Adventures in Cat Parenthood

(This started as part of a weekly update, but life, and the length of this, got away from me).

“Felt regal; might delete this later, idk.”

Our cat Brianna — affectionally known as Bri, Bitch Cat, or Pampered Princess — became sick at the end of January. While I was attending an oh-so-exciting landowners’ meeting, Matt heard her fall, and went to find that she was wildly uncoordinated, with her head swinging back and forth, and was having trouble walking. He brought her to the emergency vet, where I joined him.

While at the vet, she was having short, 30-second episodes of her eyes going back and forth (nystagmus), and it was quite frightening. Bri already had some chronic health issues — stomatitis, asthma, arthritis — and we were worried that whatever had been causing the mobility problems in her back legs wasn’t arthritis after all, but something more serious.

When we finally saw the doctor, she had nothing good to tell us — Bri had a raging ear infection, was very underweight (10lbs on a Maine coon!), and had the beginning signs of diabetes. None of this explained the symptoms, though, which the doctor thought were neurological in nature. She gave us a list of veterinary neurologists we could consult with, but explained that it would take an MRI to confirm anything, and that given Bri’s age (she’s 14) and physical condition, it was probably not worth doing, as anything they could find was almost certain to be untreatable, and that it was dangerous to put a cat in that condition under anesthesia for an MRI. She asked us to consider euthanasia.

(I asked at the time if the ear infection could be the cause of her symptoms, but the doctor didn’t seem to think it presented like ear infections she’d seen before).

So with no hope (but some antibiotics for the ear infection), we went home, thinking we were about to lose our girl.

But the story has a happy ending — or at least, a happier middle; we haven’t reached the end yet!

Next we asked our vet friend Becky who runs Autumn Care & Crossings to take a look at Bri’s record. If nothing else, we thought she could tell us if Bri is ready for palliative care and advise us if we wanted an at-home euthanasia. She came back and said, hey, why don’t you look into the diabetes thing more seriously? It could explain things like the “plantigrade stance” that the ER vet had noted on her chart. In particular she told us to test her fructosamine, which — similar to A1C in humans — measures blood sugar over time.

We did the diabetes testing at our normal vet, who also was pretty dire in her outlook, too (“you may do all this testing and still not get an answer”), but ran the blood tests anyway. The one positive suggestion she made, though, was that we at at least have a consult with a vet neurologist, as they could tell us better whether or not an MRI was worth pursuing.

So I made an appointment at Mass Veterinary Referral Hospital in Woburn, MA for Brianna, as they were the ones who could get us in the fastest: that Saturday. That Friday we found out that Bri’s diabetes tests were normal — so much for that as a solution — and then on Saturday we went to see Dr. Troxel at MVRH.

I liked Dr. Troxel — I was worried I wouldn’t, because I was warned that he could be brusque or business-like. I can definitely see that, as he’s not the warmest guy I’ve ever met. But he was deeply committed to this case right from the start, and that made me trust him. I also liked his responses to the questions I’d asked him: if he thought we were looking at end of life (“maybe, but I’m not ready to give up yet”) and what he would do if this were his cat (“Well, I gave my 19 year old cat an MRI… but I also have the employee discount”).

He also emphasized that not everything we could find on an MRI was a death sentence; there were some things that could be treated and give her “long-term quality of life.” I’ll basically do anything for my cats if it improves their quality of life, so that encouraged me to move ahead.

I’m SO glad we got that MRI, because it turned out: there’s probably nothing wrong with her brain! Even though her external ear infection had cleared up, the MRI revealed that she still has a raging inner ear infection, which Dr. Troxel told us would “absolutely” cause all the symptoms he was seeing. Still, was concerned due to two things — a bit of a contrast shadow he saw on the brain stem, which could either be an artifact, or a sign of infection in the brain, and a growth (that didn’t look cancerous) on her soft palate on the same side as her ear infection. He suspects that the growth may play a part in the ear infection; it’s near where the eustachian tube drains into the mouth, and it may be keeping her ears from draining properly. Given the stomatitis, especially in the back of her mouth, it’s not surprising that there’s an overgrowth of tissue back there.

