Friday, May 18, 2018

The Security Geese and the Line in the Water



Winter flipped the coin into “Sprunger” last week, that is to say our daytime temperatures went from 5-7 degrees C (41-45 F) to 25-28 C (77-82 F), the barren and dead-looking trees in the courtyard burst into clouds of pink and white blossoms and the flower beds thrust bright spikes of narcissus, daffodils, hyacinths, and tulips from the brown earth into the sunshine. Hostas unrolled their leaves and fanned them out like green umbrellas. 

Calgary doesn’t have “Spring”. We go from Winter to Summer in a single bound, then, like those times you leave home with the nagging feeling that you’ve forgotten something, and it turns out to be the baby, dressed in his snowsuit, and cinched in his carseat, Calgary goes back and gives us three days of 5 degrees C (41 F), and a cold drizzle, or it snows 53 cm (21 inches) on the 21st of May. Just because we didn’t get a “proper” Spring, or because the weather gods here are sadistic. I’ve lived here 45 years. Nothing surprises me any more. But back to the lovely weather last week.  

While all this magic was happening in the garden, we were doing our own thing. After a week-long paralytic episode, during which I should have gone to the ER, and didn’t, I developed phlebitis in my left leg. This was a sharp and painful lesson that despite my aversion to Emergency Rooms, I do still need to go and suffer the never-ending questions, the blood-gas draws (which are very painful), the potassium IVs, the beeping monitors and being treated as if I was intellectually challenged and know absolutely nothing about my own disease while some Intern, who has never heard of it, goes to look up a single article, probably one riddled with errors, and comes back “knowing everything”.  

But having put all that behind me, on Mother’s Day Ian and I went out for lunch and then, with me in Tony’s wheelchair, we went to the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary. I got to see far more than I’ve seen in ages because I’ve not been able to walk farther than the 1st bench for a long time. We went down river and watched the Canada geese squabble over “their” staked-out stretches of the river. These territorial boundaries, though invisible to us, are obviously very clear to them. 

One pair was grazing on the bank of the river above us. Down in the river another pair was leisurely paddling around, apparently minding their own business. Suddenly the female of the grazing pair stood up, gave an eardrum-rending screech and assuming a threatening posture, began running down the bank towards the water, presumably squawking, “Your goose is cooked!”. The male reluctantly followed. The two of them chased down, beat and pecked the “intruders” until they had retreated well upriver, and across the invisible border.   

We moved upriver to another bench, where we sat and enjoyed the sun and watched the merganser ducks, chickadees and other birds who were coming and going. At one point I looked up and about 30 meters (100 ft) away a couple of very plump coyotes in beautiful condition were trotting past. They were in such good condition they looked as if they’d just come from the dog groomers. But then Calgary is overrun by rabbits. A woman farther down the path, much closer to them, simply stopped and waited for them to pass. As she walked by she said, “I thought they were dogs at first, they were in such good condition!” 

As we turned to go a garter snake, about .76 meter (30 inches) long slid from the grass onto the path in front of us. It was in fine condition, plumb and sleek. It crossed the path at a leisurely pace to begin with, but when Ian started getting close to try and get a photo it put on some speed. In contrast to the garter snakes in the den on our property in BC this one was not dark green and yellow but two tones of brown. It was a lovely snake and seeing it capped off a beautiful walk on a lovely afternoon.  


Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Goodbye Dr. Frank



Last week I lost a dearly loved friend and mentor, Dr. Professor Frank Lehmann-Horn of Ulm University, Ulm Germany. Frank was that rare species of physician, for whom every patient became a friend, but as head of the non-profit organization Periodic Paralysis International I worked with him more closely than most patients, including collaborating on a paper published in a neurological journal, a 10 month-long process start-to-finish. 

Frank was everything most neurologists aren’t, kind, gentle, a patient teacher and listener, and for that Linda Feld and Misty Smith of the Periodic Paralysis Association, and I nominated him for “The Art of Listening Award” from the Genetic Alliance. He flew from Germany to Washington, DC to accept it and said of all the awards he won, and there were many, it was the one he treasured most, because it was from the patients he loved. You can see him accepting the award here. 

