Monday, January 29, 2007

A difference in care

It is only 7 pm, but both kids are in bed, with dueling cases of strep throat. Colin actually has scarlet fever, the variety that gives him a lovely rash all over his chest and back. It sounds very serious, but fortunately with antibiotics, they are both on the mend.


When I worked on Saturday, I had a euthanasia of a 10 year old dog who looked sadly a lot older. The last time we saw her was 8 months ago, and at that time they declined much work up or treatment of her geriatric problems. She had hypothyroidism, the world's easiest disease to treat - just give your dog a little pill twice a day - but they never refilled the initial prescription. By the time I saw her on Saturday, she had scruffy skin and generalized muscle atrophy. The tartar on her teeth was so thick it made her little cheeks bulge out. The periodontitis had now caused a heart murmur (the bacteria in her gums had spread to her heart valves). She was incontinent and had difficulty rising due to osteoarthritis. Although there were treatments we could have done to help her, they would have been more effective months ago. Given her owners, I agreed that euthanasia was the most human solution. Her owners seemed very sad to see her go, but inside I could not help but question their devotion to her.

Quite a contrast to the day before, when I euthanized a favorite patient, a cat named Velcro. He was a very cool feline who presented to me yellow back in November. He had a combination of pancreatitis and hepatitis that initially responded to our treatment of fluids, antibiotics, and nutritional support. After a few days of hopitalization, he was ready to go home. I was surprised when he came back even yellower a few weeks later. He had stopped eating, too, although he was as amiable as ever. Our medical treatment was not improving him, so after conferring with an internal medicine specialist, we decided surgery was the next step. His owners had good queries about his case, but did not question my judgement, or balk at the cost of anything I suggested.

I stood, gowned and gloved up, over Velcro's yellow abdomen, and took a deep breath. "I might not be able to fix him," I thought, scalpel in hand as I made the long incision. I was expecting to find a cancer the ultrasound probe had missed. Instead I found a distended gall bladder and bile duct. He had developed an obstruction in the duct and the bile was backing up into his liver. With my boss's assistance, we flushed the bile duct and removed the gall bladder. I also biopsied everything. At this time, his pancreas looked normal, not at all inflammed.

The biopsies came back clear of cancer, and Velcro quickly improved. I was elated that I was able to "fix" him. On subsequent rechecks, his liver enzymes got better and better.

Then he came in because he'd stopped eating. He was yellower than ever. His bile duct was obstructed again. I referred him to a surgeon who said he could cannulate the duct, but that even with surgery, his prognosis was poor. His owner elected to take him home, and he actually started to eat again. They decided to manage him at home until he took a turn for the worse.

Unfortunately when I saw Velcro's name on my appointment book Friday, I knew that day had come. He had lost an entire pound, most of it muscle. He was so yellow, he looked like a green highlighter. I have never seen a patient so jaundiced. Everyone knew it was time to let him go. He purred, as usual, as I placed the IV catheter, but it was obvious he was ready.

Later that day, after I composed myself, I opened up Velcro's abdomen. His pancreas was terribly swollen and inflammed, with small abcesses all over it. He must've been miserable. Also, a band of scar tissue had formed over his bile duct, squeezing it off from his intestines. This was in the area of the pancreas, and the inflammation there must have caused this fibrotic band. His liver looked terrible compared to his surgery, just six weeks before. I hated that despite all our efforts, we could not fix such a great cat. He kept his dignity though, even up to the last moments, and thanks to his loving owner, we knew we had exhausted every course of treatment.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Happy Birthday, Sarah M.

"We are going to listen to Sarah MacLaughlin tonight, because it is her birthday," I said as I served dinner. I made Anthony guess how old. She's 39. That's ancient to Anna.

"Is this singer we are listening to still alive?" Anna asked.

Later, Anthony said, "This song reminds me of U2."

Anna said, "Me and who?"