After the MRI, while Bri was still under anesthesia, we gave the green light to do a spinal tap (to make sure there was no infection), and do a retroflex endoscopy (to see what the growth on her palate might be). That… didn’t so much happen. Brianna apparently stopped breathing on her own before they could start the procedures, and they had to resuscitate her and bring her out of anesthesia. (I was interested to learn they use naloxone for this — the same thing human medics use to reverse overdoses). I had about ten seconds of panic while Dr. Troxel was explaining this — he had to stop and say, “it’s all right, she’s fine now!” because I was afraid he was about to tell us she had died under anesthesia.

So further testing is off, at least for now, and Brianna had to stay in the hospital that weekend.

When Matt visited her at MVRH during her stay, they brought her out in this stroller. Behold, a queen’s palanquin!

We learned some interesting things from the other tests they did: an abdominal ultrasound and an echocardiogram. The echo revealed that her heart murmur (which we already knew about; it varied between stage 2 to stage 4 depending on when and who was listening) was due to mitral valve disorder, which is unsurprising. Nothing immediately pressing there, but they want us to follow up with their vet cardiologist, Dr. Sosa, in 4-6 months. No signs of hypertrophy, though, which is good — hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a common problem in Maine coons. (I seem to recall that all my cats have had a negative genetic test for HCM, though).

The abdominal ultrasound revealed some problems along her biliary tree, i.e. the liver, pancreas, and gall bladder. She had signs of chronic pancreatitis, benign liver cysts plus signs of cholangiohepatitis, and sludge in her gall bladder. All of this would explain her weight loss and lack of appetite! All of this is treatable with medication, though. They were concerned, given this, with the combination of conditions known as feline triaditis, and were doing blood tests for inflammatory bowel disease (cobalamine and folate), as that would complete the trifecta.

So in total, at MVRH we learned that Bri is still a very sick kitty, but that she can be treated! They put her on a more broad-spectrum antibiotic (clindamycin in addition to the Orbax they gave us at the e-vet) and reupped her Atopica (cyclosporine: an immunosuppressant which she takes for her stomatitis… may also help the liver if it’s an autoimmune condition there). When we took her home on Monday, they also gave us ursodiol from their compounding pharmacy, which is the same drugs humans take for similar conditions. We’ve also resumed the Flovent for her asthma, which had been on an as-needed basis before that. But if it will open up her airways, that’s to the good.

Her vestibular issues seemed a lot worse when we first brought her home, but after an hour in the car from Woburn, that’s unsurprising. And those sorts of issues are notorious for waxing and waning like that. She recovered quickly from that spell, though.

Now, she’s doing… astonishingly well, for a cat that we had nearly given up on. We got a baby scale to keep an eye on her weight (thanks, Buy Nothing group!), and her weight seems to have stabilized. She’s getting around easier, she definitely seems more alert, she’s been jumping into Matt’s lap and onto the chairs, and she can be left alone for short periods of time. She’s still confined to kitty jail (the computer room), though (Matt’s been sleeping on a futon on the floor with her). We’re less worried now about her falling than we are about her not getting her share of food at meal times, with two other cats in the house. So we’re probably going to keep her confined until she puts on more weight.

That was originally my whole post, but an update with even better news: we had a followup with Dr. Troxel and with Dr. Phillips (the internist) yesterday. Dr. Troxel did his usual examination and seemed happy with her progress — her walk is less ataxic and she definitely knows where her feet are. We’re going to keep her on the clindamycin for as long as she can tolerate — probably four more weeks. He says ideally they would do more imaging to make sure everything is clearing up, but it’s not necessary, and he preferred to go with the clinical signs.

Before we met with Dr. Phillips, we received news that Bri’s folate levels were low, which suggests IBD (and thus triaditis) after all. Basically, though, we’re already treating her for that with the ursodiol and the Atopica she was already taking for stomatitis. (This kitty has all the autoimmune disorders!) We should keep an eye out for any acute symptoms, however, there can be flareups that need to be treated with fluids and antibiotics.

