Monday, January 26, 2015

When Giving Up on a Pet Isn't an Option

She came to us already an adult cat, at the approximate age of 6 or more. While she had been spayed, it did appear that she had a litter at some point. She was morbidly obese (something I quickly tried to remedy) and resembled a small panda bear.  She had two prior homes already, the last caregiver going into a nursing home and couldn't take her. Would I? Asked a friend.  

Our bond was instantaneous..........

This is the story of Lily, a courageous and determined cat. 

Although my two other cats immediately embraced her, Lily rejected my youngest cat, Eloise, despite the warm welcome Eloise extended to her. Lily repeatedly attacked Eloise and, since Lily was three times her size, this was quite the concern for us obviously.  After six unsuccessful months of trying to get Lily and Eloise to accept each other and separating them when we weren't home, Lily became our outdoor cat.

One evening Lily was outside with my youngest son.  He said she was chasing a lizard and then just froze.  Her two back legs gave out from underneath her - she was paralyzed.  She regained the use of one hind leg within thirty minutes or so, but she still wasn't walking.  The back leg was pointing straight out behind her, not tucked underneath.  She wouldn't attempt to walk or even crawl, yet didn't seem in pain when I moved it.  Did she just sprain her leg?

First thing the next morning, I took her to the vet.  The vet examined her but needed to keep her a few hours to get x-rays and run other tests.

When the vet called a few hours later, I held my breath for the duration of the conversation. The diagnosis? Degenerative arthritis of the lower spine, exacerbated by her excessive weight. The prognosis? It was a 50/50 shot she'd ever walk again and, if she didn't regain use of her lower limb, it was advised to humanely euthanize her as caring for a paralyzed cat was no easy task and not very fair for the cat who would have a very low quality of life.  

But, 50/50 odds were good enough for the vet (and me) to give treatment a try.

The vet gave Lily an anti-inflammatory to reduce the swelling around the swollen discs. However, it would take 2-3 weeks before we would know for sure if it would work.

I picked her up and made her comfy in the bathtub in the spare bathroom on some blankets. For a litter pan I bought an aluminum cookie sheet and placed it on top of puppy training pads and just sprinkled some litter on it.  After a few days I got rid of the aluminum pan altogether and she learned to just go on the wee wee pads.

Lily just chilling in the tub. 

The first 72 hours were rough.  She had to learn to drag herself off her blanket and over to the wee wee pads, less than a foot away from her.  For those first few days she would just urinate on herself and I was constantly changing the blankets and bathing her.  I couldn't stand for her to not be clean - a sign of dignity for cats.

I would practice healing touches on her, visualizing the spine being repaired.  I would carry her outside and place her on a lounge chair to absorb some of the sun's healing powers.  Each night I would sit on the bathroom floor outside the tub just to talk to her and let her know I was there.  

I kept asking her to fight, and that if she was willing, I was willing to fight with her.

She had to go back to the vet again a few days later for an enema because she could not defecate without the control of her lower muscles.  They said to bring her in every couple of days for that.  No way!  There must be a better way.  I began mixing canned pumpkin and even baby food prunes into her canned food. Soon, she was able to go by herself and was getting better at dragging herself off her blanket and onto the pads.

I'll never forget the morning I woke up and heard scratching at the bathroom door.  Oh my God, how did she get out of the tub?  I ran and opened the door. There she was, still with that bad leg protruding out behind her, but she had somehow managed to jump out of the tub. This was a HUGE step toward recovery. 

Lily absorbing the sun's rays. 

I knew our physical therapy would begin.  Lily is motivated by two things: food and love.  We would have daily PT sessions where I would coax her to move toward me to get to her food bowl.  Then, I noticed what worked even better. All I had to do was sit on the floor a few feet away and call her.  With my encouraging voice and her desire for affection, she'd drag herself toward me. Then after a few minutes of loving, I'd move away and we'd start the process all over again.

