Thursday, March 15, 2012

calling Dr. Kitty

In the vein of sounding like a crazy cat lady, i can say that my cats are amazing when it comes to nursing and knowing when healing takes place.

I had more experience with this than i wished when i fell and broke my leg in 2005. Very bad break, both tibia and fibula. The tibia was smashed at the bottom looking "like cornflakes" as the physiotherapist said upon looking at the X-ray, and the top part had a spiral fracture. The fibula was broken in four places. Never let it be said that i do anything halfway.

Injuries like this are where allopathic medicine shines best and brightest, and i was profoundly grateful to have a wonderful orthopaedic surgeon on call, his highly skilled surgical team, the kind ER doc who had the awful duty of untwisting my leg, the ambulance crew who came out to me in a blizzard to take me to the hospital. Many others played a part in this healing, too: the physiotherapists, the visiting nurse who worked with me to show me how to enter my house safely, friends and loved ones who sent well wishes, cards, and prayers.

Himself was absolutely brilliant caring for me, and both of us came to realise just how much of a team effort we do have. Yes, there are times where one of us may have felt put upon and as if one of us was busily pulling more of the load than the other, but all that pettiness melted away when it was clearly a situation where i could do nothing really to help myself, and Himself shouldered it all.

I wanted to try and help, but those first few weeks, i couldn't do much. And given that Himself is a worrier, i didn't want to add to his burden by being stupid and try to push beyond what i could do. He cooked, he cleaned, he banked the coal stove before going to bed at night, and brought it up just a tad so i'd be cosy warm whilst he was at work.

I couldn't drive with my cast, since i have a manual transmission, and for the first week, i had enough pain meds in me that i wouldn't trust myself. Trying to navigate those motorised carts with baskets for "shoppers who need a lift" proved troublesome enough. Each store had similar but not identical models. And, there are no brakes. You have to stop pushing the button that makes it go, and that makes it stop. Simple enough, yes. But, when you're wifty with pain meds, the reaction time slows, and i nearly ran over two kids who ran immediately in front of me. Their mother glared at me, and i wanted to throttle her. There was also no place to carry my crutches on those things, and one of the store employees tried being helpful in suggesting that i could leave my crutches at the service desk and pick them up on the way out. Um, no, i don't think so.

I didn't venture out often in those early weeks of recovery, which was best for all concerned, and that nearly-running-down kids experience was only because i had to get a pair of trousers i could wear over my cast.

But, i digress.

Himself was worried about leaving me alone all day at home. What if i needed something? I told him i'd be all right, i could crutch into the bathroom and stay on the ground floor because thankfully, we had one bedroom on the ground floor along with a full bath. Besides, i told him, i wouldn't be completely alone. The cats were with me.

We had three then: Grace, black and white, feral who chose to be domesticated and picked me as her human, was the eldest. I've already talked a bit about our calico, Phoebe, and even have a post about her. And then we had JoJo, the grey tabby, who was about 7 months old when all this happened.

They were accustomed to two healthy, able-bodied adults to care for them. Feed them. Let them in and out on command. They didn't like that i was gone for three days, when i was in hospital, and when i came home, they realised that something Very Wrong had happened. We never saw them hold meetings or anything, but within a day of my coming home and Himself having to get back to work, the cats had developed their own routine.

Grace was Head Nurse, Jo was the candy striper. Phoebe wasn't big on nursing, so was the visitor spending time with the patient. They worked it out amongst themselves that rule #1 was that one of them had to be with me at all times. It was clear i wasn't able to do much of anything, so they wouldn't ask me to do anything for them. Himself could see to them well enough when he got home.

I spent a lot of time sleeping or trying to, as i had to lie on my back, and i'm a side or stomach sleeper. Grace, who was never a lap cat except for the last six months of her life, stretched her thin body across the cast and purred. She'd stay like that for a half hour or more. Only profound love for me would override her absolute fear of having her feet not all firmly on the ground.

When she needed a break, Jo would bounce in, pirruping her cheery hello, and jump up on the bed beside me. She'd snuggle against me and purr.

If Grace and Jo both needed a break, Phoebe would drop by to meow, and sit by the bed for several minutes.

After the first week, i started to do a little bit more, but not much. The cats decided i could let them outside, but not in, out, in, out, in, out as they were wont to do. No, they had to decide when they most wanted to go out, and they doubled up. Two went out at the first opening of the door, and the third stayed behind with the invalid. I'd crutch over to a nearby dining room chair and wait for them to come back in. They'd both come back in, and at that same door opening, the third would go out. There was no hissing. No demand that each got her own personal door opening. And for the next week or so, that was how things went. They didn't ask me to get them food or to clean and refill the water bowl. They made do until Himself got home.

I didn't piece all of this together until later, when i realised that over time, they asked me to do more for them bit by bit. To let them in and out a little more often, or to get them some wet food for lunch. The entire seven weeks i was off work completely, though, there was always a cat nearby. I knew i had reached some magical level of healing when they all decided they could be outside at the once and leave me alone in the house. Not for long, maybe 15 minutes, but gradually for longer and longer periods.

