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Posts Tagged ‘cat allergy’

It takes a second — just one second.  When I first saw him, he was reaching out to take her hand and it looked so sweet that the corners of my mouth began to curl into an unconscious smile.  But in the very next moment, he turned his hand over and opened it, and the blood drained from my head as I gulped in a great breath of air and then let it out again in a desperate yell.

We were away this past weekend — our first trip away as a family in nearly three years, since before E2 was born even.  Granted, it was to visit a fibre festival and, so — though very exciting for me — it was not M’s cup of tea at all, but he soldiered on admirably and enjoyed the change of scenery at least.  The weather was good, the hotel was really very nice, and we had such a nice time that there was a part of me asking why we didn’t do this more often…?

The first reason is, of course, the chronic lack of funds, but the second reason is no less restricting.  Packing for a weekend away — even with toddlers trebling the job — should only take an afternoon, but it took me several days to prepare, because I wasn’t just packing our clothes, but cooking and packing all the food that three of our group would need for the three days we’d be gone, along with all the dishes and utensils, washing up liquid and sponge, cooler and ice.  And finding the best deal on a hotel should take an hour at most, but I spent a couple of evenings checking and cross-checking prices against reviews against amenities, because as well as having the best price, it was essential that room would be clean enough (no crumbs on the floor or in the corners) and we had to have at least a fridge and microwave guaranteed to be in the room.  And though my sister lives within an hour’s drive of our destination and I wrestled for days with the possibility of staying at her place for free, I finally followed my gut and declined her offer, because I know how thoroughly she (doesn’t) clean her flat, and the idea of conducting E2’s first field trial of her newly-discovered cat allergy not by gently exposing her for a few hours and then going home, but by immersing her in a cat-hair-covered apartment for three days and nights running seemed just too cruel, too big a risk to take.

So I was exhausted before the trip began.  And the car was laden down as if we didn’t expect to see civilisation for days.  And the epi-pens were to hand, along with a list of hospitals.  For three days, we ate cobbled-together, microwaved meals, sitting on the edge of the bed in the hotel room.  And I remembered why we don’t do this more often.

But the weekend was a huge success.  The room was beautifully clean.  To my relief, we didn’t run out of meals.  I loved the fibre-heaven of the festival, the girls loved the sheep and the music, and M… well, he survived it just fine.  The whole weekend turned out as refreshing as it was exhausting.  Most importantly, there were no emergencies — no one ate anything they weren’t supposed to.  It was a lot of hard work and organisation, but I think it was worth the effort.  And I think we’re going to try to get away again soon — perhaps a rented Winnebago, so we can cook fresh meals…

Today, I bundled the girls in the car and we drove 5 miles out of our way to the health food shop, where they sell the girls’ steel-cut oats and quinoa in dedicated bulk containers to ensure no cross-contamination.  We could buy the same thing from the supermarket that’s only two minutes from the house, but they change their bins around and I just don’t trust that they clean them thoroughly when they do.

“Please can we go to the park?” E1 asked on the way home. “Pleeeeease?”  The skies were threatening to storm, but they’d been so good, holding hands in the shop and touching nothing, most especially as we walked past shudder-inducingly dangerous bins of nuts.  Yeah, they’d been good as gold…  yeah, let’s go to the park and get what playing we could before the skies opened…

The girls headed straight for the slides — their favourite — and I looked for a bench to sit on and crack open my book.  Allergy-mums are known to hover over their kids — Helicopter Mums, they’re called — and I don’t really want to be that kind of mum, but it’s hard not to be.  It’s instinctive to want to stay very close, but the only bench open was a good twenty feet away and, though I felt pulled to watch their every move like a hawk, I forced myself to open my book and look down at it.  They’d be fine.  There were only a few other kids there.  I could read a book while I watched them.

