26 September 2008

Senior Moments

My sweet little baby boy cat is 16. That makes him an approximately ninety year old man. So, for that, he's been remarkably well. Three years ago he was diagnosed with chronic renal failure, a slow but incurable degeneration of the kidneys. It seemed like the beginning of the end. But minding his diet has kept his blood values reasonably stable. We lost Mango so unexpectedly to cancer before his condition began to change at all. The equivalent of fifteen years has passed for him since then and now is taking a little bit more of him away from me every day.

But life with a senior cat is quiet and gentle. He doesn't break things anymore. I do worry about him breaking a hip. He doesn't chew things up, but I wouldn't mind if he ate more. He sleeps even longer than young cats do, waking up to adjust his old bones or to go out and inspect the balcony, to sit in the sun. His little walnut brain is getting tired, too. He stops between rooms as though he's forgotten where he was going. He wants to be near me more than he used to. When he wakes up and I'm in another room, he calls out and comes looking for me. Any tender touch moves him to purring. He used to be more reserved. The aging process and a low protein diet are causing the flesh to melt from his frame. He's just a fur bag of bones and "Meh!" now. Until a few weeks ago, his movement and activity were unaffected. But his footing is less sure today ~the marble floors are a toss-up between becoming more difficult for him to get about on and a breeze for me to clean up the increasingly frequent urp~ and his jumps are more often a close call than an over-shoot anymore.

I am accustomed to my little old man, his occasional play, his serenity. Young cats look fat and crazy in their antics. I can't imagine a kitten in the house. They require so much supervision, so much guidance, so much vigilance. Exhausting. Sure, we get up in the middle of the night if he's hungry for meaty food and have a drowsy few minutes in the dim kitchen light, but then we're both back to sleep. No nocturnal rampages, bouncing off walls and tearing around. Maybe my sleep is lighter for keeping one ear open for the tell-tale sounds that I should immediately set him to the floor, but I remember the years of sleeping with that same ear open for little chewing sounds at the computer wires. It's very satisfying to provide a warm, safe place for a once-homeless cat to spend his retirement.

Right, everyone loves kittens, but providing love and comfort for a creature's declining years is that much the greater kindness. I've considered, for that time in the
future when my life again has a cat-shaped hole in it, adoption of a senior citizen. To take someone out of a shelter and provide a real home at last, what a benevolence. But now that I am once more watching a loved one walking toward the Rainbow Bridge, I don't know how I'll get through it, let alone ask to fall in love again, knowing it won't be for long. Even now it doesn't seem so long ago when he was new and we had his whole life together in front of us. It's been a good life, more interesting than I ever expected it would be. But that has brought us so far from everything I know about veterinary medicine and I fear taking him in that he might catch something worse in the office. Yet, in two months, I will have to leave him for six weeks. Taking him with us on Home Leave is out of the question. It would do him in for certain. But how do I ask someone to take care of a cat near the end of his 9th life? Every time I leave, I promise him that I always come back. How can I risk breaking that promise, to not come back soon enough?

20 September 2008

Living Experiment, General Observations

Waaay back in the day, God decided it wasn't good for a person to be alone. No surprise, He was right. But not only for the obvious reasons ~proof one isn't talking to oneself (cats give that, really), reaching top shelves and opening jars, or even being an economical heat source~ but having an other helps us to elevate ourselves beyond a base existence, living without accountability.

Craig has been gone 4 weeks and my consumption of fresh produce has been, within reasonable error, a pile of green beans, an eggplant (left over from the curry dinner I hosted for a few friends in hospitality repayment), and a carrot [aside: carrots will keep for a freakishly long time standing in a glass of water in the fridge]. Oh, and a delicious bowl of cherry tomatoes from a friend who likes to grow them, but not to eat them. I'm afraid that's it. When he is here, we go to Saturday market and load up on greens and other deep colors because he refuses to lay a carbohydrate base as the locals do and, with his support, I can't bring myself to face much dead animal. So, with a kitchen full of plants so perfectly ripe, they take priority. It guts me to see food go to waste. But without him loading up the shopping bags, I find myself living on beans, rice, and even pasta.

Right, accountability. My personal pleasures run toward quiet indoor games such as reading, sewing, wasting time in cyberspace with the excuse of "keeping up with the outside world," making art, doting on the cat. None of these do squat to burn off the previous paragraph or strengthen the heart or maintain bone mass. But when Craig returns, his early rising (admittedly, by our standards) will move me to quit the bed sooner and shamble off to the gym for a ready-made exercise class MWF.

Even socially, I find myself becoming more hermit-like. Without someone else here reminding me that it will be fun and giving me a reason to clean up and put on nice clothes, I'm happy puttering about in this home we've made. Eventually, people would stop inviting me ~which, of course, would hurt my feelings even if I didn't really want to go~ and I would never go out. There be the way to 100 cats.

The sleep research hasn't revealed anything useful, except that regardless of when I go to bed or when the ginormous jackhammers start up in the morning, I'm brain-dead until 10:00 a.m. Sleep for 8 hours or 11, it doesn't seem to matter. Ask the cat. He's been through a full wake cycle and back to napping before I cease to be so borink. If he's persistent, he might drag me out to make a meat breakfast ~only from guilt about his digestive health~ but it's a temporary verticality. I have a theory about the jackhammers: rather than keeping me awake, it feels like being pounded flat. Try to stand up under that.

At least I am finding my own housekeeping boundaries. I feared I might never care, but eventually the floor feels too dirty, the shower curtain gets slimy, the cob webs must go, and the dust becomes too much. It is my shame to be able to ignore what my mother would never abide, but there it is. So, my world is cleaner for sharing it with another.

Of course, this is an artificial situation, a 6 week experiment. But would I resolve to do these things for my own good? For his health and happiness, I cook the vegetables, make social commitments, and abandon the covers to wish him good day. Perhaps, were it my life rather than my vacation, I would take a longer view, a more responsible and healthy perspective. I hope it never comes to finding out.
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