Spent last week in Kanab, Utah, enjoying my sixth trip to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary despite the universe trying to foil my intentions (HUGE thanks to Claire and Robert without whom the vacation literally wouldn’t have been possible). Some highlights:

Me and MauryMaury caught a mouse while we were out walking! I was stunned. First I thought, “Oh, it’s a toy” when I saw the fuzzy thing he’d pounced on behind the strollers. Then a little leg poked out. Maury was disappointed when I made him let it go, but like any good New Yorker, he knew there are always more.

I went a day earlier than normal so I could see the Parelli demo, and I spent my first shift volunteering in horses. It was hard work in 90 degree weather, but I got to see parts of the sanctuary I never would have seen otherwise, like an underground lake that the Anasazi knew about.

Turns out, I am really bad at cat herding. At Benton’s, one of the employees equipped me with treats so she could weigh cats. My job was to distract all the cats in the room except the one we were trying to weigh. I have newfound respect for herding dogs.

The subject line is from Thursday’s lunch. The hooved-things-not-horses department was so successful adopting out that they reached out to a rescue to take some of their more complicated goats because the barn was nearly empty. Awesome problem to have.

I added more anecdotes to many of the photos’ descriptions. To see all 47 shots I took at the sanctuary, check out the album on Flickr.

Best Friends Trip 2016


It’s probably more appropriate to call these “hypotheses” instead of “observations.”

This second one started percolating when I just put on a headband with cat ears and freaked Disney out to the point of hissing and puffy tail. She was all, “Who are you and what have you done with Regan?” I thought back to Temple Grandin’s book Thinking in Pictures, and realized Dis had no file photo of Regan with points on her head. To greatly oversimplify, Grandin suggests that animals (and autistic individuals) have a set of images associated with each concept. Give them an image they don’t have in their file, and they find it difficult to process.

Disney keeps me company in the bathroom. Cat owners will be familiar with this phenomenon. One of my favorite things is to soak in the tub and read The New Yorker. I always thought Disney’s discussion with me when I got in was about me not drowning, but now I think she’s chiding me for being about to disappear. You see, she stays with me up until I shampoo my hair, at which point she goes to hide in her safe space. And I think it’s because Regan has abandoned her and been replaced by someone who smells funny and has a white foamy head. Once I’ve dried off (and presumably start to smell less like “clean”), she comes over to sit with me on the couch. But until then, I think she’s wondering where I’ve gone. It all must be very confusing.

(Also, I’m typing this on my Qwerkywriter. Score.)

I’ve had a few thoughts percolating that I thought I’d share, mainly because I took a lower dose of anti-depressant today, so I can’t stop myself. Enjoy!

Here’s the first thought, which struck me while I was listening to The Bloggess‘s first book. I have never been able to remember people’s faces or names when they’re properly introduced to me. I have always assumed it was because I was an introvert, which is correct, but now I get the why behind it.

My amygdala takes over. That “fight-or-flight” response kicks in. I suspect it’s because my brain is less worried about the person I’m being introduced to eating me and more because it’s afraid I’m going to have to take a nap, and it’s trying to figure out how to extricate me so I can be useful for the rest of the day.

A friend at AOL tried to teach to remember names by using them in three sentences immediately after meeting the person. Only the sorts of sentences my limbic system puts together look like this: See Spot. See Spot run. Run, Spot run. Even better, I can only access those sentences when I go back into fight-or-flight mode, which means that unless the room is on fire the next time I see the person, I am unlikely to remember the person’s name. (On the other hand, it’s really useful for folks I only see at trade shows, because my amygdala runs the show there.)

We had two employees start at the same time. Eric and… the chick who’s helping Chris Parrish. I learned Eric’s name by asking, “Who’s that guy?” and pointing across the room. The other person was properly introduced. Rachel, maybe? I can tell you her dogs’ names.

And the next percolating thought is about pets. But you’ll have to wait until the next time my serotonin bottoms out.

As of this past April 8th, half of my life has passed since Dad’s accident. Every day from here on out, I will have spent more of my life with head-injured Dad than with pre-injury Dad, which is a jarring milestone for me. I worry that I’m losing memories of who he was before. But you know how you occasionally have dreams where you have conversations with dead people from your life and your dream self doesn’t acknowledge that they don’t exist anymore in the real world so it feels just like it did when they were alive? I occasionally have dreams with pre-injury Dad, and they’re the best. Even when we argue. I’m going to guess that folks with loved ones with Alzheimer’s have a similar phenomenon, wherein you have dreams of a person who’s still alive but no longer present.

