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Monthly Archives: June 2016

Butterfly’s Heart

 

Butterfly started coughing about a month ago. It was only on occasion and seemed to be in response to her rawhide chews, so I stopped giving both dogs those treats. But the coughing continued; it was a sort of hacking sound, like there was something stuck in her throat and she was trying to cough it up.

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“Mommy, Butterfly sounds funny.”

I was concerned because it was the one question her cardiologist always asked me when he gave me the results of her twice yearly echocardiograms: has she been coughing? Even if her heart looked the same since her previous visit, he asked about coughing, and I always said no, she wasn’t coughing much. She’d sneeze here and there, or cough when she tried to swallow too much kibble at once, but, no, coughing was not one of her things. He never really explained why he was asking, and after the first three times I stopped asking him.

So when I noticed that she was coughing almost daily, I got scared, and made her an appointment with her regular vet. I thought it could just be allergies, and that I was getting hysterical for no reason, but really, I was afraid her heart disease had progressed.

I’ve worried about losing Butterfly since the first day we brought her home, because not only was she already eight-years-old, but she had a heart murmur they’d just noticed when we adopted her. They hadn’t heard it when they were removing her bad teeth, or excising a lump under her armpit. If they’d noticed the heart murmur, the staff said, she wouldn’t have been out on the floor and up for adoption – she’d have been in a special foster program for heart patients. So I was very lucky that they hadn’t noticed.

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My Lucky Day!

Butterfly’s vet did a chest x-ray that showed no changes to her heart to go along with the coughing, but she said she wanted to try Butterfly on a heart medication anyway, to increase blood flow, and see if that would help. She said that the coughing could be caused by her enlarged heart pressing on her trachea, making it more difficult for her to swallow. But that was just a guess, really. Possible side effects of her new medication would be lowering of blood sugar and listlessness, but I already do blood sugar tests for her diabetes, so it wouldn’t be an extra burden.

Fortunately, or not, there was no significant change in her blood sugar readings, and no sign of listlessness. But, she’s still coughing, three or four times daily in short bursts. She coughs a little bit when she wakes up, she coughs a little bit when she eats, she coughs a little for no reason I can see. Her mood and energy level are still great, though, and she eats and drinks and runs and pees and poops like normal. And she’s loving the twice daily doses of peanut butter. But there’s the coughing.

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“Peanut butter?”

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“Yummmmmmmmmmmm.”

We have to go back to the vet and see what she says about the heart medication and the coughing. Maybe we’ll have to try a different kind of medication. Maybe she’ll tell us to redo the echocardiogram before the six month mark to make sure it really is her heart that’s causing the cough. But I’m worried. Butterfly came home as an eight-year-old puppy mill survivor, with a questionable heart, and then developed diabetes within her first year with us, so there’s always been a ticking clock over her head. I make sure to revel in her presence as much as I can and make sure that I don’t miss anything of the life she has left – but I still worry every day, and I picture my life without her as a barren wasteland. I need Butterfly to live to her full expected life span of twelve to fourteen years, but more would be better. She’s at eleven and a half now.

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My baby.

I’d like to find out that the coughing is something unrelated to her heart, like, maybe she’s trying to learn how to talk and this is the first step, or she’s decided to store kibble in her throat for later, and it’s more difficult than she expected, or maybe it’s just allergies. That would be wonderful.

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The End of the First Year

 

I finished my first year of graduate school in social work, but I still feel anxious, as if there’s some assignment I forgot to do. I did not get all A’s this year, for the first time in forever, and that’s been hard to accept. I did all of the assigned work, and more, but there was some essential disjunct between the work required of me and the way my mind works. I just felt at odds with it all year, but not in a self-righteous or confident way, more like, every once in a while they started speaking in a language I couldn’t understand, and I felt like a moron.

It’s not just a question of jargon, where, once I learned what they meant by certain words, I could catch up. It was something in the way they wanted me to think that just didn’t click for me, and I’m scared that this gulf will remain throughout the next two and a half years of school, and then out into the professional world, and I will never feel quite right in this profession.

I don’t know if the dogs noticed that I was in school this year, because most of the work was done online. They can’t tell the difference between schoolwork and the writing I actually want to do. Or if they can, they haven’t told me. The real difficulty, for them, will come in August when I start going to my internship two or three days a week, and I’m not home for their midday walk. Hopefully, Grandma will be home for lunch and they will not notice the difference, but naptime may be delayed and that will, of course, be horrifying.

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“Delayed?”

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“Seriously?”

