Thirty Four

As of yesterday, Hilde and I have been married 34 years. Yes, I'm astonished, too.

Flowers were provided.

posted from Bloggeroid


Broken Chain Reaction

The Borders bookstore chain abandoned all hope of reorganization or sale this week and announced it will be closing its 400 stores.  Liquidation of inventory will begin Friday.

This is a shame.  It will mean fewer and fewer places where bookreaders can go in and actually see and handle and browse thru thousands and thousands of titles, all of them written by James Patterson.

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Surely it was only a coincidence, that Borders' announcement came only a few days after I had -- abandoning years of standing firm on noble principles and long-ingrained habit -- installed an eReader app on my cell phone.  I start reading one friggin' digital book, and suddenly a billion-dollar chain of brick-and-mortar bookstores falls into ruin, putting thousands of people on the unemployment line and sending shock waves thru the entire publishing industry.  I'm sorry; this was not one of the mutant superpowers I've always wanted to see manifest.  It's like dreaming of being Superman and waking up to find you're actually Lex Luthor.

I suppose I can share the blame with George R.R. Martin, since it was one of his books I loaded onto my cell phone.  No, not A Dance With Dragons.  The previous book, A Feast For Crows.  Since Feast and Dance were essentially supposed to be two halves of one big book, I had thought to wait until Dance was published before reading both of them one after another.  Five years later, with a copy of Dance finally in hand, I'm not sure where, or how deeply buried, the hardcover copy of Feast I bought back then has gotten to in the house.

So, I loaded Overdrive Media Console into my Droid, and checked out a copy of A Feast For Crows from the Greater Phoenix Digital Library.  (GPDL is a central eBook source for the Phoenix library system and the library systems in the surrounding towns and suburbs.)

Getting the software installed and signing up for GPDL access was pretty smooth and straightforward.  And I'm impressed with how the book presents on my Droid's screen.  The text is crisp and clear (and adjustable in size), moving around in the book is pretty easy, and it's certainly easier to carry around my cell phone (which I do all the time anyway) than a thick hardcover.

It does suck up quite a bit of battery power, primarily because it's in use for longer periods than most of the other phone apps I use on the Droid.  I may have to start remembering to use the phone's car charger when I'm driving around town.

This may be the start of a beautiful friendship.  Or a horrible addiction.  (Omigod, the first one really WAS free!)

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In case anyone think's I'm snarking on James Patterson up above... well, yeh, you're right.  I read the first Alex Cross mystery, Along Came A Spider, when it first came out.  My reaction was "Meh," and I've never bothered to read any of his other books.  So I'm always a little surprised to see how many books he's published since then, and how well they sell.

The puzzling thing is that there's no "buzz", insofar as I've encountered, about his books.  People can stand around the proverbial water cooler and talk about a Stephen King book, or a Dan Brown book, or a Stephanie Meyer book.  They talk about the plot, and the characters, for those writers' books.  But I've never heard a conversation like that about any of James Patterson's books.  What I keep hearing about Patterson is that "He's a page-turner" and, repeatedly, "His chapters are short."  So I guess Patterson is writing for the short-attention-span crowd, and it's turned out to be a pretty damned big crowd.

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(Photo credit for the empty bookshelves goes to the Smithsonian Institution, via Flick Commons.)


This Cat Is Not Dead

But it was a close thing.

This is Rikkus.  He's the "foreclosure cat" we rescued a few years ago, when his owners moved away and left him behind.  We found out he had a microchip, but it was to the Seattle shelter he'd been adopted from in 1998, and his owners nevr updated the chip's records from that shelter address.  We think he might have originally belonged to an older person who passed away, and while the younger generation took him in initially, when they encountered their own troubles Rikkus became an option, not an obligation.

We don't know what his original name was.  "Rikkus" is the word for "lion" in the invented language our housemate Tabbi uses for her online persona and writing.  He was informally known as "Stalker Cat", because when our friend and back fence neighbor Anne was alive, he'd come up to the patio door or bedroom window ledge and get Anne's cats Aliera and Sethra all flustered and upset.  (We took in Aliera and Sethra when Anne died, so now they're actually all living in the same house.  They've never been friendly, but they don't fight or throw hissy-fits.)

Rikkus was a big ol' guy, fairly stocky under long black fur.  When he was still a street cat, he pretty much owned the street.  But about a year ago, he started losing weight, fairly drastically, and getting stiff and slow-moving.  Blood tests showed hyperthyroidism, so he's been on meds for that for about a half year.

