Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A bite to remember

"I told you.
Your hand was trying to kill you.
I had to stop it."

It's worth mentioning that if my sweet, loyal, writer-cat Gus can almost put me in the hospital, so can yours, whether he helps you write or not.

As most cat-owners know, but maybe, like me, choose to ignore, cats are hunters by nature. They can be the most playful beings around. They can be polite. If they feel like it, they can be trained to fetch, or come when you call them. And, if you don't want your bare legs ambushed by playful cats who are hunters by nature, they can be taught to go up or downstairs ahead of you. 

"Throw me a post-it toy."
Gus and I have an understanding. When I'm writing, his job is to nap on a soft blanket near my laptop under a little heat lamp that I set up. When he's bored, my job is to stop writing and make him a post-it toy, or a fort. 

I also know if I am in a conversation and gesturing, Gus considers this both an invitation to play and an opportunity to hunt. 

And this is where Gus begins to confuse himself with a cat 35 times his size, who does not have fresh bowls of kibble every morning, but is in danger of starving to death if he can't execute the cunning and stealth to bag his hand-prey.

And this is when Gus, like a soft little shark, will drift to where he can track hand-prey, his focus silent and serious, his dilated predator eyes on the prize until I lean forward and say, "Stop it, Gus. Go to your fort."
"How did you get in here?"

He's the best.

Last week, while my husband and I sat chatting in our living room, Gus appeared. I motioned him to the couch next to me where he flopped and began to bat at my hand playfully.  

And then he wrapped himself around my wrist and bit me.

"Hey!" I yelled, surprised. But now, Gus was crouched with his ears back, as if he'd taken his shot and now, it was my turn to be prey again. Instead, I dipped my fingers into my water glass and sprinkled him, saying "No! NO!"

Horrified, he fled the scene. Below the piano he crouched, staring at me, a hundred questions in his still-dilated, predator eyes.

This was on a Thursday. On Friday, a little area around the bite was red, but eh, I thought, he's a house cat. I worked at my desk and barely noticed it. 

The next day I was to fly and visit family overnight in Maryland. I woke many times that night, as I do before I fly, and also because it felt like I was wearing several rubber bands around my wrist.

By the time I was at my gate, my entire wrist was swollen. He's a house cat, I thought. How dirty can his mouth be? With a half hour or so to kill, I looked up "Infected cat bites" on my phone.

And discovered the following:

From Mayo Clinic: "...according to a new study by researchers at the Mayo Clinic, almost a third of the people who sought treatment for a cat bite had to be hospitalized. And of the patients who were hospitalized, two-thirds ended up needing surgery to flush out the bacteria and remove infected tissue."


I looked at my wrist. 
"Yes. They're talking about me," it said.

From WebMD:  "In some cases, a person who has been bitten by an animal may need a tetanus or rabies shot, antibiotics to prevent infection, X-rays, or immediate treatment at a hospital. Get medical attention if:
  • The bite is from a cat.
  • There are signs of infection.
  • You haven't had a tetanus shot for more than 10 years or you're not sure when your last tetanus shot was. 
I was sure my last tetanus shot was in third grade, after I picked up a chipmunk on a field trip.

I pulled my sleeve down.
I pulled my sleeve up.
I stared at my wrist.
Sleeve down. 
Sleeve up.

On the plane, spooked and sure things were becoming worse by the moment, I thought over my choices: Disrupt the entire family get-together with a trip to the ER which would take several hours and possibly end with a four-day hospital stay. Or, get hold of myself. Stop looking at my wrist, stop obsessing and wait until the next day. Visit a walk-in urgent care facility on the way home.  What's twenty-four more hours?

Problem solved.

Two hours later, I approached my host who happens to be a medical person and said, "Ha ha, interesting thing happened, I got this bite the other day from my cat who was just playing and—"
"Let me see it," interrupted my host.
He took a look, announced to the others that we would be going to the emergency room and told me that no, I didn't have to bring my bag. He'd come back for it.

At the ER, I told the triage person I had an infected cat bite and was placed in an exam room almost as quickly as I would have been after saying, "Well, first I had these chest pains..." 

The doctor  looked at it. "Oh yeah, that's infected," he said and calmly drew a large circle around the  area.

One tetanus shot and a prescription for oral antibiotics later, I was told that I was not only "borderline" for admission, but still a candidate depending on what happened on either side of that circle. 