By the second week, I noticed she was starting to awkwardly slip the paralyzed leg back up underneath her body and slightly put some weight on it.  It was days later before I noticed her try to take a few steps using it, but the leg would inevitably slide behind her after a few steps. I must say, she got very good at dragging it, but I still struggled with the question of her quality of life. She was living inside, of course, and oddly, she and Eloise didn't have any issues. Eloise somehow understood Lily's condition and, in fact, both my other cats knew Lily was in dire straits. 

Lily's physical therapy involved motion! 

We stuck to it for a few weeks.  The healing touches, the sun therapy, the exercise sessions......until one day she up and walked to the door leading outside.  She was telling me that it was time she return to her normal life.  She appeared to be feeling well enough. However, I didn't oblige her request at first. I monitored her progress for a few more days. Just shy of a month after the original incident, Lily was back to chasing lizards outside and hissing at Eloise.

Today, 18 months since the injury, I continue to work on her weight. Unfortunately, it isn't any easier for a pet to lose weight than it is for people to lose weight. She also continues to walk gingerly.  But, despite the lingering limp, she runs and plays and, most of all, continues to be the most appreciative cat I've ever owned.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Family Movie Review: Maleficent

Oddly enough, this is the second Disney film that I've reviewed in a week that completely surprised me.  Maleficent, starring Angelina Jolie as the notorious evil godmother in the classic fairy tale, Sleeping Beauty, takes on a completely new twist.  The film takes us back to when Maleficent, a fairy, and Stefan, a human (before he was king), first met as adolescents.  The two become close friends bridging the gap between the human world and that of the Moors - an enchanted  land filled with magical creatures. Stefan even bestows what he calls a true love kiss on Maleficent. 

However, when Stefan chooses greed and power over Maleficent, he quickly realizes he will have to face the wrath of this broken-hearted fairy.  As we all know, she takes her revenge out on his newborn daughter, Princess Aurora, by placing a curse on her that will eventually have the girl fall into a deep sleep, only to be awakened by a true love kiss (how ironic, right?)

Unlike the classic Disney animated version, the three fairies assigned to raise and protect Princess Aurora are lacking in their childcare capabilities.  It is actually Maleficent who keeps a watchful eye on the little girl while she is growing up.  The audience soon realizes that Maleficent has grown fond of Aurora and regrets casting her curse on the child.

"I was so lost in hatred and revenge...."

This is a charming take on a classic fairy tale that proves things are not always as they seem. It shows the consequences of greed, anger, and revenge.  The film provides a perfect example of how we are all shaped by the events of our pasts.  And, in the end, we are taught that no one is 100% good or evil.

The film is beautifully shot with stunning cinematography and scenography.  I am sorry I missed this one on the big screen.  Jolie was wonderful in this role, and, despite being wicked at times, made Maleficent easy to empathize with.  I loved Sam Riley as Maleficent's sidekick, Diaval. This film is rated PG for fantasy action and violence and some frightening images.  My ten-year-old wasn't going to watch with me, but got sucked in from the very beginning.  Overall, I loved the scenery, the viewpoint of the story, and the powerful themes of this tale. When it was over, I turned to my son and said, "I want to watch it again!"

Click here  for more of my family movie reviews. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Family Movie Review: Frozen

Well I finally had the chance to sit down and watch Disney's Frozen, an animated film inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale, The Snow Queen.  With two tween-aged boys in the home, this movie wasn't top of our list to watch.  However, I was teaching Kindergarten when the movie was released and, in my own way, lived and breathed it for months on end, despite having never actually seen it! 

This is not your ordinary Disney fairy tale.  There is no knight in shining armor to the rescue, like we've seen in countless other Disney "princess movies." In fact, I will go all out and say that this may be the first time Disney got it right.  When only an act of true love can save our heroine, the audience is understandably to assume that our male protagonist, Kristoff, is the one to do the saving. Nope! This story of true love touches on the bonds between family - sisters in this case. The heartwarming end left me with the urge to text my own sisters a quick "I love you!"

