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category: Family




Carrie and Owen Visit From Germany

My cousin Carrie, who is more of a sister to me, came to visit from Germany with her son Owen while her hubby, was in military training in Texas. The last time I saw Owen, he was a peanut in a tiny dragon costume just getting his walking shoes on.  Now, three years old, he’s turned into a moving machine; an actual human being with his own opinions, likes, dislikes and most importantly, he speaks.  He’s so adorable.  He’s my little man.

Before their arrival, Carrie told me that Owen was afraid of dogs.  And not just a slight fear.  He had more of a “pick me up, pick me up” panic fear of dogs, which could have put a chink in the plans of her visit because of course, I have TWO dogs.  I knew that Georgia and Pippin could easily cause panic in him because they’re tall enough to be face to face with him, are black so their features could be hard to distinguish and they have hairy eyebrows, beards and moustaches making their features even less distinguishable.  On the other side of things was the fact that Georgia and Pippin have never really had close encounters with little, squealing children so I needed to take extra precautions that they too would be okay. Georgia has always been admirably mother-like with all the puppies and kittens I’ve fostered in the past and Pippin, well, Pippin is so fly by the seat of his pants I didn’t think he’d have a problem.  Still, better to be safe than sorry.

We agreed to have Owen meet the kids outside at my Dad’s house because his yard is large enough to provide a lot of distance for him while allowing him the ability to watch them play from the safety of the screened in porch.  It wasn’t long before his tentative watching turned to curiosity and was fine with being carried around the yard with the dogs in tow.  We knew things would go smoothly once he asked to throw the ball to the dogs while standing on his own two feet.    Soon thereafter he was able to request “sit”, “down”, “no jumping” and I have to say, I was pretty proud of all three of them.

While Owen didn’t completely get over his unease when the kids came barreling in the house after going to the bathroom or when they barked at the goings on outside, he never really lost his comp0sure and for a three year old, that’s pretty darn good.  And Georgia and Pippin did just as well.  When Owen squealed, Georgia barked but never showed stress, aggression or any other adverse behavior.  And she mostly directed her barks at me, as if to tell me that Owen was in need of something.  Mother instincts?  I’d say yes. Pippin allowed Owen to pull his hair, and even lean on his back.  But that’s not a surprise to me.  He’s one of the greatest dogs ever.  Even the cats excelled with Owen.

I could take pictures of him every day, all day.  He’s got such a beautiful face and great expressions.  The camera, like everyone else who comes in contact with him, loves him.

Carrie, Andrea, Auntie C and Paul, the link to the full gallery will be emailed shortly.  Hope you enjoy the images.

Owen

Owen

Owen

Owen

Owen

Owen

Owen

Owen

 





He Doesn’t Remember a Thing

February 7th, four months to the day of hospitalization, Daddy was released from what seemed like a lifelong prison sentence.  One by one, each of the nurses and doctors came to Dad’s room to give a hug, shake his hand and wish him well.  Many had tears in their eyes as they proclaimed him one of their favorite patients of all time.  The words “move slowly, be cautious and don’t try to do anything on your own just yet because we don’t want to see you here again” were repeated over and over by everyone.  Dad, lips quivering and holding back tears, dutifully nodded his head.  I knew better.  I’ve already seen and reprimanded him for trying to do things without help.  He even once wheeled himself into the elevator, down to the first floor to surprise my mom on one of her recent visits to the hospital without telling anyone what he was doing or where he was going.

My father went in for a successful spinal cord surgery only to succumb to aspiration pneumonia a day later after choking while swallowing two Percosets.  From there, he experienced repeated setbacks after each instance in which he started to make progress.  He contracted C-dif, urinary tract infections, gastrointestinal bleeds, infection in the hardware they placed in his neck, another surgery to remove the hardware and clean the infection, hallucinations and confusion, two falls (which could have and should have been prevented), stopped breathing five different times resulting in having to be intubated with a breathing tube, had a trach tube put in when the doctors told me they didn’t think he’d survive another intubation (they were actually surprised that he lived through five incidences already) and at the same time, had a feeding tube inserted.

