A week of cat hospice


Our cat died on October 26, 2015.

A week before Russell left us, he began a new phase of life.

His week  of hospice wasn’t a bad life. It was an odd mirror of his normal routines. Instead of making his way through his usual day, we simply carried him.

Russell Scot Fry adopted us in 2001 and was fully grown when we became family. Since 2008, Russell lived a fairly healthy life for an FIV positive cat. He’d even disappeared for 5 weeks once, during which time he went from a 20 pound Big Boy to a 14 pound, frightened little guy. He was a fighter and we nursed him back to health. Years later, hypotension, kidney disease meds were a daily fact of twice a day life.

He put up with it with relative equanimity – wriggling and hating it – but never holding a grudge. I finally figured out how to powderize the pills well enough for him to eat them in his food. Hiding them un-pulverized always meant a licked-clean pill rolling around on the bottom of his bowl.

We didn’t bother with the daily pills once he stopped eating and drinking.

This enormous, loud, handsome family member changed. Since I work from home, I was on daily cat duty. A visit to the big water pitcher we left on the hearth in the morning was cause for celebration. On the rare days he’d drink, I’d call my husband over and we’d clasp hands like our little one just took his first steps.

More often than not, he’d heave the water up soon after, but that became part of the day. I’d mop the mess and carry him to his cushy spot on the loveseat. Russell probably didn’t care, but it made me feel like I was doing something by fluffing before tucking him in.

When my husband would leave for work every day, he’d take a few minutes with Daddy’s Cat to explain that he didn’t have to hang out waiting for him to get home in case he decided it was time to go. He wanted to make sure Russell didn’t feel the pressure to keep going once it was no longer time.

During the day, I’d check in on him curled up in what became his afghan, his smelly afghan. A light hand on his flank just to see if he was still breathing. He’d look up at me like ‘whu? yeah, Mom. still here. zzzzz…’

He perked up when we’d take him outside. Before FIV, he was an indoor-outdoor adventure cat. Big game hunter. King of the neighborhood. Cock of the walk. Scourge of squirrels and bunnies everywhere. Outside was the magical place and he knew how to work it. Smart cat learned that if he checked in with us every once in a while, he could stay outside longer.

It made him so happy that getting carried outside became a regular event. On the grass and along the garden verges, he was once again Jungle Cat. Rubbing up against the yucca was cause for near delirium.

He crafted a bit of a routine, always ending up in the same corner by the base of the bay window. Sunny, perfect view of hid kingdom and just hidden enough. Russell kept an eye on things from there.

Routine was important to Russell. Mornings, downstairs for breakfast and evenings, upstairs for tv time until it was time for bed. At bedtime, always according to Russell’s clock, he herded us into our room, and hopped up on the bed into his spot. He would stand there, surfing the covers while I straightened the bedclothes. I like smooth sheets and Russell got very good about rolling with my tugs and tucks.

When going up and down the stairs got to be too much, I carried him. But, he was always able to get up on the bed himself.

There was a glorious nip in the air that late October. Russell’s greatest cat-passion was being on his cushion in front of the fire and the chill made a fire a delight. Truthfully, though, we would have cranked up the air conditioning and built a fire if it had occurred to us. We are those kind of cat parents. His cushion in front of the fire was always there. Always ready just in case.

One week after going into home hospice, I called our vet to check in. She was so caring and kind. She gave us some of the best advice and I’d like to share it. We all knew that it was only a matter of time. The one-day-at-a-time aim was to keep him comfortable and give him a good life. The one thing that could not be allowed to happen was for him to suffer.

All loving pet parents understand this. Never allow your pet to suffer. But, how do you know? Everyone offers the platitude “You’re cat will let you know when it’s time.” I find that to be specious bullshit. Nothing wants to die. Not a cat, dog or human. Your cat is not going to look at you with the expression that says “Now, please.” The best you can do is guess and then live with it.

Here’s our vets advice. Pick the day before the day it’s time. By the time it’s ‘time’, it’s too late. Your pet is suffering. So, we did. We called her that Monday morning to check in. We talked. We decided that that evening would be it.

Russell had a brilliant last day. Tucked into his afghan. Being Jungle Cat. Melting in front of the fire on his cushion.

It took 2 shots. One to relax him and one to make his heart stop. He died on his cushion in front of the fire.

My husband dug a hole in the garden in his corner – the spot he’d picked out. Just hidden enough and just sunny enough. Where he can always be Jungle Cat.12189264_10207967875864664_974061828700583590_o

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To Tai Chi or not to Tai Chi – getting over myself


It takes me a while to figure out how to incorporate new things into my life. My typical practice is to muddle along with an idea wrapped in frustration until I have an aha that reflects how simple the thing really is. Yes, I try my damnedest to complicate things.
 