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Education, and Loss

One of the reasons I don't home school is that I don't have the passion or specific education of Anna's teacher. She has a master's degree in education, and planned on getting a doctorate, but reconsidered when she realized she never wanted to leave the classroom. I recognize that I cannot motivate Anna at this age the way that she can, plus she has all these great ideas for new projects for Anna. Anna is a little bored with writing "U...U...U...u...u...u" over and over (although finding 3 magazine pictures of items that start with 'U' was a little challenging for all of us, much hard than all the other letters!).

Anna's teacher seems as excited about watching her learn to read as me. I am thrilled that she has come up with so many ideas for channelling Anna's hunger for knowledge, even though she has a classroom with some students struggling with their letters, most in the middle, and about 5 or so at Anna's speed. My passion is veterinary medicine, specifically veterinary dentistry. I can help implement Anna's teacher's plan, and I can be passionate about that, even if I am not very innovative educationally. I am sure if circumstances dictated it, I could educate my children, but right now I know I do a better job supporting Anna's public school teacher at this very good elementary school.

I am amazed at how much school has changed, anyway. It is much more "Montessori" or self-taught than I ever experienced. In Anna's public school classroom, students are working independently on different projects at their own level at the same time. When I went to school, we all sat facing the teacher doing the same work no matter what our level was. The only individuality was in the SRA reading cards we selected, or in what we taught ourselves by choosing books in the library. Thank goodness I was a motivated reader, and that my mom took me to the library hundreds of times. I couldn't get enough books!


While everyone was at school or work today, I continued cleaning. Sorrowfully, I cleaned and put away Vino's cage, finally. (he still rests cryogenically in the freezer.) I also put away Claudio's litter box. I had put off this last vestige way too long, and it was still very sad. I am so glad no one told me one year ago that within 12 months, I would lose all 3 of our pets. (The chickens are not pets; they are livestock, although we would never eat them. Just for the record, we lost one of them in the last year, too.) I am glad we have Francesca, but she does not nearly replace Montana, Claudio, or Vino. However, she is very devoted to me, and does teach me a lot about love and about giving animals a second chance. She really doesn't ask much, just some exercise and some attention EVERY DAY. Someday, she will be a great dog.

OK, now if you need a pick-me-up, go look at my new neice!

Monday, January 22, 2007

New classes

On Saturday, Anna and Colin started Samstagschule, a 12 week German language class for 3-6 year olds. They had a good time. Anna came back knowing how to say "Guten tag," and "Auf wiedersen," singing "O Tannenbaum," and knew all her colors. She also instantly made a new friend.

Colin enjoyed class, too, but when we asked him what he learned he said, "Uh, I no know." After some prompting, he said, "Auf la la la la..." Well, he is only 3 1/2. At least he's getting exposed to the words and the sounds. It is also so nice to have them in the same class, because they feel more confident with their sibling, and no one is left out.

Anna also started a ballet class today at a new studio that opened nearby. It's something she has wanted to do for a long time. She was so happy, she was beaming during the entire class. She already knows first position, and can't wait to get her leotard and slippers. It's conveniently held on Monday afternoons when I'm off, right after kindergarten ends but before I need to start getting dinner ready.

Colin is actually in the same age group as this class, too, and the teacher said he was welcome to join if he wanted. Fortunately, Anthony does not think it's "sissy" for a boy to be in a ballet class - he has no objection. Most of the time, Colin will be with me anyway, so it would be better than him sitting bored in the waiting area.

I asked Colin when we got home if he'd like to take dancing class, too, and he said, "NO!" It was as if his friends had already poisoned his mind against ballet. I tried again later, phrasing it more like, "going dancing with Anna," but he still was opposed. I don't know if he'll have the concentration or the desire to participate anyway, but next week we might give it a try, before the free trial period is over.


Could someone please invent a dog foot washer? Something Francesca could walk through on her way back in that would remove the dirt and dry her pads? The ice is gone, and it keeps drizzling off and on, and I am so weary of wiping her feet (at best) and giving her quick baths (at worst) from all the mud she tries to track in...

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Funny Things Colin Said This Week

After coming in Tuesday from playing in the ice and snow:

"Mommy, Christmas eve is cold on me."

(only a kid in Texas thinks it only snows at Christmastime.)


