Perhaps the Storm is Finally Over

gray and white cat in the sun

Sunwashed Namir

Hurricane Katrina, Namir, a household of cats and my personal creative inspiration

Namir was the inspiration for The Creative Cat, and while I had been posting articles once in a while for a few months prior to this it wasn’t until I wrote this article, and in the memory of Namir, that I began writing in earnest and developing The Creative Cat into what it is today. I originally wrote this article in August 2009, two months after I lost Namir; his loss represented the end of a cycle of loss, and every year at this time I remember him and all the cats from this era of my life.

I remember the night Katrina was headed toward New Orleans, partly scoffing at the hyperactive media reports and partly worried that the storm of the century really was heading for the Gulf Coast and knowing that, if it did, many people, most people, would not take it seriously. For all the dire warnings, natural disasters rarely fulfill their potential so it’s easy to sit back and wait for a while, much easier to stay in the place where you feel the most safe and guard the things you hold most dear; just stay home. At the beginning, we can never know the final impact, or what the disaster will encompass.

"Awakening", block print

"Awakening", block print

And sometimes a public event marks a time or a circumstance in your life, in fact stands as a metaphor for your circumstances, even though it has no connection with you or your life at all;  yet, whenever you encounter a remembrance of that event, it brings back that time in your life as if it was a slideshow playing for your review.

I don’t have a television. I heard about the storm on the radio and read about it on the internet, then visited The Weather Channel to actually look at the meteorology of it. I would naturally avoid all the hype of 24-hour news stations making a story out of possibly nothing in the slow news flow of late August.

The only reason I saw any television coverage was because it was on in the waiting room of the animal emergency hospital where I was waiting for the diagnosis of Namir’s sudden, frightening condition. I paced all night long between visits from the attending veterinarian as they x-rayed, blood tested and medicated Namir, then placed him in an oxygen cage. The veterinarian’s face was blank to grim, though no final word was given until nearly dawn.

Sophie, "The Perfect Camouflage"

Sophie, "The Perfect Camouflage"

I’d noticed that he wasn’t his goofy self for a few days, just subdued, then on that day he had begun crouching on the floor instead of sitting on my lap or my desk. I noticed his breathing was shallow, he wouldn’t eat dinner. He had had a compromising bladder condition for several years so I always observed his activity and took action with whatever seemed appropriate, but these symptoms were not indicating that condition. He looked up at me imploringly in the evening, those lovely, slanted, gentle tourmaline eyes telling me this was serious. I called the emergency hospital, packed him in a carrier and drove with cold, stiff fingers and my own shallow breathing, knowing this was not good.

Kublai, "Are You Looking at Me?"

Kublai, "Are You Looking at Me?"

As the veterinarian and technicians went through their paces and I watched Katrina spin toward New Orleans, I was sure, in my middle-of-the-night fearfulness, that the world was really coming to an end. I took hope for both New Orleans and Namir when the storm was reduced to a Category 4 sometime in those hours; even the smallest improvement could have a vast positive outcome.

Yet as the dawn began to open details in the black outside the windows the veterinarian told me that Namir had developed congestive heart failure through hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. I fully understood the detailed explanation the vet gave me, following his sketches and descriptions in my own visual language, visualizing Namir’s damaged heart inside his delicate feline chest, struggling to move the blood through but not quite moving all of it every time, the blood circling and swishing around in the chamber, the walls thickening, the fluids building up instead of washing away. I understood that Namir was in very serious condition, that the condition could not be cured.

The hospital closed at 7:00 a.m. being only for overnight emergencies, but in the same rooms the specialty clinic opened at 8:00 a.m. Namir would stay there and see a doctor who specialized in his condition the next day, have more comprehensive diagnostic tests done.

Namir's "Bedroom Eyes"

Namir's "Bedroom Eyes"

They allowed me to say goodbye to him in the oxygen cage. I couldn’t touch him, and he didn’t come to the window but crouched close to it with an IV in one leg and several shaved patches and looked at me with those same eyes, but instead of the worry, near panic, I’d seen earlier, I saw hope, and perhaps he saw the sadness and fear in my eyes temper with it. We would work together on this, no matter what happened.

Katrina was reaching landfall as I drove home through the growing dawn and early morning traffic and I equated the gray misty light with the howling gray images I’d seen of New Orleans and elsewhere along the coast, pondering the veterinarian’s prognosis of Namir’s recovery: about a month with no treatment, six months with medication and careful observation, perhaps a year if we were lucky. Even with recovery his quality of life might not be optimal, he might actually experience a lot of discomfort and even great pain. I would know more the next day after an ultrasound and other tests.