I’ve been taking tai chi for about 5 months now and have enough body memory to attempt a session at home but I have been unable to wrap my mind around the logistics. Where? When? Is anyone watching? Music? Silence? Will I do enough? Will I do it right? Will I get bored?
 
Where? In the front room.
When? Whenever I find the lull I seek.
Is anyone watching? Probably Ron Scot Fry, but he thinks that my movements are pretty.
Music or Silence? Yes.
Will I do enough? Yes.
Will I do it right? Yes.
Will I get bored? No.
 
This last question is the crux for me. I used to get bored, bored, bored training for my marathons. Last week, Sifu Kevin explained that tai chi is never boring. Today, I agree. There’s a wu chi space that happens after monkey brain stops flinging poo for a nanosecond. I’ve experienced it in class but never doing tai chi alone.
 
Sweet.

Benzo withdrawal for fun and profit


It slices, it dices, it makes mincemeat of your brain. And by ‘your’, I mean mine.

Lorazepam. Powerful, seductive, addictive. It also works miracles. It did for me, anyway. My Dr prescribed it about 2 years ago for insomnia. Over time, I developed a tolerance and had to slowly increase my dosage to achieve the same results.

As an adult child of alcoholics and having been exposed in a bad-touch-uncle kind of way to drug users over the years, I have a wary relationship with mind-altering substances. As a bipolar person, I will cut anyone who considers how funny it would be to take my lamotrigine from me. Trust me, I can tell if you even think it. Drug-dar. Violently protective. Perhaps I should up my dosage. But, I digress… which is something you should get used to.

Back to the point – that upping my dosage to achieve the same results thing. I did it under instruction from my Dr. I’d started with 1/2 a pill and had worked my way up to 4 whole ones. They’re teen-tiny but still. On the verge of yet another increase, it occurs to me that there may be no end in sight. I don’t want to need them. Like those tortilla chips coated in lime dust and fresh salsa. Don’t bring it into my house or it’s dinner. The sad thing is, I always run out of salsa before the bag is empty. What the correlation is between the deadly lime crack / salsa combo and lorazepam… I’ve lost myself.

When lost, I hit the googles. Interweb searches quickly fill me in on how life devastating it is to take benzodiazepines for more than a few months and I’m coming up on a couple years. Suspicions of doom, gloom, and psychosis lurk in the horror novel corners of my brain. Helpful articles describe the painstaking, equally horrid and drawn out process for titrating off. Sounds like a plan. Let’s do it. Here’s how it goes…

Down from 4 to 3 1/2… no big deal! I can keep this up for the chat room suggested 2 weeks before another 1/2 pill decrease.

Night two. Sleep? What’s that?

Night three. The googles say I should replace the decreased med with something over the counter. Ibuprofen PM doesn’t interact, so I’m sucking that little blue pill down like a man with a Viagra prescription and an expense account on an out of town business trip.

Night four. I have achieved dopey, frustrated, insomnia. The noise in my head is reaching a fever pitch. But, not just any noise. Music. One song. Loudly. The worst earworm you can imagine. I pretend that the white noise sleep app on my iPad helps.

Night five, the paranoia sets in. This is so ugly, I won’t admit to it.

Day six before night six. I’m terrified of the radio. I cannot listen to uptempo songs I know or one will haunt me until around forever o’clock in the morning. I start loudly singing Mama Cass’s version of “Dream a Little Dream of Me” throughout the day.

Day something, not quite 2 weeks in … I’ve lost the ability to count or feel my tongue …. I have a regular check-in appointment with my Dr. and tell him what I’ve started. He doesn’t physically assault me but does capital A-Adamantly explain that the googles will lie to you. Although delighted with my Mama Cass song choice, he’s speaking slowly and using small words because I’m obviously a naive idiot and should be treated thus. My brain and long stare concurs and I’m too whacked out to take umbrage.

Since my Dr. has met me before (read: knows I am an active participant and decision maker in my health care (read: a pain in the butt)) he prescribes a non-addictive anti-depressant to help me ween off the lorazepam.

Fast forward to today. Particularly appropriate since my vision sometimes looks like I’m jumping into hyperspace. In 3 days, I go down to 2 1/2 pills. The anti-depressant called Tori Spelling or something is helping and I don’t need it every night. The last 2 nights in a row have been good quality sleep. I still hear music in my head (currently “Go Ask Alice”) but some people I work with confessed that similar noisy brain conditions happen to them but they don’t admit it in polite company.

Don’t want to sound crazy, you know. Bless them.