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Monthly Archives: April 2015

The Glucose Curve

In January of 2014, Butterfly, my ten year old Lhasa Apso, was diagnosed with diabetes. We went for monthly visits to a doctor she loved, and did twice daily blood tests and insulin shots, and we seemed to be making progress. But, over the summer, her doctor left the clinic and Butterfly’s sugar started to go up and down like a roller coaster. By the fall, nice doctor or not, we had to go back to the clinic for advice.

Butterfly was not feeling well.

Butterfly was not feeling well.

The doctor who saw Butterfly in October was a per diem, filling in for the day, and he was concerned about her sugar. He made me very nervous, despite his choir boy face and laughing Scottish accent and frequent stops to tickle Butterfly behind her ears, because he said there might be another underlying health problem. He wanted me to do a glucose curve at home: starting first thing in the morning, I would test her blood sugar every hour or two, until I couldn’t stay up any longer, then I should send the results to one of the regular vets, to see if they could recognize a pattern.

But she always loves those ear tickles.

But she always loves her scratchies.

The glucose curve day was, possibly, the best day of Butterfly’s life. Every time I went to take her blood, she made me chase her around the apartment first, and after each test she got another chicken treat. I had to break the chicken treats into tiny pieces to avoid an exploding Butterfly halfway through the day. And, of course, Cricket matched her treat for treat, and attempted to climb the bookshelf to reach the bag of treats when the pieces were too small for her liking.

Butterfly's tail is ready.

Butterfly’s tail is ready.

Cricket's tail is running away.

Cricket’s tail is running away.

Cricket and Butterfly, ready for their treats.

Cricket and Butterfly, ready for their treats.

By the last blood test, at two o’clock in the morning, Butterfly was wiped out and ready for bed, but still willing to grab a last chicken treat on her way down the hall.

We made an excel sheet out of her test results, with comments about her moods, and meals, and exercise, and pooping. The vet we sent it to was duly impressed, but she said she was worried about Butterfly’s very low sugar numbers midday. She wanted us to lower the insulin dose and redo the curve in two weeks.

I liked the compliments – I really love compliments, and I especially like when my organizational skills are noticed and appreciated – but I was hoping for a different response. Anything but “do it again.” The second glucose curve, two weeks later, was closer to normal, and the vet told us to keep everything the same, and redo the test in a few months.

By December, Butterfly’s twice daily blood sugar readings were getting wild again, so I ordered extra test strips and lancets and chicken treats and woke up at 5:45 AM on December 30th and started testing her blood every hour or two, administering an enormous amount of chicken treats to get her, and Cricket, through the ordeal. We stayed up until 2 AM, or I stayed up, Butterfly took a few naps.

Nap time.

Nap time.

When we finally met Butterfly’s new vet in person, she had a theory she wanted to test: that Butterfly’s blood sugar was bouncing up so high as an over-correction to too much insulin, and if we lowered the insulin dose again, maybe things would even out. Two weeks on this dose, and then another glucose curve. This was becoming normal for us.

Cricket sniffed Butterfly all over when we got home, to make sure no extra treats had been consumed, but also to make sure Butterfly was still Butterfly. We’d tried taking Cricket with us to the clinic, once, and she spent the whole time hiding behind my legs and barking at everyone and everything. But still, staying home alone made her disgruntled and suspicious.

Cricket's suspicious face.

Cricket’s suspicious face.

Unfortunately, the low insulin dose skyrocketed Butterfly’s blood sugar levels into the too-high-for-the-meter-to-count range. She was drinking and peeing constantly, in the house and out, so even without a glucose curve, we raised the insulin back up. And, of course, waited two weeks and went through the whole day of testing again, to Butterfly’s delight. And the numbers were still not right.

I was afraid that the doctor would give up on getting Butterfly’s sugar normalized and tell me to accept that she’s just going to die sooner rather than later, and it’s not worth stressing about. But she’s my baby! And I am stressed about it! I was angry that being a conscientious dog mommy hadn’t added up to better health and better luck for Butterfly, and for my carpeting.

“What’s wrong with peeing on the carpet?”

