(I realized as I wrote today's post that the introductory paragraphs make things sound scarier than they actually are. Rest assured that everyone is still with us and improvement is hopefully right around the corner.)
Life is a piece of music, beautiful on its own but amazing if played in harmony with family and friends. But when the instrument of someone you love goes out of tune, it sours the entire performance of everyone around. This is the situation we've found ourselves in for the past several months here in Teeny Tiny Tabby Town.
You may have noticed that I'm a little out of tune lately. Several of you have wondered if something is wrong. It's a question that's hard to answer truthfully without being willing to play the entire operatic score. Without a resolution to share, it was difficult to introduce and explain the worrying crescendo that has invaded my life. It's an independent little melody that I refer to as "The Song of Norm".
Most of you know that Norman's health is delicate. Our little old man is battling a not-quite-explained intestinal illness. The only thing we know for certain is that he does not feel well. He can’t process his food correctly or keep it down in a way that supplies proper nutritional value. He’s turned the litter box into a wasteland… and Norm himself is wasting away. He’s skin and bones, haggard and tired, quieter than I have ever known him. The stress on his body has created a murmur in his heart and bald spots on his ears. My heart hurts to watch as his body gives up on him.
Living with Norman is like riding the proverbial roller coaster. We have days that we’re flying high and days where we’re careening uncontrollably downhill, screaming for it to stop. Most days we hover somewhere between “not feeling well” and “imminent doom”. Many vet visits, numerous expensive tests, and several hundreds of dollars worth of treatments have provided little in the way of answers and little more than a temporary fix to Norman’s system. The only thing we knew was that his pancreas wasn't quite right, but even that test failed to provide the answers we needed. We all were stumped.
We have watched the strain take its toll on Norm and wondered how much his body can withstand. Truthfully, there are times that I’m amazed he’s still here with us. We painfully made the decision for “no more”… no more tests, no more drama, no more extra stress or huge financial outlays. We decided that the quality of his remaining life trumped the length of his remaining life. And then, as if to answer that he wasn't quite done yet, Norman had a good day on Tuesday. He had a great day on Wednesday. He came down with a crash on Thursday.
A gust of wind blew a door closed and trapped him inside my bedroom, away from help and away from the litter box when the next attack struck. When I found him, Norman was a tragic mess (and so was my bedroom). After bathing the cat, stripping the bedding that he had soaked with rivers of diarrhea, starting hours of laundry, scrubbing the floor, and having a good cry, I sat down and started to tap out words that I have typed into a Google search before. I started to ask the internet how to be strong enough to say goodbye. Norm wandered in, sat beside me, began a halting purr and my search engine questions began to change from those of resignation to those of avocation. I’m not even certain what question produced a screen that I had never before seen in months of searching for answers. But there it was…
Hidden away in the back of the internet, a page contained Norman’s symptoms. Not just one, or two, or three… ALL of them. Nothing missing, nothing extra, just a tidy list of Norm’s greatest hits: diarrhea which is often pale and voluminous and malodorous; flatulence; greasy coat appearance; weight loss; increased appetite. It’s that last one that screamed to me that we had hit the Holy Grail. Every other suggested malady came with the symptom of decreasing appetite or refusing to eat. You guys know that’s not our Norm.
EPI, or Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency, is so rare in felines that most vets are unaware that cats can even get the disease. It’s thought of as a rare dog malady. EPI is caused by the inability of the pancreas to produce the enzymes necessary to digest food properly and it wreaks utter chaos and devastation on the animal it affects. As I read the anecdotes of families with an EPI cat, I heard Norman’s song. I recognized him (and us) in the stories and, for the first time in a long time, I felt hopeful because a diagnosis also comes along with a treatment.
The treatment for EPI includes bolstering Norm’s immune system and providing him with the enzymes that his pancreas can no longer create on its own. The diet changes we introduced a few months ago are part of a proper treatment, so we’re off to a good start. Many EPI families swear by vitamin B-12. So I took a drive down to the pharmacy last night, picked up a bottle of B-12 drops, and gave Norm his first cat-sized dose last night. Providing the pancreatic enzymes proves to be slightly more challenging. It can be done in one of two ways; adding a powder to his food or providing him with food that contains pancreas… bovine pancreas to be exact.
I contacted our raw feeding expert Miss Connie and asked her where one might acquire the pancreas of a cow. Being slightly squeamish by nature, the last thing I wanted to do was walk into a local butcher shop and request a pancreas for me to take home and process on my own. She pointed me to a website for a company in Indiana. Said company not only sells processed bovine pancreas to ship to my door, but it also provides a monthly delivery service. A truck leaves their store one Monday every month to make deliveries in Michigan and Indiana. They have recently added a new stop to their route… a mere 12 miles from my house. I missed getting Norm a shipment on the May delivery truck by a matter of hours, as it was already on the road by the time I found the answers. So this month’s pancreas is coming packed in dry ice and through UPS. I have ordered the powder supplement to make-do in the meantime.
True to our family agreement, I will not be paying the big bucks needed to run the test which would conclusively diagnose him. The name of the disease matters little, only the efficacy of the treatment counts. The treatment for EPI is nothing that the vet can provide anyway… it’s diet and vitamins. The vet comes in case of crisis (and we’re still not sure at what level we will intervene if Norman reaches true crisis mode).
I can’t be sure if we actually found an answer for Norman, but for the first time in forever it feels as if I know what I’m doing next for him. That in itself is both a relief and a blessing. He’s curled up beside me and purring as I type this (which is a change in Norm’s recently melody). Maybe he feels the hope too.
I’m putting all of my drama, fears, and worry on the internet today because there just is not enough information out there for pet families. There's a million adorable pictures with captions. I could probably find an equal number of sites dedicated to inspiring worry in pet owners about food, vaccines, and disease. But in the whole wide world of the world wide web, there’s very little to be learned about a cat pancreas. Reading the few stories that others have provided, it became clear that the one thing I can do is share. If one person hears Norman’s song and recognizes their cat in it, if just one person can feel hope instead of despair, if one cat receives improved care because I wrote about it… I have to put it out there.
I owe it to you as well. My song has been off-key lately. The blog hasn't been my song during the time that I've hidden Norm’s true condition. The truth is that I’m only in tune when I’m telling it like it is. I’ll have regular Norman updates, Norman weights, and Norman eating habits as the experiment progresses. I’m certain the tune won’t always be happy, but it will be ours. I’m grateful that you’re willing to listen.
I'm taking Monday off to celebrate the Memorial holiday. I'll be back on Tuesday with a musical rendition of Ruby Tuesday (No kidding... I was already planning a post set to music when today's theme barged itself into my head). Rest assured that if our kittens arrive between now and then I will sound the alarm on Facebook and post photos here just as quickly as I can.
Oh... and there might be a teeny tiny surprise or three when it comes to the kittens too. Don't worry. It's a good one.