My husband’s heart Part 3: Cardiac rehabilitation

Over two weeks have gone by since Brian had his open heart surgery, and it is one week since he was discharged from inpatient care.

We are both very happy that he is back home, though there continue to be ups and downs in his condition. During good periods he is able to walk short distances both inside and outside the house, and to eat reasonably well. However he has relapsed into atrial fibrillation on several occasions, and a recent blood test showed him to be anaemic. At times he feels weak and breathless and is unable to get warm. Formerly an avid reader, he has no interest in books at present, though he does follow the news on his computer.

We were advised that recovery from such a huge operation takes about three months, so perhaps cannot expect too much too soon. His medication – currently including amiodarone, warfarin, aspirin, an occasional beta blocker – will be reviewed by the cardiologist next week.

After the previous month of acute anxiety combined with frantic activity – travelling to and from the hospitals to visit Brian every day while managing practical, legal and financial affairs at home and dealing with medical appointments for myself – my own life has entered a quieter domestic phase. My role as nurse-housekeeper is not unduly arduous, so I am catching up on lost rest and sleep. Brian and I have time to spend together in a relaxed way talking, listening to music, or watching the four cats in the garden.

Daisy with flowersLeo on gatepostMagic on plum tree best photohomer at feijoa tree

All the regular engagements which once provided structure to my weeks – singing with St Patrick’s choir, volunteering at Auckland SPCA, attending Auckland Film Society, dog walking on Takapuna beach, coffee dates with friends in the city, yoga class – have been cancelled for the time being. The activity which means the most to me, creative writing, is also on hold. Apart from this blog and emails to friends I have written nothing for six weeks, but look forward to getting back to editing my new novel soon.

Happy birthday Marco and Polo

I had forgotten that today, 1st September, was the estimated date of birth of the two kittens I fostered last year. Here is a picture of them at about nine weeks old; the dark mackerel tabby is Marco (male), and Polo (female) is the tabby and white.

marco-polo-9-weeks-old

 

It was a lovely surprise this morning to receive birthday messages and photos from both their respective “forever homes”. I had been overwhelmed with applications to adopt them as soon as their details went up on the Lonely Miaow website, and it was up to me to select the most suitable ones – a big responsibility. Fortunately I chose well, for they quickly settled in with their new families and are greatly loved.

Fostering has both ups and downs. It was a lot of work looking after the two lively little kittens and they caused a fair amount of damage around the house. But we became very fond of them and could hardly bear to see them go. Fortunately I was able to keep in touch and visit them both now and then.

 

War and peace with Daisy

While kittens usually enjoy playing together, many adult cats shun the company of their own kind. Our Daisy, now aged about 13, does not like other cats at all. Although Felix was already well established in our household before Daisy arrived, she always resented his presence, and the two of them never became friends during all the years they lived together. Daisy prefers having contact with humans. She also enjoys lying on her back in the sun.

daisy-on-her-back

 

When I adopted Magic as a tiny rescue kitten, I had vague hopes that Daisy’s maternal instincts would be revived – after all, when Daisy first came to us, she had three tiny kittens of her own and was a most devoted mother. However, I was prepared for the likelihood that she would not welcome a new arrival, and this proved to be the case. I carefully followed the advice from SPCA Auckland about introducing a new cat – but with limited success. For several months, Daisy growled and spit whenever she saw Magic, and sometimes hit out in attack though never seriously hurt her. Daisy was equally hostile to Leo when he joined our household. This hostility continued as the kittens grew bigger. Fortunately neither of them seemed to mind it very much.

Last month I went to England on holiday (and took in a Thames cruise in aid of International Cat Care). All our three cats went into a boarding establishment while I was away – Magic and Leo were in shared accommodation but I invested in a private unit for Daisy. When I came to pick them up, the staff commented that Daisy had been an absolute delight. She had obviously relished the time in her own space with a view over the fields. And since they came back home, relations have been much more cordial. All three will now eat side by side, and even choose to sleep on (or in) the same bed.

Update January 2017

Daisy and Leo are now the best of friends as you can see.

daisy-leo-eating

 

 

Cats, eyesight and ageing

I recently read the report of a study suggesting that cat owners, in contrast to dog owners, have a raised risk of developing glaucoma due to an autoimmune response triggered by their pets. I don’t think this should cause too much alarm, because the study was only a preliminary one and the effect was small. But it was of some concern to me because a few years ago I was diagnosed with high intra-ocular pressure, which can progress to glaucoma.

My immediate reaction to reading it was “I’m not going to give up my cats.” My husband challenged me “Are you saying that you would rather go blind?” Logically the answer should have been obvious, because going blind is among the worst fates I can imagine. Yet I did not know what to say, which made me wonder if I care too much about the cats.

Concern for companion animals can affect many of the decisions which may have to be made in the case of their owners’ declining health or advancing age. After adopting Magic and Leo it was a bit of a shock to realise that I should probably not get any more kittens in case I die before they do, even though I belong to Auckland SPCA’s “Circle” program which provides for this eventuality. I wouldn’t want to move into an apartment without a safe outdoor space for cats to play, or enter a retirement home where cats were not allowed. And though I sometimes wonder about returning to live in England for my declining years, I wouldn’t want to put my cats through the stress of relocation – even though when we once brought two other cats from England to New Zealand they did not seem too upset by the long flight.
Maybe it is misguided to let cat-related considerations carry too much weight when making major life choices. And I can’t predict how I would actually feel if and when one of these situations arises in future. Meanwhile I am happy to be still fit and well, and living in a house with a large garden which is ideal for cats.

