I got home this last weekend from a two week vacation to some attention starved cats and a furry bed. Cora loves to help make the bed, so she got some extra attention as I tried to extract her from my work.
Happy International Cat Day!
Oliver has had a bit of a rough year. In January, he was diagnosed with a fibrosarcoma, a cancerous tumor that cats sometimes get at their vaccination site. There is some disagreement, but there is a body of evidence to suggest that rabies vaccines are the cause, due to over-vaccinating, and the high dose of the vaccine compared to the small size of the cat. Talk to your vet about this – maybe your cat doesn’t need a rabies vaccine. I wish I had known…
At any rate, Oliver had a surgery to remove the tumor, and we hoped that it wouldn’t grow back.
Two weeks ago, Oliver had another surgery, to try to get the tumor that was quickly growing back. The vet and I had talked it over and decided, given how easily his recovery had been the first time, to go for it.
The tumor, and the surgery, was a lot bigger this time around. The vet found more growth and spreading, and wanted to be aggressive in trying to get it all. Clear margins around the tumor are critical to prevent its growing right back.
This time, Oliver had a much rougher time in recovery. There was a lot more open wound, a lot more swelling and edema, and a lot more bleeding. Oliver was in a lot of pain for the first 4 days. My heart broke to hear him cry when his dose of pain medicine was wearing off. I second-guessed my decision. He hardly moved at all those first few days. He didn’t eat much, didn’t drink much and didn’t pee and poop much. I made his wet cat food into a liquid slurry to get more fluids in him.
He didn’t like his antibiotic pills, his pain medicine made him into a drooling zombie, and he hated when I tried to put shirts on him to prevent his blood from oozing everywhere. I felt like a big, mean, jerk.
Fortunately on the 5th day after his surgery, he was feeling a bit better. He is getting back to his old self now. Two weeks out, he can jump up and get around like normal. He isn’t in pain. He got his stitches out yesterday and is healing nicely.
As for his cancer? It is unlikely that this will be the last of the tumor – it will probably come back. Getting old sucks. When the tumor does come back, there isn’t a whole lot I can do. Enjoy the time I get with him and love him as much as I always have.
The day after Easter, I was still sick, even though I was basically out of commission for the entire weekend. But, because when it rains, it really pours, fate wasn’t done with me yet.
I went to work Monday, not realizing that at some point in my misery over the weekend or Monday morning, I had gone out the back door and apparently not locked it when I came back in. I don’t use that door very frequently, and I actually have no recollection of when I had even gone outside. Because, well, sick… Blame the illness. Or the cold medicine…
At any rate, when I got home after work, still feeling miserable and just wanting to crawl back into bed, only two cats greeted me for dinner. There was a big, orange tabby who was nowhere to be found. I realized what had happened as soon as I saw the back door, which was not quite all the way closed. Oliver had joined the CIA and was now out on a secret mission. Ugh…
I live in a neighborhood that is quite woody. I have my own animal kingdom just steps from the back door. Deer nap in my yard, and raccoons hang out with regularity. Even worse, I have seen coyotes in my yard, and I live half a block from the beginning of a park which has infrequent cougar sightings.
A trip around the house shaking the food bag was to no avail. Oliver was gone. He had gone deep undercover. He has snuck out a few times before but I had always managed to see him leave, and once he got out, it was always enough to just reprimand him and he would come quickly slinking back to the open door. But I had no idea where he had gotten to!
I hoped he would come back that evening, but no dice. I even locked the other two away and left the back door open so he could come back in the way he left. Nope. Whatever his secret mission was, it was taking awhile. So imagine me, still sick, and now worried sick, wandering around the neighborhood in the middle of the night looking for eye shine and quietly shaking the food bag. Oy. I got very little sleep that night. My Fitbit says I lay still for about 4 hours, but I am quite positive I was awake for most of that. In fact, the only reason that I knew I slept at all was because I had a couple of nightmares.
