Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Oh, Heck

Yes, I know: I used to post once a day, but in through here I seem to be posting once a week. I've been busy. I have tons of grading to do, as always, and we're getting flooded with applications for our new poetry position. This is great, but reading them is time-consuming.

I've been thinking a lot about the new book and think I have some things figured out now, although I haven't actually gotten any writing done. But I believe I have more of a handle on the theme and plot than I have before. We'll see if I'm right about that!

I came home early from convention to try to get grading done. It sort of worked, but last weekend was still incredibly hectic.

I'm still practicing the fiddle every day, and feel as if I'm getting worse instead of better, but Charlene assures me that's normal. She's sick today, so we've rescheduled this week's lesson until Thursday. Thursday's also my sleep test.

Elsewhere in medical news, yesterday I talked to my freshmen a little bit about medical ethics and all the complicated factors that go into life-and-death decisions in hospitals: whether to continue with treatment, whether to unplug the machines. Driving home, I remembered agonizing over whether it was time for Dad to go into hospice, and was very relieved to be out of that territory.

And then, this afternoon, the vet called to tell us that Harley has kidney disease.

He's had borderline kidney values for years now, but they've remained pretty stable. We thought they might even be normal for him. This morning we brought him in for dental work and were afraid he might have to have teeth extracted. Turns out his teeth were fine, but his creatinine level's shot way up since March, when he last had bloodwork.

This isn't good news. The vet said that by the time damage shows up in the bloodwork, the animal's already lost 75% of kidney function. Harley's been acting normal -- although a little more clingy than usual, now that I think of it -- but he hasn't stopped eating or started gulping water, and he still uses the litterbox properly, so we really didn't have any signs.

The question is what to do now. There are four different conditions that could be causing these lab values. None are curable. Three can be treated, though, which could extend length and comfort of life. The issue is that the treatment for one of the four conditions is deadly for another, and to find out which one Harley has, he needs at least $1,000 of further testing, including a kidney biopsy.

The vet couldn't give us any kinds of figures about life expectancy, because some cats can continue happily for years and some die much more quickly. Harley's only ten, which is young for his kidneys to be doing this badly, but we had another cat once with even worse numbers who defeated the odds and lived for a long time. Harley doesn't seem at all unhappy right now; in fact, he's been playing and chasing the other cats around the house.

Gary's gut instinct is to do nothing and let nature take its course. My gut instinct -- partly because I'm an INFJ and always feel better having as much information as possible -- is to go ahead and do the tests, so at least we'll know what we're looking at. I'd feel really guilty if Harley died and I didn't know if I could have given him a longer life.

I said to the vet, "What would you do if he were your cat?"

She said promptly, "I wouldn't pay that much money, because I need new curtains for my house. I just spent $1,800 on my dog, though."

Well, okay. For her, curtains are more important than a cat. But for me, Harley's more important than a lot of things that would cost that much or more: Hawai'i over spring break; a $1,000 fiddle camp someone told me about today, an event that sounds like a blast and that I'd love to attend; WisCon (which I probably wouldn't have attended this year anyway). So I'm still inclined to go for it. He'll hate the tests, of course, but if he has something treatable and we can buy him even an extra six months . . . that's worth $1,000 to me. Would it be worth the discomfort to him?

He can't tell us. That's what makes this situation so difficult.

The vet advised us to wait a few weeks anyway, to let him recover from the indignities of dental work. (I'm also supposed to start brushing his teeth every day. Oh, joy.)

In the meantime, he's been very talkative and affectionate since he got home from the vet's, and keeps jumping into my lap. Why, here he is now.

Time to go pat the kitty.


  1. Anonymous3:55 AM

    I'm sorry to hear about Harley! I'll be holding you and his little furry self in the Light.

    I'm also sorry to hear about WisCon. I'm going this year with two stellar student writers.


  2. I'm with Gary: let nature take its course. Wait until Harley lets you know that you need to do something. I promise you that he will.

  3. I'm sorry about your cat. He's the big fluffy one, right? Hope you all can get it figured out.

  4. Anonymous6:18 PM

    When Melville was first diagnosed with kidney disease, I recall the vet offering a $1500 diagnostic sonogram but being unable to point to any therapeutic outcome for any diagnosis. We never did it. It was years before he started peeing all over the house, and years more before he died.



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