In other news, folks with toddlers who ride in carseats and realize 5 minutes into the trip that they have to use the potty? I feel your pain. Take off the transfer belt, braces, shoes, tuck Dad in. Go to turn the fan on and come back to find him trying to get out of bed. Reverse procedure, take him to the toilet, and then repeat. Are we there yet?

Also, I think I gave Roxanne (Mom and Dad’s cat) a really lovely vitamin B deep conditioning treatment today for her fur.

Basically, it’s your standard weekend, only now in HD, which I plan to rant about later if I don’t get distracted.

For some reason, putting things in order makes me happy. Does this mean I’m an organized person? No. My place is a series of small piles of detritus. (Disney discovered a new tunnel through some laundry this morning. I was impressed.) However, being able to put tiny sections of my life in order floods me with dopamine.

Take, for instance, my nail polish collection. It now lives in a set of medicine cabinets on the living room wall. One day when I was buying a polish, the best friend said, “You have that shade.” I denied it. We were both right. I did have that shade. Only from a different company. Witness my favorite blues. All but Gumball by Orly (the middle one) are basically very slightly different versions of the same aqua.


Now I swatch every color I buy. Useful in a few ways:

  1. I get to see the polish against my skin, which is good because I take beta carotene, and occasionally I accidentally turn Michael-Kors orange and colors that seem normal look weird on me.
  2. I can hold different colors up against each other to see what goes well together.
  3. I could theoretically take my palette with me when I go shopping so I don’t buy the same shade again. This never happens. That would require a level of organization I’m not yet ready to commit to. Also, I really, really like that blue.

If you also need this kind of dopamine in your life, I get mine from TransDesign. They have a dozen different options.

Tomorrow’s the 21st anniversary of Dad’s accident. For those of you who don’t know, my father was in a motorcycle accident right after I got my Bachelor’s degree. He was hit by at least one car. He broke everything. His lungs were shredded. But the worst bit was that he had a stroke which resulted in the loss of a large section of his brain. Most brain function recovery happens in the first 5 years. 21. Now that we’re all on the same page….

Yesterday the annual recap post would have been different. But today the pharmacist managed to give Mom’s flu shot in her shoulder straight through her muscle and into the bursa. Result? Mom has Shoulder Injury Related to Vaccine Administration (SIRVA). She can’t lift her arm. She’s in horrific pain. I finally gave her morphine an hour and a half ago, and she’s fallen asleep.

Mom has a really high tolerance to pain, so when she does have it, she freaks out. And she deserves to. But when Mom freaks out, Dad loses control of his bowels. Fortunately, he’s in diapers 24×7 at this point, so this isn’t as unpleasant as it could be. Somehow, she’d managed to clean him before I even got to their place from work.

Move forward several hours. I got Mom upstairs in bed and Dad downstairs and fed. When Mom’s pain got severe again, I decided I’d run get some lidocaine from my apartment and feed my cats. I asked Dad, “You need to pee?” “Huh?” “Do. You. Need. To. Pee?” “No.” “Okay. I’ll be back in an hour. Don’t get up.”

Naturally, he got up. He needed to check on Mom. He’s still that good guy he was 22 years ago. On the plus side, he didn’t fall, because Mom had to come downstairs to walk him back to his chair. Someone has to be holding on to him at all times when he stands because he loses his balance and forgets how feet work. You know how toddlers have that stage where they go limp when they don’t want to do something? Now imagine a 180 lb. man doing that. We have a transfer belt on him whenever he’s awake. It’s made dealing with it easier.

It’s sweet that he loves her. It’d be better for her if he’d listen. Or remember. But I can’t get mad at him for either of those because he can’t.

At times, he reminds me of a toddler. Other times, he reminds me of a petulant teenager. His oxygen saturation is always low, but when it drops below 89, he’s particularly prone to peeing on the floor instead of in the toilet or falling over. So we sometimes use a pulse oximeter on him before we let him walk. Sitting incoherent Dad is easier to deal with than standing incoherent Dad, heading for the Earth at 9.8m/sec. And he gets in these phases where he says, “No!” and flings the pulse oximeter across the room. Fortunately, these spells are few. But it reminds me so much of a teenager’s “You can’t make me” attitude. It’s got to be hard for a 70 year old to obey his 40 year old daughter.

