Posted by: wrmcnutt | February 22, 2013

The Long Drive


Sebastian – Sebs – Sebber – The Olde Man, in happier days. Two eyes, and, I think, teeth.

I don’t think anyone else calls it the Long Drive, but any adult pet owner recognizes the term whenever I use it. It’s the drive you take to the vet when your elderly, sick pet is almost certainly not going to recover, and you know it.  You know it in the back of your mind, even if the front of your mind fails to accept it.  Denial, they say, isn’t just a river in Egypt.  But it’s not all powerful.  We know.  That’s what explains the tears that show up for no reason to which you will admit and the hot pressure inside your sinuses that is the tears you won’t let out.  Other people may try to tell you the facts, and you deny them.  Tell me, then, would you say “no!” so vigorously if you didn’t actually already know?

It was almost twenty years ago that my godson, then three, walked up our back steps with an adolescent orange tabby and said “White kitty wants to come in!”  And in they came.  White kitty (who was orange) was friendly, practically boneless, and had no reservations whatsoever about a three-year-old grabbing him about his middle and hauling him around like a sack of wheat.  He was wearing a badly – expired flea collar, so he must have belonged to somebody. But he was also eaten up with fleas.  Not wanting a passel of flea eggs laid in my shag carpet (long story – I know better now), I immediately tossed him back out on the porch.  He was wearing a flea collar and and clearly belonged to someone.

Herself sneaked him back into the house very shortly thereafter.  We have an odd relationship, she and I.  She thinks she’s Ellie Mae Clampett and I try to keep the house from begin buried in pet hair.   So – one flea bath later, we had another cat.  This put us at a count of two, which is my max.  It’s a rule that cats should not outnumber people in the house.

Our other cat at the same time was named Agatha, and for some reason, this new orange fellow was named Sebastian.  It was only much later we realized that St. Agatha is the patron saint of nurses, and St. Sebastian is the patron saint of archers.  Herself is a nurse.  I am an archer.  Coincidence?  Probably.  I would like to say that Sebastian was very, very fond of us.  I certainly took his purring and rubbing to heart.  But I have to admit, it might not have been personal.  You see, Sebastian was into PEEEPLE!  (You have to spell it that way to convey his enthusiasm.)  He just loved peeeple.

He loved rubbing up against legs.  He loved sitting in laps. He loved sneaking up on you and cramming his head up under your hand to sneak extra pats in.  When he was young and energetic, you could hold your hand out and he would whip himself around in figure-eights under your hand, doing all the work of patting, just for your convenience.  I used to tell folks he was aggressively submissive.  When someone new came into the house he would walk in front of them, flop down, and expose his throat and belly.  He wanted to be utterly clear that he was not the alpha, and if you could drop off a belly rub on your way by, that was fine with him.

He was the happiest individual I ever met.  He could find a reason to purr simply by sitting in a shaft of sunlight. He responded positively to any attention at all.  Petting, noogies, gentle tugs at his tail . . . he didn’t care.  It was all good, as long as there were peeeple and and they were paying attention to him. He was low-maintenance, too.  He liked anything we fed him.  He never got sick, and aside from when we got him snipped, only went to the vet for sporadic checkups most of the time.  We had two rough years out of the twenty we had with him.

One year we noticed he was loosing weight and there was a minor panic.  Feline leukemia? Something worse?  Were we going to lose the buddy? It was a bad-news/good-news thing.  He had developed periodontal disease.  We, of course, didn’t notice until it was too late, and his gums were rotten. It broke my heart to have all of those perfectly good teeth extracted, but the vet said that his gums were so bad that the teeth couldn’t be saved. By removing the tooth beds, they got all of the rotten tissue and he was able to heal.  The good news?  Turns out cats don’t use their teeth to chew.  Who knew, right?  Turns out that in the wild they use their fangs to strip flesh from bones, but then they just sort of gulp it down.  Once his gums healed up, he was able to return to nomming kibble like a champion.  He plumped right back up again.  The surgeon was very pleased with his recovery and told me that she’d seen cats return to mousing again, toothless, after they were no longer in pain.

Then there was the year of the eye.  The poor fellow got into a fight and suffered a minor eye injury that led to an infection, and we were forced to have an eye removed to prevent the infection from spreading.

