caregiver stress, depression, detachment, distress tolerance, fading kitten, family hero, inner child, messiah complex, rage
So I go out to the place after my daily nap, daily latte, daily trip past the horses where I see that Dazzle has gotten confused about a new fenceline and separated himself from the mares; I finally decide to leave a word for Animal Control as the owner’s phone is out of order.
I come in, as I said rested, bathed, hi, how are you, last night was nice, as in five hours of nice talk to jazz…and I go into the bathroom to the corner on the green towel where the mama cat is and despite reassurances that the litter’s o.k., there’s a fading kitten in the corner.
I made my custom formula of canned milk, egg yolks, karo syrup and vegetable oil. I found a syringe and needle and got out the expired bottle of penicillin in the fridge and ran some through the syringe and needle. Then I found a few bags of Ringer’s solution on the utility shelf. I drew up three cc’s of Ringers and sat with the kitten and injected the fluid under the skin.
I couldn’t find my tube-feeding kit that I used and boiled and used and boiled for twenty years. I couldn’t find the little new baby animal nursers we keep around. I did find a glass eyedropper and so then I trickled a little of my warm formula into that tiny mouth.
I’ve been trying to save things that can’t be saved or people who don’t want to save themselves for years. It was my job as the family hero.
I couldn’t save my mother from drowning from addiction, or my father from emphysema, or the family dog from aging and cancer. I haven’t been able to save broken, lonely men I’ve loved from being lonely and broken, and in many respects, I haven’t been able to save myself from bad things happening to me because bad things happen.
But, I’ve saved a whole lot of animals, and maybe because I couldn’t save my family, I find other things to rescue. I once pulled three litters of puppies through parvo, singlehandedly, no help, up around the clock, running fluids in under the skin, jabbing with penicillin, plugging up with immodium.
Once my neighbor bought feeder calves at the sale barn that had been jerked right off their mothers, with wet umbilical cords. One by one the calves got sick and scoured, as in uncontrollable diarrhea, so that no matter what I did, they went down. Why couldn’t I just lie in my bed, listening to them throughout the night and let it happen? They weren’t my calves, after all but the owners wouldn’t call a vet.
Something within me thinks I still have to go on duty like this. It is nearly impossible for me to let a tiny animal that doesn’t want to make it go quietly in its sleep among its litter mates. That’s what happened to the kitten last night. It didn’t want to make it, and it curled up and went to sleep.
In the name of nurture I’ve done a lot of interfering with nature. I’ve climbed into pens of calving cows and taken membranes off little Black Angus faces. I’ve been on duty for oh, fifty years or so– perhaps that explains my anger that other people won’t or don’t step up.
I admit to getting very angry when I found the kitten. Perhaps rage at things beyond our control is an affliction like others. And I’m pretty sure I need to learn the art of distress tolerance, enduring things I find unendurable so that I am not at the mercy of my reactions. Sometimes, tiny little things that come into the world aren’t going to make it. Sometimes, I say to myself, it’s o.k. to call Animal Control and hand over something stressful and intolerable that is off the scale unaffordable, to them.
Sometimes people aren’t going to respond to a living thing’s distress in the ways I think they should. Few people would drop everything to try to save a fading kitten, so that I need to practice some acceptance.
I also could use a brush up in the art of detaching with love from things I can’t change that are others’ to change if they choose, or to go away altogether if exposure to someone’s dysfunction or a given environment is too painful to me.
I felt compelled to go on duty to the kitten last night, angry that someone else didn’t. This tells me I have a pretty vicious case of caregiver’s distress.
Maybe, then, two steps forward and one step back, like any illness, any moral failing, any malformation of innate good will into simmering anger, we have to forgive others and ourselves even the most problematic things, as we would a child, because there is sure as hell a vulnerable soul within each of us doing its best.
Your self-insights are enviable…and give me pause. How do we learn that we’re not responsible, that we don’t have to or can’t do something, that other people do not care and it is what it is…and it is not failure.
hey laurie– well, applying what I see is another matter. I was able to practice some distress tolerance tonight, and as a result, was far less hard on my companion….x hope to read you and comment back and forth much more this week. x j
We had an English bulldog when I was growing up. He contracted a disease that caused his tongue to turn black and fall off, and with no tongue he would not have been able to eat and thus survive. My father refused to accept the situation and doing what no vet and no other person would do, hand-fed him and by some miracle the dog’s disease stopped and he led a long life into old age.
One of the most difficult decisions I ever made was to allow my first Westie, the first dog I’d been able to own in the 20 years after graduating from college, to be euthanized. My Mr. Stuffy was already old when I took him from the rescue league and within a year he’d developed cancer. I did the “responsible” thing to end his suffering and the possibility he would die horribly while I was at work, and yet I couldn’t shake the feeling I helped bring an end to his life. Tears still come thinking about this.
Many of us — and I think you’re one of them, Jenne — know we don’t have to but we do, because to not care is not part of our makeup.
I don’t think I’m in a place where I could say I’m not responsible. I am, or at least I to try to be, and whether or not I achieve any measure of success from the effort is not what matters. It’s the doing in the trying that matters — and that is never failure.
Thanks, Maureen. I am 100 percent positive you did what was hardest and yet best for your Westie. I had a vet come to euthanize my 18 yr old terrier mix Duncan; he was in kidney failure, she wouldn’t do it and a vet had shown me some things. To this day, I too feel awful about it, but I loved him and he was in dire straits. Terrific story about the bulldog, and not giving up. BTW the five remaining kitties are lifting their little heads and their mama is doing well on my tuna pudding. xj