Two years ago today, a litter of fluffy orange kittens was born and brought to Feline Rescue, with their feline mother, here in the Twin Cities. My husband, Ken, and I adopted two of the kittens, naming them Mango and Butternut (after the squash--see my previous blog post to find out how we named them). Happy Birthday, Mango and Butternut!
We have had cats in our house for over thirty years, all adopted through shelters. They are wonderful companions, each having his or her own unique personality. Uncoordinated Izzie, motherly Kaci, highly athletic Matthew, we remember them all as individuals. Heidi and Gretchen were tortoiseshell tabby and calico, respectively, and I wrote about their lives with us in my book, The Lakes In My Head: Paddling An Unexplored Wilderness, along with Princess who was the kitten we adopted from a litter of grey tabbies at the animal hospital where I worked. Princess started out athletic and rather aloof, gradually becoming more affectionate as she grew. Her whole litter enjoyed playing in water, a trait uncommon to domestic cats.
Heidi was especially interesting to me, because she started out her life as a little bit moody until we discovered she had bad teeth. Her teeth were slowly disintegrating, a painful process known as feline tooth resorption. She had an anesthetized dental cleaning and examination during which the veterinarian removed all of her painful teeth. Following this, she was a new cat! No longer in pain, she became very affectionate and snuggly.
One of her favorite places to snuggle was curled around my head as I slept. At the time, this was particularly helpful in keeping me warm and comfy. My head was shaved on one side. It got a little chilly at night.
The year before, while enduring excruciating headaches, I'd been diagnosed with a brain condition called decompensated hydrocephalus with aqueductal stenosis. The headaches, it turned out, were due to an excess of cerebrospinal fluid in the ventricles in my brain. When I mentioned this to my friends they all stared at me blankly with a glazed look in their eyes. I had to figure out a way to help them understand what was happening inside my head.
I didn't have to look far. I live in Minnesota the Land of 10,000 Lakes, in Minneapolis the City of Lakes. Here in the Twin Cities we are surrounded by lakes, streams, rivers, and swamps, many of them connected to each other. So, I came up with the description "the lakes in my head" to illustrate how the cerebrospinal fluid in my brain flowed from one ventricle (lake) to another by way of aqueducts (streams) within my brain. Through the third and the fourth ventricles to my spinal column (the Mississippi River) the flow was unhindered, but there was a narrowing of the stream between the second lateral and third ventricles. It was a little bit like having beavers build a dam in your brain. All that restricted fluid created pressure, which caused excruciating headaches.
There is no cure for hydrocephalus, only stop-gap measures to alleviate the pressure. I had surgery to insert a long tube into my brain to drain the fluid to elsewhere in my body. This required that my hair be shaved off on one side of my head. As my body healed from surgery, my hair would gradually grow back, but in the mean time I wore a lot of hats and stocking caps! Thus the pleasure of a live kitty wrap around my head at night.
Heidi and I healed from our surgeries together and became best friends. As she grew older--she lived to be eighteen years old, a ripe old age for a cat--I would curl up around her as she slept on our bed, returning the favor.
So, on this day of wishing Mango and Butternut a Happy Second Birthday, we remember all of our special feline friends and the joy they've given us in our lives. Go hug your cat (or dog!) today and be thankful for their companionship on this planet Earth.