And then Mom came up with a plan (okayed by the vet) to give Butterfly an extra unit of insulin when her blood sugar levels are high, and the regular dose otherwise. I have no idea if this will work long term, or why the doctors haven’t wanted us to try it before now, but so far it seems to be helping.

I just want Butterfly to feel better, and not need to pee every five minutes, and live forever. Is that so wrong?

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Why We Need A Canine Co-Rabbi

Google image of a Rabbinical dog. What do you think?

Would this little guy make you want to go to synagogue? (not my picture)

Almost from the beginning of my time at the synagogue three years ago, I’ve been talking to the rabbi about dogs. I don’t remember how it started. Maybe I brought in a picture of Butterfly and Cricket right after we adopted Butterfly from the shelter, maybe it was because I’d heard about his dog, who’d died just a few years before we arrived, and was well known by the congregation, playing a role in rabbinical stories over her long tenure as canine in residence. And maybe it’s because, going to the rabbi’s house for a new members evening, I noticed that pictures of the dog were as prominent as pictures of his daughters, meaning, she was family.

"We are family!"

“We are family!”

He made it clear that he wants a smallish dog, but not too small, hypoallergenic, because he always has people at his house and doesn’t want anyone to get sick, and she has to be a girl. He has two daughters, so he knows he gets along well with girls, but maybe he also wants to avoid the marking and humping young male dogs can do. I did not ask.

I gave him a list of hypoallergenic, or supposedly hypoallergenic, dogs, and we went over it, a year and a half ago.

Talking about dogs is a neutral zone where I can offer the rabbi my attention and concern, without feeling like I’m invading his privacy. There’s such a strange dynamic with teachers and rabbis and therapists, where you create a bond and naturally want to know more about them, but their privacy is meant to be protected, and it feels like I am puffing myself up imagining that I know anything or have the right to care about whether or not he has a dog.

Once a year, dogs play a role in the ritual life of the congregation when they come to the pond on Rosh Hashanah. The ritual of Tashlich is about tossing our sins into the water to let go of them and start the new year fresh. At our synagogue we toss birdseed instead of the traditional bread, which supposedly chokes the birds. I guess the dogs are invited, because with all of the goose poop, no one will notice if they pee or poop on the grass.

"Where should we pee?"

“Where should we pee?”

But once a year is not enough if we want the dogs to get to know each other and develop their own roles in the congregation. We need a rabbinical dog to lead the rest of the dogs in finding their place in the community, whether it be helping kindergarteners learn to read, helping bar and bat mitzvah kids practice in front of a friendly congregation, or offering help to dogs who need it.

We need a rabbinical dog, a small, well trained, friendly, hypoallergenic dog, who can walk through the crowd offering consolation and sweetness and reminders of dogs at home. Just like a rabbi is often a stand in for the good parent you either had or needed.

The rabbinical dog could sniff each congregant’s dog, have private meetings with those in need of further consultation, and maybe plan a few more events during the year for the sake of dog/human families who otherwise have to go to shul without half of the family.

"Why can't we go with you?"

“Why can’t we go with you?”

I think the only real problem with dogs in the synagogue, other than peeing on the carpet, is that there is often food, especially cake and cookies and chocolate. We are in great danger of setting up the oneg on Friday night, going into services, and coming back an hour and a half later to an empty buffet table and sick dogs.

Butterfly is always hungry.

Butterfly is always hungry.

But Cricket might need some Pepto Bismal.

But Cricket might need some Pepto Bismal.

The Choir

 

I joined the choir at my synagogue a few years ago, when I was still a one-dog-woman, battling wills with Cricket, and needing somewhere else to be every once in a while, preferably with humans. At the first choir rehearsal of the summer, the cantor handed me a loose-leaf filled with the High Holiday music, and then he had to rush off to answer someone else’s questions. I didn’t even know where to sit.

I wandered around until the musical director introduced herself. As soon as she told me her name, I recognized her as my elementary school music teacher, and started to panic. She was a bit of a… let’s just say she had a tendency to be critical. She didn’t really remember me, but reminisced about other students she really liked over the years. When she asked if I was an alto or a soprano, I said, “somewhere in between,” and she sat me with the altos, because there were only two of them.

