Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The sudden shocking sad death of a cat

"There's a land beyond the river, that they call the sweet forever."

I was going to write about the bead that went missing. And then Amanda Todd died and I was going to write about the sad teenager who posted a YouTube video about how she was bullied, online and in real life, by a man who took a screen grab of her chest when (as a seventh grader, i.e. 12 years old) she flashed him on a web cam. And apparently by everyone else she encountered after he made the photo public.

And then my cat Puck got really sick, really suddenly, and on October 16 we had to make the heart-wrenching decision to spare him prolonged pain and suffering and to tell him goodbye.

Neil and I are shattered by this unanticipated loss, the more so because until the day before, he had seemed like his ordinary healthy self. In the morning he sat on my lap and purred and I gave his ears and chin a good scratching and he smiled his cat smile and appeared to enjoy it.

He didn't come to eat his teaspoon of wet food that I give my cats mid-afternoon and call "cat dinner". Puck was always more motivated by affection than food, and when he jumped up on the ironing board where we feed him and Loki, he was more interested in first being petted than in getting right down to his chow. In retrospect I can't remember him ever not coming for cat dinner, but sometimes he took his time and I assumed he would come when he was ready. And if he didn't, then Loki would eat it.

Except for cat dinner, Neil is in charge of feeding the cats, so I wasn't paying a lot of attention to who was eating what. Puck was Neil's baby, although it was I who adopted him from BARC, the animal shelter on the other side of the proverbial tracks. Neil really bonded with Puck, and they watched TV together every night. Puck would sit under Neil's knees (Neil being stretched out on the sofa) and we had a standing joke that Neil was "pooping him out."

Neil also picked Puck up and held him upside down like a baby and Puck totally trusted Neil. I rarely pick up the cats, but Puck sat on my lap every day, almost always when I was having my morning coffee. I sit in the same spot always, the corner of the living room sofa, and there is a bolster pillow to my right that Puck put half his weight on. So I didn't notice that he was losing weight.

Last Tuesday morning Neil woke me up sometime after 5 am to tell me I had to come and see Puck. Puck was lying limply on the floor in one of the bedrooms upstairs. Neil said it was the first time ever that Puck hadn't come down to breakfast. Puck was responsive to his name, so Neil brought him downstairs and laid him on the sofa while I staggered around making coffee. I wasn't worried yet. I thought he might have eaten something that disagreed with him

Once, not long after I adopted him, and not long after he recovered from a severe respiratory infection that he came home with from the shelter, he ate something that made him get very sick. It was in the house so I thought it might have been a gecko or small frog or some sort of bug. Our vet gave him IV fluids and probably medicine, although 8 years later the details in my mind are sketchy. He got well and stayed well then.

So I thought this was a similar episode, the more so when he got down off the sofa and made some horrible yakking noises. Nothing came up though. After that he walked around the kitchen island into the laundry room and the litter box. I watched and waited. I thought he might be getting something out of his system that way. I gave him 5 minutes, then went to see. He was lying down in the litter box. When I came in he got out, walked a few feet into the dining room and lay down again.

That's when I called the vet. The receptionist said the cat specialist didn't have an appointment until 2:30 but I could bring him in and she might be able to see him between patients. I vacillated for a little while and then for selfish reasons decided to take him over to the vet's office. I wanted to get on with my day but didn't feel comfortable going out to the studio where I couldn't keep my eye on him.

I dropped him off, came home, ramped up the kiln and started making beads. I was in the middle of a focal when the vet called. And it was all bad. Bad bad bad. Very bad. I had a hard time absorbing what the vet was telling me, about his red and white blood cells, platelets and proteins. She said he'd lost one and a half pounds since she'd seen him last winter, and that he was going downhill very fast, even since he had come in.

