Friday, June 15, 2012
Phantoms and Cats
As most of you know, I am owned by two cats. Hobbs is a gray tiger striped cat who I adopted back in 2006 after Cleo died. He's a little over 9 years old. Jasmine is my black cat, who stalked me from outside the house until I had no choice but to bring her inside. She is now about three years old, and I find it interesting that she's never shown any interest in getting back into the yard. Hobbs, on the other hand, tries to escape at least a couple of times a year. For those of you who are curious, If you haven't been following this blog for a long time, or don't necessarily read it regularly, there are postings about Cleo's death (she was my first cat that moved home with me from Texas in 2001), and both Hobbs' and Jasmine's arrivals in the archives.
As most of you also know, I am plagued by phantom limb sensations (which I actually like) and pains (which I do not like). The phantom sensations feel like your foot is asleep, or when it's been numbed for some reason and you try to push on it. You can feel a tingly sensation coming from where you remember your foot should be. Sometimes the sparkly sensation only comes from your foot, or part of it. Sometimes it reaches up past your ankle, into where you're pretty sure your calf muscle used to be. And sometimes you can feel the pulsing wave of energy flowing straight through where you recall your knee used to bend and on into the residual limb, so it's hard to tell where the sensations actually begin and end. I'm not sure what causes it, but it reminds me of what my legs felt like, so I don't mind the sensations at all. The phantom pains, on the other hand, range from burning to stabbing, to muscle cramping, to tearing, to... If you can imagine it, your phantom limb can feel it; that is to say, phantom pains totally suck! Again, if you're curious about more on this topic, there is an entire detailed entry about them in the archives, probably in either 2006 or 2007; I think I titled the post 'Phantoms" or something similar.
I've noted three fascinating things about the phantom limb phenomena over the last six years:
1. When I have my prosthetics on, it's easier to pinpoint what phantom sections I'm actually feeling, and if I rotate my knee to cross a leg over the opposite knee, the phantom follows the prosthetic. What I'm trying to say is that if I'm sitting down and feel a phantom pain, or sensation, in my right ankle while my foot is resting on the floor and I then rotate my knee to cross my right leg over my left knee, the phantom that I'm experiencing will continue to come from the ankle as it changes position.
2. Barometric pressure changes seem to increase both the frequency and the intensity of the phantom experience.
3. Alcohol usually increases the amount/surface area of phantom limb that you can feel. (I have not taken the time to measure the impact of different types of alcohol, although that might be fun; I'm just not that angry with my liver.)
On Saturday morning, at about 5:30am, I was sleeping comfortably, in that warm cozy place where your body becomes one with the mattress and the bedding, blissfully dreaming. Hobbs was curled up against one of my residual legs, and Jasmine was sleeping towards the end of the bed but close enough that if I had rolled over she would have been in the way. (This is the only point where the cats and the phantoms share the story.) In my dream I was lounging on a tropical beach, watching the sunset. I felt a tiny pulse of electricity at the end of my left leg; it felt like when you accidentally touch an outlet for just a moment. My leg twitched, Hobbs readjusted his position, and the dream started to weaken, but I clung to it, refusing to wake up.
Another pulse, at the end of the right leg this time (which is the longer residual limb). My leg trembled and knocked Jasmine in the head. The sunset in my dream started to turn black. I sat up on the beach and looked at the sky. Everything started to darken for a moment, and as the fading reddish light of the sun came back, other people on the beach started running and screaming.
Lightning bolts struck both legs and I was instantly awake. Sitting straight up with a loud grimace, both cats bolted from the bed as I tossed back the sheets and reached for my legs. I started to massage them, trying to find the nerve endings that had ruined my slumber. Two more lightning bolts struck, almost double the intensity of the first attack. I screamed and rolled over onto my side. Taking a deep breath I reached for the top drawer on the antique vanity by my bed. As I fumbled in the dark for the Vicodin bottle another wave of pain came roiling up at me from somewhere mid calf.
I struggled with the cap for a moment and then popped two pills into my mouth. I took a drink of water to help swallow the pills and then sat there for a moment, just waiting for the next attack. When it didn't come I thought "ok, hopefully the Vicodin will have time to work before that starts again". I called the cats back to the bed and then laid back down. This was the first morning that I'd gotten to sleep in for a while and I was determined to get back to sleep.