Over the course of the last four months my brother and I have heard contradictory information from doctors, physician assistants and nurses.  We’ve watched these same people stammer and stutter when confronted by their inaccuracies.  We’ve experienced residents trying to brush their obvious errors under the rug.  We’ve been belittled by anesthesiologist who didn’t take into account our knowledge of our father’s severe reactions to benzodiazepines (that were also recorded in his chart), yet give him Ativan anyway only to watch him stop breathing seconds later.  We’ve seen a long time nurse, robot her way through the care of our father and come close to killing him by not observing him closely after sedating him.  We’ve fought shrinks who gave Dad antidepressants even after he specifically said he didn’t want them.  We’ve diagnosed and ended hallucinations and confusion when doctors themselves had no clue.  We’ve predicted the onset of another aspiration pneumonia before even doctors recognized symptoms.  My brother and I have watched my father come close to dying more times than we care to count and were even called in at one point to hold his hand while he gasped for breath on the verge of entering the next life.  And now, we’ve watched doctors send Dad home with a feeding tube and trach, giving him barely an iota of hope that he won’t have these for the rest of his life, because of his record regarding his breathing issues over the past four months; almost all of them due to his hospitalization.  Daddy doesn’t remember any of it and can’t understand what all the fuss is about because he feels good….a little tired….a little weak…..but good.

The last two nights were the first in four months that I slept without waking.  Watching Daddy asleep in his chair at home, in front of the t.v., I find myself holding my breath while listening to his.  Is he breathing too quickly?  Is he not breathing deeply enough?  Is he breathing at all?  I’m not sure how long it will take me to let go of the constant worrying about him or if I’ll ever be able to let go of it.  I hover when he needs to get up but try to balance it by not being hands on unless he becomes unbalanced.  I dote but try not to smother.  I’m fearful of not having him in my sight 24 hours a day but know he’s in good hands with my brother when I’m not there.  I’m happy that he wants to see Mom as much as he can and encourage it but also try to instill in him that he is his first priority until he has his stamina back.  I’m so fearful of screwing up and landing him back in the hospital so I’m more cautious than I probably should be.  I’m sure after a week, I’ll be driving him crazy.

I look at my Dad, my Daddy, small and frail, yet so amazingly strong and I couldn’t be more proud or in awe of any one man.  He has shaken hands with the grim reaper so many times in the last four months that he could pronounce him more of a friend than an acquaintance.  To see him fail so dramatically only to recover just as phenomenally and to know that the reason behind his recovery and strength is his love for Mom continues to warm me.   When faced with all my dad has gone through, most would have given up hope of getting well or ever seeing their beloved again a long time ago.  While Daddy had his moment of despair, it didn’t last long and the fire never went out.  I am grateful to God, who I struggled with and didn’t pray to as much as I probably should have, for not taking him just yet.  Our family has a lot more to do with and for each other.  My father is truly my hero and my mother, my heroine.   That is something that simply will never change and I would do anything for either one of them.

I want to take a moment to thank every single one of you who have called to check in on Dad and to offer support or just a shoulder to lean on.  A huge hug to Cathy and Christine….I don’t know what Paul and I would have done without your vigilance to our own well-being and your faithfulness at every single emergency room situation.  You kept and continue to keep us sane.  Auntie Alice and Uncle Louie, we couldn’t have done it without you….at all.  We are forever indebted to you.  Debbie, Michael, Judy, Marie and Cindy, you have no idea how much your visits meant to my parents.  They’re still talking about your coming all the way here simply to visit for a little while.  Milly and Tom, your visits made them smile and brought tears and for that there are no words.  Carrie, Auntie Charlotte and Uncle Tom, thank you for your wisdom and being there when I just felt like screaming and venting.  To Kath and Jeanie, thank you for the dinners that took my mind off of the day to day and the late night runs at the last minute to my house to take care of the kids.  To Auntie Amelia, your emails were a great support.  To Aunt Julia, visiting through your own pain was extraordinary and amazing to me.  I love you.  To everyone who sent cards and well wishes, your gestures always came at the perfect time.  Having such a wonderful, supportive group of family and friends helps us every day.