The next day the search was equally fruitless. I worked from home, working on emails and phone calls and roaming the neighborhood periodically to find my jerk of a cat. My mom came over during the day to help look, and my girlfriend helped in the evening. I talked to a lot of my neighbors. But no sign of Oliver. The only good news was that I hadn’t found any piles of orange cat fur and bones… I was exhausted…
I finally lay down at 10 that night, planning for another middle of the night neighborhood walk. I had scoured all the internet advice for lost indoor cats. His litter was outside. Smelly, heated up tuna was trying to tempt him home. And, one site had recommended leaving the garage door open six inches, in case my little renegade tried that avenue… I was pretty pessimistic, I admit.
About 11:30 that night, I heard some rustling around in the garage. I wasn’t sure what had come in. A cat, or one of the many raccoons? I got up and opened the door to the garage, and saw a streak run towards me! I had just enough time to figure out that the streak was orange before he was upon me like a bolt of lightning into the house. Apparently he had enough of his secret outdoor mission.
He was dirty, and had sticky sap all over his paws, but was otherwise none the worse for the wear. After washing him off and pulling off half of his paw fur in the process of trying to get the sap off (he did not like that ONE BIT but it serves him right!), I was finally able to get some sleep…
Hopefully Oliver has had enough of these outdoor excursions, and won’t try to escape again soon. I don’t think my poor body could take it…
So this post is a little different than my typical posts on wine and travel. I’ll warn you now – this post is full of gore and tragedy, so if you have a weak stomach, don’t read on.
Today is April Fool’s Day, which ever since 1992 has been a different type of anniversary for me. On April 1, 1992, my beloved 4 year old quarter horse gelding Biz, tried to run through or jump the electric wire fence in his field – I will never really know what happened. Upon finding him standing in shock in a pool of blood, I stumbled back to the barn to get help. Friends later told me they thought I was playing a practical joke, until they saw that all the blood had drained out of my face. The vet was called, and he received a police escort to the farm when a Sheriff’s Deputy friend heard the call come out over the radio. Friends at the stable tried to stop the bleeding, and one friend held Biz’s head up and out of the way for 6 hours while the vets stitched and stitched to try to close the wounds (a second vet had arrived about an hour later when he finished up another call). Meanwhile, I was also dealing with a sudden onset migraine headache (Dad, I’m still sorry I threw up in your 1968 Cougar). When the vets finally finished up that first night, after 10 pm, Biz had over 1000 stitches in his front legs, and fractures in his knees, over his eye, and across the bridge of his nose. They estimate he had lost about 4 gallons of blood.
Biz was so badly injured that our veterinarian did not think he would live. At the time, the prognosis was that he had a 5 – 10% chance of surviving the accident, and if he did, he only had a 5 – 10% chance of being anything more than a big, expensive, lawn ornament. The only thing going for him was that although he had cut himself so badly he had exposed bone, nerves and did extreme damage to the muscle, he narrowly avoided cutting any of his tendons. For a horse, severing a tendon would have been a death sentence, because it would mean he would lose the use of the leg.
So, being the stubborn, foolish teenager that I was, I decided to give him a chance. For the next 5 months, extensive wound care, hand walking, and trying to keep him from re-injuring himself became my before and after school job. As the damaged tissue died, he smelled like death. As the skin around the wound died, the stitches pulled out, leaving holes in his legs that were 5 inches deep. For the first several days, he couldn’t move his legs forward very well, so he shuffled from side to side. The fracture over his eye caused blood to pool in the white of his eye, and looking at him broke my heart. The risk of infection was ever present, especially since the wounds were so large. I breathed a huge sigh of relief each day that infection didn’t set in. Sometimes, when cleaning the wound, I accidentally touched the exposed nerve bundle, causing him excruciating pain. When he got bored, confined to his stall for days, he tried to knock me over with his head while I knelt next to him.