She explained that further testing would require a bone marrow sample, which would be done under anesthesia. But she also said, I'm not going to kid you, the things we would be looking for, lymphoma or multiple myeloma, would be essentially untreatable, given the state of his blood, which she had tested twice to be certain. She spoke of euthenasia as my tears came. She said that the only other potential cause of his blood anomalies would be a toxin, but his liver and kidney functions contraindicated that possibility.

I said I would have to talk to my husband. I asked her to give Puck fluids and to make him comfortable, and she said, we'll do that right away.

Neil is hard to reach at work. He'd already called once to check how Puck was doing and told me to call him, not to email him, when I heard from the vet. I left a message on his voice mail. Then I sat in my spot on the sofa and waited for Neil to call back. The vet called me again before Neil did, to let me know that Puck was sinking and might rob us of the decision to end his life.

I said I could not do anything without talking to Neil. The vet said she was stepping out for lunch and would call me with an update when she came back. Neil called then, and I babbled, trying to explain the bigger picture but telling him he needed to hear the specifics from the vet. So he called her and of course she was still at lunch. So he went to his next meeting and got back to have a long voice mail message from the vet. After that he came home.

The vet called again, encouraging me to come see Puck while there was time, but as I said to Neil, I wanted to go right away to see him, but I also knew that the sooner we got there, the sooner his life would be over. But we had to go.

We were taken into a conference room that I never knew existed, and our vet brought Puck in to us. He was on his side, on a pink cat bed, and he was almost lifeless already. The vet said he'd started crying and she'd given him a sedative. We talked, she explained things again and nothing had changed. We could not bear to have Puck suffer. She said we were doing the right thing. She left us to have some time with him and to get the sleep meds.

We talked to him. I told him what a great cat he was and how much I loved him and how much I was going to miss him. Neil talked to him too. And all of a sudden Puck purred. Just once. And whether or not you believe in signs, I think Puck was telling us that he knew we were there, and that it was OK.

It was very fast, He already had an IV in his leg. He got two shots. One to make him sleep and the second one to stop his pain for good. For ever. I cry as I type this.

What do you do? You kiss your cat for the last time. You go home, cuddle your other cat, make some soup, watch a little TV. And you grieve.

Puck was only 8 years old, maybe 9, we were not sure how young he was when I got him.

He was beautiful, sweet and really everything you could want in a cat.

Safe journey Puck. I love you.

"Nevermore with anguish laden
We shall reach that lovely Eden
When they ring the golden bells for you and me"
Hymn written by Daniel de Marbelle and sung by Natalie Merchant

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The secret life of bacon

"Oh but you know me better than that, you know the me that gets lazy and fat."

Bacon. It's what's for breakfast. And lunch. And dinner. And now, apparently, dessert.

On Friday we had a late lunch at the Messina Hof Winery in Bryan. Neil and I were visiting his daughter who is in grad school at A&M. It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm but without the scorching heat of summer.

We literally had the place to ourselves. Well, the restaurant anyway. The winery itself, with its tours and wine bar, was doing a respectable business. We were seated at a table for three, overlooking a grape arbor with parched skeletons of grapevines from harvests past.

Despite being the only diners, service was a little rusty too. Our waiter never asked if we wanted anything to drink, once we declined to look at the wine list. He also never removed the 4th place setting, and my pasta dish, which according to the menu would be prepared tableside, arrived fully drenched with Sauvignon Blanc pesto sauce.

After clearing our plates, our waiter rattled off the dessert list, which included multiple types of cheesecake, tres leches cake, tiramisu, chocolate cake and a brownie sundae. My stepdaughter asked if the chocolate cake was dark chocolate. Our waiter didn't know, so off he went to consult the cook, who, he volunteered, was new. In fact this was her second day.

He returned to report that the cake was indeed dark chocolate, which my stepdaughter vetoed. Pity. So we wound up with the brownie sundae and three spoons. Presently the waiter appeared with the confection, which he proudly presented. And there it was. A chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream, chocolate fudge sauce, whipped cream and bacon.

I am not making this up. The sundae was lavishly garnished with pieces of bacon.