First Look In Over Two Months

On March 3, my mother suffered a severe stroke that affected a large portion of the left side of her brain.  At the time of her stroke, we weren’t sure she would survive it.  Neurologists told us that she would never speak or walk again and that she most likely wouldn’t recognize us or remember who we were.  They gave us no hope.  Our family, devastated and broken by her tragic predicament pulled together and rallied around her.

Today, while her right arm and leg are still paralyzed, there is movement in her right foot on occasion that is not a reflex action but is instead distinct and intentional.  She still can not speak but she can sing and has been known to say certain phrases.  She understands most everything that we are saying to her and while communication is difficult and seemingly one sided at times, we are learning new forms of communication and continue to work on old forms and movement.

My father, has spent every day and night by her bedside holding her hand and giving his support.  Married for 50 years, whenever one was ill, the other sat vigilant by their side caring for them, loving them and providing the inspiration to get better and come home.  This time, while the illness was overwhelming horrific, his dedication and love never once wavered….not even a little.   When she became angry because he couldn’t understand her he rarely, if ever, lost patience.  When she cried gut wrenching tears at being trapped in a body that would no longer do what she wanted it to, he gently touched her face and wiped away her tears telling her everything was going to be alright.  As a child, I never understood the depth of their kind of love.  As an adult, I realize just how lucky my brother and I were to have been born into a family with parents who not only have this much love for each other but for their children too.

On October 7th, this all changed as our family took another hit.  Dad went in for surgery on his spinal cord.  He spinal cord had gradually become so pinched that spinal fluid was not allowed to flow normally from his brain to the rest of his body.  Surgery was not elective.  If he didn’t have the problem corrected, he faced eventually being wheelchair bound without the use of his legs and arms.  Surgery went well but he ended up with pneumonia which led to breathing problems and worsening pneumonia.  He is still in the hospital and is in seemingly stable condition.

Throughout his stay, he had several close calls that my brother and I feared he wouldn’t come back from.  All of them involved having to be intubated with a breathing tube and as a result, had to have a tracheotomy to insure proper breathing.  But he proves to be as strong as my mother in his resolve to get better.  The only thing he wants and the only thing he cares about is seeing my mom again and being by her side.  My mother, who wishes she could do the same for him, has not been the same since he has been gone.  She no longer takes part in physical or speech therapy and has been having a difficult time living life without him.

I can’t even begin to imagine the pain and loss they both must be enduring.  This weekend, with the help of The Ride, my brother and I were able to finally get them together for their first look in a little over two months.  The visit was a surprise to both of them.   We kept it under wraps because the last two times they were about to see each other, emergencies occurred and the trips had to be cancelled.

As I watched my father mouthed the words “everything is going to be ok” to my mom who stared intently at his lips deciphering his words, I began to believe it myself.

Mom and Dad's First Look

Mom and Dad's First Look
Mom and Dad's First Look
Mom and Dad's First Look
Mom and Dad's First Look

 

 

 

 





Nasty Outside, Warm and Toasty Inside

Dog and Cat looking out window

 





Fluffy White Snow + Funny Pups = Lots of Laughs

Three major storms in four weeks, dumping a total of 36 inches, more snow than we usually get in an entire winter, and another storm coming our way on Wednesday.  It’s easy to understand why people are complaining, especially if they have to constantly shovel.  I’m a New Englander through and through and usually don’t have a problem with winter.  My dogs and I get out into the woods every morning regardless of the weather because it soothes our souls.  But watching the snow plow push snow back into my driveway after I had shoveled for the third time almost brought tears to the deep down, little delicate flower side of me.  So I thought, it’s time for some fun in the snow with Georgia and Pippin.  Moments later, tutti bene (it’s all good).