Amazingly, he never fought against his treatment. He took it all in stride. He was as content as ever, with a hearty appetite and a devious twinkle in his eye. When I took him out for a walk, he wanted so much to run and play. He didn’t act like he was as badly injured as he was. It was a struggle to keep him from tearing the lead rope out of my hands, which would have meant a serious risk of re-injury. Fortunately, he managed to avoid hurting himself again. When spring gave way to summer, the risk of infection came again, in the form of flies who wanted to constantly land on his wounds. Fortunately, Biz dodged that bullet too. Every day, the wounds closed a little bit. Every day, a little more fresh, pink skin closed in around those gaping holes in his legs.
It took more than 5 months for the wounds to finally close. Biz defied the odds, and he can do most things other horses can do, although he isn’t the most coordinated guy. But then again, he never was. The vet recommended I start riding again at a walk, a month after the accident, because he had so much energy it was getting tough to control him from the ground. We slowly worked back up to normal capacity. If you didn’t know Biz before the accident, you might not notice the hitch he has in his stride, because those front legs just don’t move quite right now. He has extensive scarring across his front legs, where no hair grows. If you look carefully, his chest is still marked with 5 thin, hairless scars, one for each of the 5 strands of that electric wire fence. The bridge of his nose has a bump, and his back legs are dotted with scars too.
I would like to say Biz grew smarter and more cautious after that, but he didn’t, and he has continued to have a talent for rare and creative injuries and illnesses. I’ve come to accept that it’s part of what makes Biz, Biz. He is almost 30 now, certainly slowing down. For the most part, his flesh tearing injuries have given way to fungal skin infections and the degenerative processes of age. He only has 3 of his original 12 front teeth. Arthritis makes it difficult for him to get up after he lays down to roll – but once he’s up, he still sometimes runs and plays like a young man.
At the time, it seemed unreal to believe that there was any way Biz could have made it through. But now, I still think about that day, 25 years ago, and how friends and people who barely knew me pulled together to help a gangly, goofy horse become a miracle.
Oliver likes to sleep like a person these days. Tucked up next to me, under the covers, with his head on the pillow. I don’t have the heart to tell him if he wants to be a person, he needs to put in a 40 hour work week… He really does have the life.
A week ago, Oliver had surgery to remove a fibrosarcoma from the space just behind his right shoulder blade. Cancer. Luckily, I noticed it when it was small, and took him in to have it checked out.
The surgery was invasive, but went well. They had to cut out the tumor, along with pieces of three different muscles. A cube about 2 inches on each side. And then they sewed the muscles back together so he wouldn’t lose use in his shoulder and right front leg.
He looks a bit like Frankenstein, but has tolerated the recovery process well. He is leaving his incision alone, and it is staying closed. He is able to move around as he needs to, walking and running and jumping up on the bed by himself. He only seems to favor that leg while going downstairs.
He will need regular massages in the future to make sure the tumor doesn’t grow back (I should have such a prescription!).
I am glad things went ok, as it was certainly stressful leading up to the surgery! I worry about the furkids, and always hope that they live forever. It looks like there’s still a chance with Oliver. 🙂
Happy weekend everybody!
In the past I have blogged about the grave of Sergeant Tuttle at Andersonville National Cemetery, site of the Civil War Confederate POW camp. I was reminded of it a few weeks ago in a conversation with a friend, and want to share it again here.
Tuttle’s grave is significant at Andersonville, for his gravestone is adorned with a white stone dove. It is the only grave in the cemetery that contains more than the simple, uniform marble markers that are placed at each burial. It is a mystery who placed the dove there, and nobody knows when, but it is clear that someone dearly loved this man.
Since I learned about it several years ago, it has always struck me as a timeless story of deep and enduring love. Someone so devoted to a kind and generous man; the kind of love that we all aspire to achieve. I know nothing of the man Tuttle was, but I imagine him to be selfless and kind, generous in heart and spirit, humble and loving. In my mind, he was a man who was deserving of someone’s undying love.
I hope you all, dear readers, give and receive that kind of love. The world would be a better place if we all lived with that in mind.