It is a week later, the site is completely healed.  A more docile Gus is next to my hand, battling his hunter instincts as well as his memories I'm sure, of that humiliating water treatment. He looks as likely to attack me as he is to go down the hall and draw himself a bath.

I told him, it was a good thing I still think of him like this:

and not this:

and that, of course, all is forgiven.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Older women should be one thing for young mothers and it's not this

If I ever look at a struggling young
mother like this, I hope someone
will tell me to change 

my face immediately
At the supermarket recently, I watched a silent interaction between two women.  They were worlds apart age-wise; one was a seventy-something professional who looked formidable, the other was a twenty-something mother who looked like a good night's sleep would probably change her life.

I'd seen Mom already, moving around the store ahead of me, all business, cart full, kids looking like, if they were phones, they would be down to one bar. Dressed in a skirt and heels, I'm supposing she was employed outside the home as SAHM's only dress like that on TVLand.

The kids were whiney-crying until Mom had unloaded nearly half her cart and then, as though someone had said, "Okay, now!" the four-year-old girl lost it and the younger brother sympathy-lost it. The girl waved a bag of Doritos around which the mother refused to open while she waited to pay for the groceries.

I know this tactic. IF you keep it together and let me get out of here, THEN  I'll open your toy/snack/drink in the car.

And so, Mom wasn't budging. The girl's very loud crying only intensified, her face turned tomato-red, tears traveled down her cheeks and her glazed over eyes were half-closed with fatigue.  

"I want the bag...Mommeeeeeee...(gaspy sob)
"I WANT the bag...(hiccups)

And so on.

At first, I thought, it's four-thirty in the afternoon. It's the witching hour. It's time to pay the Doritos bill. Just give her the bag.

But I know too well that teaching children to anticipate and then cope with stressful situations is a long work in progress. Very often there are special rewards attached to specific goals. There are endless just-outs and next-times. How unfair to both parent and child if all that training must be put to the side, in the best place to practice it, only because people are judging you so harshly you can almost hear their thoughts.  

So I made funny faces at the girl, waved "hi" to distract her and tried to make eye contact with Mom to speak for everyone in the store and let her know we understood. But Mom, wasn't having it. Every muscle in her face was tense. Her eyes were fixed on the cashier.

The older woman, clearly not one of the everyones, wasn't having it either. Face twisted into a scowl, she sighed, fidgeted, and kept her folded arms across her chest.  Just loudly enough for Mom to hear, she hissed the word "chaos," and stared at her. Then she glared at the crying girl, lips pressed together in a straight line, eyes narrow.

At once, she looked at me and shook her head. I gave her a look to let her know I was on the other team.

Mom finished checking out and wheeled her chaos away.

The older woman rolled up to the register and said to the cashier, "Disgusting, ab-so-lute-ly disgusting. That we have to be exposed to this nonsense! This foolishness. This is why kids shouldn't be allowed in places like this," she said, as though she were not buying hamburger and paper towels but being robbed of an exquisite dining experience in an expensive restaurant.

"If I'd ever acted like that," she said to the cashier, "I would have done it only once."

"Uh-huh. Do you want the meat separated from the paper towels?" asked the cashier, which made me like him very much.

I made it to the parking lot in time to catch the mother as she lifted bags into the back of the car. The little girl sat in a car seat eating her Doritos. Her little brother was quiet and busy with a toy.

"Excuse me," I said.

When she looked at me, I could see that she was younger than I'd guessed. The deep stress lines across her forehead looked like she'd borrowed them from someone older.

"You know what?" I said. "You did a good job in there. I know how hard that was."

Her face relaxed. She looked like she'd cry. "I'm trying."

I've changed my own judge-y ways, but I know when I was a younger parent with a strong drive to raise conscientious kids, I would have been (privately) asshat-y had the mother handed the chaotic girl her Doritos. And, while in places "like this" I have only sympathy for the struggling parent, in high end restaurants where I've spent a lot of money to be free of screaming, nap-starved children, I've been judge-y indeed. 

But  in line that day, I remembered myself as I once was, and got a good look at who people become when they lose the ability to remember, who can't soften in their acceptance of others while they are hardening toward them. 

So today, I'll have a little patience with inflexible people and realize they might be struggling to find control in those intractable ways. 

They may be tackling much bigger issues than I am. 

They may be facing a trip to the store later with a tired toddler, and the kind of judgement that is so weighty, it makes it risky to even make eye contact with a stranger who's just trying to be nice to you.