Passing his sister a toy car in the back seat:

"Anna, here's Lightning Ba-Queen. See his gas hole?"

(parents start silently laughing in front seats)

"Right there, that's his gas hole. See the gas hole?"


I am blowing raspberries on his tummy after his bath, before the pyjamas.

"No, no, Mommy, stop!" he giggles.
"No, Mommy, blow Daddy!"

Daddy raises his eyebrows.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Slide show from our icy holiday

I hope you enjoy the photos. It took a while to upload them! I've taken a slew of winter wonderland pictures. It really is incredible for those of us living in tropical climates - its like hell froze over! We have enjoyed being "iced in" altogether for the past few days, although Anna misses her school and is glad to be returning tomorrow. It snowed for a while Tuesday morning, then rained in the subfreezing temperatures, creating an amazing glaze over everything. The solar panels managed to make some electricity through the ice. Anthony chipped inches off the cars so that we can drive to work and school tomorrow. Its been fun to play outside in the cold, come in and drink hot chocolate and coffee, and hang out together.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

We've gone a little Costco crazy

We are in love with Costco. Since it opened here in Austin, we go at least once a week. Anthony goes A LOT. We depend on them for good wine at great prices, excellent cheeses, and milk (they beat our grocery store by a dollar a gallon).

Recently, we've made some big purchases.

The first was this nifty trash can with an infrared sensor. If your hands are near the top, it automatically opens. Then it closes 2 seconds later. It seemed like such an indulgent purchase, but I love it so much! When your hands are full of drippy eggshells or nasty chicken bits, it helpfully opens and closes itself. It actually was half the price of the all stainless steel one I'd been coveting at Target.

Colin demonstrates.

Then our toaster oven died. Early in our marriage, we had a toaster oven AND a toaster, because Anthony thought the toaster was superior for cooking toast. But, then I showed him how wonderful reheated pizza was in the toaster oven - far superior to the microwave - and he was sold. Also, its great if you don't want to heat up the whole kitchen in the summertime just to cook a few chicken nuggets.

But little did I know how great a toaster oven could be!

This model from Costco has a convection feature. I've never had a convection oven before, but this is awesome. It cooks quickly and gives everything a perfect crust. It holds an entire frozen pizza! It has a light! We had to rearrange the counters to make room for it, but it was so worth it. And only $50!

Then, for Christmas we got a cash gift from my in-laws, so we put it toward a beautiful new couch, as modeled by Anna.

The old fabric couch bought 7 years ago cost more than this one, and it was SAD. Although we paid extra for treating the fabric, it was stained miserably from years of beverages, baby spit-up, and ya'll don't want to think about what else. This leather couch will clean up with a damp rag. Plus, its smells GREAT.

Costco rocks.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Ice Day

It is cold here in central Texas! We don't usually get snow, but everything is iced over. My children, both of whom have never seen real snow in their short lives, looked outside and said it was snow, could they please make a snowman? I told them it was just ice, but they could go out and play. So the three of them (Anna, Colin, and Francesca the dog) went out and ran around in the winter wonderland. Colin was back in before I could snap a photo.

Anna (with Pooh Bear!) and Francesca. Anna was disappointed the "pond" did not freeze enough for us to be able to skate on it!

Hopefully our winter garden will do alright. Here is the iced broccoli.

Of course the best part about playing outside in winter is coming in for the hot chocolate.

We'll see if school is cancelled tomorrow. It rained a lot this afternoon, and its supposed to drop into the upper 20s tonight. All my surgeries that I was supposed to do tomorrow were rescheduled, so I definitely have a "snow day!"

I also got this touching photograph from my extended family in Seattle. Their beautiful dog, Sierra, passed away 2 weeks ago from cancer. This family's life revolved around their wonderful dog, and she basked in their admiration. The photo of this little memorial to her, with several cards of condolence, brought tears to my eyes.