His research, both in the complex structure of the muscle and in the genetics of neuromuscular disease were seminal. He offered genetic testing for patients, identifying the genetic mutation in many families. He was the author or co-author of 73 papers in neurology journals, developed new techniques for MRI testing and introduced the use of new treatments for periodic paralysis. 

There is really no way to describe how much he will be missed by each of us who has some form of periodic paralysis.

May his family be comforted by the knowledge of how deeply Dr. Frank Lehmann-Horn is loved and appreciated by all whose lives were touched by his.

To his wife, children and grandchildren we extend our deepest sympathies and heartfelt condolences. I hope knowing how many patients truly loved Frank is of some comfort. His memory will outlive us, as generations not yet born are told how their family’s mutation was identified, and by whom. 

And to that I add this lovely poem by Mary Oliver, because Frank didn’t just “visit” this world. He made an impact on thousands of lives.  


When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps his purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;
when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering;
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

Friday, May 11, 2018

What Now?

One of the reasons I haven’t posted much recently is that I’ve had little to post about. I can go on about my cats for just so long before everyone begins to brush cat hair off their monitors and yells, “Enough already with the cats!” My “outings” are more likely to be doctor’s appointments than anything else, and do not make riveting reading. 

But I’ve collected quote for years, and I wonder what my two or three readers would make of them.  So I’m going to begin posting some of my favourites
and hopefully others will comment, and we can discuss them, politely of course, because some of them are “challenging” - which is why I saved them when I ran across them. (grin)

Today's quote, from Jean Vanier, who will doubtless be nominated for sainthood when he leaves this earth, is not challenging, but keeping it in mind at all times, and with all people, certainly can be.

What do you think? When someone pushes your buttons are you likely to remember the principle embodied by this quote? I'm not, though I really try - when I remember. 

“We human beings are all fundamentally the same. We all belong to a common broken humanity. We all have human wounded, broken hearts. Each one of us needs to feel appreciated and understood. We all need help.” ~ Jean Vanier

Sunday, March 18, 2018

I TOLD You He Was Chill!


Seeing as how I promised to write about Smokey’s experience at the vet’s “tomorrow” on the 1st of March, and it is now the 18th, perhaps I will live up to my promise. 

As all who know the-cat-who-would-be-king are aware, he has a very long dense coat. His guard hairs are very coarse and he has such a thick undercoat that it’s difficult to get a comb through it. I groom him from 45 minutes to an hour a day, which he loves, but he is hot, winter and summer, and he loves to go out on the balcony and lie in the snow. So he sheds, and sheds and sheds and sheds. I get a compacted fist-sized ball of hair off of him every day. 

And, sorry if this is TMI, but he has always had a bit of a delicate digestive system. Feed him two different flavours of food on the same day and he gets the runs. Accidentally leave Hobbes’ dry food so Smokey can steal a few bites and I’m cleaning cat poo off of everything in the house, including him. He’s very intolerant of having any poo at all on himself, so he will stand at the bathroom door and yell until I let him in the bathroom, where he jumps on the bath bench and gets a wash, and a dry, though a certain amount of snarling goes along with the drying. Clean we like, yes, but he sees no point in the towelling when the sofa would soak up the water just fine.  

After the fourth time in a single day I’ve had to clean him, and the floors, doors, walls, bath bench, and anything else he swiped his poopy tail on because some people (mostly Papa but sometimes me!) have walked off and left Baby Cat’s bowl unattended a little irritated Mama gets yes, she does. 

So, when we got to the vets I asked her if they would please shave Mr. Smokey from his neck to his tail. Leave the head and legs hairy, shave the rest, especially around his rear end. She said they certainly would do a “hygiene clip”, but do not normally shave cats because they freak out and require sedation, and they don’t do that. 

I tossed what little self esteem I possess to the winds, threw myself on her mercy and begged until she said she’d ask the girls to “try”, but if they could do it usually takes about 20 minutes and costs $120. However, if he was uncooperative they’d stop at the hygiene clip. I said, "He's a pretty chill cat, please, just give it a try." 

She took him to the back and when she returned we extricated Hobbes from the crate he couldn’t stand half an hour earlier and she began his exam. 