Dogs in Snow

Dogs in Snow

Dogs in Snow

Dogs in Snow

Dogs in Snow

Dogs in Snow





Sunshine, On My Shoulder, Makes Me Happy

The light falling through the cottage windows this morning was just so pretty I couldn’t resist grabbing a few of Georgia before we began our day.

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A Life in the Company of Animals

A life spent in the company of animals is a rewarding life indeed.  It’s a life filled with laughter and lessons where the communication is based almost solely on the quiet and subtle art of body language.  Most important, is the friendship and companionship that develops through the years, bringing with it a bond that has no rival.

Most of you will remember my little friend Houdini from my posts HERE  and HERE. Diagnosed with Squamous Cell Carcinoma, he adjusted the way he did things in order to accommodate himself.  When he was unable to lap food from a dish, he quickly learned that the sight of a needle-less syringe was his new and improved food source and ate easily from it.  A faucet with a slightly flowing water stream became the way he quenched his thirst.  He learned that when he was hungry, all he had to do was sit in the kitchen sink and wait for me to notice him.  I always noticed him because I was always aware of his presence.

We did well this way for a little over two months.  But soon, changes began.  These changes, expected and inevitable were hard to watch and even more difficult to accept.  As fantastical as it sounds, I prayed for some kind of miracle and dreamed the cancer would suddenly resolve itself.  Instead, Houdini began to turn his head from the syringe whenever it was offered.  Even as a kitten, Houdini never once refused a meal.  I found myself having to squirt a bit of food into his mouth to encourage him and once I did, he would eat.  Shortly after, he began to have trouble swallowing and I came face to face with the realization it was time to keep my promise to him.  A promise to let him go peacefully with dignity and to keep him from having to live any amount of time unduly suffering.

On October 14th, I lost a dear old friend and that loss is being felt not only in my heart but in the hearts of Lance, Valentino, Georgia and Pippin.  Houdini’s fight with cancer was a valiant one but in the end, cancer was the victor.  I’ve refrained from writing about him because I feared mere words could never pay homage to him and his influence on my life.  Every time I would start, the wounds left by the loss of such a great soul reopened and words escaped me.  Soon, I began to realize that not writing about him was a diservice to his memory so I picked up my private journal and let the sadness, trickle from pen to paper.

Today, we are adjusting ourselves to life without our little court jester and a new hierarchy is taking shape amongst the rest of the crew.  While new routines develop as the old ones slowly fade, I still expect to see him around every corner or hear him wake me in the morning.  I even catch myself sometimes playing goalie to his attempts to run for the door as I let the dogs out into the backyard and sigh softly when I remember, he is no longer physically here.

So while a life with animals is a good life indeed, the life never seems long enough.  Whether death comes out of the blue in an unexpected manner or is the result of an ongoing illness, the grief is always the same; overwhelming, painful and in many cases peppered with guilt.  Did I do right by my friend?  Should I have waited?  Did I wait too long?  Was there anything I could have done differently?  Could I have prevented this?  Did I give him a good life?   We can run these questions over and over in our minds until we make ourselves crazy.  It’s all too easy to blame ourselves as we look back on their lives.  Sometimes, even wandering through the memories will bring tears until the pain subsides enough to allow these very same memories to bring what they should, wistful smiles and laughter.

While I grapple with these questions and continue to grieve, deep in my heart I know I did my best for Houdini and I am grateful for every extra day we were allowed to spend together.  A cat like no other, he brought so much to my life.  When he was tired of fighting he showed he needed my help and I gave it to him.  He went peacefully to sleep in my arms, surrounded by his friends, in his own home; an environment where he always felt safe and loved.

His physical body no longer trots to the door, belly swishing side to side to greet me but I sometimes feel his prescence just as surely as if he were standing right there next to me.  One morning, three days after he passed, as the sun was rising, I felt that old sensation of being watched by him as he sat on my bedside table waiting for me to wake and for a moment, I thought his death was only a dream.   When I opened my eyes, instead of Houdini, there sat Valentino (who you will meet soon) watching and waiting and when my eyes opened he meowed…loudly….something he has never done before.

