Saturday, August 29, 2009

The fourth anniversary

It's a quiet Saturday afternoon in New Orleans. Sunny, scattered clouds, temperatures in the 80s. Last year on this Saturday I was packing up to evacuate for Gustav, and the following morning the cats and I set out in the Evacumobile for Atlanta, a trip that took 17 1/2 hours that I hope I never have to do again. This year I am spending a peaceful afternoon in my kitchen, making seafood gumbo to take to a Katrina anniversary party this evening. I suspect this will be the last year we do the Katrina anniversary party. People are weary of the whole thing. It's time to move on.

The Times-Picayune ran a page one editorial yesterday criticizing President Obama for not coming down here to speak on the Katrina anniversary. Even as they published it, the paper was well aware that the president would be in Boston today delivering the eulogy at Sen. Ted Kennedy's funeral. (I watched the service on CNN, and a wonderful funeral it was. I suppose only people in my line of work would describe a funeral as "wonderful.") The president has promised to continue to fight for us, to get the help we still need for the rebuilding that still needs to be done. That's good enough for me.

I give thanks for an El Nino year and those high-level wind shears that are tearing the storms apart and keeping them out of the Gulf, so far. We have another month to go before we can start to breathe again. That's the legacy of Katrina for us. From here on out, for six weeks from mid-August to the end of September, we watch and wait. It's how we live now.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Happy birthday to my favorite curmudgeon

Happy birthday, Uncle Norman. Today would be your ninety-fifth birthday. That’s a bit of a milestone, isn’t it? The world has changed a lot since you died thirteen years ago this fall, and I doubt you would like much of it.

Tomorrow is the fourth anniversary of The Big One that you had prepared for, but never lived to see. You had four-by-eight sheets of plywood (to fix the roof afterward) and rope stout enough to tie up a boat (not sure what that was for), all stored in the laundry room. Those were just a few of the things I had to figure out what to do with after you died.

Actually, I think you might have gotten a kick out of the excitement of the big storm finally coming, after your years of anticipation. The neighborhood was one of the few that didn’t flood, and the house you lived in from the age of five had only minor damage. You, of course, would never have evacuated. But you would have had to leave afterward, with no electricity, gas, or water. Getting you out of that house to safety would have been a struggle, because even then you wouldn’t have wanted to go. Well, maybe you would. With congestive heart failure, you were well aware that you couldn’t survive very long without air conditioning.

Classical music was your life, and J. S. Bach was your idea of perfection. In your last years, you were just starting to warm to the idea that maybe your beloved old records did sound clearer when the analog recordings were converted to digital and recorded on those newfangled compact discs. I wonder what you would think of my iPod and the idea of downloading music off a computer connected to the Internet. I suspect you would be curious about it but not curious enough to actually get one for yourself – pretty much the way you felt about those compact disc players.

If I set flowers out at the family tomb on this late summer day, they would be wilted in the heat in a matter of hours. So today in your honor I’ll play your favorite piece of music: the 1955 Glenn Gould recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations (not the 1981 recording he did shortly before his death, which disappointed you terribly). You used to play the vinyl record for me and point out where Gould would hum along with the music and drive the audio engineers crazy. When you gave me the compact disc version and I played it, you were tickled that the clearer sound of the digital conversion made Gould’s humming even more pronounced.

So here’s to you, Uncle Norman. Happy 95th birthday. And thank you for leaving me the house. You probably wouldn’t like what I’ve done with it, either. You always thought the old was better.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Hanging in there

It's Sunday afternoon, and Kitten-Boo is holding her own on day seven after coming home from the hospital. We managed to get the three kinds of meds down for four straight days, which is some kind of record, but by Friday night she was fighting those pills big time. Possibly because she was upset, she threw up a few hours later -- food, pills, and all. So, now she's just getting the once-in-the-morning dose of a liquid med. She's eating, albeit only a tablespoon or so at a time, so I offer her food every few hours. She's drinking water, using the litter box, grooming herself, and now doing stretches on her favorite wicker laundry hamper (that she and Tip pretty much destroyed when they were young, but what's a home without a few trashed-out pieces here and there?) and sitting in my lap as I type at the computer.