Five minutes into Hobbes’ exam she leaned in the direction of the door to the back room and said, “The clippers are still going.” On with Hobbes’ exam. Another couple of minutes, “The clippers are still going.” Another couple of minutes, “The clippers are still going - and they are laughing. I’ve got to see what’s going on.” And she went out the back door of the room. 

When she came back a couple of minutes later she was roaring with laughter. “They started with the hygiene clip,” she said, “Then one held him while the other came up front and started to shave his chest. As soon as he realized what they were doing he shook off the gal holding him and lifted his head up so they could shave his neck. Then they shaved his back. Now he’s rolled over, lying on his back, and they're shaving his belly, he’s even held out his front legs to be shaved. They’re not even having to hold him, he’s stayed absolutely still the entire time, and he's purring like mad. He’s loving it! He’s got to be the most laid back cat we’ve ever seen. They’ve never shaved a cat they didn’t have to hold down!” 

He was so chill it only took them 10 minutes to shave him, and cost $60. Well worth the money. Admittedly he looks like a bulldog, with a big head, blocky body with four square corners, a big broad chest and little short legs, but the haircut looks pretty good. I'm not complaining. 

My guess is he was kept shaved as a kitten, and remembered the routine. He’s much happier since he was shaved, no chasing Hobbes around and beating the living spit out of him. His hair is now about 1/2” long, and we’ve decided we’ll keep him shaved from now on. He’s much easier to keep clean. Both of us are happy about that. 

Thursday, March 01, 2018

He "sings" like a pig caught under the farm gate

Yesterday was “the day”, the one we mark on the calendar and look forward to with trepidation and fear. Yesterday was booster shot and annual exam day for 'the boys’. The moment the crates are brought down from their perches in the closets the boys’ devil-may-care attitudes vanish and they slither like two furred snakes under the beds.

I drop a big towel in each crate, along with a generous tablespoon of catnip. They may not do any good, from the cats’ point of view, but they make me feel better. Of course we can’t just open the crate doors and issue invitations. But fortunately our boys tend to panic and run from bed to bed, and thus can be scooped up during a transit.

In turn each one’s crate is stood on end. Hobbes has to be put in head first, Smokey back feet first. Doors secured, crates loaded on the cart, winter layers on, pocketbook in hand, trusty cane in hand and we are ready for our driver, Gail. While we wait for her to arrive, Hobbes begins to warm-up for the performance, because Hobbes is not *just* the quirky orange tabby who loves strawberry yogurt, steals plastic bags and destroys cardboard boxes, Hobbes is a Felis silvestris catus with ambitions. 


Hobbes resting after his performance 
Hobbes wants to go on the musical stage, and not just to sing in Jubilee Auditorium productions of “Cats” or “The Lion King”. Hobbes aspires to sing on the stages of the Great Opera Houses of the World; The Metropolitan, Vienna Staatsoper, La Scala Milan, The Liceu in Barcelona, Teatro di San Carlo, The Royal Opera House in London. I could go on, but you get the drift.

For this trip, as far as I could determine, he chose as his performance piece an intensely dramatic aria from Verdi’s 'Otello', loosely translated as “God, how could you?”. Verdi used Shakespeare's tale of Othello as his libretto, so of course you know the story; the insecure older man, an African general, marries the young and beautiful blonde Desdemona, who is devoted to him. But his wicked, jealous and bigoted second-in-command, Iago, manages to convince Otello that his wife is unfaithful. Otello, heartbroken and maddened by grief, kills her, and then himself. But just before he dies he realizes he has been tricked and kills Iago as well.


You may see Placido Domingo’s incredible performance of this piece, taken from the film produced and directed by Franco Zeffirelli, here, though the audio seems to have been tampered with and Domingo's magnificent tenor has been dropped into a decidedly baritone range. Still gorgeous.

Sadly Hobbes has yet to attain Domingo’s command of melody or tempo or… to have exhibited any musical talent whatsoever, and as a result his interpretation lost a good deal in execution. However, if enthusiasm counts he cannot be faulted. He went into full throttle when our front door opened and his performance continued unabated until his crate door was opened at the vet’s. How so many decibels can emerge from a 6.5 kilo (14 pound) cat is a mystery to everyone who hears him.