Now that I’m free to return to my own writing for the summer, though, it feels like I’m jumping off a cliff. Fiction is unfamiliar terrain again, after being immersed in academic writing all year. I’ve heard people call it code switching, when you talk (or write) differently depending on your audience, but I don’t transition easily, and part of me is afraid that if I let myself fall back into fiction this summer, I’ll have to relearn a whole year’s worth of tropes when school starts again in August.

It doesn’t help that I’ve been collecting so many rejections for my writing over the past few years. The rejections, and the reality they laid bare, that my writing could not be relied on as my career, is what led me to social work school in the first place. But being in school feels like I’m validating those rejections, and saying that I never was that good to begin with. And I’m afraid that if I write something I’m proud of, I’ll want to send it out, to literary magazines and agents, and it will be the same horror all over again. I hate that the publishing industry has gotten me so defeated that I’m afraid to write any more novels. I’m angry that I can’t see a way forward, and to protect myself I seem to have shut myself down.

I’ve been working on blog posts, of course, and articles for my synagogue newsletter, which have given me an opportunity to practice my interviewing and research skills, and to get to know people better and offer something to my community. But I want to write novels. I want to be a writer, not a social worker, not a reporter, not a do-gooder. I want to tell MY stories. The gulf, between my social worker self and my writer self, is getting wider instead of smaller, and my resentment at becoming a social worker is growing.

I need to find a way to survive the process of becoming a social worker, because I really do want to help people; I want to hear their stories and find ways to relieve their anxiety and confusion, at least a little bit. I want being a social worker to develop into something (almost) as satisfying as being a dog mom. I mean, sure, I get annoyed when the girls wake me up early from a nap, or bark incessantly and refuse to tell me why, but mostly I feel shaped and calmed by taking care of them. It’s a set of rituals and a relationship that I rarely take for granted, and I rely on them heavily for my sense of self, and structure, and love.

 

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The oxytocin rush alone is staggering.

 

Thin Skin

 

Butterfly has bumps all over her body. She’s an eleven and a half year old Lhasa Apso, and the doctor says these bumps are normal for her age and breed. One of the bumps is like a tiny pink mushroom growing from her neck. Some of the bumps are small and rounded, above her tail, under her ear, at her hip. But one of the bumps looks like a cauliflower, and it bleeds every once in a while. It may simply be that her taller bumps get nicked when she goes to the groomer, or she scratches them, or bangs them into things accidentally, but from the very beginning, I worried about it. Butterfly’s skin is a light pink, with brown age spots hidden under her white hair, which, along with her bumps, is only really visible when she has a bath and her hair becomes translucent for a moment. I used to count her bumps obsessively before each vet visit, to report on any changes, and find out if this or that one was suddenly going to kill her.

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Butterfly’s big bump.

The fact is, though, despite her bumps and heart problems and diabetes, Butterfly is pretty hardy. She doesn’t sprain her ankles or tweak her back or whine when she gets her twice daily blood tests and insulin shots, and her feelings don’t get hurt easily. She doesn’t like having her hair messed with though; that’s something she learned from Cricket. She learns a lot from Cricket.

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“Are we going for walkies yet?”

Cricket is more sensitive. She thinks having the goop removed from under her eye is torture beyond canine endurance. She hears and reacts to every noise in the world. If she eats a little too much, or the wrong thing, it shows up in her digestion and her mood.

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“Are you talking about me again?”

I have Psoriasis and I am hypothyroid (both since I was a teenager), so my skin has always been sensitive and easily scarred. I have a scratch on my wrist from October that never healed, and just starts to itch out of the blue every once in a while. I’ve read too much of the bible in my lifetime, so I end up feeling like my skin, and my health overall, makes me a leper. But I also, still, have figuratively thin skin to go with the literal kind. If someone tells me that I’m lazy or untalented, I take it to heart. I can build myself back up again, but it takes days or weeks, instead of minutes or seconds, the way it should.

At my last doctor’s appointment, my GP decided to test me for Lyme disease again. I’ve been tested for everything over the years, multiple times. This time around, the preliminary test for Lyme came out negative, but my doctor decided to go on and do the confirmatory test anyway, and that showed that I was positive for Lyme disease in the past, even though I’ve never had a positive Lyme test before, in almost ten years of testing. The doctor wasn’t sure what to make of these results and told me to go to an infectious disease specialist to check it out. I may have dragged my feet and whined a bit, but I went.