I pulled up the covers rolled onto my side, and was just about back to sleep when I felt small itchy pulse somewhere outside my right leg. "Crap", was all I could think. I squeezed my eyes tighter shut and tried to ignore it. The Vicodin allowed me to sleep, but it was broken from that point on. Every few minutes there would be this annoying low current vibration itching at my phantom limbs.
When I finally gave up on sleep it was a little after 8am. Much earlier than I had intended to be up. The low intensity phantom pains kept coming in wave like pulses throughout the day. Based on the way my friend Cliff has described it, I imagine it felt much like getting a tattoo when the artist digs a little too deep. At one point I tried to count the seconds between pulses. Over a five minute period I was never able to count higher than 7 before the next pulse came. I would take two more doses of Vicodin throughout the day and the pains would still not fully subside until about 2am. I had to get up for church at 8.
Sunday night I was really looking forward to getting some good solid sleep, especially because I had nowhere to be on Monday morning. As I crawled into bed at midnight, I noticed a dark spot on the sheets. Sure enough, one of the cats had urinated on the bed. Now I had to get the bed stripped, sheets and mattress pad going in the washer, and bleach the mattress before I could get some sleep. Plus, I'd have to set up the futon in my office. As I was preparing the futon, which is not easy to do from a wheelchair, I felt a minor phantom pain hit my left leg. Not wanting a recurrence of Saturday, I went back to my room, which was shut to keep the cats out, and took two Vicodin. It was 2am before I finally got to sleep.
Why did the cat pee on the bed, and which cat was the culprit? You might ask. I'm sure it was Hobbs, because right after I'd discovered the fresh puddle I saw jasmine walk out of the litter box. Also, Hobbs has been sick, dwindling appetite over the past several months and frequent vomiting (also not easy to clean up from a wheelchair). The previous week he had been through a battery of tests that all came back saying that there's nothing physically wrong. My Vet had put him on an appetite enhancer and anti-nausea medicine that comes in a refrigerated liquid form that I have to squirt down his throat with a 1 ml syringe (again, not easy from a wheelchair).
Add to that ordeal the fact that he had gotten out of the house three times over the weekend and you start to see why he might be mad at me. The first time he got out, I was able to chase him down before he got off the deck, scoop him up, and then hold him in my lap with one arm while I managed to maneuver the wheelchair back up the ramp to the house (not easy). The second time was at night and he went straight for the yard before I could catch him. I had to use the laser sight from a nerf gun (that I bought specifically for getting the cats off my Receiver without having to leave the couch) to lure him back to the deck but he always stayed out of reach. I finally had to get down on the deck, catch him, clutch him to my chest with one arm, and then scoot myself up the ramp on my tush until I could reach the back door (more difficult). I was rather impressed to learn that my gluts are strong enough that I can "walk" up the ramp with them!
The third time he got out was the following morning. He went straight out to the yard again, and this time it was too light out for my laser sight trick to work. Once he's outside, he won't respond to his name, nor will he come for food. Again I had to get down on the deck, but this time I had to actually get down into the grass, which was still wet from the morning dew, and chase him around the yard. Propelling myself with my hands I got to the middle of the yard, but he continued to move up toward the fence at the top of the hill. It's not a big hill, but it's a bit daunting when you're in my shoes, or lack there of. Finally he turned around an noticed me. Giving a happy little meow he came running straight towards me.
Once I could grab him I again clutched him to my chest, waddled with my gluts over to the deck, where I then had to figure out how to leverage myself onto the deck without losing my grip on the cat, or accidentally crushing him. I'm still not entirely sure how I did it, but I managed to get us back up the ramp and into the house (do I even need to say it?).
It took two days for the mattress to dry completely, which meant another night on the futon, but everything's back in order now. Hobbs doesn't appear to be mad at me anymore, although he does continue to get the medicine every three days, so I'm keeping an eye on him. Jasmine also went to the Vet this week for her annual check up, but she handles that much better than Hobb's does. (She's fine by the way.) The mattress has been flipped, which needed to happen anyway, and there haven't been anymore issues. Unfortunately I've had to get up early every day this week since moving back into my room so, needless to say, I'm looking forward to Saturday morning!
We had a different winter and spring,leading into summer. Things seem to be normal, whatever that is.
Keep posting,we do read the blogs and will try to comment a bit more.
Love to you,
Harry and Lilla