Once out of the crate and on the exam table he was the proverbial pussy cat, docile and friendly, never even flinched when he got his needle. And he was eager and delighted to get back in his crate for the ride home. He sang a less onerous aria on the way back, possibly something from Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘HMS Pinafore’.

Smokey is not a G&S fan and grumbled at him the entire way home. There were sharp words between them afterwards. But Smokey was fine with the ride. As long as Smokey can see I’m in the car he’s chill. Smokey’s outing was extraordinary for an entirely different reason. Tomorrow, I hope, I’ll have time to write about that.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Massager with Menaces

Happy Saturday the 17th of February, hackiedy, hack, hack, hack. No, not me. I quit hacking a week ago, but Himself, Lord and Master of the Household, is still barking like a doberman with a bone caught in his throat. Poor old dear. 

On the bright side - think of all the industries we’re supporting; the people who sell cough syrup, the makers of the nasty stuff, the ones who brewgrow, *grow*, the ingredients for it, and presumably say incantations over it. Then there have been the innumerable pills and hot toddies at all hours. 

One morning about 3:00 am in a fit of desperation I got out the teeth-rattling vibrator Ian bought me a couple of years back, hoping it might help my back. This thing has two golf-ball-sized heads which heat up and then proceed to “vibrate” with all the finesse of a jack hammer. The “golf balls” are set in a head which lies at a 90 degree angle to a 14” long handle so, (supposedly) the sufferer can run it up and down their back, with the relaxing effect of being knocked down and trampled by 10,000 Japanese businessmen disembarking from a crowded commuter train at 5:25 pm. 

At any rate, I climbed on our step-stool, pulled the “massager with menaces” down from a high shelf where it lives in a bucket, plugged it in and proceeded to give my DH the pummelling of his 77 years. After a few minutes he assured me that he felt entirely, or nearly so, cured. Or at least I think that’s what he said. He gasped, “Enough! No more!” and fell over on the bed coughing.  


I’m not sure how much good it did. I’ve offered to do it again, but he’s always been busy tidying his toenails or just about to take a nap whenever I’ve asked. 

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Awaken! Take heed. Do not...

Let me respectfully remind you,
Life and death are of supreme importance.
Time swiftly passes by
and opportunity is lost.
Each of us should strive to awaken. 
Awaken! Take heed. 
Do not squander your life.
~ Evening Gatha ~ 

January 3rd has slipped away to be replaced by the 4th. What a month the days between the early hours of December 3rd 2017 to January 3rd 2018 turned out to be for us. A far cry from any Christmas season we’ve ever experienced before, frightening, dangerous, painful and exhausting but in the end also filled with the blessings of family and love. 

As described in my last post on the 10th of December, Tony had surgery on the 4th. He recovered quite slowly to begin with and wasn’t able to come home until the 22nd. He now has a walking frame and some other medical equipment and is progressing well, though he’s still in quite a bit of pain. 

I spent at least a couple of hours with him most days, often going by taxi, because the driving quickly got to be too much for me. Ian was my hero during this time. Though it meant he had to work 14 hours a day, he made time to drive 45 minutes across the city, pick me up and drive me 20-25 minutes to the hospital, then sit and work in the hospital cafeteria while I visited with his dad, then drive home again and work until the wee hours. 

We’d barely gotten Tony settled when our younger son Zak and his wife Nicole arrived from Switzerland. We were *so* delighted to see them. We hadn’t seen Zak since the summer of 2014 and though we talk every week via FaceTime, we’d never met Nicole face-to-face before. We certainly weren’t disappointed. She is as beautiful inside as she is outside and we love her even more for having met her in person. Smokey the cat went particularly ga-ga over her. You’d think he *never* got any petting in this household, and the wretch let her comb out matts he wouldn’t let me touch, *and* he let her trim his nails. If it hadn’t been such a triumph I’d be jealous. HA! 

There had been no time for decorating the tree, buying presents other than some I’d bought during the summer - pickings were thin. Thankfully I had at least one small gift for everyone, and we’d gone grocery shopping so there was enough food to keep an elephant happy. 

It was all good, we talked and laughed and enjoyed each others’ company, despite the -35 temperature outside. 