Those were too expensive years, but in both cases the decision to treat Sebs was easy.  The rest of the time, he’d eaten cheap kibble and sat in my lap and purred.  He purred me through sad times.    He purred me through our best friends’ divorce and his subsequent move out of town.  He purred me through my parent’s deaths.  For two decades that amazingly loud purrbox could be heard from four feet away.  No matter what happened, he loved to be with us, and served as an example that, even in the darkest times, even when you are feeling your saddest, even if your balls have been cut off, life can still be good!

As I’ve said, he was with us for around twenty years.  He had a long, healthy, good life.  Last month he was still able to get up onto the kitchen counter (a forbidden place) stalking the cooked chicken.  But still, for the past couple of years, he’d been getting a little slower every day, jumping with a little less confidence, and just seeming more . . . frail.

I should have realized something was happening about ten days ago.  You see, the Old Man had always had a delicate tummy.  Cleaning up “cat yack” was one of the prices of having a roommate that was always, always glad to see you.  But about ten days ago, he quit getting sick.  Stupid me, I thought this was good news.  When we went to the vet this morning, the poor bastard had lost half his body weight.  I had actually made an appointment for him because of an eye infection.  He’s been expressing a little fluid for a few days. I didn’t think it was anything serious, but when you’re down to one eye, you don’t want to take chances.

But last night, when we got home from dinner, he was staggering around the house.  He just wasn’t walking right.  We had a vet appointment the next day, so I tried not to sweat it.  He had an infection in his head. That’ll make anybody woozy, right?  I went to my study and started to write.  Then, from the kitchen, I heard the harsh, hacking, gasping sounds.

You have to understand, my other housemate’s day job is hand-to-hand combat with the Angel of Death.  She’s a fifteen year veteran of the emergency department in a level one trauma center.  Her spine is made of tungsten carbide, an alloy that considers steel to be “flimsy” and iron to be “mushy.”  I’ve known her for a quarter-century, through the toughest times in her life, and I can count the times I’ve heard her cry on the fingers of one hand.  And there she sat, in the middle of the kitchen floor, petting the cat and crying.

She can smell Death, you see.  I think that working so closely with the bastard day in and day out all these years, she can recognized his footsteps in the hallway outside.  She smelled him on my parents not too many years ago.  She never says anything at the time. She doesn’t like to crush hope.  And she generally has no evidence. She just knows.

That night he sat on her chest for a couple of hours while we watched TV.  He didn’t move around much, and eventually she took him to the big bed, where he spent the night with us.  She work up about nine times, she said, to make sure he was still breathing.   Eventually dawn came, and she headed for the bathroom.  I was, I confess, entertained.  As soon as the door closed, his ears perked up.  Somewhere in the house, a door was closed, and that was not to be tolerated.  He could barely stand, but stand he did, and he dragged himself to the edge of the bed.  He stared down at the floor and waited.  I caved shortly and lifted him down to the floor where, with a dedication to duty and a iron will, he stalked the closed door to the bathroom and poked at it until someone (me) opened it.  Please note that he did not actually want to go into said room.  But a door was not to be closed.  Not on his watch.

Herself stalled, piddled around, and lollygagged, but eventually the relentless march of the clock forced The Nurse out the door and off to work, leaving Sebs and I to await his appointment.  She put him on the futon in my study where I tried to write while I waited for the clock to tick down.  Eventually, he got ambitious and started eying the floor again, so I lifted him down and followed him back into the bathroom, where he tried to jump into the tub. He was able to do it yesterday. But today he couldn’t get his hind legs up on to the rim.  He’d been sleeping on the tub floor for a couple of months now.  I think he liked the cool, but I was alarmed when I saw that he lay down partially in puddle of water. He’s a pretty easy going cat, but lying down in a puddle of water?  That’s not right.  But he was content, so I left him alone and continued at my keyboard for a little while.  I made breakfast and I gave him an hour nap, then got him back out of the tub.  He went to his food and water dishes, stared at them for a few minutes, but did not eat or drink, and then lay down on the kitchen floor and took another nap.

Time passed. And the time came to head out to the vet.  He’s always hated the carrier, which is normally a strict rule with me.  No loose cats wandering around in the car.  But today – I made an exception.  I guess because I knew. He loved cardboard boxes.  So much so that we’d started calling the loose boxes that seem to accumulate around our house “cat traps.” And he loved them so much that he’d cram himself into grossly under-sized boxes.  And the only thing better than a box to sit in was a stack of clean laundry. So I took a clean towel and lined a cardboard box. Then I picked up my friend and put him in the box.