Foster kittens

As a result of the chain of events following the death of Felix I am now fostering two small kittens, a brother and sister whom I have named Marco and Polo. They came to me through the Lonely Miaow Association of Auckland, the same charity through which I acquired Felix fourteen years ago.

Marco is a male mackerel tabby, Polo a female tabby-and-white. Both of them are lively, playful,  friendly little cats. Fostering involves a lot of work but is very rewarding. I am busy all day long with feeding them, changing their litter trays, playing with them and keeping them out of danger.

I love them both, though not in the same way as I loved Felix, which is just as well because in a few weeks’ time I will have to part with them. When they are old enough to have been desexed, vaccinated and microchipped they will be ready for adoption.

Although Felix himself would no doubt have detested having them here, it is good to know that his death has had the positive outcome of helping other rescue kittens to find “forever homes”.

Do cats go to heaven?

The Rainbow Bridge is the name of an anonymous poem, probably written in the 1980s but based on a much older myth. It describes a beautiful meadow for pets whose earthly life is over, where they play happily until their owners come to join them and they cross the bridge into heaven together. I don’t think I had read this poem when I had a dream about one of my other cats, Floella, a few years ago. In my dream she was flying over a deep valley before coming to rest in a beautiful meadow full of flowers, sitting upright and looking content. Remembering this was a great comfort when she died a few months later.

The following story was told to me by a trusted friend, so I can vouch that it is genuine. Here is a shortened version of the letter she sent me:

My cat was snow white, aristocratic, a prince among cats, fairly haughty. You had to deserve his respect and he was never cuddly. I loved his independence and obvious self-esteem. The only time he jumped into my lap and put his paws on my shoulders was when I was sitting in my kitchen, being deeply unhappy and at a loss what to do. He sensed it. At other times he didn’t allow anybody to pick him up.

Unfortunately he suffered from a genetic weakness which snow white cats sometimes have – he developed a terrible eczema all over his back. Our local vet was a saintly animal lover who did all he could to help, but nothing worked and my cat obviously suffered. Eventually it got so bad that the vet suggested euthanasia. I felt terrible, having to play God, but eventually, with enormous heartache, I agreed.

I then cried for a week. A friend suggested that I visit a deeply spiritual clairvoyant, to find some solace. So I went to see this lady and as I entered her beautiful drawing room, she said “Hello – that’s a beautiful white cat that came in with you!”

 So I cried some more. Yet at the same time I also felt comforted.

Companion animals sometimes feature in the personal accounts from survivors of near death experiences which can be found on the internet.

I continually picture Felix still around: patrolling the garden, sunning himself on the grass, curled up on a chair, purring when I pick him up. I think these images are wishful products of my own mind rather than of spiritual origin, but who can tell the difference? I do believe in metaphysical forces, and perhaps it is not a coincidence that, of the several hundred songs in my iTunes library, the first two which came up on the Shuffle function while I was thinking about Felix were Don’t Fear the Reaper and Time to Say Goodbye.

Coping with the loss of a cat

For animal lovers, grief over the loss of a much loved pet can be just as severe as that which follows a bereavement in their human families. I know this not only from my personal experience, but from what I have heard from friends and clients who are mourning the death of feline or canine companions. It is also backed up by published research. However, the death of a companion animal is not always recognised as the major trauma which it is often perceived to be. What can bereaved pet owners themselves, and those around them, do to ease the pain? This post outlines some things which I have found helpful since Felix died.

The support of family, friends and veterinary staff: I have been greatly comforted by all those who have sent a sympathetic email or card, brought flowers for his grave, or offered healing therapies. I expect there are some who cannot quite understand the depth of my sadness, but everyone has been kind, and noone has trivialised my loss with comments like “it was only a cat” or “you can always get another”.

A funeral ceremony and a marked grave: It felt right to hold a small ceremony for him, and to bury his body in a secluded part of the garden which I can visit every day – although, as one perceptive friend said “You’ll never be able to move house now.”

Expressing feelings through talking and writing: Many bereaved pet owners benefit from talking with an understanding person, whether in a formal counselling setting or in everyday life, and I have a number of friends with whom I have been able to talk about Felix. For me, writing is the best medium for self-expression. I initially created this blog just as a private site where I could store photographs of Felix, but writing about a few cat-related topics has proved quite therapeutic, and drawn a few messages of support from strangers round the world.

Happy memories: I remember many happy times with Felix. There were also some worrying ones, because he suffered several episodes of serious illness during his life, but I can honestly say that I always looked after him in the best way I could.

Other cats: I am glad there are other feline presences on our property. Our female cat, Daisy, seems quite pleased that Felix is no longer around and Homer, a male cat who officially belongs to me but decided to move next door, has been making more return visits here. It would be impossible to “replace” Felix and I have no wish to try, though maybe I will fall in love with another black-and-white kitten at the SPCA one day.

Bach flower remedies: I took Star of Bethlehem, which is the main remedy to be considered for shock or grief. Other remedies could be suitable in certain cases, for example Pine for owners who feel a sense of guilt or self-blame, or Sweet Chestnut for those in deep despair. Remedies from the Bach series can also be useful for treating emotional distress in animals themselves.

The passage of time: Life goes on, and though I will never forget Felix and always miss him, it is getting easier as the weeks go by.