Zak got busy and did a dozen or so small repairs to the place, fixed a leaky faucet, replaced a doorknob, fixed a closet door handle, installed a shelf to keep Hobbes from jumping behind the washing machine, painted the dresser in our bedroom, cutting an access hole in the back of the new sideboard so I can plug in the LED light strips, etc etc etc. So many excellent improvements! 

And Nicole, bless her heart. The Swiss are OCD about clean-clean-overdrive. Though my house was cleaned the day before by our housekeeper, Nicole tut-tutted over the amount of great-unwashed left behind, and dove in. When I expressed concern she grinned and said, “I *love* cleaning, I find it so relaxing!” Yeah, I sit zazen for that. Maybe I should try scrubbing baseboards. 

We had other guests as well, of a more temporary nature, people we love and don’t see enough. Then on Saturday evening, after a week, our little birds flew the nest. We FaceTimed today and they are slowly returning to a Swiss schedule. 

January 3rd marked my 72nd birthday. Ian did some grocery shopping for me and brought dinner. We had a lovely visit afterwards. I’m so proud of my sons and their integrity and their compassion for others. 

Last night was interesting. I often have complex dreams, always in colour, but my dreams rarely include people I know. But last night I dreamed of all three of my siblings, all of whom have passed away. My brother Harrel was the 1st we lost, 20 years ago. My sister Ruby passed away in 2005 and my brother Hall in 2010. Last night all three came to me, at different times. I do hope it was just to say hello and not to tell me my time is up. My bottom didn’t hit the chair long enough to sort out and take my meds until 3:30 in the afternoon today. If I head off to parts unknown any time soon you’re going to have to find someone else to go without sleep, empty Tony’s commode, fix his favourite oatmeal in the morning, make his pills, yada yada. 


And try the Zen. It’ll help you cope. Just look for the books that are dog-eared or with pages falling out.  Awaken! Take heed. Do not squander your life.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Tony's Hidden Talent

When my husband dove off the top step, did a graceful mid-air pirouette and landed on the ground with a thunk in the summer of 2008 I cried, “Are you alright?” 

“I’m fine,” he said, “but I’ve broken my leg.” And so he had, with gruesome efficiency.

Thus I discovered he has hidden talents as a diagnostician. When he falls he can immediately identify which of his 206 bones he has broken. Up until last Monday morning his tally was; a skull fracture, 11 bones in tibia/fibula/ankle, collarbone, arm just below the shoulder, arm just above the elbow, arm just below the elbow. When he fell and broke his arm below the elbow a few years back he ignored it until he’d brought in a wagon load of garden supplies. 

When I retired shortly after midnight last Monday am (i.e. a week ago) Himself was sawing logs in his bed, having turned in about 7:00 pm. I was so proud. (I’m trying to train myself to go to bed earlier than 2:00-3:00.)  I lay there sleepless for a while, my body a bit puzzled over being in bed quite so early. The last time I looked at the bedside clock it read 1:00, but then I dozed off. 

At 1:30 I was awakened by a huge crash. I lay there a couple of minutes, trying to figure out what it could possibly have been. Our upstairs neighbours dropping their sofa (or garden shed?). A bomb going off in the parkade two floors down, two cars colliding in the visitor’s lot out front? I half expected the fire alarm to start shrieking, and when it didn't I finally got up to see if I could see what he noise was. 

As soon as I walked into the kitchen I found “the bomb”, in the form of my husband, on the floor. “What are you doing down there,” I asked (rather stupidly in retrospect).  

Tony looked at me in exasperation. “I fell down,” he said. “I’m fine, but I think I’ve cracked my hip.” He was convinced he could get up by himself. How I’m not sure, as he can’t get up from the floor when he isn’t hurt, let alone when he is. I called 911. Two nice young EMTs arrived, picked him off the floor, got him on a gurney, waited while I changed from my PJs to jeans and a shirt, got on my coat and shoes and away we went. 

By 2:00 am we were in the Emergency Dept. of our nearby hospital. Over the next 15 hours he was examined in numerous ways, by a cadre of physicians from four different disciplines. All assured me behind hooded eyes that they knew “everything there is to know” about Tony's extremely rare disease. Two series of x-rays, a couple of CT Scans and three Orthopaedic consults later it was determined he needed surgery to mend his hip and femur, which were broken not across but split down the middle. He needed a long plate and screws to stabilize the split. 

