Where the soul meets body …

I haven’t been writing here lately for a number of reasons. Mostly I’ve just been incredibly busy with class and the News & Review. I’m teaching two classes including one I’ve never taught before and the workload is exhausting. There’s a lot of grading but mostly I think it’s the prep work for the new class. I keep telling myself this will get easier. It has to, right? What keeps me going is that I like being in the classroom; I like interacting with students and I like that sometimes I get to learn things that are new to me as well.

In addition to the workload I’ve also been consumed with taking care of my cat Sophie. Some of you know the full Sophie story. I won’t go into all the details today but let me assure you that she is one special cat for a million reasons, not the least of which includes having a pacemaker.

Sophie received her pacemaker in August 2007 after she started to suffer a series of seizure-like episodes. Extensive and exhaustive testing at the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital showed an irregular heartbeat and one long, scary surgery later my cat was just like Dick Cheney — only much sweeter and cuter.

That was nearly three years ago. After some initial complications, Sophie seemed like a new cat after she got the pacemaker. We hadn’t even noticed how much she’d slowed down until she got the pacemaker and sped up to kitten-like behavior–playing, running, loving life. It was pretty incredible to see and we felt more than justified our decision to go ahead with that surgery.

And so it went. Life was mostly uneventful until about six months ago when Sophie started to suffer from more seizure-like episodes. I don’t have it into me to go into all the details right now but numerous tests seemed to rule out everything except epilepsy — well mostly anyway. She can’t have an MRI because of the pacemaker but the doctors over at UCD put her on phenobarbital and that seemed to stop the seizures.

It also created a drastic change in her behavior, slowing her down and making her very uncoordinated. Still, we reasoned, she continued to be loving, continued to want to be around people, continued to eat like a champion. On the doctor’s advice we tinkered with the medicine a little to try to strike a balance between coping and doped up

But now, several months later things are getting worse and to be honest nobody has any idea why or what should be done about it. In the last few weeks we’ve watched Sophie become increasingly less coordinated to the point where sometimes she can’t walk more than a few steps without lying down in frustration. She falls over, her back legs sometimes seem to move as if they were attached to another cat. She’s undergone numerous tests in the last few weeks and has had pronouncements ranging from “terminal cancer” to “too much medicine, maybe” to “who knows, we just need to monitor her.” She’s had ultrasounds and X-rays and blood tests. We know that, aside from the brain, there is no cancer except for maybe this one tiny spot on the spleen that could be something but it’s too tiny to tell right now so let’s check that again later. Sophie's Pacemaker

We know her pacemaker is working and nearly three years later we got to see for the first time what it looks like inside of her. It’s kind of amazing to look at the x-ray and see that contraption with all its wires and fixtures, incredible to realize how big and clunky as it is in relation to her tiny, seven-pound body

We also know that her blood work came back OK except for slight variations here and there. We know that her medicine levels are technically OK, we know that she is slightly anemic, we know (we already knew) that, yep, she has irritable bowel disease.

I’m not blaming the doctors, not even for that horrible terminal cancer misdiagnosis that left me crying uncontrollably. I know they are, truly, doing the best that they can. I know that they are mystified as they hold her up in the exam room and test her neurological reflexes and try to decide if her increasing yet still intermittent inability to control her hind legs has something to do with the phenobarbital or if it’s something much, much worse.

The only thing they can all agree on is that she’s adorable and loving and so, so sweet.

Of course,  I didn’t come here to just go on and on about what it is or what it isn’t. I only wanted to write this because my heart is breaking watching her. On Friday the vet told us she doesn’t believe Sophie is ready to go — “she’s still eating, she’s still bathing, she still wants love, she still wants to be here” — and of course I wanted to hear that, I wanted to hear that we’re doing the right thing, trying to figure out what’s going on.

But we also talked about all the what-ifs. What if she has cancer? She’s 16 goddamned years old with a pacemaker. I think that speaks for itself.

“I don’t want Sophie to feel as though we’re giving up on her,” Cory said to me as I picked through my lunch while we waited out more testing on Friday.

I assured him that we weren’t, that we wouldn’t. But we both know that at some point — a point that may come very fast — we may have to make a decision for her, for us.

And of course it hurts to even think about it. As I type this she’s sleeping in her bed next to my chair in the office and I’m just trying to enjoy every moment I have with her. This morning she’s already eaten at least three times, sat in my lap as I typed and also engaged in one of her favorite hobbies:  chewing on the cord to the blinds on the office window. I know, weird – but chewing on blind cords has always been one of her favorite things. Seeing her do that this morning made me laugh but she’s also stumbled around quite a bit and, just a while ago, knocked herself over with a sneeze. That’s a new one, the sneezing – she’s never had colds or allergies before but in the last week, there you go, we add it to the list.

Right now we are listening to Death Cab for Cutie because, along with the Smiths, they are one of Sophie’s favorite bands. For reals. Go ahead, laugh. Maybe it’s just a little in-joke that Cory and I have but maybe, also, I believe that animals have souls, if not favorite bands. I’ve been reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals and I’m only about one-third of the way through and every now and then he mentions that, despite his growing unwillingness to eat meat, he’s still not convinced that animals have souls, that they have the capability to love, the ability to feel something other than hunger or thirst or pain.

When I look at my cat, who likes to sit in my lap when I grade papers, who greets me at the front door when I get home from work, who gets jealous when I give too much attention to our other cat Trixie and will literally snake her way between my hands and Trixie’s fur so that she gets the pets — well obviously, I couldn’t disagree with him more.


8 thoughts on “Where the soul meets body …

  1. Everything living, everything alive has a soul. No one could ever convince me of anything differently. If you truly know an animal, you’ll never disagree. If you stand in the middle of nature or even walk down the midtown streets especially in spring and get off your phone and let yourself be, you’ll know it then too.

    The only damned thing I liked about the movie Avatar was this sort of hyper-example of people (or human-like creatures I suppose) living perfectly symbiotically with animals and nature as equals and connected. I had to squeeze something good out of spending 3 hours inside on a really nice Sunday..

    You guys are nowhere close to giving up on your family member. Your main focus is her quality of life and so far she keeps showing you that the positive outweighs the negative. Animals are much more ‘de-evolved’ than us, in such a good way; they don’t dwell, they let things go. She falls, and then it’s on to the good stuff, the pets, the chewing of the blinds. And when it’s time for her, for anyone of us, to go… well, it’s time and it’s the way it is. With Sophie the good parts are better than good, aren’t they? They’re precious (a word I really only use to describe too many affected female singers who somehow all know how to play ukeleles, or the better meaning of the word: valuable and cherished). There’s a hyper-awareness there that’s pretty darn cool.

    1. Thanks Allyson – I like the idea of “de-evolved” … it’s so true. I see it in Sophie every day.

  2. Sophie’s a fighter and of course she has a soul. She’ll keep on keepin’ on until she can’t anymore. You just keep taking her to the vet and eventually they will figure this stuff out.

  3. I’m so grateful that you have the choice to do the things that support life for your kitty. She really is a cutie, and totally unCheney-like, in all the best ways.

  4. Thanks everyone for all the positive thoughts. Sophie is doing OK today; we’ve cut down her medicine and that seems to be helping, at least a little. She’s a lover — and a fighter.

  5. Your kitty is the most precious thing in the world. You and Cory love her so much that I know you will do everything to make sure she knows how much you love her and need her. You are very lucky to have such a close relationship with her. Sixteen years is a very full and happy life and I know she is ready for another sixteen years with her loving family.

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