But he's continued to decline, eating poorly and getting gaunt.  Recent developments included pulling out chunks of fur, treating the litter box as an option, and throwing up a lot of what he reluctantly ate.  He was being a pretty miserable kitty.

So we'd been thinking that it might be time to have Rikkus put to sleep, and made an appointment for earlier this morning to have it done.

Rikkus has never been an enthusiastic pill-taker, to put it mildly, and I didn't see any overwhelming need to continue his meds for the last few days before his final appointment.  So I stopped giving him the hyperthyroidism meds.

And... he began to improve.  He started eating again (and in decent amounts) and keeping it down, he seems to have stopped pulling out fur, and he's been using the litter box again.  He also seems more alert and engaged.

This made me wonder if the meds he'd been taking might actually have been part of the problem.  When I checked online for hypothroidism (underactive thyroid), the list of symptoms were almost a complete match for what Rikkus had been showing.

So it seems possible that he's been getting too high a dose of the hyperthyroidism meds.  I consulted the vet, and we'll try cutting back on that dosage and see how he does.  (Also start giving him something to try and help with his stiff and creaky old joints.)

I'm frankly relieved to be able to give him a reprieve.   Losing Tia and Gremlin -- bam! bam! -- one after the other was hard enough.  I really don't want Undulant Fever to be "All dead cats, all the time."  (I have visions of walking down the street and having people shouting "It's that guy with the Dead Cat Blog!  QUICK!  HIDE THE KITTENS!")


Died On The 4th Of July: Gremlin, 2000-2011

We have lost another of our cats.
Losing Gremlin was harder than Tia.  Hilde and I are both compulsive cat-lovers, but Gremlin was definitely a "favorite son" among the herd.

He was also the only non-rescue cat.  Hilde used to breed Siamese, for several years before she and I got together, until the combination of rheumatoid arthritis, becoming a parent, and a divorce forced Hilde to close the cattery.  But she's always had at least one pure-bred Siamese as a pet since then (and a fair number of our rescue cats have been part-Siamese).

Hilde likes Siamese because they tend to have a strong personality.  Gremlin took that trait and double-downed on it.  He got his name when the cattery we were negotiating with, back in 2000, sent a photo of a Siamese kitten with hu-u-u-u-uge ears and a wicked expression, causing me to exclaim "It's a gremlin!"

(Yet one more proof that you should be careful what you name your cats.  Sometimes they live up to it.)

Gremlin was a cat for whom rules, guidelines and acceptable behavior were optional.  Counters and tabletops were one more roadway.  He was usually the smallest cat in the household, and at the same time the almost-alpha cat of the pack.  (He could have probably been the alpha cat, but he didn't have any interest in leadership, being much more into the "instant and unquestioning obedience to my slightest whim" thing.)  But he was also the cat who would spend hours on Hilde's lap, and snuggle up to her legs in bed at night.

Gremlin's final illness was unexpected and sudden.  Late Saturday night, June 25th, our housemate Tabbi called out "I think Gremlin's choking!"  I found him on the dining room floor, frantic and making retching motions, head and jaws extended, as if something was blocking his airway.  When I tried to hold him, he bit one of my fingers deeply, something he'd never done before.  (There'd been a few "play bites" over the years, but this one went deep, nearly to the bone.)  I grabbed our cat carrier and had Tabbi and James, one of our other housemates, get Gremlin into it while I threw some clothes on, grabbed the loaded carrier from them, ran out to the car, and sped off to the closest Emergency Animal Clinic.

"sped" is not an exaggeration.  I've had the Outlander up to 80 mph on the freeway occasionally, but this was the first time I've ever driven 80 mph on city streets.  Gremlin thrashed and made strangled throat noises during the ten-minute dash, but the noises slowed, then stopped about a half-mile away from the clinic.

How bad off was he?  Bad enough that the emergency vet's first notation on the medical chart was "DOA".  Chest compressions and oxygen got Gremlin breathing again.

While x-rays were taken and bloodwork done, I tried to think what might have caused Gremlin's choking.  Eventually I realized that he'd been occasionally acting, for about the previous week, like he was trying to cough up a hairball.  (Gremlin never coughed up the type of Big-Momma, "Oh my God!  What IS that thing?" hairballs our long-haired cats sometimes produce, but he'd bring up an occasional thin, streamlined version.)  He'd also acted like he was getting the beginnings of a head cold.  With hindsight, these might actually have been the early symptoms of whatever was causing his respiratory distress.

