What's Not to Laugh?

Almost everything about aging–except grave illness and death–can be funny as well as disturbing. I try to find the funny and help us all get through it!

Archive for the month “April, 2014”

The patient is resting uncomfortably

In my last post, you learned that we were taking our adorable cat Maude to a vet specialty center to be probed, scanned, and possibly operated on. From the original consultation and the observation of our regular vet, we knew the problem could be an infection (not so bad and treatable), a polyp (removable), or a mass (could be anything from not too bad to awful). We were optimists and hoped that the findings would be a very deep infection that a good scooping and lots of medications could conquer.

On Thursday, April 17, we dropped Maude off at the center after signing a “Yes, please do resuscitate” form. We were sad and a little nervous, but that didn’t keep us from going out to eat a hearty breakfast. In the early afternoon, the surgeon called and told us that it wasn’t an infection, but it was still hard to see what was going on without a CT scan. (I had made silly jokes about the “cat scan” to my friends earlier, and it’s time to get over myself.)

When she called back soon after, she told us that it’s a mass and that Maude needed a TECA, or total ear canal ablation. This possibility was explained to us during the consultation, but I still couldn’t wrap my mind around it. Remove her ear canal? Really? I quickly went online and found that this is done for both cats and dogs, and they do recover. Chances are great that they weren’t hearing well through the affected ear anyway, so the loss in hearing wouldn’t make much of a difference.

There was also the possibility that the nerve that controls blinking of the eye on the side of the surgery could be cut. If so, Maude would need eye medication at least twice a day to provide the lubrication that tears from blinking usually provide. I was again optimistic. What are the chances this will actually happen?

Within 15 minutes, we called the surgeon back and told her to go ahead with the ablation. I had a hard time with the decision but knew that if it wasn’t done that day, we’d still have to do it at some point, and then Maude would have to undergo anesthesia again. We went through the rest of the day depressed, sad, and worried.

Late that afternoon, a phone call from the vet center gave us good news and bad news. Maude was doing well after the surgery, but the tumor (yes, it was a tumor that was biopsied) was wrapped around the aforementioned nerve, and they had to cut the nerve to get everything out. That means putting medication in the non-blinking eye twice a day for the rest of her life.

We picked her up on Friday afternoon, after a technician explained how and when to administer the two painkillers and the eye salve. When Maude was handed over to us, she was wearing the expected e-collar, or cone, that all animals hate with a passion. At home, she bumped into walls, had difficulty getting her face down into water and food bowls, and was perplexed that she was unable to clean herself. She periodically lifts her back paw and, instead of bringing it to her mouth as usual, it just sticks up in the air with nowhere to go.

But she’s been pretty good about these temporary disabilities. We’re the ones who suffer, watching her try to navigate. Giving her two different liquid pain medications several times a day is the real challenge. While dogs will generally open their mouths for anything you put in front of them, cats are much more discriminating. And this cat certainly wasn’t going to allow her determined owners to pry open her mouth and shove a syringe filled with not-so-delicious liquid in. The first time we did this, my husband held her and I gave her the medicine. He got scratched. On both arms. We were nervous, and that increased her tension. After that, we captured her with a towel first. She objected loudly, but we got the medicine in.

When Maude first came home from the animal hospital, she spent nights in a dark corner of one closet or another. For the last few nights, she has slept on our bed between us, enjoying the petting and belly rubs from her two biggest fans. The stitches (and the cone) will be removed Monday morning. Hallelujah! It’s very sad to see this puzzled kitty not be able to get very comfortable while snoozing because of a piece of inflexible plastic around her head.

So until yesterday afternoon, I was feeling much happier. Only four more days until the cone comes off! Then the surgeon called with the biopsy results.

The tumor was a squamous cell carcinoma, which is usually a skin cancer—worse than a basal cell but not as bad as melanoma. I’m not sure how Maude got this so deep in her ear. Because of the narrow and delicate area where it was located, she could not remove nearby tissue to be sure it was all out. So there are a few remaining cells, and the surgeon said they could progress rapidly. The remedy is radiation. When I asked about the process, she said we would have to bring her in to the vet center every day for a month! Can you imagine taking a cat for a ride to the center every single day for a month and having her undergo sedation and radiation? Of course, it’s doable, but we don’t want to cause her more trauma while she’s recovering from surgery and the aftermath. We’ll meet with the oncologist to discuss her odds of recovery, what happens if we don’t do the radiation, and what it will cost.