His surgery was Tuesday afternoon, and he’s made a slow but reasonable recovery since. The morphine they’ve been giving him for pain (he has had a LOT of pain) make him have some highly creative delusions, but thankfully cheerful and pleasant ones which he finds amusing (and can’t believe they aren’t real). For example he swears the bed control/call button projects Google maps and street view, cartoons, and illustrations of his rehab plans onto a screen on the wall. 

He’s been moved to a private room because he talks in his sleep non-stop and keeps his roomies awake. (Over the years I’ve learned to sleep through the running narrative.) His new room has a huge window which looks across the courtyard to another wing of the hospital. So another of his delusions was that one of the nurses was hanging off the top of that wing at 3:00 am decorating it for Christmas. 

"They sure get excited about Christmas around here," he said. In the last couple of days the nurses have hung a garland over the door of every room in the unit, and put trees and decorations all over the unit. They really have put a lot of work into making it look really nice and seasonal. I guess that had him thinking about nurses hanging in climbing gear, decorating the side of a five-story building.  

He’s already up doing a few minutes of rehab a couple of times a day, and though no one is promising anything I’m hoping he will be home in time for Christmas. His care has been wonderful. The unit he’s in has 14 rooms, 10 of which have four beds, the other four are private rooms, so 44 beds, not all full, three nursing stations, each with three nurses and an aide. There’s also a nurse practitioner and a Rehab Team consisting of a physician, a rehab specialist nurse and two physiotherapists. 

The other thing he has is a couple of unhappy cats at home, especially Hobbes, who is a Daddy’s boy. They want their they Daddy back, Daddy back, Daddy back. 

Me too fellas. Me too.    


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

These Are Not Tears, Smoke Is In My Eyes



Though it seems as if it’s been months, it’s “only” been five weeks since the morning I came out of our bedroom at 8:00 am and instead of being greeted by Smokey, our bouncing grey basketball of fur, I found him lying in a heap in the hallway, motionless and too ill to stand. Since then there’s been a lot of lap-time and tears, because I know he’s in pain, and I’m tired, and hoping that all I’m doing will help him survive. 

It was sudden, at 2:00 am he had insisted on going for a run in the long corridor that serves the wing of the building we live in. He thundered down the long run, stopping to sniff at the doors of those units where other cats and dogs live. When we got back to our own door he took off and ran down to where the wings intersect and ran down an adjacent wing and back, scampering like a kitten.  

Mr. Smokes on a better day
Our vet’s office starts taking calls at 8:30, and as soon as we were able to get him into the office we had him there. She examined him and noted that while he had no fever he had extreme jaundice. His ears, eye membranes, and gums were a deep peach colour. When his blood tests came back we learned his bilirubin level was over 100, when it should have been no higher than 3.  The question was “Why?” 

She prepared us for the most likely and worst possibilities; feline leukaemia, feline HIV, liver cancer or possibly gallstones, which could be treatable with surgery. When the leukaemia and HIV tests came back negative the next step was to seek the opinion of a specialist who could do an ultrasound looking for a liver mass and/or gallstones. This was quite a trip (45 km), with Ian doing the driving once and me doing it the second time, but from the ultrasound we learned that he had almost certainly had had a gallstone which he’d managed to pass, probably overnight, but which had backed up horrendous amounts of bile in his liver and body tissues. They’d shaved his belly for the ultrasound and his normally pink-white skin was absolutely the colour of an over-ripe peach. 

More ominously the ultrasound revealed he had hepatic lipidosis, a frequently fatal liver condition in cats. Hepatic lipidosis happens when an abnormally high amount of fat accumulates in the cells of a cat’s liver. Even though there is all this fat in reserve, a cat has no ability to convert these fat reserves into energy when it does not eat. When a cat doesn’t eat for 24-48 hours its liver can begin to fail, especially if there are other factors going on, like a gallstone, which has filled the liver with bile. 

Smokey, who is usually a chow hound, ate very little on Saturday, and almost nothing on Sunday. He had slept a lot and seemed a bit lethargic, but then on Sunday night, or early Monday morning, he ran up and down the hallway like a kitten. In retrospect maybe he was in pain on Saturday and Sunday, and that running and jumping was an attempt to dislodge the gallstone blocking his bile duct.  (Apparently it worked!)  