A few weeks ago, a giant orange butterfly floated to me, danced it’s way alongside me to the car and then disappeared into the bushes just as quickly as it had appeared.  I can’t ever remember seeing a giant orange butterfly, let alone a giant orange butterfly at the end of October so I can only conclude that perhaps he comes by from time to time to make things easier for me and to say hello in ways that I’ll recognize as solely Houdini.

I dreamed of him last night for the first time since he passed.  It was one of those dreams, you know the ones, where things are so real you wake thinking it was actually happening….

See you on the other side Little Bean…

Little Bean from Maria Andrews on Vimeo.  Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole





Waitress, May I Please Have a Syringe of Water?

As most of you know, Houdini is struggling with Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the tongue.  You can read his story here: Houdini The Court Jester .  Two weekends ago, he stopped eating.  Rather, he wanted to eat but his tongue no longer allowed him to lap food or water.  One day he could, the next he couldn’t.  Instead he began pawing at his food and water bowls, became dehydrated and lethargic.  Saddened by the fact that the time had come but adamant I wouldn’t put him through suffering, I contacted a travelling vet with the intention of having her come to the house and help him onto the next life.  An appointment was made and we discussed giving him fluids intravenously in the interim.  I tried, he squirmed, it was a mess. Then a lightbulb went off and I attempted water orally with a needleless syringe.  He lapped it readily.  Maybe it would work with food?  I tried.  It did.  I cancelled his appointment.  Now he takes all his meals and water in the kitchen sink.

An internal debate with conflicting views is a part of my daily life now.  Yes, he is eating and drinking again…as much has he used to eat and drink before he even got cancer but he is not able to eat and drink on his own.  He must rely on me and a syringe and as his friend, I change my routine to make sure I am there to accommodate him.  Is what I’m doing right?  Am I prolonging his misery to selfishly keep him here?  I ask this of myself every day.

The travelling vet responded to my moral dilemma with “If you were forcing him to eat and drink and fighting with him every time, then I would suggest that you rethink the measures you are taking.  However, if he is happily and readily eating and drinking with the help of a syringe and he’s having more good days than bad, then go for it…why not?  A friend told me to look to Houdini for my answers as he is the only one who can truly make the decision and will let me know when it’s time.  And I do believe that.  All of the other animals I’ve had the pleasure of accompanying me through life’s journey, had communicated their need to move on quite clearly.  So I’ll wait for Houdini to do the same.  And if there’s one thing he’s telling me now, it’s that he is absolutely not ready to move on yet.  Instead, he continues to live up to his name.  He’s back to meowing me awake in the morning, running under the dogs to get outside (where he’s now allowed hours of supervised exploration or lying in the sun) and being his old, talkative self.  He’s used his intelligence to train me rather nicely when he’s in need of food or water.  A cat like no other cat I know.  One who happily adjusted his way of eating and drinking in order to get what he needs.  While he certainly has his bad days, there’s no denying that, his good days outnumber them.    If I happen to not see him sitting in the sink waiting, he scratches at the stainless steel and that, I can hear anywhere in the house.  ”Um, excuse me, waitress, may I please have a syringe of water?”  Houdini, you’re one brilliant baby.





Houdini the Court Jester

Barely five weeks old when dumped on the stoop of the dog groomer I worked for, Houdini was a giant personality from the minute I laid eyes on him.  He and his brother and sister were left in a small, easily opened box in the excruciatingly high temperatures of summer.  It’s a wonder they didn’t escape or die of heat exhaustion before the shop owner came to open up.  When I arrived that morning for work and went out back to prepare for the days clientele, I was met with their tiny yet persistent meows.  Far from timid and shy, Houdini was the front man of the trio chirruping and talking to me throughout the day.

Because the kittens were only five weeks old, the store couldn’t sell them.  They needed to be at least 8 weeks before they could let them go so, I took them home to “foster” for the next three weeks determined not to get attached.  I was adamant in not naming them but set up the second bedroom as a temporary nursery.  It wasn’t long before I failed Foster 101 and my little gray kitten became Smokey while my little black and white princess became Angeline.  My little orange and white tabby was aptly named soon thereafter when he kept escaping his confines in a manner that was magically and uncomprehendingly that of Harry Houdini.