"Some people are worth melting for." ~Olaf

The story is a powerful look at the struggle Elsa must face to regain her true identity. Forced to suppress her power for years, Elsa must learn how to take back her life and embrace her magic.  Through her sister's love, she learns how to turn what has been perceived by outsiders as her curse into a gift. 

The film is filled with lovable characters.  From spunky and determined Princess Anna to the charming yet down-to-earth Kristoff, this movie will inspire young viewers to look inside themselves for strength.  Olaf, our magical snowman, and Sven, Kristoff's pet reindeer, give much comedic relief to the story.  I wish there was more of them in the film. 

Here's why all young girls need to see this movie.  From Elsa to Anna, this movie is filled with strong female role models.  Disney is famous for having it be completely acceptable for their heroine to fall deeply in love with the first handsome prince that comes along. Well, not this time!  In Frozen, there is the very powerful theme of infatuation vs true love as we see in the scene where Kristoff questions Anna's judgement for getting engaged to a prince she just met! 

I must admit, though, I am a bit baffled as to why Princess Anna wasn't more popular with young female viewers.  All the girls I know were obsessed with Elsa.  However, Princess Anna is the true heroine of this film even if Elsa rocks the best song of the movie, "Let It Go," which gave me chills.  

"And the fears that once controlled me, can't get to me at all." ~ Elsa

Overall, the movie is enjoyable and touches on some wonderful themes.  It makes a great family movie night for those with younger children and will, no doubt, remain a Disney classic for years. For me, however, I thought the story lacked any real substance.  I feel they could have cut some of the music (this was NOT my favorite Disney musical score) and focus on developing the complex story and characters further. The film is rated PG for some action and mild rude humor. 

Click here  to read my other family movie reviews. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Empty Nest (Literally) Hits Home

My home is surrounded by preservation areas and wetlands of south Florida. Naturally, we have all the amazing wildlife around us that comes with this type of environment.  In fact, it was the wildlife and serene surroundings that called us to this area.

A female sandhill crane brooding
One of my favorite animals is the sandhill crane.  At an impressive size, adult males can grow to four feet tall, and with stunning red-crested heads, these birds grace us with their magnificence on a regular basis. The best time of year is late winter (if you can call what South Florida gets a winter) or early spring when their chicks are born. Sandhill cranes, like so many other birds, mate for life. They will typically produce one or two offspring each year. Those babies will stay with the mother and father for several months afterwards.

In early 2014, a bonded pair living in my development produced two chicks.  As babies they look like tall fluffy ducklings and are yellow in color.  For many months, my family and I have been observing the interaction between the parents and their offspring, as well as watching the chicks grow.

What you  need to know about sandhill cranes is that they are not shy creatures. Quite the contrary, actually.  They will walk right up to you.  And, trust me when I say their beaks, that measure about six or more inches and ending in a sharp point, can be quite menacing, particularly to those who aren't used to such brazen birds.  I have had to politely ask them to exit my garage! They have never done any damage and they never make a mess and they never pose any real threat at all. Not even when their chicks are around have I ever seen any aggressive behavior.

When the chicks first start venturing out with mom and dad, they stay glued to the mother. As they walk around the neighborhood, dad will position himself between you and his babies at all times. As the chicks grow, the parents will  put their guard down - just a little bit.

As I mentioned, we've been watching this particular family for about nine months and finally about a week ago it happened.......

Instead of the usual family of four, only three came walking past my house.  At first I was quite concerned that something may have happened to one of them. I looked closely at the birds.  The father, the tallest and always the friendliest, was definitely present.  The other two, now about the same size, were tougher to tell apart since the chicks were now as tall as the mother.  All of a sudden, as I was standing there within a couple of feet of them, they began to let out an intense cry.  If you've never heard a sandhill crane's call, check out the video at the bottom (and excuse the poor quality, but my phone was all that was accessible to me.)  It is very distinct and can be deafening from a distance - let alone three feet away.