In the meantime, my mom went to Google and found that there are mixed opinions about Lyme disease and Chronic Lyme, and the validity of these blood tests, or lack thereof. There’s also, her googling suggested, the possibility that a positive blood test for Lyme, like mine, could be an indicator for some other virus or disease process, as a signal for further testing.

I went to the new doctor, he looked at my blood tests and crossed his eyes and said that he would never have sent my blood out for the confirmatory test, after negatives on the preliminary tests, because of the risk of false positives. He said it five times, in answer to five different questions from me, as if he couldn’t hear me, or had no other answers to give. He said that there was no point in re-doing the test because it would either be negative, or another false positive, because I had no risk factors for Lyme. He had no interest in my medical history, and no curiosity about other possible diagnoses to explain my symptoms.

The fact is, I thought this was a long shot, and didn’t have much hope that a strange doctor would take any of it seriously, but I’m annoyed that I had to go through the motions, just to prove that I’m doing everything possible and not being passive. I am not comfortable with theories that come with no proof at all and seem to be, at best, placebo level positive results (30%), but I’m also not comfortable with the rigidity of western medicine, which prefers to blame the patient when problems can’t be solved, instead of taking on the problem and studying it further.

It’s a relief, instead, to take care of the dogs. When they have symptoms, their doctors believe them, and believe me, and treatments are offered, when possible, and pain and comfort are considered. Maybe, when dogs start suffering from whatever it is I have, the veterinarians will figure out the cause, and treatment, and the doctors for humans will finally take me seriously. But probably not.

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Harrumph.

 

 

 

My Messy Thoughts

 

It’s so hard for me to corral my thoughts, sometimes. It feels like I’m picking up shards of glass from the floor and trying to piece them back together again. I can recall, or at least summarize, what someone else has said to me, but my own words dissipate into the air much more quickly. Most of the time, I feel like my memories pop up out of order, but if I can write each thought down when it comes to me, and finish the thought three days later when my brain finally gives me the last few words, I can edit it all into a coherent whole and seem like I know what the hell I’m talking about.

I watched two medical dramas on TV, recently, that made plot points out of people whose hearts were on the wrong side of their bodies. And I thought, huh, consider how many things we assume have to be a certain way, like, the heart has to be on the left, and yet, it doesn’t have to be that way, it just happens to be on the left, and all of our assumptions ensue from there. A lot of brain research has been done to try and locate the specific areas of the brain that control different kinds of thoughts. But what if it’s different in each brain? What if we organize the furniture of our brains as differently as we organize the furniture in our homes?

I have different types of bookcases scattered in different rooms. I have hard copies of every writing project in process (there are a lot of them), because when they are only on the computer, I forget that they exist. I have a particular antipathy towards closed drawers, so I tend to keep everything on open shelves, when possible, because it’s too easy to hide things from myself.

Cricket’s mind is a series of hot buttons. Grandma! Food! Shoes! Mailman! Leash! I picture these areas in her brain lighting up in bright red, and it takes a long time to return to a calm pink color. And when any of the bright red areas are lit up, no other thought is possible. It’s only when her brain is cool and calm that she can use her significant intelligence to manipulate her people again. She has set patterns to follow for how to wake up Grandma (bark, scratch, cry, bite ankles), or how to remind me that it’s time for treats (stare at bag of treats, stare at me, stare at bag of treats, crawl under couch and stare at me with disappointed puppy face). And she has incredible long term memory for faces, and smells, and wrongs done to her.

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Cricket, working her magic on Grandma.

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Cricket, putting on her disappointed puppy face.

I like to watch the way Butterfly sets out her kibble on the floor. She places one piece in front of the bathroom door. She radiates kibble out from her food bowl in a messy half-moon. She sets out five or six pieces of kibble on the rug in the living room, like a set of jacks she’s getting ready to scoop up with her paw. Each kibble gesture represents part of the way her brain is set up. She likes to leave kibble, and unfinished chewies, scattered around the apartment, just in case. “Just in case,” is a big theme for her. When we go out for a short walk, she has to have a snack first, and during, and after, just in case. I can relate to this.

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Some just-in-case kibble.

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“Mommy, I’ll trade you this sock for a chicken treat.”

I struggle to make the world stand still long enough so I can see it clearly, or see it the same way two times in a row, so maybe all of my obsessive writing is my version of “just in case.” My brain feels like a kaleidoscope at times: chock full of pieces of things all moving around and refusing to organize themselves into single whole. But it can still be beautiful, in its pieces, and being able to see things in new configurations all the time allows me to see more complexity in how each part of me relates to every other part.

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“Do you know what Mommy is talking about?”

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“Us!”