Each kitten had their own unique personalities.  Angeline was as sweet as they come.  My little angel.  Smokey was the strong, silent type; more elusive but loved those he was familiar with.  They have since  passed away and while I miss them very much, this story is Houdini’s;  a cat whose personality and love of life infuses every room he enters and every heart he comes in contact with like a giant sun on a warm summer’s day.

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He grew from a tiny alien looking creature with eyes too large for his extremely high forehead into a lanky adolescent to a pleasantly plump adult weighing in at a grand 16lbs at one time.  He’s lived his entire life amongst dogs which is probably how he acquired his dog in a cat suit attitude that has been his trademark for the past 16 and a half years.  Fearless beyond belief, his confident yet friendly attitude has been instrumental in helping many a foster pup learn quite quickly not to chase the resident kitties.  Because of my experiences as a liaison in a veterinary office and the things I’ve seen happen to cats allowed to come and go as they please, Houdini and his siblings have always been indoor cats.

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As Houdini grew, so too did his personality.  He greets me at the door alongside the dogs cheerfully meowing while they bark in excitement.  He follows me from room to room, races me into the bathroom before I can close the door, comes running when called (belly swaying side to side) and we share many conversations chit chatting and cat talking away.  While the other cats in the household are content with staying indoors, he makes endless efforts to hide beneath the dogs and trot out the back door as they make their way outside to play or do their business.  Unfortunately for Houdini, he hasn’t quite learned to stifle his excited cries and he gives himself away almost every time he makes an attempt.

He makes me laugh and lightens my heart whenever he’s around.  It’s been proven that living our life with animals lowers your blood pressure and I sometimes wonder if it’s been proven that life with them can also raise those levels.  Because while I love my little friend with all my heart, there have been many times when his vocal shenanigans directly in my sleeping face, shocking me awake while perched on my bedside table at 5am randomly now and then, caused me to repeatedly place him in a cat carrier and remove him to another room lest I go completely out of my mind.

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Two weeks ago, Houdini was diagnosed with a cancer called Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the tongue.  Because of where it is, under his tongue at the base of it, surgery isn’t an option.  The oncologist we went to said that chemotherapy wasn’t an option for this cancer and it’s location, nor has radiation therapy been used with much success.  10% of cats treated with radiation don’t make it beyond a year of treatment and very few survive past a few months.  With side effects such as blistering throughout the mouth, I am unwilling to put my old friend through that for a mere and selfish few more months.  He deserves much better.  He deserves dignity.

Faced with the fact that my little friend has no options and overwhelmed with feelings of helplessness, I’ve spent the last two weeks going through a myriad of emotions from complete shock, to denial, to grief at knowing all too soon, I’ll be without him.  That someday, I’ll be wishing he would wake me in the middle of the night just one more time.  I’ve cried in private but keep a brave face in front of the animals, especially Houdini because I believe they sense and react to our emotions accordingly.  I’m preparing myself for the final decision.  A decision I have made before and am never comfortable with making.  A decision that fills me not only with grief but with guilt.  In this instance, the ultimate result of the cancer will cause him to be unable to swallow and not be able to eat because of it.  The decision, in this case, will be made for me.

But until that time comes, I will take every second of the remaining time allotted to us to make his life as pleasurable as I can make it and to show him how much I love him.  He gets to do whatever he wants now and is allowed outdoors under supervision (as too are Lance and Valentino now) and the only thing he seems willing (or able) to eat is raw ground chicken and turkey so that is what he gets.

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Instead of eulogizing him in death, I’ll celebrate him in life because it’s in life that we can tell those we love just how much they mean to us.  And that, among all the other things in life we have to do or think about, is the most important.

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Like Cats and Dogs

I love living in a home with multiple pets of different species.  Not only has it taught me a lot about the communication between dogs and cats, it provides me with so many photo opportunities.

Cat being watched by dog