The always friendly but protective male
They all were looking up at the sky.  I glanced up in the direction they were facing and, to my surprise honestly, saw another sandhill crane flying overhead and responding to their calls. However, the great bird did not come.  It was then that I realized what was going on. The three birds on my driveway were clearly dad, mom, and one chick. The bird in the sky was without question their second offspring who had flown the coop, literally. It was a little sad actually, to witness the inevitable departure from the family of a grown crane.  When the bird was no longer in sight the calls ceased and the three continued searching my lawn for bugs.

This morning on my walk, I passed my lovely friends again. And, when I say passed, I mean close enough to reach out and touch them if that beak wasn't so daunting.  But, instead of three, there were now only two.  Just mom and the usual friendly - or, perhaps, just very guarded - dad.  It hit me, their second chick had flown the coop as well.

It was quite sad for me actually.  As a mother of two boys that are growing up faster than people warned me they would, reality was staring me in the face. There will come a time when my two "hatchlings" will also fly the coop and, like all parents eventually must, my husband and I will face our own empty nest.

As I passed the pair on the sidewalk this morning, I couldn't help but stare at the mother and wonder if she felt any sense of loss.  In my heart, having seen how she cared for her chicks for so long, I believe the answer is yes.  However, unlike her human counterparts, she, at least, gets to look forward to doing it all over again!

I sure wish the pair brings their new chicks down to my house in a few months so I can meet them and start the process of observing this wonderful family unit all over again.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

From Holidays to Cold and Flu Season: Oh, What a Joy!

School is back in session today, but not for my little guy.  This year has started off with a bang. After suffering a cough and low-grade fever for a few days, I finally decided it was worth a visit to the pediatrician yesterday, which is a huge deal to begin with because I am not one to rush to the doctor's office. But, the on-going fever was a possible sign of something more than a cold.  

We waited nearly an hour past our appointment time in the examination room, but finally our turn.  The diagnosis? - sinus infection and airway inflammation. Okay, antibiotics it is, only the second time in his life.  I hate them!  Plus, saline spray in his nostrils three times a day - Got it! I can remember all this. 

But wait, there was more, a ton more. The doctor continued for what seemed like 20 minutes with further instructions.  Why isn't someone writing this down for me?  The doctor lost me, I mean COMPLETELY lost me, going over the not one, but two different inhalers he'd be prescribing my son.  And, at least one of them (at this point who knows, maybe both of them) would require the use of some attachment, a device of sorts that helps patients this young operate the inhalers properly.  

Either way, off I went to the pharmacy with both my sons in tow. 

What do you mean they're not ready??!!  The doctor did his magic thingy via the computer over an hour ago! How can they not be ready?!

Of course, I didn't actually say any of this.  Not with words anyway. My face, on the other hand.....

"OK, how long will it be?"

Thirty-minutes. Sigh, "OK, I'll be back."

Is it just me, or does anyone else think frantic mothers with sick children should have top priority at the pharmacist?

The three of us trudge home.  I inhale some food and an hour later - that's SIXTY minutes in case you're counting, twice the time I was told it would take - I head back to the pharmacy where there are two customers being waited on and two more in line ahead of me. Gggggrrrrr.

Before I even get called to the counter, I noticed the pharmacy technician, the one I spoke with earlier, look directly at me and whisper something to the pharmacist. This can NOT be good.  Then I hear her tell him, "I'll take care of this one."  Oh boy! Now I'm "this one."

She goes on to explain that one of the inhalers needs to be ordered and the spacer (YES!! That's what the doctor called it) also has to be ordered.  

"Okay, just give me the antibiotic and I'll pick up the inhalers tomorrow," I tell her.

"Fine, let me just dispense that for you.  Would you like it flavored?"

NO NO NO, I already gave you 30 EXTRA minutes to prepare the prescription!! Will someone tell me why it isn't ready?

Instead......I smile. "What flavor do you think my son will like?" She looked at me blankly.  "I'll take strawberry," is all I can muster to say.  

So while my son now rests on the couch watching Star Wars, I await the much anticipated phone call from the pharmacist telling me the inhalers are ready for pick-up, which she promised would arrive today.  

And they better, because if I have to write another blog post about my pharmacy saga tomorrow, I will not be pleased.