The rehearsal started inauspiciously, with a song I had never heard before that required the altos to sing something entirely unlike a melody. The next hour and a half was pure panic and confusion, for me, and boring repetition mixed with endless criticism for everyone else. When I tried to stand up at the end, I couldn’t balance and fell back down into my seat, and when the musical director came over and asked if I was okay, I started to sob.

Partly it was the adrenalin let down after my 90 minute panic attack, but also, I’d been having seizure-like episodes and walking problems for a while by then, so my balance was unreliable. Mom was there to drive me home, and as she walked me out of the sanctuary, the musical director walked out with us, talking non-stop. She said that I was brave to have tried, but choir isn’t for everyone, which made me cry harder. I tried to suck it up and smile and pretend I was fine, but she kept talking to me and the tears kept coming.

When I got home, I was determined to show her that I could stick it out. I put my new loose-leaf full of music on my bed and took out my guitar and picked out the first song in the book note by note. Cricket jumped up on the bed and pawed at the guitar strings. The sound stunned her, but she pawed again, and seemed to think she had discovered a monster hidden inside of the guitar. She is not a fan of monsters, other than herself, so she jumped off the bed in search of safer adventures.

Cricket's suspicious face.

Cricket’s suspicious face.

I practiced the High Holiday songs every day, with Cricket nearby but suspicious. None of the music was familiar to me, and I wasn’t used to four part harmony at all, but I pushed myself to go to the next rehearsal. The people who recognized me were surprised to see me again, and when the musical director came over, she looked at me like I was a fourth-grader who’d just peed on the floor. She said she was glad to see me, and I chose to believe her.

"You pee on the floor too, Mommy?"

“You pee on the floor too, Mommy?”

I thought I would be better prepared this time, but of course we only sang the songs I hadn’t practiced yet. I didn’t cry after the second rehearsal though, that was my big triumph.

I went to the next rehearsal, and the next, but I never seemed to catch up. There were different altos at each rehearsal, so I didn’t get to know anyone very well, and the row of bases behind me was completely filled, and loud, so I could barely hear my own voice to figure out what I was singing.

Cricket thinks fluffy hair would help me block out the bases behind me.

Cricket thinks fluffy hair would help me block out the other singers.

In between rehearsals, my neurologist was testing me for everything under the sun, but finding nothing. I was having a lot of trouble walking Cricket, even around the block, and the butterflies in my stomach during choir rehearsals were turning into pterodactyls and trying to rip me open from the inside.

Cricket, leading the way, dragging me with her.

Cricket, leading the way, dragging me behind her.

By the end of August, the Neurologist was convinced that my problems were all psychological, and that I should try anti-depressants because he saw no physiological cause for my symptoms. He wanted me to see a psychiatrist from his group, but my insurance refused to cover it. They would, on the other hand, cover a hospital stay.

At first I was adamant that I would not go into a hospital: because I didn’t want to be away from Mom and Cricket, because I didn’t want to be watched all day, and because I did not believe I was crazy. But the choir rehearsals were setting off long forgotten pockets of dread that I could not squash, so, when Mom asked me, for the 72nd time, if I would please go to the hospital, I looked at the looming dates of the High Holiday services, and finally said yes.

That was more than two and a half years ago, and my neurological problems are still undiagnosed, though the anti-depressants have made other things easier. Butterfly arrived after my attempt to join the choir had ended, and after the guitar was zipped in its case and hidden in the back of the closet, and I wonder sometimes if I would have handled things differently if I’d already had Butterfly at home. But the fact is, I don’t sing to Butterfly at all! I’ve always thought that the one kind of singing I’d be able to do is to sing to my children, and yet here she is, big floppy ears at the ready, and I don’t sing to her.

Butterfly's big ears.

Butterfly’s big floppy ears are ready.

I do sing, but only when everyone around me is singing too. I look forward to the special Friday night services at my synagogue, when a full band comes to play, because with all of the singing and clapping and drums and amps, I can sing full out and not worry that everyone will hear me.