Sierra remembered.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

R.I.P. Vino

Friday was a sad day. Thursday night I didn't have any scraps to give to Vino, so I added a few rodent blocks to his cage as I put Anna to bed. At the last minute before we left Friday morning, I decided to check - he had not moved the blocks. A bad sign. I looked in his hiding box, and there he was, curled up, dead. I didn't tell Anna before she left for school, but the knowledge hung over me like a black cloud all day. There had been no warning - the day before he devoured some rice and zucchini that I offered him, and ran in his usual pell-mell style on his wheel. We figured he was about 2 years old, and he probably just expired. I examined him externally, and found no tumors, no obvious trauma - there was still food in his cheek pouches. I couldn't bring myself to autopsy him; I still might not know why he died, and he'd still be dead anyway.

Vino only weighed about 30 grams, but he was bigger than that in spirit and personality. He loved dining on scraps of our fresh produce, and his favorite things to eat were eggs, rice, noodles, edamame, zucchini, cucumber, and watermelon. He survived two traumatic amputations. While at my friend Enricka's house, he somehow escaped from his cage after amputation #1, and was nearly carried out the catdoor by one of her felines. Fortunately, the cat was looking suspicious, and Vino was extracted from the cat's mouth without harm. Claudio bit his second leg off through the cage wires, and after that he lived in a slick, safe aquarium.

Enricka loved Vino as much as we did, and bought him many great furnishings for his new "apartment". Once she bought him a little fake coral thing for fish, thinking he would enjoy scrambling through its holes. He did, until one day Anthony discovered that Vino tried to crawl through an extremely tiny hole and got stuck at his pelvis. We tried pushing him back, and tried gently pulling him through, but like Pooh Bear in Rabbit's hole, he was STUCK. Anthony looked me in the eye and said, "I think I can get him out with a hacksaw." I couldn't believe he was serious, and it seemed far too dangerous. But, indeed, the hacksaw quickly and safely cut through the plastic coral, although I put my fingers between it and Vino as much as I could. Soon he was freed, and fortunately that was the last mishap he suffered.

Vino was a celebrity at my clinic, where everyone loved him and often asked me about him. Whenever he was there, we marveled at how a hamster with 2 1/2 legs would still run so ardently on his wheel, how a little creature who had suffered so much pain and faced such obstacles would still run out and greet anyone who came and called his name.

Anna was very sad when I "discovered" dead Vino after getting home Friday. She cried some, and said how much she did not want him to be dead. We made some token pawprints of him, and she held him one last time. Today as I fixed our meals, I had to stop myself from setting aside so many of his favorite tidbits. It poured rain all day, so he is in our freezer, waiting for more appropriate weather for his burial.

Rest in peace, little Vino, and thanks for being such a great little pet for a 4-5 year old girl, and for being such a little inspiration.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Chugga chugga

Colin's favorite present this year was a large set of quality wooden train tracks he got from Nana and Grandad, to augment the small amount he previously had. Add to that some hand-me-downs from cousin Andrew and you can build some serious tracks.

This photo was taken after the kids went to bed, so Francesca is posing for me)
Today while Anna was on a playdate, I took Colin to buy him a Thomas engine (he has a Percy but not a proper Thomas). Anthony met us, and also bought another set of 21 track pieces ("I need more straight ones!") and his own battery operated engine. For himself. Colin starts playing trains as soon as he comes home, and Anthony soon joins in. Who loves trains more?....

Here are some near-misses from our Christmas card photo session that I could not resist:


Can't you hear it?

Here is an image of Colin imitating the guys laying concrete. I know, I know, I haven't posted an image of the patio yet, which we still love, but it has muddy puppy prints all over it and doesn't look so photogenic in the wintry, half-torn up landscape. But I love it, and will try to show it to you soon.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Rodent Amputees

You won't believe what I did at work today. A former vet co-worker called me and said, "You're just the person I need. We got 2 hamsters for Christmas and one broke its leg today. I knew I had to call you!" The cat knocked the cage over, and the hamster was happily trailing her broken leg behind her, all through the habitrail.

Those little buggers have some delicate appendages! We took an Xray and saw a pretty clean fracture through the tibia (shin bone). Under general anesthesia, I tried to place a pin into the bone, from the knee down. This is a standard way to fix a tibial fracture in any animal, but this one was microscopic. Instead of an actual steel pin, I used a small needle. I've used this needle technique successfully in a squirrel once, and eventually he was released to the wild.