We stepped outside into the brisk morning air. It was a crisp winter day, but the sky was clear and the sun was warm. He sat up right away. There was a bird, returned to East Tennessee early, singing.  And his head whipped around. I put the box on the floor between the seats.  The view wasn’t so hot from down there, but if I had to slam on the breaks, he wouldn’t go flying.  Whatever was going on with my friend did not need to be complicated by flying off of the seat. He perked up on the trip, active and interested in everything around him.  He was so – himself, a part of me key saying “hey: false alarm.” When we crossed the parking lot I had to stop for a second.  He was sitting up and looking around.  I’d developed a huge, hot burning pressure in my lower sinuses. Had to stop for  a second for it to clear.

We went in and I got immediately put into an exam room.  We waited just a few minutes and then the vet came in. She said, “So, let’s take a look at that – oh dear.”  She took my old friend away and weighed him.  He’s lost half of his body weight.  She was very kind, but she said that while she could treat his eye and give him some meds to stimulate his appetite. But his body was trying to shut down.  How does  your friend stop eating for seven days and  you not notice?  The reason my old friend was staggering, the reason he couldn’t jump up into the tube, was that he had almost no muscles left. Without food, his little body had been consuming his own muscles to keep him alive. The vet worked very hard not to influence my decision.  At every stage she gave me the facts, answered my questions, and left me to my own thoughts.

Did you know that, compared to dogs or sheep, cats are barely domesticated?  Unless your cat has a broken bone or other sharp pain, they are unlikely to let you know they are hurting.  Because showing weakness like that in the wild can get you killed.  So I wasn’t in a position to say that he wasn’t in any pain.  First – he wasn’t going to get any better, because there really wasn’t anything wrong with him.  His little body was just worn out. Second – his quality of life was non-existent.

There was only one call to make, and the decision was easy.  Getting the words out of my mouth was one of the hardest things I’d ever done.  Herself was working a short shift that day.  I should have waited for her. But I found that I lacked the courage.  Forty four years ago, I stood on a three meter diving board, looking down at a diving well so deep that the water seemed almost black.  I knew then that if I waited, I wouldn’t have the nerve to jump.  If I waited, I wasn’t going to have what it took to make this call.

You see, I saw my father’s last year.  I saw my wife’s grandmother’s last year.  I do not want either of those years for myself.  If that’s the case, what right or business do I have making my friend go through another two or three weeks of this because I can’t let go?

The process is both swift and simple.  The patient is given an intro-muscular injection of a sedative that literally puts him to sleep.  He was a good kitty, just like he’d always been.  He took his injection without hissing or biting.  Then I took him out of his box and held him in my lap and talked to him as he went to sleep.  I hadn’t actually heard him purr in a very long time, but some nights I could pet him and feel it under my fingers.  I’m probably projecting, but I’ll always believe that I felt that small vibration under my fingers one last time. Once he was fully asleep, the vet shaved his leg and revealed a tiny vein in his leg.  He was so dehydrated that she was afraid she’d have to do an abdominal injection, which takes a little longer, but she had no trouble hitting the vein.  I kept petting his head and flank until she told me that she couldn’t hear a heartbeat any more.  She cautioned me that I might see a reflex breath, but that my friend was gone.

She stayed with me as long as I wanted her, never hurrying or rushing.  She explained that he was so worn out that had we let him out of the house, he would mostly likely have found a thicket up on the ridge behind the house and gone to sleep and never woken up.  Weeks ago.  We were keeping him inside because it was so cold.  And I was so hoping he would make to one more spring.  He really liked lying on the front porch in the sunlight and warm breezes. All of the scents and sounds of spring made it his favorite time of year.

I’m going to miss my friend.

Posted by: wrmcnutt | January 29, 2013

Moving Iron

So late last year I started a new project.  I returned to the gym with a seriousness that I have not approached fitness with since 1980.   I’m not a “resolutionary,” one of those folks who starts a fitness program in January only to lose interested in February.  I made a commitment to myself at the beginning of November of last year to attempt to get serious exercise five days a week, but to make sure I made it to the gym at least three days a week.