Stanley, "After Dinner Nap"

Stanley, "After Dinner Nap"

In August 2005, I was occasionally dosing Stanley with sub-q fluids for chronic kidney failure, but he was overall well—amazing for being somewhere past 20. All the others were fine, Moses at 19, Sophie at 16, Cookie at 13, Kelly at 9, and even the two new senior fosters, Peaches and Cream, estimated at 15, were adjusting well.

In the following year I would lose four members of my household, my four oldest cats, and three of them my oldest friends, Moses, then Cream, then Sophie and finally Stanley, and shortly after Stanley, the kitten I’d taken in and simply adored after all that loss, Lucy, at 15 months.

Lucy, Pink and Gray

Lucy, Pink and Gray

Namir lived almost four years with his condition, and hardly evidenced any discomfort though he hated his twice-daily medications and needed to stop back at the emergency hospital for a tune-up now and then. I don’t know how many times in those four years I said, “Namir was first diagnosed with congestive heart failure the night Katrina hit New Orleans…” Namir and I certainly had a better outcome and what we experienced in no way compares with what happened there, but whenever I hear about Hurricane Katrina I remember that night when my own storm began, my own little life inexorably pulled apart by circumstances beyond my household’s control, but in much the same way as the aftermath of Katrina it was the hidden reserves of strength that determined the final outcome, individuals pooling and sharing their strength and supporting each other.

Cookie, "The Goddess"

Cookie, "The Goddess"

I heeded my own natural disaster as best I could with the warnings I was given. Now I hope that my storm is finally over for a while. I know that I will have losses again, and with older cats likely I’ll have a few illnesses to treat. Even though Peaches hasn’t seemed to age a day since she came here and can still jump right up onto the kitchen island where she eats, she is 19 years old. Cookie hasn’t seemed to age since she was about 3, but I can see her slowing down and experiencing a little hearing difficulty, though we act as if we don’t notice. Little Kelly, who has to be at least 13, hasn’t shown any diminishing of ability and it’s hard to imagine her as a senior. My “Golden Girls” as I classify them…And I now have a big jump in age to Mimi, who is likely 6, then her kids, who just turned 2, though as I learned with Lucy and FIP that illness and death have no recognition of age.

After all this I was surprised I haven’t been in pain over Namir’s loss, considering the big personality he was and how close we were. He left strict instructions with “the kids” on my care and feeding, however, and I have never felt alone since Namir’s been gone—I’ll be writing more about this later, now that I have a perspective. But it hasn’t been just Namir’s loss, but all the others, too, all of them together, through it all knowing that I’d lose Namir, too, and finally I feel that process is complete.

Moses, "A Rosy Glow"

Moses, "A Rosy Glow"

The one thing I can’t avoid is that in two months I haven’t done much that’s creative—no blog entries, no new poetry, I’ve had to drag myself into my studio and still I’ve only done one piece of artwork, only a few photo sessions and all the other things I’ve done daily for years to keep my creative intellect in shape have just been neglected.

I know why that is. That’s the very core of myself, and in opening myself up to those creative experiences I leave myself vulnerable to hurt. It’s easy just to live on the surface as if floating on clear water, able to look at the beauty of the depths but frightened to go there, even though the risk, the plunge, the exploration and the return with new insights to share far outweighs any pain that might be experienced in the endeavor.

Now that the deepest part of my grief has passed, I’m ready to finish and fulfill the things I’ve planned, and to move on with new things. The hardest part of grief is letting go and feeling that who and what you leave behind will be forgotten, but we leave behind and let go in a million ways every day without ever knowing. Namir came to me one year after I lost the love of my life, my Kublai, and if I had kept myself closed off and held on to Kublai’s memory for fear of his being forgotten, I would never have known Namir, which would have done none of the three of us any good, or any other of the foster cats who became loves, or the people or the places I’ve known and experienced since then.

So I’m a little out of shape, but it’s never taken me too long to get back into it before. I love this time of year, and probably most inspired by it, when summer changes to autumn and I can feel the pace of life slowing a little.

And I have a wonderful feline portrait with which to begin my new season. I’ll post the first update in a day or two and update the images and other thoughts regularly.