One day, Jo sat by the wooden stepstool we had in the kitchen and looked expectantly. This was several months on, and i realised that she wanted me to sit on the stool so she could jump in my lap, a routine we had established before i broke my leg. I was in a walking cast by this point, and knew that i could lower myself to sit on the stepstool, but wasn't so sure i could get back up again.

I put the kettle on, and whilst waiting for the water to boil, i sat on the stepstool. Jo jumped up in my lap, purred, and headbutted me to pet her. Just as if the last several months had never happened. I pet her and cried. She waited for me to be ready to re-establish this habit once again. The kettle whistled, she jumped down, and i was able to stand back up. How did she know? How did they all know when i was okay to be on my own and when i wasn't? Or that i had it in me to crutch over to the door and let them in and out a few times, when i didn't know myself if i could do it?

I found myself trusting them implicitly. They did not ask me to do that which i was beyond doing. I may not have wanted to do what they asked of me, but it wasn't beyond my physical capability. I was gobsmacked by that. Humans seem far more clueless about limits.

In time, i recovered. I could take on some of the household chores that i chiefly did before the broken leg, and ease a little of Himself's burden. When he had a chance to leave for a weekend to go with a friend, i urged him to go. It would give him some much needed R&R, i was at that point, able to shower all by myself and get in and out of the tub (oh, the things we take for granted), and besides, the cats were with me.

He did go and enjoy his time away. He did call every day to make sure i was all right (which i was). I was taking back more of the things i used to do, and we were back to establishing more of our usual routine.

I thought of all of that these past few days, after hockey on Sunday afternoon, when i fell the wrong way on my knee. I turned my right leg pigeon-toed to avoid crashing my head into the boards, and when i fell, the inside part of my right knee took nearly all my weight. I next fell backwards, landing on my bum, and my legs splayed out in front of me. After skating back to the other end of the ice, which was where my bench was, and after my team won the faceoff and a teammate skated with the puck, i realised i needed to sit out a shift at the least, and skated over to my bench for a replacement. My leg felt leaden, and sitting there for 20 seconds made it plain that i had wrenched something enough that i needed to go home.

Himself was out of town so i was alone with the cats. We're down to two now, Phoebe and Jo. I could walk all right on my leg, no instability, but if i tried turning it inward, i met with very sharp pain. I phoned Himself to let him know, whilst i sat with an ice pack, elevated my leg, and after ingesting ibuprofen, 400 mg.

He wasn't keen on the idea of my waiting until morning before ringing a doctor. I told him i thought it best to do the rest, ice, elevation exercise, as Sunday night was no time to be in an ER. This was NOT an emergency. Not pleasant, but not life-threatening. Besides, i told him, the cats aren't too bothered by it.

And, they weren't. They noticed that i was walking a bit slower. Phoebe sat with me as i sat on the couch and had my leg resting on the ottoman. She looked like a sphinx sentry. After the phone call, i got up slowly to put the ice bag back in the freezer, and she thought she'd go to the kitchen with me, in case there was food brought out. Unlike her usual habit of darting immediately before my legs, she allowed me to go first, and only appeared after i was putting the icebag back in the freezer. I had something else to eat and washed my few dishes. She wanted to go down cellar, so i obliged and opened the cellar door. I went for the ice bag again and wanted to get my laptop so i could get a bit of work done. Jo wanted to sit with me, and seeing my laptop taking up my lap, she sat next to my hurt leg on the ottoman. Even without Grace there to be mediator or Head Nurse, they seemed to know that i was Not Quite Right. Not entirely incapable, but a bit hobbled.

Next morning, when Phoebe watched me go down the stairs very slowly and gingerly, she watched with attentiveness. She did not race past me, as she does many mornings. Jo greeted me with her cheery pirrup as usual, and waited expectantly whilst i washed and refilled their wet food bowls.

Phoebe's new winter habit is to have her breakfast on the landing upstairs. On occasion, she'll come down, but most mornings, she waits for me. After i get their food, i go back upstairs to clean my teeth and get dressed, so i guess she saw no point in being fed in the kitchen if i'd serve her. Yes, i am well trained apparently.

I wondered if she'd come down, given my gimpy state. When i got to the base of the steps, a bit slower than usual but cat bowl in hand, she looked at me expectantly. I prepared myself for the mewing that would let me know i was too slow about it, but she remained quiet and just watched me carefully climb each step. As i put down her bowl beside her, she gave me a satisfied look as if to say, "I knew you could do it," and purred while she ate her breakfast.

They've cut me slack all this week thus far, but not too much. My leg is very much better and nearly back to normal. So are their demands.

I'm still dumbfounded how they know.

By the time Himself comes back, this shall be but a memory, and for that i'm glad. If one asks, i suppose it's safest to say i wrenched my knee. If i hazard a more medical sounding guess, i'd say i strained (or would that be sprained) my MCL (medial collateral ligament). I'm not a doctor and don't play one on tv. And my cats aren't, either. But they seem to know how to be excellent caregivers, nurses, and physiotherapists all the same.

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