And I’ve done it.  This week marks the end of week twelve.  With the exception of Christmas week, I’ve been to the gym at least three days a week for three months.  My current workout consists of a five weekday after-work regimen.  On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I do a thirty minute warm up on the treadmill, followed by about forty-five minutes of weightlifting.  I’m using an automated training program called Activetrax, mostly because it comes for free with my YMCA membership.  I joined the Y for three reasons:  location, location, location.  I’ve been a member of 2 other gyms over the years, but when it’s a 20 minute drive to the gym, plus changing and showering, I lose an hour out of my day that’s not even my workout.  Because the Y is right across the street from my office, I can step in there after work without losing any time to “getting to the gym.”  So I’ve got one less excuse for not making it to the gym.

Lower Back ImprovementSince November 1, I have lifted weights 27 times.  I have been on the treadmill 39 times.  I have jogged at total of 97 miles (56 miles this year).  I’m gonna share my lower back strength chart because it’s the most impressive looking.

I don’t use free weights.  Yeah I know: blah-blah-flexibility, blah-blah-control, blah-blah-better definition, blah-blah-better workout.  All those reasons are true. But I work out alone. Sure, there are other people around, but I’d rather not be lying on the bench, hoping some stranger will come up and remove the 125-bound bar from my throat where I’ve dropped it.  I don’t use a workout partner because I don’t want his inability to show up to be an excuse for me to not work out.

I don’t have any particular weight-training goals, and I think that’s a problem.  I started out wanted to get more fit, get stronger, and get into better cardiovascular health. But other than looking better in a bathing suit and being physically more powerful, I’m not really sure why I’ve been lifting weights for the past three months.  It’s something to think on.

Posted by: wrmcnutt | May 28, 2012

Decoration Day

I can add nothing to this:

Posted by: wrmcnutt | May 15, 2012

What Men Hear

As I’m sure most women will agree, male ears function differently than female ones.  For example, they are far more likely to hear “sure, go play golf.  Painting the garage can wait another week” whereas “please pick up your socks” will somehow bounce off the eardrum and land on the floor.  Next to the socks.

I recently saw a clip from the end of one of my favorite Bruce Willis movies, Armageddon.  In it, Bruce escorts his daughter’s fiancee to the surface of the asteroid that’s going to destroy the earth.  The younger man, played by Ben Affleck, has ‘won’ a lottery.  His prize is the privilege of staying behind and setting off the nuke that’s going to save the world.  The problem is, he’s got to be standing next to it.  Bruce realizes that there is no way in hell he can step off the gangway of the escape ship and look his daughter in the eye having left her fiance to die alone. So he wrecks the young man’s air supply such that hecannot carry out the mission, and boots him back into the elevator, saying “It’s your turn to take care of the little girl.”

That scene reminded me of my wedding day, and a conversation I had with my father in law.  Since women’s ears can’t hear it, I thought you might be interested in it here.

Father Gornik said: “Who gives this woman?”

And then my father-in-law SAID: “Her mother and I.”

But what I HEARD was: “*sigh*  Boy, there is no way in hell you are good enough for my daughter.  But, God knows why, she has chosen you, and so I’m going to work with it.  Congratulations: It’s your turn to take care of the little girl.  If you fuck this up; if you so much as raise your hand to her, well. . . . I own a backhoe, and the Pisgah National Forest has over a half-million acres. Are we clear?”

A little farther on, Father Gornik said: “Do you, William, take Kelly to love, honor, and cherish, so long as you both shall live?”

And I SAID: “I do.”

But what my father-in-law HEARD was: “Sir, I have no idea why she chose me either.  And I also have no idea where we’re headed next.  But I do promise that she will never know cold, and she will never know hunger.  I will keep her warm, safe, and dry.  And know this: as long as I have breath in my body, no man shall raise a hand to her, least of all me.  And that includes you. Yes, I think we are clear.”

That’s why most men get along so well with their fathers-in-law.  We understand one another.

Posted by: wrmcnutt | March 20, 2012

The Long Road Home

For those of you who don’t follow me closely, I am a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, a medieval re-creationist group with an international membership.  For those who don’t care to follow the above link, the short version is that I and my extended circle of friends and acquaintances gather together in groups large and small to wear armor, bash each other with swords, blacksmith, and make antique furniture, while you wait.

My most recent exploit was a visit to Gulf Wars, an annual gathering of about 3500 people down in Lumberton, Mississippi.  Now, I’m still in stage three recovery from heart surgery, so I wasn’t able to fight this year.  I had hauled my kit down there, but two days of setup, pounding stakes, lifting canvas, and so on, convinced me that I wasn’t fit.  I was good for ten minutes of normal active human activity, but that had to be followed with twenty minutes of rest.  Not gonna happen on the battlefield.

