Sunday, September 26, 2010

Diagnosis can be Overwhelming


I'm not insisting that we be brimming with hope. It is ok not to be optimistic. Buddhist teaching says a feeling that you have to maintain hope can wear you out. The biggest gift that you can give is just to be absolutely present. Whether your worrying about being hopeful or hopeless, pessimistic or optimistic; who cares, the main thing is showing up. That you're here and finding ever more capacity to love this world, because it will not be able to be healed without that. That is what is going to unleash our intelligence and ingenuity. And our solidarity for healing the world. -- Joanna Macy in an Interview with Krista Tippett on Being (Episode - A Wild Love of the World - September 16, 2010) Blog entry



I was driving along listening to Krista Tippet on Being last week when I heard this. I thought, "Everyone needs to know this. It's so true. THIS is how you keep from being overwhelmed." It applies to so many things but I realized this was what changed for me when I was so overwhelmed when Pearl was first diagnosed.

At the time, I was in deep grief over my loss of my cat Grant who I'd suddenly lost to stomach cancer in February of that year. My perfectly healthy boy suddenly began vomiting blood one night. Within two weeks, he was gone. One Sunday in April, Pearl, who had always had occasional coughing spells had several in one day and began wheezing. An ER trip later, we had x-rays and a diagnosis of asthma. She was given prednisone and the next day I took her and the x-rays to her own vet, who agreed there was classic donut signs in the lungs of asthma, but also, her vet thought the heart looked enlarged. Thursday of that week brought an ultrasound and the diagnosis of mitral regurgitation of the left ventricle. Prognosis "two weeks, two years, who knows?" Oh boy. OK, OK, a couple of more pills a day, we can do that.

One month later, Pearl acted awful. Especially after getting her prednisone. She lagged around. She had dandruff and just acted like she just felt plain awful. I really didn't know what to think. She had asthma and a bad ticker, of course she felt awful, right? But when it became more clear to me that she definitely got worse after having prednisone, I decided another vet visit was in order. Dx? Diabetes.

Another chronic but treatable condition. Now, switched to flovent for the asthma, dealing with diabetes and worried about some future heart event, I was overwhelmed. Actually, overwhelmed doesn't even cover how I felt. I began to think "this was it". Everyday I'd come home from work expecting to find my cat dead. I was exhausted, depressed, I worried over everything. After four months though, I realized, she wasn't dead. And I needed to stop living like she was. She acted better so why was I acting worse? I had kept showing up but with constant living in some non-existant future. Future by it's nature is non-existent, but I let it be real. I gave her meds everyday. We puffed, pilled and poked. She seemed completely oblivious to this being a trial. While I was busy worrying and pestering her over everything she did, waking her up, touching her in sleep to make sure she was breathing, agonizing over what ifs, she just showed up. She existed.

It's something animals do by nature of not being contemplative beings. They show up. They just do. They accept. They live in the world. Snore, snore, snore...BIRDS! Snore. Eat...CHASE OTHER CAT. Snore snore .... SCRATCH! No sitting around saying "Gee, I wish I didn't have to have shots, or pills or puffing." Once I gave up worrying that I'd open the door and find she was curled up lifeless somewhere, I began letting go. I started being in the world again instead of living in some made up future where a terrible thing happens. Terrible things can happen anytime, everyday and we will waste our lives worrying about something that doesn't yet, or may not ever exist.

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.
Rilke’s Book of Hours, I, 59

Cats do that naturally. We can learn from them. It took me hearing Joanna Macy to put it into words. But I know one thing. It is truth. So as diabetic cat parents, lets just show up. Let's gather data through testing, give our shots, feed the best we can and be present. Let's keep showing up and letting go of living in some possible future in order to live today.

1 comment:

keech said...

Lovely! I stopped and bookmarked this before I was even half way through. With a diabetic cat, a suddenly unregulated diabetic dog, two cats with CRF, one cat with FIV and another with FeLv, and having just lost one with FeLv, having hope is frequently difficult.

This hit the spot for me. Thank you!