I'm not sure why, but of late the world seems obsessed with bacon. I swear there are more posts on my Facebook page about bacon than there are about Obama and Romney. Pictures of bacon, rhapsodies about bacon, jokes about bacon, poems about bacon. Songs about bacon. There are at least 15 songs on YouTube about bacon. I know, I googled. Can you feel the lard tonight?

I have nothing personal against bacon. I just don't eat it. I don't eat pork at all. No chops, no sausage, no ham. No bacon. It's not because I am Jewish. Well I am Jewish, although I'm not sure exactly what that means since I don't practice the faith or observe its traditions. And that is a whole 'nother post anyway.

However I was raised by Jewish parents who did celebrate the major Jewish holidays. My mom is a Holocaust survivor and an atheist as a result, because as she said, no god would have allowed such atrocities to happen. My dad's family was religious but my dad, when pressed about his beliefs, would only say, there are no athiests in foxholes. Since my dad was never in a foxhole as far as I know, his position was theoretical but allowed him to beg the question of whether he believed in Yahweh.

So we lit the Hanukkah candles and sang the Purim songs and ate Matzoh during Passover and fasted on Yom Kippur. And we ate BLTs the rest of the year. Yes, bacon was served in my home and I remember my mom frying it up in a pan and soaking up the grease with paper towels. I can't say we ever had pork for dinner (just corned beef and tongue sometimes) or ham for lunch, but we definitely had bacon.

Mom stopped short of one of the customs of my first husband's family, who saved the bacon grease to cook with later. Jon kept a can on the stove and added bacon drippings whenever he fried bacon. He'd use the bacon fat to make a roue for gumbo, cooking it with flour until it turned dark brown and smelled burnt. I don't eat gumbo anymore either.

I stopped eating bacon at some point along the way when I learned about the evils of saturated fats. Pretty soon the idea of consuming something that was more or less fried fat turned my stomach. Sausage was not far behind, nor a big sacrifice, since I never liked it much. I didn't fully draw the line in the pantry and declare myself a pork-free zone until my younger daughter became interested in Judaism, traveled to Israel twice, and renounced all pork products.

It's just pork though. It's not shellfish or separating milk and meat or any of the other regulations of Halakhic law. My daughter eschews pork because it is one of the four animals declared unclean in the Torah, the others being hare, hyrax and camel, which are not commonly found in your local grocery store or on your typical restaurant menu. And I gave up pork entirely in deference to my daughter. Which essentially meant giving up ham, the last pork standing in my diet.

I'm afraid my reaction to bacon-sprinkled brownie sundaes was not the most tactful. Sometimes my mouth is a lot faster than my brain and frankly I was astonished. No, I was dumbfounded. And disbelieving.

I said, bacon? You are kidding right? Please tell me there isn't bacon on a brownie sundae.

And simultaneously, my stepdaughter said, bacon? Yippee! Or something to that effect.

Our waiter was somewhat flustered and basically pointed the finger at the new chef who allegedly insisted that bacon was an essential dessert topper.

Well, yes, and Denny's offers maple-bacon milkshakes. I knew that.

Neil and Laurie shared the bacon-brownie sundae. I had a spoonful of the ice cream, after inspecting it to be sure it was unadulterated ice cream.

I apologized to the waiter for my reaction but went on to give him a lecture anyway. I suggested he mention the bacon component of any desserts because even in Bryan, Texas, there must be people who don't eat pork for religious reasons. OK, so maybe they are vegetarians. Or vegans. Or ridiculous health conscious tree hugging purists like me.

He brought me a to-go bag with a plain vanilla, I mean chocolate brownie. Which I'm sure my stepdaughter enjoyed later. I was already stuffed.

In fact, put a fork in me. I'm done.

Next time, back to our regularly scheduled programming, with the story of the bead that went missing.

"Oh she tells her friends I'm perfect and that I love her cat,
But you know me better than that."
George Strait