Dr. Phillips also added a couple of drugs to Brianna’s routine: a transdermal appetite stimulant, to hopefully encourage her to put on more pounds, and a probiotic, to help with the side effects of the long-term antibiotics.

(I liked her a lot, too — all the vets I’ve met at MVRH are great! I wish Matt had given her more of a chance to talk, but he was very eager to share all the details of Bri’s daily routine, meds, behavior, etc).

Other than that, no followup appointments with either doctor, but we will need to do some followup bloodwork, and keep an eye out for any acute symptoms. Neither doctor mentioned trying the scope or the spinal tap again, and I’m hopeful that won’t be necessary.

So… that’s the emotional rollercoaster I’ve been on for the past month or so — or at least one of them. How are you?

Weekly Update: November 18, 2019

Winter cleaning

In preparation for leaving for England + Matt’s family visiting for the holidays, we’ve launched into a massive declutter of the house.

Eventually we would like the basement craft areas to be useable again, but primarily we just wanted to be able to find what we needed to pack, and to get the guest bedroom back in a state to host guests.

The big task with the first item was cleaning up our basement costume room, which was in a horrid state. How bad? Let’s just say we had to remove the remains of a dead snake.

As for the guest bedroom, it wasn’t too bad, but we needed to rehang the track lighting, which I’d removed in order to paint the room. We were able to finally hang the beautiful Japanese screen that belongs in there, too.

In the process I also got rid of a fuckton of books, and Matt cleared out a ton of clothes.

I felt a little bad dropping all that stuff off at the Savers — especially seeing stuff I paid Actual Cashdollars for sitting in the rain — but I also breathe a tremendous sigh of relief when I enter my home office. So it’s a price I’m willing to pay.

A mostly organized sunroom, with cleared table, neatly stacked board games, and all our larp gear packed away.

New phone, who dis?

Thanks to Matt smashing his iPhone 7 on the brick floor of the mudroom, we both got new phones this weekend. While my phone (an iPhone 6) was still functional, and didn’t strictly need to be upgraded, the battery was on its way out (as witnessed by it randomly turning off in the middle of a run earlier that day).

In the interest of being somewhat frugal, we opted for the iPhone XR, a slightly older model of iPhone. There was a slight hiccup when my phone somehow didn’t get activated while I was at the Verizon store, but soon I was up and running.

And it’s a big adjustment from the 6 to an XR! Face ID, and the lack of a Home button, are some of the biggest changes. There’s also no headphone jack, but there are adapters I can use, and I have finally found some Bluetooth earbuds that will actually stay in my ears when I run.

Fun fact: Face ID will not work while wearing a CPAP mask. I suppose that cuts into my habit of checking my phone while still in bed.

I also haven’t installed Facebook yet on my new phone. We’ll see if I want it while I’m traveling…

One challenge we’re having is that we still only have one Apple ID between our two phones, and that is becoming more and more of a challenge with each version of iOS. Clearly they want us to have two separate IDs and use Family Sharing, but we haven’t set that up yet. I’ve already had to create a separate Apple ID for Game Center just to play TES: Blades on our iPad, as all of Matt’s progress in Blades was tied to my Apple ID. I don’t even think he has an Apple ID of his own, so this will require some thought. But that’s a “when we get back from England” problem.

Speaking of which…


We’re leaving this week for our semi-annual trip to Consequences (the UK theater-style larp con) plus bonus UK tourism. This year after the con we’ll be returning briefly to London to see the Tutankhamun exhibit at the Saatchi Gallery, and then we’ll be taking the train to Bath, where we’ll spend the rest of the week. We plan to see sights like the Roman Baths, Bath Abbey, the Fashion Museum, and the Jane Austen Centre, hit some Atlas Obscura sites (like Pulteney Weir and the Sham Castle), walk the six-mile Bath Skyline trail, and visit the Thermae Spa. Along the way I hope to have plenty of teas, sample some local specialties (Sally Lunns! Bath Spa Water! Gin from the Bath Gin Company! ), and maybe do some holiday shopping. (Baggage space permitting).


