had suffered from rheumatoid arthritis since the age of 15, and large doses of prednisone over the years caused her to gain weight which further contributed to her lung problems. Nevertheless, she was one of the most positive, funny, upbeat people I've ever known. For the last year of her life, she was in the process of qualifying for a lung transplant (which involved a diet and exercise regimen) and was excited about the new opportunities a transplant would bring her. She was well aware of the seriousness of her condition, but her holiday greeting for 2007, while expressing a prescient fear that this might be the last Christmas she would spend with her family, also contained this message of optimism:
I just wanted to wish you a very happy and safe Christmas. May you and your families be blessed with a wonderful evening, eat too much, spoil your loved ones, and remember to tell those special people how much you love them and what they mean to you. For me, here's to a new year! To a second chance! No more oxygen hoses and scooters. No more being scared to go out for long and having people stare at me! Oh and no more Atkins diet!!! Here's to walking my dog and fishing with my daddy! Road Trips with Mike. To taking my nieces to the park or even Disneyland! Here's to camping and SWIMMING! Oh and to sitting near a burning candle!

She was supposed to go to Seattle last month for her pre-transplant medical evaluation, and hoped to be placed on the waiting list for new lungs shortly thereafter. However, when I checked her web site recently to see how the visit had gone, I was shocked to learn that her condition had deteriorated very rapidly after the holidays, and she passed away on February 24. She was only 32 years old.

So here's to Shelly; may she rest in peace, and my deepest condolences go out to her friends and family. It was her custom to close every message and blog post with the following words, so it seems most appropriate for me to end this post with them as well:

"Life is not measured by the breaths we take...but by the moments that take our breath away!"


Friday, April 25, 2008

The Incredible Vanishing Toast

In case anyone's wondering, I haven't given up on the blog -- yet anyway -- I've just been having some motivation problems lately. The Muse has left the building. But I promise to put down the remote control and the bag of Chips Ahoy, get my lazy ass up off the couch, and actually write something semi-meaningful here soon, I promise.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Tiger's tale

Any feline fanciers reading this blog may be glad to know that our cat Tiger came home Friday afternoon from the vet and seems to be doing OK. We've learned a lot about FLUTD as a result of this experience, and found that it's much more common than we realized. Our vet has had three cats with urinary blockages brought in during the last week or two, and they all had been on a diet of Meow Mix dry formula; if you have a cat, I would strongly suggest feeding it something else.

Our own cat food budget is about to explode, as our vet has recommended keeping Tiger on Hill's S/D and C/D prescription diet, which is specially formulated to keep his urinary pH level slightly acidic (6.2-6.4) to prevent the formulation of struvite crystals (the main cause of potentially fatal feline urinary tract blockages). It's a delicate balance, as if the pH goes too low, a different type of crystal affecting the kidney can be formed. The S/D is about a buck-fifty per can, but it's worth it if it will keep Tiger healthy.

We also learned that canned food is generally better for cats than dry food, as the extra moisture goes a long way towards preventing urinary problems. In fact, wet food is even preferred over prescription-formulated kibble. Taking it one step further, many vets also recommend that even if you do feed your cat only canned food, add about an extra teaspoon of water to the dish and mix it with the food into something resembling a slurry before you give to your cat. You can't get too much moisture into their diet.

We're happy that Tiger is doing better, but the down side is that for the next two weeks we are having to give him four pills a day, consisting of a muscle relaxant and an antibiotic dose twelve hours apart. For those who have never had the joyful experience of pilling a cat, the procedure goes something like this:

1. Pick up cat and cradle it in the crook of your left arm, as if holding a baby. Position right forefinger and thumb on either side of cat's mouth and gently apply pressure to cheeks while holding pill in right hand. As cat opens mouth, pop pill into mouth. Allow cat to close mouth and swallow.

2. Retrieve pill from floor and cat from behind sofa. Cradle cat in left arm and repeat process.

3. Retrieve cat from bedroom and throw soggy pill away.

4. Take new pill from foil wrap, cradle cat in left arm holding rear paws tightly with left hand. Force jaws open and push pill to back of mouth with right forefinger. Hold mouth shut for a count of ten.

5. Pry claws from back legs out of your arm. Go get the cat from top of wardrobe, pick up half-dissolved pill from floor and drop it into garbage can. Call partner from den.

6. Kneel on floor with cat wedged firmly between knees. Hold front and rear paws. Ignore low growls emitted by cat. Get partner to hold head firmly with one hand while forcing wooden ruler into mouth. Drop pill down ruler and rub cat's throat vigorously.

7. Retrieve cat from curtain rail, get another pill from foil wrap. Make note to buy new ruler and repair curtains. Carefully sweep shattered figurines and vases from hearth and set to one side for gluing later.

8. Wrap cat in large towel and get partner to lie on cat with head just visible from below armpit. Put pill in end of drinking straw, force mouth open with pencil and blow down drinking straw.

9. Check label to make sure pill not harmful to humans, drink one beer to take taste away. Apply band-aid to partner's forearm and immediately remove blood from carpet with cold water and soap.

10. Retrieve cat from neighbor's shed. Get another pill. Open another beer. Place cat in cupboard and close door onto neck to leave only head showing. Force mouth open with dessert spoon. Flick pill down throat with a rubber band.