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That portrait was Madison, and I had a wonderful reunion with an old friend with which to begin that new season. This year is another year of plans and work, and loss as well, losing Peaches last autumn, and considering Cookie’s condition at the moment, but they will never cease to inspire me to create, to share, and to love.


Cookie Love

tortie cat with parsley

Cookie has Parsley Eyes.

Cookie and I had a wonderful morning on Sunday. Instead of the heavy wind and rain that might have come our way from Hurricane Irene, we had fast-moving majestic clouds with bright sun and deep shadow and capricious breezes that tossed the maple tree branches, sounding like ocean waves.

tortie cat in grass

No, Cookie, you can't hide behind that blade of grass.

Cookie has accompanied me on mornings when I go outside practically since she’s been with me, but lately we’ve been battling a flea infestation and Cookie’s flea allergy is worse than ever. We’ve got things under control at the moment, but even with all my precautions outdoors to keep flea populations at a minimum, they are still out there and I don’t want Cookie to start her cycle of scratching, pulling fur and general skin irritation at the bite of just one flea. Today, it just seemed right.

I had intended just to hang out for a bit with my cup of coffee so we began on the deck but were soon down the steps and out into the yard, moving easily from the deck to the yard as Cookie explored and I did a little cleaning, transplanting and reorganization. Cookie would occasionally saunter out to the end of the yard and give me a sidelong glance, ready to slip off into her wild area under the trees, but for the most part she supervised what I was doing and downloaded her pee-mail.

tortie cat in grass

Cookie downloading her "pee-mail".

This year we had a sudden flea infestation in July from boxes I’d carried down from the attic wherein squirrels had nested, leaving behind bazillions of hungry fleas who wasted no time going to work on their new blood source. Cookie’s age and health were a bad combination for my 19-year-old tortie best friend—after nearly a month of treating the house with diatomaceous earth, constant vacuuming and combing and bathing the other cats were holding their own but Cookie was the target of too many fleas and began suffering more than just the skin allergy.

tortie cat in profile

Cookie's profile.

She would bite viciously at herself, pulling fur out in clumps, trying to scratch the same area she was biting and lacerating her tongue with her hind paw, and sometimes falling off of the table, my desk or a chair in her frenzied effort to get rid of the torture.

Cookie also developed an anemic condition from blood loss from all the bites and would leave blood spots behind wherever she slept. Using Frontline it was pointless to bathe her because it would wash away the effectiveness of the medication, and I could comb her all day and not get rid of enough fleas to make a difference.

We had almost had her heart rate under control with her hyperthyroidism medication but likely the anemia and stress of the situation pushed her heart rate up again, and worst of all she slipped into renal failure.

I used Capstar, an insecticide in a pill, that kills all the adult fleas on the cat within hours. I am horrified to use all these chemicals, especially on Cookie in that condition, but that was what worked to stop her reaction with thankfully no side effects, and the resulting conditions could finally be successfully treated.

tortie cat looking through railing

Cookie playing games.

I had a pretty frightening week in late July when, to try to treat all the conditions, I was dosing her with sub-cutaneous fluids twice each day in small doses to not overburden her heart, checking her heart rate regularly and administering double doses of high potency liquid vitamins, getting a few reiki sessions, using flower essences, using everything I had on hand, hoping she’d start to eat more and awake from her lethargy, just look at me like Cookie again, make a Cookie noise, and by the end of the week, she began feeling better.

Still, all through August, she kept wavering back and forth between feeling like her old self and just being a little tired, not as active, and certainly not doing all the Cookie things I’m accustomed to. I had to dose her with fluids now and then, and had to resort to Capstar again as even just one or two fleas could start the reaction again.

So this morning, she wanted to go outside and so did I, her Capstar should take care of fleas today, and I’d learned from years of senior cats that the little walk around the yard in the morning can make for a great day all around, so out we went.

After our initial session I told myself it was time I went inside and “get to work”, but I instead decided to grab my crochet and recorded book and sit on the swing with Cookie for a while. It’s been years since I had the chance to even just sit on my swing for any length of time. Cookie happily napped on my lap while I followed the story and crocheted, listening to the whoosh of the breeze and watching the shadows and sunlight play across the deck and yard.

tortie cat on lap with crochet

A relaxed hour on the deck.

After our relaxation, Cookie and I actually went back out to the yard for a while longer, and when I decided I really did need to go in—one cup of coffee can feel like a gallon if you wait too long—I had to carry Cookie inside at her protest. She hadn’t had her medications yet and she and Kelly needed their lunch, plus, even though it was cool, I’m always concerned about Cookie’s hydration and body temperature at her age.