Once we had our diagnosis the treatment plan was clear, but the outcome was not guaranteed. Many cats do not survive hepatic lipidosis. We came home with medication to stimulate his appetite, because getting food in him was to be his only chance at life. My job was to feed him a half-teaspoon of food made into a slurry, so he could just lap it up, every hour around the clock. This was as big a challenge as having a newborn.  

We were back to the vet’s for medication for vomiting, for IV fluids, for more appetite stimulants, for probiotics, to have him weighed. 

After two weeks we moved to feeding him a teaspoon of food every two hours. Profound gratitude.  Now I feed him at 2:00, Tony feeds him at 6:00 and I feed him at 8:00, so I can actually get some sleep. 

Five weeks and we’re still not out of the woods. One day in three or four he eats well, the others I have to take the bowl to him, wake him and urge him to eat a teaspoon of food. He may eat only two or three teaspoons of food on those days, and I fret all over that we’re going to lose him. Recovery from hepatic lipidosis can take months. He’s still jaundiced, his ears look waxen and his poor little naked belly is the soft, fuzzy yellow of apricots. 

Hobbes the little brother, has stuck to Smokey like a burr. He was very upset when Smokey was away at the vet’s. Now when Smokey lies down Hobbes will soon snuggle down beside him, and the two sleep contentedly side-by-side, for the better part of the day, and night too. 

It is not yet the end, because it is not all right yet. 


Monday, November 27, 2017

You Can’t See Emptiness, But You Can Be It

Days continue to shorten, Christmas now approaches. 
It’s a time of expectation. 

We look for light; light from the sun, light of the heart, renewal of the light of the soul. We look for what we long for, whatever it is; connection, relief from loneliness, ease of despair, ease of pain, some sign that the burdens of today and tomorrow will diminish. We look for new beginnings. 

Reading through my collection of much loved passages from Buddhist teachers I ran on this one again, from the book Paradise in Plain Sight: Lessons from a Zen Garden by Zen teacher Karen Maezen Miller. It always reminds me to lay aside my inner chaos, let go and just be. 

Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, meditating on the Heart Sutra*,
Clearly saw emptiness of all the five conditions,
Thus completely relieving misfortune and pain.
Heart Sutra

Form is emptiness and emptiness is form. This single phrase is the summation of the Buddhist path, the culminating insight of the Way. But having uttered it, I’ve already strayed from it. Having read it, you’ve missed it, because now your mind is running amok trying to understand it, and here I am trying to chase after you. So let’s come back together in one big, empty place, and start over.

What looks solid is not solid; what has no shape comes in all shapes. In a physical sense, bamboo is strong because it is hollow. It is supple and resilient; it bends without breaking. It supports incredible weight. It grows unimpeded by any known barrier, spreading outward everywhere. This is true of you, too. Where do you think you begin and end? Your feet? Your head? Your skin? Your eyes, nose, mouth, ears? Your thoughts, memory, feelings? The way we limit ourselves imposes a bunker mentality and defies scientific reality.

It helps to remember what you took on faith in fourth grade science. All matter is composed of atoms. Atoms are mostly empty space. By definition you can’t see emptiness, but you can be it. Now, to live and let live in emptiness. That’s the secret to paradise.

First, be quiet. Give away your ideas, self-certainty, judgments, and opinions. Let go of defenses and offenses. Face your critics. They will always outnumber you.

Lose all wars. All wars are lost to begin with. Abandon your authority and entitlements. Release your self-image: status, power, whatever you think gives you clout. It doesn’t, not really. That’s a lie you’ve never believed.

Give up your seat. Be what you are: unguarded, unprepared, unequipped and surrounded on all sides. Alone, you are a victim of no one and nothing.

What appears in front of you is your liberation. That is, unless you judge it. Then you imprison yourself again.

Now that you are free, see where you are. Observe what is needed. Do good quietly. If it’s not done quietly, it’s not good.

Start over. Always start over.

*The original wording is: “Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, doing deep Prajna Paramita,” but since non-Buddhists would not know that the Prajna Paramita is the Heart Sutra, I simply translated the term. Avalokitesvara is  the embodiment of the Buddha of Compassion. 

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