Which was uncertain.  X-rays showed no actual blockage in the air way, and the lungs looked pretty clear.  He'd been placed in an oxygen cage, and had recovered dramatically, regaining consciousness and alertness.  Throughout the night, the oxygen ration was stepped down to normal levels, and the vet thought Gremlin able to go home Sunday morning, to be followed up on by his regular veterinarian on Monday.

Except Sunday night was a repeat of Saturday night, but catching the early choking signs soon enough to get Gremlin back to the Emergency Clinic and the oxygen cage while still conscious.  An internal medicine specialist performed an ultrasound and endoscopy the next morning, and drew some fluid from the lung for further testing.  The fluid in the lung was not a good sign, and Gremlin was started on an antibiotic and bronchodilator while the fluid samples were being tested.  This time Gremlin was kept until Wednesday morning, when he again seemed to be okay without oxygen.

At least until late Thursday night/early Friday morning, when he went into the scary HEY!-CHOKING-TO-DEATH-HERE! behavior for a third time.  This time I was at work, and it was James who got to make the mad dash to the Emergency Clinic.  (Thank you, James.)

Back to the oxygen cage.  By this point, we were waiting for the final test results from the fluid samples.  The fluid and mucuous in Gremlin's lung did NOT appear to be coming from a bacterial infection, we knew by this point.  One of the alternate possibilities raised by the internist was Valley Fever, and it was that test we were waiting for the results on.

In the meantime, Gremlin became a full-time occupant of the oxygen cage, and despite medication, seemed to slowly be getting worse.  When the door would be opened for cleaning or feeding or visits, and regular air replaced the oxygen-rich environment, he'd start showing beginning signs of distress within a few minutes.  He never got weaned back to regular air this time.  (Part of this may have been because after three episodes of choking and agonal gasping and straining to breath, the internal stress and strain he'd gone through would have been like being in a bad fistfight with your own insides.)  The fluid in his lungs did not improve under the antibiotic treatment.

The Valley Fever test came back negative.  At this point, the internist thought there were two possibilities: Gremlin might have aspirated something foreign into his lung, or there might be cancer.  In either case, surgery to remove the affected part of the lung would be the next step.

And that was when Hilde and I had to make a decision.  I thought it was most likely the cancer diagnosis was the correct one.  (The first visit's emergency vet had raised cancer as a possibility.)  So even if Gremlin survived the lung surgery and rallied back to health, there was a possibility the cancer had metatasized elsewhere in the body and the surgery would only be a delaying tactic, not a cure.

And there was another factor, the factor no one likes to think about.  Gremlin's medical bills had already cost nearly $8,000.  Surgery and aftercare would be at least another $5,000.  We would have maxed out our primary credit card and had to move to using a second one, something I'd never had to do before.  And there was a significant possibility that all those extra efforts and expenses wouldn't save Gremlin, or save him only temporarily.

That's something you don't want to think about.  It's something you don't want to have to think about.  Thinking about it gives you feelings of guilt, of betraying your beloved pet.  You don't want to be "reasonable".  You don't want to be "pragmatic".  You want the financial costs to be irrelevant, to not be a factor in your decisions.  But there's a point when those costs become so overwhelming that they have to become a factor.

So we made the decision, to stop Gremlin's treatment and have him put to sleep.  This was tough, and made tougher because, just so long as he stayed in that oxygen cage, he didn't seem sick.  He was active, and alert, and annoyed that he was being kept in a strange place and in a cage.  (That was another factor to consider: Even if we could afford to continue paying hundreds of dollars a day to keep him in that oxygen cage, how did it feel to Gremlin to go from having a territory of several thousand square feet to being restricted to one of less than a square yard?

We were put into one of the examination rooms, where the doctor brought Gremlin to us a few minutes later.  We gave him petting and chin-critches and held him for a little while, until he began to show early signs of having to work at drawing breath.  I held Gremlin in my arms while the doctor put the syringe's contents into the injection port in Gremlin's front leg, and then he was gone.

We had Gremlin cremated, and the box with his ashes is on top of the A/V cabinet in our family room.  We've always buried our pets before, but it's gotten harder to go through that again, especially after burying Tia just a month or so before Gremlin's illness.  (And it's probably not going to be too much longer before Rikkus, the frail old man of our cat herd, passes on.)

I'm not a believer in Heaven or Hell for humans, but I'd like to think there's a Heaven for cats, where the food and water dishes fill themselves, where you can actually catch that damned red dot, and where there's always a sunbeam to sleep in.

Requiescas in pace et in amore.