Sunday, September 28, 2008

Requiem for a kitty

Happy anniversary. The cat is dead.

It's a lousy Hallmark greeting and -- if you're inclined to find omens in bowls of soup like we are -- it's a tough one to spin.

We marked five years of love, grit and unity Saturday. We ate a fancy meal, dressed to the nines and shared our goals. Finding a dead cat sprawled in the kitchen wasn't one of them.

Mo screamed moments after opening the door.

"Oh my God! Jack is dead!"

We have two cats: Jack and Fig. They look like twin tabbies, but are so temperamentally opposite they seem like stereotypes. Jack is an 10-year-old barn cat who hates everything in the world except Mo. Fig is a 7-year-old fraidy cat, fat, sweet and so dumb that, twice a day, he forgets where he is and weeps existential tears for his mother.

Lately, Jack has been sick. A month ago, he peed blood. Days ago, he peed twice on a couch, prompting an enlightening discussion about the limits of animal charity. It ended poorly, not long after I proposed a two-step solution: (a) Nobody like Jack so (b) We should put him to sleep.

My first thought: Denial. My next thought: I killed Jack.

Huh? He's napping, not dead. See? Uh oh. He's dead. Mo will never forgive me.Of all the crap out of my mouth, God, why listen to that? Why? Poor, Jack. Poor, Mo. Poor, me. I'm in big trouble.

Mo was in the living room, crying. Jack walked up from the basement and meowed.

"That's not, Jack," I said. "Oh my God, it's Fig."

My first thought: Relief. I didn't kill Jack. My next thought: My God, it's Fig.

Four hours ago, Fig was purring happily and actually upstairs during daylight hours. I was glad for him as I put on my suit, thinking: "After 7 years, Fig is finally coming out of his shell. Good for him."

I dug a deep hole in the backyard and learned where the gas line is buried. Thinking it was a root, I whacked it for 5 minutes with a shovel. Fortunately, they are sturdy: Our anniversary celebration did not move from dinner to dead cat to explosion.

We had a quick service, burying Fig with an angel wing costume we made him wear for Christmas cards that did a better job embarrassing us than him. We told him we loved him, apologized for not taking better care of him and sprinkled tuna juice on his grave to send him on his way.

It must have been shock. Everything happened so quickly -- one minute, wine and romance, the next figuring out what to do with a dead cat at midnight -- that the loss didn't really hit until Sunday.

That's when I found myself poring over Internet forums, reading about sudden death in cats (apparently it's common) and bawling like a little girl who missed out on Hanna Montana tickets. Even then, I thought: "What am I doing? Why am I crying over Fig?"

Mo put it best: Fig was a family member, the first we brought home together as a couple. He died alone. We didn't see it coming and we couldn't say goodbye.

We'll miss seeing him in the window when we pull into the driveway, emerging from his hiding spot under Hope's crib to nuzzle our legs during midnight feedings and wailing plaintively from the basement at nothing in particular.

He was a good cat and we loved him. Our crowded house seems emptier without him.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Postcard from Higgins Lake

Fun times at the Mo's family compound in northern Michigan this week: Great weather, cool water and sparkling sand.

Higgins Lake is special to us. Mo's family has been going up there for years. Every year, we swim, eat far too much dip and engage in fierce tennis tournaments that usually end with a few choice words and thrown rackets.

This was Hope's first visit and our first since last September, when Mo was in the seventh month of a stressful pregnancy. Last year was reflective: We knew we were on the verge of a great journey, one that would forever change our lives. We were worried, but optimistic.

A year later, we walked the same beaches and trails and felt satisfied. Life didn't turn out exactly as we planned -- when does it ever? -- but our baby was happy and got to be part of an important tradition. We couldn't ask for a whole lot more.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


Hooray for Saturdays! We're off for a much-needed, long weekend at Michigan's working-man's Riviera, Higgins Lake. We're stuffing Hope, her gear, the dog into a car and hoping like hell there's enough room. If not, Lulu will have to suck it in.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Best for Hope

From the Department of "Damn Irony, How Could You Be So Fickle": Two people who've never been known to pass up a brownie are raising a girl who can't put on weight no matter how hard we try.

It'd be funny if it weren't so worrisome.

Over the past few months, Hope has fallen off her own slow-but-sure growth curve of about 2 ounces a week or 1 pound every two months. It wasn't ideal, but it remained consistent since she was in utero, allaying concerns with the knowledge that she's humming along at her own slow course.

But Hope has remained at 8 pounds, 4 ounces for three weeks and gained 1 pound in about 3 months. We stuff her with prunes, oatmeal, sweet potatoes, carrots, boring stories and silly songs. We re-institute the 4 a.m. feeding we were so relieved to forfeit.

Zippo. No matter what we do, the scale doesn't move.

We're rapidly approaching the point where intervention may be necessary. Dr. Spitenup, who is as conservative as they come, first floated the idea of a fundoplication and G-tube surgery about two weeks ago.