I have to go out of town this week -- out one morning and back the next afternoon. I have someone who comes in to feed the cats, but giving meds is not part of the deal. I'll talk to her doctor tomorrow, but I think she just might be all right without the meds for 36 hours. If not, she can go back to the vet for a couple of days. But she's doing so well right now that I don't want to stress her out with a trip to the vet.

I'm glad we opted not to do the exploratory surgery. I found a website an owner put up about a beloved cat who did have surgery for liver cancer. Husband and wife cared for the cat 24/7 at home after surgery -- feeding tube, IV liquids, round the clock intensive care -- and the cat died less than two weeks after the surgery. The vet bill was $4000. We're not going that route.

Kitten-Boo is one tough little kitty, even a Katrina survivor. She and the others were alone in the hot house for a week after the storm -- I don't know when the food and water ran out. I fully expected to find her dead, as she was the oldest and the most frail of the cats. After seven days I was able to elude a National Guard blockade and got them all out safely. My Kitten-Boo has always lived on her own terms, and she'll die on them too.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Cattown, August 2009

This is the summer that Cattown has become a feline hospice. First we lost Tip, on June 4. I brought him home after he had been hospitalized for several days, and he spent his last days on the screened front porch, watching the activities of the neighborhood as the life of the household went on around him. Now my baby girl, my Kitten-Boo, is dying of liver failure. She was hospitalized over the weekend and given IV fluids and had an ultrasound that displayed the cavitation, or hole, in her liver, that is probably cancer. After discussions with veterinarians about quality of life and just how much we might expect to gain by doing exploratory surgery on a cat who is almost fifteen years old, I brought her home on Monday afternoon with three medications and special food -- no surgery. Now, hospice care. She spends her days in her two favorite places -- in my lap or on the porch. She's getting her meds down with a good slathering of whipped Parkay -- messy but effective. I bought her a can of her favorite treat, known in this household as Fhhtt-fhhtt but known to the world as Reddi-Wip (the real stuff, not that fake Cool Whip), and she had a couple of fingerfuls this evening, licking it up just like she did in the old days when she was feeling good. (I'll put an occasional fhhtt-fhhht in my coffee cup, just like they do in those $5 cups of coffee at the coffee houses.)

I brought three cats with me when we moved from Georgia in 2000; I call them the Georgia Gang. Tip, who died at age 13, and Kitten-Boo were two of the three. Morris, at age 14 and a retired barn cat, is holding his own. When he came to New Orleans he got a new addition to his name: Morris, the Magnificent. Those who are from New Orleans will get the pun. Those who don't, well, do a search for Morgus the Magnificent or Dr. Momus Alexander Morgus and maybe you'll get a link to a song about him ("Morgus, the Magnificent"). Morgus was a New Orleans TV personality back in the 1950s through 1970s who is still living today and whose shows now run on a public access cable channel. But I digress. Morris the Cat is still with us and in apparent good health. Long may he wave.

It's been a very strange summer, with one celebrity death after another: David Carradine, Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, Walter Cronkite, and others. I leave it to you to figure out which of these people I, a longtime journalist, miss the most.

We persevere through the long, hot summer here in New Orleans. The peak of hurricane season is almost upon us, as is the fortieth anniversary of Hurricane Camille, which I believe made landfall either August 16 or 17, while the rest of the world was going to Woodstock. Camille was a small, intense storm that did very little damage in New Orleans but just about wiped the Mississippi Gulf Coast off the map. Yet it was nothing compared to Katrina (aka She Who Must Not Be Named), which DID wipe the Mississippi coast off the map. And four years later they still have a long, long way to go.

As we await The Peak Season (and thanks be to God, the high altitude wind shears have kept anything from forming in the Atlantic basin so far), I take care of my beloved Kitten-Boo in her last days, here at the Cattown Hospice. I don't think she will make it to evacuation season, and perhaps that is a blessing.