I don’t know why I looked up when I did, but I did.  I don’t know why I looked to E2 instead of E1, but my eyes fell on her.  And on the six-year-old boy who was standing in front of her, with his hand outstretched.  I thought she’d made a friend, I thought it was sweet.  But when he turned his hand over and opened it, I saw that he was giving her something… some food… He was sharing his food!  And she… she was reaching up to take it.

No! Nooooo! NoNoNoNooooooo!!!!”  The other mothers’ heads jerked up and one of them leapt toward her boy.  I immediately scanned the bench were she’d been sitting: a box of graham-cracker-marshmallow-teddy-bear crap, no doubt with an ingredient list the length of my arm.  Yeah, something in there would have done her in, no doubt.  She’d have blown up like a balloon.  Or worse.

“She… she… has severe food allergies…” I explained hastily, breathily, pulling my baby back toward my chest and away from him.  The mother nodded, apologised, corrected her son… and then moved to the other end of the playground.  Had I overreacted?  Had I been too loud?  Too rude?  …Actually, I think I underreacted.  It had taken me seconds to get to my daughter.  It had taken full nano-seconds for the sound to rise from chest — too long… too long…  She’d nearly taken it out of his hand.  It can happen too quickly — it can happen in just one second.  And the result could be… unthinkable.  When the sakes are that high, what can be overreaction?

I realised I still had my daughter gripped tightly to my chest, and I let her go.  But first, a kiss on her sweet cheek… and another.  And a quick admonishment: You never take food from anyone else. Never.  And then a quick squeeze.  And then I could let her go.

And I spent the rest of our time at the park hovering — book banished and me never more than a few feet way from my daughters — while I waited… waited… waited for my heart to stop pounding in my chest, and the panick to subside, and the adrenaline to cease coursing through my veins.  Helicopter Mum, and for good reason.

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When I first mentioned to my mother that it was about time I arranged for the cat to come home to us — weeks ago, long before I found out about E2’s cat allergy — she surprised me by pulling a sour face and hmmming her disapproval.

I was startled.  “What?

“Well, I just don’t think it’s very fair,” she replied, with irritation in her voice.

“But… but she’s my cat.”

“Yes, but your sister has had her for a year now.”

“But that was always the deal!”  Everyone had always known it was going to take us probably the best part of a year to find a house and get moved and settled before we brought the cat home.

“I just think she’d really miss her, that’s all.  And you have the girls…”

“Mum, I miss her!  She’s my cat!”

“Well…  well, I at least think you should go and get her yourself.  You shouldn’t make your sister have to make the drive all the way up here, on her own with the cat.  She’d be so upset.”

I should have shut up then — her take on the situation clearly differed from mine — but I carried on.  It didn’t make any sense for us to drive down to get the cat, when my sister was coming up in just a few weeks for Easter.  Besides, it would be hard to fit the four of us, enough gear for a weekend, and a cat crate in the car.  Surely it just made sense for my sister to bring her up?

Deaf ears and irritation, on both sides.  And for reasons I couldn’t quite put my finger on — and still can’t, to some extent — an awful lot of hurt on my part.

So after the bad news at the allergist’s, I was dreading telling my mother, and began with a defensive and too-strong preface, “Mum, there was something else, and if you try to tell me that this is a good thing in any way, I will be incredibly irritated with you…”  So she listened quietly to the news, then told me she was sorry to hear it and changed the subject.  Somehow, I was irritated with her anyway — not by anything she said, but by what I knew she was thinking and how pleased she must have been for my sister.  I felt sure she was more pleased for her than she was sorry for me.

I held off giving the news to my sister — like if I didn’t say it, it wasn’t true yet — and, besides, I didn’t want to broach it over the phone.  But today, she was here for Easter …and it was time.

I started it off wrong — feeling a subconscious need to stake a now-pointless claim on my cat — and told her we were ready to have the cat come home to us, and were thinking of picking her up next month (when we will be visiting a nearby fiber festival).  My sister’s face went blank, and then stony.