11. Fetch screwdriver from garage and put cupboard door back on hinges. Drink beer. Fetch bottle of scotch. Pour shot and drink. Apply cold compress to cheek and check records for date of last tetanus shot. Apply whiskey compress to cheek to disinfect. Toss back another shot. Throw tee-shirt away and fetch new one from bedroom.

12. Call fire department to retrieve the friggin' cat from tree across the road. Apologize to neighbor who crashed into fence while swerving to avoid cat. Take last pill from foil wrap.

13. Tie cat's front paws to rear paws with garden twine and bind tightly to leg of dining room table. Find heavy-duty pruning loves from shed. Push pill into mouth followed by large piece of fillet steak. Be rough about it. Hold head vertically and pour a pint of water down throat to wash pill down.

14. Consume remainder of scotch. Get partner to drive you to emergency room, sit quietly while doctor stitches fingers and forearm and removes pill remnants from right eye. Stop at furniture shop on way home to pick out new table.

15. Arrange for SPCA to collect mutant cat. Call local pet shop to see if they have any hamsters.


Seriously, we would never trade Tiger for a hamster, as we love him even though he's pretty damn useless right now ... although not quite as useless as this cat.

On a totally unrelated topic, let me leave you with this useless joke: A Viennese fellow is walking along the Karntner Strasse and notices a banana peel lying in his path. "Alas," he sighs, "now I must slip and fall down!"

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Week of Suck

Things have not been peaches and cream in Toasterville this week. To start off with, while in Houston last week for my usual round of medical tests for my pulmonary fibrosis, it was discovered that my amylase and lipase numbers were out of whack, so there's apparently a chance I could be developing pancreatitis. Oh, joy: that's just what I need on top of a major lung disease. I'm supposed to have some more bloodwork done in a few days and we'll see where this goes, but it's possible that the first test could have been a fluke. Time will tell; keep your fingers crossed.

Mostly, however, at the moment we're worried about Tiger (below), one of our three cats, who is in the vet hospital as I write this. As they get older, male cats are particularly susceptible to a condition known as Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease, or FLUTD. It's most serious complication occurs when crystals or calcified stones form in the bladder which then get stuck in and obstruct the cat's urinary tract, leaving it unable to pee. Toxins build up quickly, and if the situation isn't recognized and the blockage treated right away, the cat can die within hours. It's a very serious condition, and one of the top three killer diseases (along with kidney failure and feline leukemia) in domestic cats.

Late Saturday night, we became aware that Tiger was showing symptoms of a blockage and seemed to be in pain. Fortunately, our vet was on-call for the weekend, and we made an emergency trip to her clinic where she unblocked Tiger with a catheter and kept him under observation until Monday. It was a close call; another few hours could have been fatal. After he came back home, we thought he was out of the woods ... until yesterday, when his symptoms reappeared. However, we were watching him closely as we knew exactly what to look for this time, and got him right back to the vet. The second trip will mean having to leave the catheter in place for a couple of days to give his system more time to clear out the crystals, and treatment with antibiotics and other medicine. Even so, there's no guarantee it still won't happen again; some cats are just predisposed to it -- genetics, perhaps -- and it's possible this could be the case with Tiger. In any event, assuming all goes well, we should be able to bring him home on Friday, and it's very likely that we'll have to keep him on a special diet from now on.

I have to tell you the little guy is a fighter, though, and I have high hopes that he's going to make it. I'll never forget the first time we saw him in our back yard, nearly seven years ago. As best as we can figure, some asshat with an aversion to taking kittens to the animal shelter had dumped him and his three sisters over the chain link fence into our yard, where they had been living under our tool shed for a few weeks or possibly longer. By this time they were on the very edge of feral, and it took us nearly another month to coax them out and allow us to feed them. To get them out from under the cold, dirty shed I built a big wooden shelter box (complete with a shingled roof and carpeted sun porch!) for them and put it right outside our back door, and they soon adopted it. Often I would turn on the back porch light during the night to check on them, and laugh to see four little heads pop up like furry jacks-in-the-box from inside the shelter.

During that period when they were learning to trust us, but not quite sure yet, Tiger was always the alpha male, and seemed to relish the role of "man of the family". He would bravely take the lead when they approached us, standing protectively between us and his sisters while meowing defiantly. Eventually they came to accept us, and we were able to move them safely indoors. We found homes for two of them, but kept Tiger and his sister Callie (the tortoise-shell in the photo), and they've been beloved members of our family ever since. We've acquired one more in the meantime, and now have a happy three-cat household.

So that's what is seriously bugging me this week. Oh, and let's also not forget (a) the screen on my less-than-a-year-old iPod clone (a Sansa e250) cracked today, rendering it a $90 paperweight; (b) I took the first whack at our income taxes last night, and we may have to cough up the better part of a thousand bucks to dear ol' Uncle Sam; (c) I've been told the ToastMobile needs a new set of tires a.s.a.p., which means I'll have to pull yet another $500 out of my ass somehow; (d) Mrs. T. learned on Monday that a University field trip which had been scheduled for next year, where she would have presented papers at two prestigious international library conferences in Korea and Taiwan, was canceled due to lack of funding, and; (e) my dear Blogger friend and fellow cookie-lover Moose is struggling with the trauma of a major breakup.

And shit, folks, it's only Wednesday.

The stars must not be in proper alignment this week; hope things are going better for you.