This morning, as I awoke, I looked over at the little bundle of fur sleeping next to me and realized I can’t imagine not having her around. Pet owners everywhere can relate. I’ll let you know what we decide to do.


When you love too much

Sorry to disappoint you starry-eyed romantics out there, hoping to find a torrid love story about man vs. woman, man vs. man, or woman vs.woman. (I’m nothing if not inclusive.) This is about woman and man vs. a cat. No torridness, just foolishness.

I love our cat, Maude. My husband loves Maude too. Because he’s not the father of my two daughters, Maude is the closest we come to having a child together. Also, he’s never had children, so this is his chance to show his fatherhood chops.

I understand that most people who have pets love them too (although I could never get emotional about a boa constrictor or a piranha). But most don’t seem to be as obsessive about them as we are about Maude. So many of these pet owners work all day, travel for business or pleasure, or basically go about their lives—the lives they had before the pet entered the picture. The pet is an additional family member, not the focus of the home.

The object of our affection

The object of our affection

I’m not referring to the early days of kitten- or puppy-hood. Those periods are necessarily pet-centered and devoted to training, acclimating, and getting to know cute little Morris or Fluffy. Maude is over 12 years old, although we became her family only a year ago.

Maude adapted very quickly to new owners and a new household. The first week she hid in a corner of our closet at night, but soon she found more visible places to nap. And before long, she was sleeping with us, making a queen-size bed feel no wider than an army cot. Did we complain? A little. But as I said, we love her, and we love it when she snuggles up to us, resting a front paw on our arm or rolling over on her back so we can give her a belly rub.

We’re home more often than we’re away, so there’s a lot of snuggling and belly rubbing going on. In short, we’ve spoiled Maude. After she eats her food and drinks from her water bowl (and uses the cat facilities), she can’t understand why I might not want to go back upstairs with her to…snuggle. Giving her a warm look and saying, “You had your dinner; it’s my turn now” doesn’t phase her. She continues her cat-whining—sort of a mournful “Mrrrroww”—or what I call ca-vetching (combining cat with kvetching and pronouncing it the way Gentiles usually pronounce kvetching).

Maude also has asthma, but it seems to have improved in the last year or so. Occasionally, she starts coughing. If it goes on for a while, we give her a nebulizer treatment with Flomax (yes, the same obscenely expensive medication given to people). After every attack, we look at each other and ask, “What if we hadn’t been here?” And that leads me to the title of this post. We love too much. The evidence is irrefutable. We haven’t gone on a trip since October 2012, six months before we got Maude.

There are cat sitters, I know. I’ve looked online and read many profiles. But this is Maude! Maude is used to being the center of attention in our house many different times of the day—and not just one or two 15-minute visits by a kind stranger.

Do I realize this behavior (ours not hers) is not normal? Sure I do. Will I do something about it? I had good intentions of trying, gradually, to be away from her for longer spans of time. Maybe even work up to an overnight trip…or a weekend! Then came the diagnosis.

At Maude’s recent annual checkup, the vet noticed something suspicious in her left ear. “It could be a polyp or a mass, or just a very deep infection,” she said. She suggested we take her to a veterinary specialty center for another opinion and possible surgery if it needs to be removed. So we snatched her up and put her in her carrier and took off for the vet center—a huge, efficiently run operation that offers surgeons, neurologists, nephrologists, dermatologists, oncologists, and probably other “ists” that I didn’t get a chance to read on the sign. After the initial (not free) consultation, Maude is scheduled to go under anesthetic later this week so both the surgeon and the dermatologist can get a better look at what we’re dealing with. I’m already stressing over the fact that we were told not to feed her that morning. How will we explain to her that we’re eating breakfast but she can’t?

And now we’ve added worry to the loving picture, but I know that pet owners experience this anytime their darlings are ill. But the real test of our love for this sweet, beautiful feline is that we didn’t flinch (not more than a nanosecond, that is) when we say the cost estimate. Home equity loan anyone?

So we’re not going anywhere anytime soon. But I promise that if Maude is in good health after this ordeal, we’ll make plans. Watch for updates.


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