“Are you ok with that?” I asked.  I wanted her to confirm that that was fine, that of course my cat was mine to bring home, that my mother’s crazy idea that one year of cat-sitting trumps eight years of ownership was… well, crazy.

“Yeah.”  She kind of threw the word at me.  And then, “But, I’ll really miss her.”  It could have been a plea for pity or a request for leniency, but it wasn’t — it was cool and with a touch of accusation.  Clearly, she was of the same mind as my mother.  The statute of limitations had run out, and what I was doing was wrong, was unfair.

So when I changed tack and told her the news, I couldn’t bring myself to make it permanent: I told her that we might not be able to take the cat back, that E2 had shown an allergic reaction but that I wanted to discuss all the options with the allergist first.  I don’t know why I said it that way. I know it’s not workable and discussing it with the allergist is pointless — I know my cat can’t come home — but I just wasn’t ready to make it final yet.  I wasn’t ready give my cat away yet — especially not after her reaction.

The stoniness on her face was replaced by confusion — I’d explained this badly, and had to go through it again.  We wanted to bring the cat home, but there was a chance — a good chance — that we couldn’t and so I needed to ask her if she’d be happy keeping my cat for good.  She brightened at that — yes, of course.  She’d be glad to.

“Ok…” I said, not really knowing where to go from here.  “Well, I’ll let you know what the allergist says…”

“S-s-sure,” she replied, and nodded, still looking a bit confused.  The whole mood had gone funny now, and neither of us knew where we stood.

“I was… I was really upset, you know!”   I wanted one of them to realise that this was painful for me, that giving up my cat — for allergies or for ‘fairness’ — was not as easy as they seemed to think it was.  “I really wasn’t expecting it…  It was really upsetting when I realised…”

“Oh… oh… of course.  I know.”  She tried and I think it was genuine, but it didn’t make any difference.  I felt so resentful to realise they both felt this way and she was so conflicted by my two bits of news and confused by the way I’d delivered them, that the whole situation had become tense and odd.

And it was time for them to go home.  Easter had been wonderful: great food, a happy atmosphere, well-behaved children, and — even better — well-behaved adults.  It had gone so much better than I’d anticipated, and then I’d gone and mess it up at the end.  And when my mum and sister finally got in the car, after a million kisses and hugs from two over-excited little girls, I wondered what it was they talked about as they drove home  …and imagined the worst.

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That our cat was coming to America with us was never in question.  She is one of us, an essential part of our family, and has been my girl — mine mine mine — since the first day I picked her up — flea-ridden, underfed, and neglected — and she visibly relaxed in my arms and gazed up at me, and the woman whose vile, stinking flat we were standing in, on one of the roughest council estates in town, exclaimed with shock, “Why, she doesn’t do that with anyone!”  And no wonder — I don’t think anyone had bothered to treat her with love in the whole of her short life so far.  But I just had — I loved her from the first moment I saw her, and she loved me back.

So the week before we moved to the US, we sent her on ahead — paying hand over fist for a professional pet-shipping company to make her journey as smooth as possible.  She went to my sister, who gladly took her in for a temporary stay of length undetermined, while we moved into our rental and got busy finding a more permanent place to live.  And though we’ve been in our own house for six months, it is only the chaos of moving and then our long seige with one illness after another that have delayed her coming home to us.  But I never once doubted she would, and I was looking forward to our reunion with the strength of all the love I hold for her.  My sister is coming up for Easter and so she could bring her with her then.  Soon… soon…  soon…

E2’s egg allergy means her MMR has to be administered by her allergist rather than her pediatrition, in another of those long, drawn out affairs that we are beginning to get used to.  First a skin prick test of the vaccine and a 20 minute wait.  Then a small amount injected just under the skin and another 20 minute wait.  And then, if all is still well, the full vaccine is injected, and we wait for a full hour, with medical staff checking on us every 10 minutes or so, to ensure that the slight amount of egg used in the solution-base is not going to send her body into a dangerous allergic spiral.