And it feels wonderful. It really does.

"Don't worry, Mommy. We're ignoring you."

“Don’t worry, Mommy. We’re ignoring you.”

I Want To Write A Mystery

 

My second master’s program was mostly on-line with two one-week residencies on campus per year, but that one week was so packed with intrigue and drama and mental illness; it was like setting up and taking down a circus tent, twice a year. I’ve been thinking about writing a mystery set there, because the campus becomes like a small town, with a lot of viable suspects and a ticking clock. The characters are vivid and verbal and often jealous and unpredictable. And then there’s the irony of setting a mystery in an environment where they look down on genre writing, and mysteries in particular.

"Can we come too?"

“What?”

But I struggle with mystery plots in the same way I struggled with chess as a kid. My father expected me to learn the strategy just by watching him play, and expected me to be a grand master within a few days, maybe a week. I felt stupid for not being able to think three moves ahead; I didn’t understand why one piece was more valuable than another, or why each piece had different rules; and I felt an undeniable empathy with the pawns, because they were small, like me, and easily sacrificed.

Despite reading endless mysteries, and reading endless books on how to write mysteries, I do not even know where to start. I went through a severe addiction to Rex Stout and Agatha Christie that has never really ended, I just ran out of new material to feed it. Lately I’ve been reading Deborah Crombie, Jacqueline Winspear, Rhys Bowen, Jonathan and Faye Kellerman, Donna Andrews, Henning Mankell, J.K. Rowling as Robert Galbraith, Louise Penny and Charles Todd. I want to be Sherlock Holmes, with a nicer disposition. But so far, my brain has not rewired itself into puzzle-solving-mode.

My other possible mystery setting is my synagogue. I’d love for the sleuth to be an eighty-year-old woman, or a middle-aged rabbi, or both of them together. And the senior citizens in the bible study class (retired doctors, and lawyers, and teachers, and social workers) could help decipher the clues. But I worry it might seem as if I’m writing about specific people, and that could get me into trouble.

"Uh oh."

“Uh oh.”

My mystery would, of course, have to have a dog in it. Even a fictional dog calms me down, reduces my stress level, and reminds me about what’s important and what isn’t. There could be a German shepherd who is more wayward puppy than officious guard dog (I couldn’t train even a fictional dog to be well behaved. I just don’t have it in me); there could be a yapping Yorkie biting at the criminal’s ankle to slow him down; or a sweet Great Dane sitting by her dead owner’s side; or a black Lab sniffing for clues and finding the murder weapon under a pile of leaves.

This is not my picture, but I'd love to put this puppy in a novel.

This is not my picture, but I’d love to put this puppy in a novel.

Lilah the Black Lab, and my niece, is an expert sniffer!

Lilah the Black Lab, and my niece, is an expert sniffer!

I used to think about using Cricket as my detective and writing a children’s mystery. Cricket would make a wonderful Sherlock Holmes; she’d even look good in the hat. She has all of the characteristics of the irascible, obnoxious detective who doesn’t get along with other people, but she would be a terrible police dog, not at all reassuring to the populace.

Detective Cricket is on the job!

Detective Cricket is on the job!

Detective Cricket is always looking out for danger!

Detective Cricket is always looking out for danger!

Detective Cricket is, um, easily distracted.

Detective Cricket is, um, easily distracted.

I’d love to write a detective like Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote. I’ve watched every episode of that show, at least three times. She is smart and stands her ground, but she’s had many disappointments in life, including never having children of her own, like me. She’s unassuming and uncool, and has to stand her ground against people who don’t believe her, but she doesn’t doubt herself or what she saw, or what she deduced. She’s friendly with everyone but doesn’t mind confrontations when necessary.

My detective would not be quite like that. She would need to take naps, first of all, and she’d have trouble with heights, and social anxiety. She’d have to sit down a lot, and maybe she’d need a driver. So, a female Nero Wolfe, but, again, with a nicer disposition.

Detective Cricket and deputy Butterfly, ready for anything.

Detective Cricket and deputy Butterfly, ready for anything.