Sunday, January 3, 2010


Once upon a time there was a cat. It followed me from Campbell, California, to Palo Alto, and on to San Jose. Through the shadows, across time, from zip code to zip code, it was a haunted feline that lived to torment me. For years, it went wherever I did go.

Okay, you animal lovers, yes, it was the family pet, but it sounds creepier my way, doesn’t it? Almost like a Stephen King novel. Brrrrrrrrr.

Back when this cat spent five years with Kristin and me in Palo Alto, it got into a couple of scrapes. We never knew if it was with another housecat, or perhaps a wild animal—possums were always a possibility—but Naugles (that’s the cat) required two surgeries within a matter of twelve months or so. Each cost about five hundred bucks, to remedy an abscess, back when five hundred bucks was . . . well . . . five hundred bucks.

I swore the second would be the last, and that we’d not shell out such serious money again for the cat. Lucky for Naugles, it never happened again, and she lived a good ‘nother twelve years or so. Some people think I’m coldhearted enough to have actually denied a third surgery if it had become necessary, and I’m not going to attempt to dissuade anyone of that belief.

Now in the new millennium I wish that such a procedure would only cost me five hundred bucks. It turns out that prices have gone up since 1990. Who knew?

Daughter Kelsey, a creature doubly as active as Naugles the cat, had experienced some pain in her right wrist for at least two field hockey seasons. I, of course, wanted to make sure it wasn’t just a passing ache, so I waited a couple of years before we took her to the doctor.

If only she had been the family pet rather than a human being. A scalpel and a quick, impersonal procedure would have done the trick. Instead, Kelsey was subjected to x-rays and an MRI before a ganglion cyst was diagnosed. Surgery was suggested, although I was aware of a cheaper and quicker method using a bible, dictionary, or other large book. Just smack the thing! It is supposed to work well, although the smacked ones have been known to return.

Being a human being and not one of the lower species, and with a mother who has a mothering instinct, Kelsey earned the privilege of proper medical attention. Damn the cost and full speed ahead! The bills are just beginning to arrive from the surgical center, and the doctor, and the anesthesiologist, and it appears they’ll amount to more than $500, even with an insurance policy in place. Something to do with deductibles, and patient co-pays, and fees for not reading the fine print.

But, hey, it is Kelsey. It’s okay to spend that kind of money to improve the quality of her life, right? Sure, as long as it doesn’t keep happening. I’ll have to make sure that Kelsey reads “The Story of Naugles.” Another ganglion cyst might just be her ticket to the great beyond.

While Kelsey was resting at home two days post-op—with some highly enjoyable Vicodin tablets—Kristin took the latest incarnation of the family beast to the veterinarian. Zen the dog had a small lump on her chest that had appeared a couple of months earlier. Like the humans in the house, Zen doesn’t rush to the doctor with every possible infirmity. She takes the “wait and see” approach. Or we do for her.

Do me a favor, though, and don’t point out to Kelsey that we waited two years for her wrist, because Zen only waited about four months. This is simply because we figured the vet bill would certainly be less than Kelsey’s, and the dog’s might even turn out to be elective surgery. In which case I would elect “no.”

Still, the canine lump could be cancerous or something more unpleasant and so we figured we needed to know. Kristin took the dog to the vet, where she got a ton of compliments. That is, Zen got a lot of compliments. She was eager, friendly, curious, smart, and puppyish, despite her advancing years. (Really? Almost seven years old? Does that make surgery even more optional?)

The lump also was complimented. It was small, not intrusive, and simply a fatty deposit. Nothing malignant. Liposuction was an expensive possibility, but there was no way we were going to sign up for that. Zen got a couple of shots to keep her up-to-date on her vaccinations and to make sure she doesn’t spread rabies around the neighborhood again this year.

Just kidding. She didn't spread rabies around the neighborhood last year.

It was two years ago. (Kristin asks that I point out that I am still joking; ha ha, you be the judge.)

Anyway, Zen and Kelsey are both on the mend, and under strict orders from me: no more doctor visits! Or they will quickly learn just what the American icon Sarah Palin means by “death panels.”

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