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Cuddle Therapy for Dovey: for the best chance at recovery, a sick rat needs warmth, comfort, and a renewed will to live. Keep your sick rat close to you.

From T. S. Eliot‘s The Waste Land:

I. The Burial of the Dead
April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

Eliot got it wrong. February, not April, is the cruelest month. I apologize for being so long between posts, but research trips have eaten up my winter. This is a blessing, since seasonal affective disorder is an old and vicious foe. But here we are, darkest February in the Midwest, may it be my last in this gristly climate. Last week, a raging blizzard. Today, a freakish seventy degrees. Next week, it’ll be freezing and horrible again, and EVERYONE will have a cold from these slamming weather changes.

On the upside, my two oldest girls turned two last month. Violet looks to outlive us all and is, as we speak, beating the daylights out of young Viola in retribution for some felony or other, probably failure to properly respect one’s elders. I know, I know, who picks such similar names for pets who have to share a cage? Blame Shakespeare. Viola is from the Twelfth Night litter. Her brothers, Antonio and Sebastian, are twinning it over in the boys’ digs. And Violet? Well, she’s a lovely violet blue and has been around much longer than the gang from Illyria. Doubt it not: Violet will live forever.

Dovey, on the other hand, who is of an age with Violet, is very ill. I knew it would come to this. Dovetail has been prone to mycoplasma since she was only six months old and gets full-blown pneumonia every time she stubs her toe. This current bout has been a very serious one. Her airways closed up before she could present any of the lesser symptoms that usually tip me off in the milder stages. I noticed she’d been very subdued the last couple of days and slept a lot, but she presented no other symptoms. Today I woke to gasping and respiratory panic, two very, VERY bad symptoms. The violently expensive new vet (easy on the eyes, though, which never hurts) slapped her into the oxygen tank for a few hours and we talked turkey. More specifically, we talked bronchial dilators.

I’m a big fan of the nebulizer. If you have rats, you must get your hands on a good used nebulizer. I’d recommend Craigslist. They are very inexpensive there because, at the risk of indelicacy, elderly people a) are prone to emphysema, asthma and pneumonia, and b) die. When they shuffle off this mortal coil, the last thing their relatives want to deal with is old medical equipment. Their grief is, sadly, our gain. Get yourself a nebulizer and a box of saline ampules, also very inexpensive. Do it now. You’ll be glad you did when you’ve got 2 AM labored breathing!

Presently, we are eight hours into Dovey’s distress. She’s doing better. Then worse. Then better. Then worse. One always  attempts to just hold on and weather the worst until the antibiotics have a chance to take hold, usually within 24-36 hours, and they’re tough hours, believe me. I don’t know if, this time, we have the time. Dove was gasping again about an hour ago, so I popped her back in the nebulizing chamber I’ve rigged up (small carrying cage, clear plastic bag, binder clips to hold the bag closed and the nebulizer mouthpiece in place) and hit her with Albuterol and Gentacin in the saline solution for about 25 minutes. Capable but pricey Doctor McSexy-pants also prescribed oral Amenophylline to help pry those pathetic bronchai open so the poor girl can get some air and the Gentacin can hit the bloody mycoplasma right where it lives, in Dovey’s poor scarred lungs. Why hasn’t it started working? Please, oh please, start working.

At the present moment, she’s curled up around my neck under a hoodie so I can monitor, literally feel, her breathing for signs of improvement and so that she can borrow my body temperature. Since her case is grave, I’ll nebulize her every three to four hours to try to keep her throat and lungs open long enough to get her past the crisis. We’ll sip honey water from a syringe, do some diss research, and maybe watch some Masterpiece Theatre on Netflix (quiet and soothing programming is a must–rats HATE yelling, gunshots, car chases and other loud cinematic mayhem). In that way, Dovey and I and Dame Judy Dench will pass the night. I hope. And pray. Don’t discount prayer. If the good Lord has his eye on the sparrows, he by heaven better be attentive to my bright and beautiful beloved girl.

She’ll get better, or she won’t.  It’s a bad case. Time, only, will tell.

In other news (damn you, Tom Eliot), my dear Shugie was diagnosed with lymphoma in late November. She’s done well in spite of eyes clouded white with lymphocytes and two sizable and fast growing tumors. In fact, up to her old tricks, she took a chunk out of the back of my hand just the other day, thinking the wicked python had returned and needed vanquishing once again. In her little rat mind, she is Sir Pellinor, and my hand ever her questing beast. Sadly, however, the end is nigh. She is losing muscle mass and having a harder time getting around. We will need to draw down the curtain gently and humanely very soon. To once again be frank but indelicate, I need to get this over and done with before the ground freezes again and I can’t get her buried. Roomies tend to look askance at zip lock bags full of deceased pets in the freezer, waiting for the spring thaw.

Euthanasia is a blessing. I’ve told my own parents that, should I ever be unable to make medical decisions for myself and have so much as a bad hair day, PULL THE DAMNED PLUG. And since I know Shugie’s end is coming and have time to prepare for it, I have the chance to make sure her last days are rich in cuddles and cream cheese and that they come to a close in a gentle cloud of anesthesia as she lies curled up under the beloved hoodie collar. If I could pick my own death, that’s the one I’d choose.

I’ll be glad when this god-awful month is over. April? Piece of cake.