I finished reading Naomi Novik’s Black Powder War, the third Temeraire book. It was solidly meh. The big problem I have with this book is there’s not so much a “plot” as a “series of things that happens in a sequential order.” It has, as my writing teachers would say, no through-line; nothing that carries you through to the end. And the end, when it arrives, takes you by surprise, because it’s not clear what the promise of the book is and whether or not it’s been fulfilled.

But, you know, it’s at least well-written, and I enjoy spending time with Laurence and Temeraire.

I’ve begun listening to King of Scars, by Leigh Bardugo, which is her latest work in the world of the Grisha trilogy and the Six of Crows duology. This one, the first of another duo, focuses on Nikolai Lantsov, the new king of Ravka after the civil war. He has to deal with the politics of a reunited country, the consequences of everything that happened in the previous five novels, and some magical weirdness. Fun times!

I expected this book to tie more closely to the Grisha books than it did Six of Crows, taking place, as it — mostly — does in Ravka. But there’s actually a surprising amount that ties back to the duology. We’re still dealing with the consequences of the magic-enhancing drug that was discovered in the SoC books, and occasionally Nikolai will drop references to Ketterdam and a certain master thief he knows there. In addition, we get a viewpoint from Nina (a viewpoint character in SoC), rescuing grisha in Fjerda, and learning to harness her new powers.

The other viewpoint characters are Nikolai, naturally, and also Zoya Nazyalensky, his general and–dare I suggest?–future romantic interest? There’s definitely some suggestion of that.

And, after having been in Zoya’s POV, I certainly ship it. In the Grisha novels, and to a lesser extent in SoC, we’re always seeing Zoya from the outside, first from Alina’s POV, and then from various of the Crows (but mostly Nina). There, she’s portrayed as this beautiful, talented squaller who is all too aware of her power, and it has made her standoffish and stuck-up. Inside her head, learning her personal history? Well, you begin to see how that competence might create distance from other people, and how she might choose to use that as armor instead of as a weakness. I relate to that pretty hard, actually.

Regarding the magical weirdness… in addition to sudden miracles happening all over Ravka, we find out in the first chapter that Nikolai’s scars from the civil war aren’t only skin-deep, and are affecting his ability to do his job as king. This actually threw me for a loop, since I had read the Grisha trilogy so long ago that I had forgotten what he was up to doing the civil war. But it turns out it’s very, very relevant, so you might want to refresh your memory on that before reading this book.

Finally, I was delighted to see that Lauren Fortgang returned as narrator for this! They’ve apparently abandoned the ensemble cast idea from SoC, and I couldn’t be happier. One thing I will say about having a consistent narrator across books is that when a character recurs unexpectedly — and you recognize them immediately by the voice — there’s this moment of awesome when you realize you’ve cracked the code.

Anyway, I’m only about a third of the way through, but as usual with Bardugo’s novels, I’m deep in the spell!

Meet the Frugalwoods, and financial musings

This started as another book review, but then it veered off into my own personal finance territory, so I decided to make it its own section.

I just finished reading Meet the Frugalwoods, by Elizabeth Willard Thames, “Mrs. Frugalwoods” of Despite my love of frugality blogs, I’d actually never read this one; I picked up the book because I was looking for something nonfiction to read while visiting my mom, and the ebook was available on my library’s Overdrive app.

This book starts with something I think is sorely missing from most conversations about frugality: a discussion of privilege. Thames admits that she and her husband, in building towards their goal of buying a homestead in Vermont, were starting from a privileged position in countless ways — coming from the middle class, being college-educated, being in well-paying jobs, etc. While so many frugality writers lean on “anyone can do this if they just learn to be frugal!”, she admitted that not everyone is going to be able to follow in their footsteps.

And that? That was refreshing to hear. Reading that, I was instantly well-inclined towards the book.