The procedure would close off the upper part of the stomach to thwart acids from coming back up and install a feeding tube into her stomach to allow us to continually pump her with calories while she's sleeping.

We can't say we were surprised. But we were saddened. Feeding tubes are fairly common among those with CdLS, and Hope's lack of one was a point of pride that we perhaps naively interpreted as a good sign.

But after a while, you realize your pride isn't doing her any favors. Her inability to pack on pounds no doubt further hinders her development. She still hasn't sat up, perhaps because she's not large enough. The more we feed her, the more she vomits -- helping no one except our disgusting dog, Lulu, who ranks vomit as No. 3 on her favorite foods behind soiled diapers and dirty socks.

So we've come to accept that a feeding tube not only is a good idea, but we need to start moving on it quickly for Hope's sake. It would supplement -- but not replace -- normal feeds, and countless CdlS kids have thrived with them.

When Hope was born, her Grandma Clem said we'd have to throw away our expectations. She was right, but so much of this year has also been about learning to move behind our pride to do what's best for Hope.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Vision in pink

As promised, here's Hopes fancy new hearing aids, the Oticon Vigo BTE. They're sleek, they're pink and they help her hear. We couldn't ask for much more.

She was fitted for molds this week, the tailor-made rubbery things that form to her ears. They should come in a few weeks. Until then, we have standard molds, which are pretty good, but sometimes emit static because they're not a perfect fit.

We haven't tested her hearing in months, but suspect it's improving. The last time we did, she had a mild-moderate conductive hearing loss. That means that her inner-ear is fundamentally sound, but something is blocking sound from getting to it -- most likely her tiny ear canals. That's fairly common among CdLS kids. Many outgrow it. Our fingers are crossed that Hope will as well.

I'm home with Hopesy today, doing the Mr. Mom thing for the second Thursday in three weeks while Mo works. I dig it. It's a nice change of pace: hanging out, going for walks, playing with my girl while Mo makes the moolah. I could get used to this.

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Monday, September 8, 2008

Happy face

This one's for you, Big Mo: Today's entry is all smiling toads, pots o' gold and bales of cotton candy. So stereotypically Irish it's politically incorrect, Mo would rather eat her own eyeballs than think someone was feeling sorry for her.

She gets peeved when I include too many details about bad days on the blog, preferring instead I skim over the ugly parts and accentuate the positive.

So here goes: We won our battle with supplemental insurance and got sleek, small and lighter hearing aids for Hopesy. And they're pink! Photos to come. Hope resumed occupational therapy on Monday. It's not as many hours as we 'd like -- or think she deserves --but Michigan is budget-cut crazy, so we're grateful for her two hours a week of therapy.

She remains the undisputed, No. 1 Cutie.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Retroactive ugh

It's Sunday morning. The coffee is strong. Mo's at church, getting religion. And enough days have passed to put the ordeal of Tuesday's endoscopy in perspective.

I wrote a scathing, gut-wrenching, "Avast ye! Accursed world!" entry on Wednesday morning, after Hope was up all night vomiting and wailing. Like shopping hungry, blogging angry probably is not the best idea.

The endoscopy, as we feared, was no fun. We highly recommend other pursuits of leisure.

The procedure involved sedating her and worming a small camera down her throat to peek at her stomach and provide clues for her occasional bleeding. That took about 20 minutes, but we were in the hospital for about six hours dealing with one indignity after another.

Two veins were blown in her head trying to get an IV for sedation. Finally, one was put through her groin, which is every bit as nasty as it sounds. She briefly stopped breathing while under. Nurses "bagged" her, or pumped air into her lungs. A gung-ho physician even tried to intubate her, working another tube down her throat in a fruitless attempt to supply a steady stream of oxygen into her lungs.

The results from Dr. Spitenup: Pretty much what we thought. One fold of her stomach is irritated from a hiatal hernia, the rubbing of the stomach and the esophagus. That's likely the source of the old blood that Hope was vomiting about once a week earlier this summer. Spitenup says the irritation shouldn't hurt her. We're not so sure.

There's little recourse beyond surgery to fix the hernia. The problem isn't bad enough yet, though, so we're forced to grin and bear it.

Initially, we were annoyed and anguished. Hope was put through the ringer to confirm what was suspected, but fix nothing. We kicked ourselves as bad advocates for her care, second-guessing the decision to go through with the endoscopy.

After a few days, we're more even-keeled. Hope has rebounded well from the procedure, which we acknowledge is necessary to confirm the problem before intervention.

And as always, we're still conflicted about Spitenup. We're sore he surprised us with his decision to go ahead with the endoscopy over a holiday weekend after indicating it may not be necessary. His bedside manner alternates between non-existent and strange (After the procedure, he approached us in the waiting area, motioned us inside and offered a barely audible grunt.)

No doubt, Spitenup is a stinker. But he's also been right about everything so far.

And we know our angst at him is window-dressing. The real source of frustration, such as it is, is seeing something hurt your baby and not being able to fix it.