So I was a spectator for this one.  There are quite a few stories to be told, but for your amusement, I’ll instead share the story of my voyage home.  I’ve not had a road trip like that in a few years.

First, we broke down camp on Saturday.  This is hard for me; the War is still going on.  You can hear the captain’s commands from my camp.  But all, and I mean ALL of my helpers want to decamp on Saturday so that they can have Sunday to recover.  Accordingly, if I want any help tearing down the common areas in camp, I have to do it Saturday.  And it was very effective. I worked my fellow campers like rented mules and before the sun had set, only one tent, my sleeping tent, remained.

The next day, my neighbors came over to help, and all was packed and loaded by 11 AM.  This is around four hours earlier than the previous record.  And so my party, two ladies, me, and a four-year-old-blond noise, saddled up and headed north.Wow!  Four Hours Early.  Hell, we were going to get home before TEN!

Alas, hubris.

Not too terribly far up the road, my right trailer tire exploded.  And it took the right fender with it.  At about eighty miles an hour.  By the time I had brought the two vehicles to a stop, the rim was rendered utterly useless.  And “get a spare tire for the trailer” was still on my to-do list.

Before I had come to a complete stop, a lovely family from South Downs, Meridies stopped and loaned me a floor jack, saving me MUCH effort.

So here I sat, in rural Mississippi, on a Sunday afternoon, with no tire, no rim, and no local connections.  It could have been worse.  I was only a few minutes north of Meridian.  While not a bustling metropolis, Meridian does have stores open on Sundays, and so my lead car and I were off on our quest.  Sam’s Club had a tire that would fit the rim, but no rim.  Sears could get both items for me (tomorrow).  Wal-mart, regretfully, could not help me at all.  Firestone was closed.  U-Haul had no spare parts.  (What the hell is up with that?  They had thirty trailers in the yard for rent. What if one of them has a flat?) Finally, Liz, the pilot of my lead car abruptly turned into an RV dealership.

Now – I’m not saying that the lady running the parts department of the RV dealership was a lesbian.  But if she was straight, she was being straight ironically.  I don’t think I’ve ever met a more butch, crop haired, comfortable-shoe wearing, forefinger-and-middle-nail-cut-short woman in my life.  If there was a stereotype, she was living up to it.  Except for one: the man-hating part.  She was kind, gracious, and generous.  They kept a spare tire around the lot in case one of the trailers had a flat, and she was willing to sell it to me.  Sadly, they had no way to take the tire off of it, and it was the wrong size.  But I bought it anyway, and we headed back to Sam’s Wholesale Club, who thought they might have a tire.

Well, it turned out that Sam’s didn’t have a tire to replace my casualty.  They were reluctant, but they did finally decide to sell me a tire that fit, but was designed to haul lighter loads.  That was when we discovered that my pilot-car’s driver didn’t have her Sam’s card with her. Off to customer service to get a new card.

Membership card in hand, we attempted once again to make the purchase.  Cards expired.  (Why didn’t Customer Service notice this?)  So – buy a new membership.  Now we can buy, mount, and balance the tire that’s really too lightweight to do the job.

Back to the stranded van and trailer, finally.

A quick efficient mounting, and we’re ready to hit the road. At a reduced speed.  To the very next exit.  Where we would spend an additional hour shifting cargo from that flimsy, light duty tire to my heavy duty van.  It took more than a little effort, but we moved about five or six hundred pounds off of the trailer and into the van by trading large, bulky, light objects for heavy, compact ones.

The sun was now golden in the west, and I was maybe ninety minutes into about a nine-hour voyage.  But now we are truly on the road. For a while.  Eventually the sun set, the sky darkened, and it was time for dinner.  Now hopelessly behind, we declined to have a sit-down dinner, but instead opted to stop at Burger King for a brief rest.  The ladies went in to order while I inspected the rig.

That was when I discovered that the trailer had no lights.  No lights at all.

Did I violate a shrine or something?

I found the problem.  Somehow, I’d managed to drag the harness on the ground and it had abraded through.  Good news – I need no parts.  This is something that I can fix with duct tape and a leatherman.  In the dark.  On my back.  In a Burger King parking lot, somewhere in northern Alabama.

It was shortly after that that Mistress Solveig sat on my dinner.

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