She was being such a brave girl, though she cried pitifully with each jab, and was sailing through — no reaction at all to any of the escalating tests.  At last — at last! — a trip to the allergist’s office that didn’t end in some life-altering and bitter disappointment!

When the physician’s assistant next stopped in to check on us, I asked her a few questions that had popped into my mind as we sat, waiting and bored, in that small and sterile examing room…  When I bring E1 for her yearly check next month, should we have her blood work done ahead of time or after?  Did I need to be carrying Allegra with us at all times as well, or were the Epi-pens enough on their own?  Oh, and our cat is coming home to us in a couple of weeks…  we didn’t know about E2’s allergies when she was last living with us…  is there anything to be concerned about?  Anything I should do?

“Mmmm…” she said, frowning a little.  “Well, we could do a prick test if you like.”  Suggestion made, and I agreed.  I didn’t even think about it — we might as well, as we’re here.  After all, it’s why I asked, wasn’t it?

I could hear the nurse in the hall, “Oh no! Are you trying to torture the babe?”

“No, it’s the mom’s request” came the PA’s defense and I bristled a little: I wasn’t trying to torture my daughter!  I don’t enjoy this!  It was her suggestion — hers — and I was only trying to do right my little girl, who has been through so much already.  It was the right thing to do, wasn’t it?

When the nurse came in, carrying a tray with a small vial of clear liquid and piece of metal with a razor-sharp point, she knelt down and gave my daughter a warm, beaming smile.  E2 knew better than that, and held her gaze with wide eyes and suspicion.  No fool, her — the prick came, as she knew it would, followed by her wail and fat tears that landed hot on my arm as I pulled her in tight to me and kissed her head tenderly, uselessly.

When she calmed down — only moments later — I let her down to play and went back to my knitting.  I didn’t check her arm — I didn’t even think of it.  For some reason, my mind held it on the same plane as the original question: just a precaution, just an inquiry.  But when the PA returned and turned her arm over, she drew her breath in sharply.  “Oh, that’s big.  Yeah…  no doubt about that, is there?”  And suddenly I got what this meant — what the stakes had been all along — and my stomach churned at the realisation.

We talked.  Was there…?  Well… could we…?  I was grasping at straws and I knew it, but I wanted a way — any way — to bring my lovely cat home.  She shook her head, then shrugged.  “It’s up to you.  I mean, some people try to keep the cat separated, keep it in the basement.  You could try that.  But it could mean eczema, coughing, trouble breathing… I mean, it’s up to you…  I wouldn’t, but…  Well, it’s big — it’s a big reaction.  Look at it.”  I looked again: it was big — red, raised, and angry.  For a moment, I weighed it up: her health against my need for my cat; her airways — red, raised, and angry like that — against me on a couch, with my lovely cat curled and purring in my lap.  For a moment…  And then, no… no… I knew.  I can’t make her go back to the way things were.  Her life has been so much better since we discovered her allergies, removed her allergens.  She is a different child.  She is who she always should have been.  I can’t jeopardise that.

Back in the car, I sat motionless in the driver’s seat while she waited, strapped in in the back and  confused, for Mummy to start the engine and drive.  When I’d said goodbye to my cat, just over a year ago, I’d told her it was only for a while.  It was only going to be for a while.  I hadn’t planned for it to be for forever.  Why would I?  Why would I?!?!?

I found my phone and rang M — he who has done nothing but moan about the cat coming home… the food, the litter, the cat hair…   He put all that aside and was instantly sympathetic.  And that was almost the most awful thing, because all my strength and calm melted away from me, and I was left with all the bitter disappointment of yet another visit to this bloody office, and all the raw of this move, and the final realisation that my lovely cat cannot now ever come home.  And I lent my forehead against the steering wheel and let my own tears fall, hot and fat, onto my arms.

Like so many things this past year, I miss my Agnes.

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