For the most part, the book details their personal financial journey, from their first jobs out of college to buying their Vermont homestead and quitting their jobs to work it full-time. While the early chapters focus on the challenges they faced early on in their married lives, where it really gets interesting is when they decide to go for a goal of buying their homestead, and make a three-year extreme frugality plan to achieve it.

I really enjoyed how closely she and her husband aligned on their financial goals, and how they both had a vision of what they wanted their future together to look like. That was how they could make the decisions that allowed them to save 80% of their paychecks.

When I think about my own financial goals, what I realize is… I don’t really have a clear idea of what I want my future to look like. I don’t want to buy a homestead in Vermont, or have kids, or be a full-time blogger, like Thames and her husband wanted. I know that the goal itself isn’t important, but without something to be saving for, how do I decide if I really need this $10 game that’s on sale? How do I make a million different daily decisions?

Here’s what I know for sure:

I would really like to not have to work for money — which is not to say that I don’t want to work, but more that I don’t want to be dependent on work. I’ve been in positions where I’ve been stuck in hellish jobs because I needed the money, and let me tell you, it is utterly soul-destroying.

I would like to create stuff and solve problems. Writing, mostly. Maybe making websites. Maybe streaming.

I would like to be location-independent, meaning I can work from anywhere, and time-independent, meaning I can budget my own time.

I would like to travel and have adventures. I don’t need a ton of travel, and it doesn’t have to be to far-off lands, but travel provides a type of mental stimulation that I can’t get anywhere else.

Talking to Matt about what he sees our retirement looking like, he mostly agrees with this vision. He, like me, is a creative nerd, and he wants to keep making stuff as long as he can. But where we don’t always see eye-to-eye is on the timeframe. He feels that we shouldn’t rob today to pay for a tomorrow that may never come.

Which I completely understand! One thing I worry about is whether or not I will be in good enough health to enjoy a standard retirement, or if I’ll live long enough to make use of all the money I’m socking away in my IRA and 401k. That, in fact, is usually my argument for an early retirement.

That said, “spend now” vs. “save for later” is not an all-or-nothing proposition. I think some of the biggest gains can be made just by cutting out things we don’t value much. Which is a point that Thames makes: you can benefit from frugality no matter what part of the frugality spectrum you’re on. Just because you can’t achieve complete financial independence doesn’t mean that you can’t save anything, or that there are no gains to be made at all.

And what to do with that saved money? That’s what I need to make these decisions around, right? I might feel different if I were, say, putting it into an investment fund called “Lise and Matt’s Extremely Nerdy Early Retirement Fund,” but (aside from the amount already going to tax-advantaged funds) we are still primarily paying down debt — mainly the mortgage, but also lingering student loans, a car loan, and the balance on the HELOC.

And, at the end of the day, paying down debt is just not very sexy or interesting. Alas.

(While there’s something to be said for making use of compound interest by investing earlier rather than later, by paying down debt you’re fundamentally giving yourself a rate of return equal to that debt’s interest rate. And given the volatility of the stock market, a reliable 5% interest rate can be hard to come by in uncertain times).

Another thing that sticks with me from Meet the Frugalwoods is Thames’ discussion of “insourcing,” i.e. learning to do more things themselves, and being more self-reliant. She gives a famous example of watching a Youtube video about cutting layers in long hair and then writing up a bulleted list for her husband on how to cut her hair. She got a decent haircut (at least she says she did!), but more importantly, she felt it brought her and her husband closer together in the process. Learning to do something new together is a great way to reinvigorate those novelty feels in a relationship, I would think.

Since “self-reliance” is part of my 2019 prospective, you can bet this is something that resonated with me. I think I’m going to follow her advice for frugal holiday pictures and Christmas cards, for example. I’ve said I want more creativity in my life — why then should I pay someone else to take this opportunity away from me?

Picture of the week

Enough heavy financial talk–instead, enjoy this picture of two of my cats:

Two happy cats snuggling on the couch.

We call these two — Burnbright and Brianna — the “buddy Bs” because they often snuggle like this. They did not always get along this well, either, so we definitely savor moments like this when we see them!