The hamster's tibia was too small; once I got the needle in it just popped out the other side. Oh well, it was worth a try. Since we know all too well that hamsters without limbs do really well, I removed the limb at the knee and sewed the skin over it. She recovered uneventfully.

Long time readers know about Vino, our personal 2.5 legged hamster who has survived amputation, twice and still runs like the Dickens on his wheel. Fortunately, Vino hasn't lost any body parts in over a year! I also cut a leg off a ghinea pig with an infected open fracture. She went on to have a few happy months in a new home until a dog got a hold of her, ending her sad short life. These fractures must happen a lot to others, too, because I get a lot of hits from people searching about their rodent's leg trauma, and Angie's had 2 such experiences with her gerbils. At least when they have limb trauma I can control their pain and fix them. Too often rodents come in with cancer, and I am usually powerless against that.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

I took down the Christmas decorations today.

It's the new year, so back to the old template. I'd like to get a new one, heck, I'd like to design a new one, but I don't seem to have the time to get around to posting, let alone learn more of this html business. So far I am resisting the beta blogger. I had so many problems posting comments on others' blogs that went beta. Having a bunch of new subjects in which to file my posts doesn't seem like enough motivation. Am I just being a stick in the mud? What do you say, beta bloggers?

Our holidays were great, but they have left me feeling a little frayed. I feel like I am taking life in big gulps, like eating a great meal too quickly without even tasting it. Actually, I have been eating like that a few times lately, which apparently French women never do, and that is why they stay thin while we Americans get fat.

We continue to enjoy our new patio, although it has been too chilly even here in Texas to dine out on it. The work on the landscape progresses. Last week Anthony built a beautiful new wooden shed. The instructions said it would take 3-8 hours to complete. Maybe with a crew of experienced builders! 3 hours...3 days... what's the difference? Then he had to shingle the roof. Now we are working on painting it. The kids "helped" me today putting the primer on. Anthony figured they could just slap it on all over, as it's not very technique sensitive. They did, and had lots of fun getting paint all over themselves and in a one foot swatch about their eye level. I appreciated the company as much as the help.

I am so jealous that Kareen and Leah went biking on Saturday while I was working! They have both decided to join me in this year's Danskin Triathlon, and I am so proud of them and excited to have a "team." Emily says she is going to do it, too, so we will all be fit by the time summer comes along. Anyone else care to join us? (women who will be 40 weeks pregnant by the time of the race are of course exempt.)

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Clean Sweep

When you get new stuff for Christmas, and your house is full, you gotta make room, right? Today both the kids went back to school, and I purged the house - loaded up several garbage bags full of old clothes, crib linens, baby toys, etc. It filled the back of my Highlander with the back seats down. I didn't include a large bag of kid hangers and other debris that went right into the dumpster. Even the attendant at the Goodwill van was impressed with the size of my castoffs!

My house is not perfectly uncluttered, but it is a bit lighter without all that unused stuff. It will never be perfect, but it is better. I was feeling quite virtuous, until Anthony came home and discovered I tossed an appliance he did NOT want to get rid of. Oops.

Never mind that it was something we haven't used in years, or that we have a similar smaller product. He felt justifiably angry that I'd gotten rid of some joint property without consulting with him first. "I've never gotten rid of anything of yours!" he said, and I admit, I would be steamed if he had. I apologized, but I don't think I'll be able to get it back.

Nobody tell Anna I also got rid of Baby Tad.

Monday, January 01, 2007

I haven't touched my computer for 3 whole days!

Maybe tomorrow my life will return to its routine and I'll be able to do a proper post? I hope so. We've been working, putting away Christmas gifts, trying to put up the new shed, visiting and partying. Oh, and wiping the dog's feet everytime she comes in -- with the landscape in disarray and several days of rain, its a mucky, muddy mess out there. At least we all get to wear our Wellies!

Note to self: even if the children stay up 3 hours past their bedtime, they will only sleep in 10 minutes! Argh!