Even after I carried her upstairs—because she would not go herself, even when I waved the bit of raw venison and the can of food in her face—she worked her way down from the drafting table where she and Kelly eat and wanted out the door of the studio. I opened it thinking she might want to use the litterbox in the bathroom, but she headed directly down the stairs and to the back door, sat down and looked longingly outside.

cat drinking from bowl

Cookie loves her water bowl.

Most of the time, you can trust animals to let you know what they need and I might have decided to go outside with Cookie for a little more time. But their decisions aren’t always the best, and sometimes you have to offer a little direction. Cookie has never liked to be carried so she protested again as we went up the stairs and back into my studio and closed the door and doled out lunch. She ate, then curled up on a blanket I’d put on the table for her, had a bath, and fell asleep. And slept, and slept, and slept. I checked her heart rate and hydration thinking I’d let her be out for too long, trying to decide if I needed to do something, but she gave me the tortie eye and eventually she got up, stretched, had a drink, ate a good bit of canned food, had another bath and went back to sleep.

I’ve continued the full flea assault on the house and all the cats, including using Capstar once a week but on just Cookie and Kelly. The girls have been staying in my studio, which was pretty thoroughly cleaned to begin with because of my renovation and easier to clean than any other room because I set it up that way. It’s been odd for them not to be part of the household most of the time, but once the fleas were under control downstairs, and Cookie was sufficiently strong and recovered enough, it was wonderful to see Cookie coming down the stairs and joining me at my daily tasks again. Best of all, she’s been sleeping next to me again.

But I can see she’s not back to her full self, and she’s compensating quite a bit for the discomfort of these conditions. After consulting regularly with my vet, I have continued the fluids and vitamins daily, and we’ve increased her methimazole which has brought her heart rate down.

For now it seems the renal failure isn’t just a temporary situation, but a chronic condition. I’m not sure if the situation with the fleas caused it, or if she was headed for it anyway as we had discovered in her exam in June, but in any case, to say it makes me very sad is one of my life’s biggest understatements.

I know that Cookie is 19, and I’ve been watching her lose abilities and agility slowly for the past few years. She had a difficult kittenhood, and I’m a little surprised after all her early health issues and physical limitations that she has gotten to be 19 without any problems. She’s never had a lot of strength or flexibility in her hips and hind legs, never been able to run and leap but she’s always improvised in every way she can find, stepping from one thing to another to get onto my desk, the cabinet in the kitchen, my bed, or the washer and dryer, always cheerful and completely ready for whatever comes next.

But even though I knew our time was getting limited, without anything specific I didn’t worry about how much time we had, just a little bit of fooling myself. Now with a chronic, end-of-life condition our time is finite, though that is mutable as well—Peaches lived six months after we began treatment, Stanley lived four years, diagnosed at about age 21.

tortie cat with serenity prayer

Cookie with my Serenity Prayer plaque from the garden—do you think Cookie is trying to tell me something?

At this point, she is still easily tired and her hind legs have less strength than before, wobbling a little more and threatening to take her down sometimes, and she can’t or won’t get up on some things she recently enjoyed, like the kitchen cabinet, her favorite hangout. Unless by some miracle we clear up this condition sufficiently, Cookie won’t be literally getting into things in the kitchen anymore, something she’s done all her life, and I will miss that part of our relationship more than I can say.

She won’t be following me around the house to supervise every little thing I do; I’ll be on my own. That and many, many more thoughts of everyday things…Cookie has always been with me in the house, wherever I am, whatever I’m doing, my impish little spirit familiar, my little Cookie-roo, Cookie-flower, Cookie Dough, Cookie Baby…the list goes on.

For now, when I look at her, my Cookie is still there, even if she’s not playing the same little Cookie games as before. And she has even done a few of her sweet interactions with me which she hasn’t done in some time—hopped onto my back and walked around and purred when I leaned over, and sat up on my lap, put her paws on my collar bone, looked me in the eye and given me a precious nose tap. She’s telling me not to worry. I am listening, but I need a little other reassurance as well.

We’ll see the vet again soon for tests and discuss a few other symptoms, see if there is anything else we need to do. I lost Peaches less than a year ago and I lost my mother in January, and I told Cookie I’m just not ready yet, she has to get better, this was just a practice session. But for certain at this point our schedule will change, and just like this wonderful morning out on the deck, every moment will be precious.

All images used in this article are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.