How do you deal with that? With a petulant toddler, you can manhandle them out of a situation when they’re not yet reasoning properly. With a teenager, you can let them go and assume they’ll learn the hard way whatever it is you’re attempting to protect them from. We can’t reason with Dad. We can’t manhandle him. And he doesn’t have the ability to learn. So I really have no idea what to do. Maybe folks dealing with parents in dementia have advice?

I was reading a book about folks with dementia, and the doctor pointed out that every time your loved one has an incident, you reset the bar, only you put it a little lower. You continue to lower your expectations and cheer at the smaller and smaller achievements. And the only way out of that cycle is death, the patient’s or the caregiver’s.

Mom takes care of Dad 24x7x365. I come over many Saturdays to do the morning routine and give her a 6 hour break from babysitting and bodily fluids. Fortunately, my friend Dawn convinced me to get her to hire caregivers, so we have 3 or 4 folks trained now who can give her time off during the week. This is good for me because it means I don’t have to ask off of work every time Mom wants/needs to leave the house. And I get to go to the Renaissance festival. But I still don’t know how she does it.

This is the annual State of the Brain Injury address. Nobody asks for this. My folks didn’t ask for kids, and they still changed my diaper for years. I can return the favor. I’m not looking for applause. I just know that reading the honest accounts of others affected by brain injury has been useful for me. So here’s mine.

It doesn’t get better. You learn to deal with it better. And then you lower the bar, adjust, and move forward.

Hotel room viewFor folks who haven’t met me, I like to spend my vacations with Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah, the location of the largest no-kill animal sanctuary in the United States. So last week I flew into Vegas to kickoff the annual escapade. Spent the first night at The Cromwell, which is part of the Caesar’s chain. The decor was posh. The location was perfect. I’d recommend it for the service, their driver, and the free espresso, plus the easy in-and-out. It isn’t the best place for folks who want to try out different restaurants in their hotel, since there’s only one.

Before leaving Vegas, I got to grab a fancy burger and catch up with an old friend, as well as stock up on bath bombs from Lush, because a soaking tub is a nice touch when you’re covered in cat spit and allergic to it. And the new place in Kanab, the Canyons Boutique Hotel, had a room with a tub that had my name on it. (And a fireplace, too, but it’s September. Also, they have a restaurant downstairs, which I ate at once. It was nice. Hot breakfast would have been nice if I’d managed to get up early enough to enjoy it, but I was always scraping in just under the 8:15 check-in wire at Cat HQ.)

Got into Kanab in time to go on the tour and take a spin around the gift shop. Drove out to Zion that evening, which is just 20someting miles away. Then I realized that pretty as the rocks were, I’d rather be back in the hotel getting some sleep. Which was much needed. My Fitbit told me I averaged 6 1/2 hours of sleep each night that week. I could be doing relaxation wrong.

Quincy Room 2: Where the boys are

Quincy's lobby greeter, SnowflakeSpent my first day volunteering in Quincy Mo, catching up with some of my lobby favorites like Snowflake and Duke. When I was ready to clean, a caregiver suggested I try out Room 2, which is chock full of alpha male cats. They’re a little more feisty with each other than most rooms, and you have to make sure everybody who wants attention gets it, but mostly they’re big ol’ loverboys. After I’d been in there a bit, I was trying to identify one of the cats and looked up at the board and saw… a card I’d sent after my visit in 2009 – a photo of three boys who are no longer in the room. Whichever caregiver picked Room 2 for me obviously chose well.

After lunch, I went back to help out with dishes and laundry and just generally spread the love around. When there was one more thing to attend to than there were caregivers, I got to step in and feed Duke, which was a wonderful, messy experience. Duke’s a kitty with cerebellar hypoplasia who lives in the lobby. For folks who remember him from my previous visits, he’s still just as independent, but now he’s happier and yells at you less when you try to help him. I also fell in love with Spud, a blind, neurological kitty who “oversaw” my laundry folding. (I had no idea he was blind until a caregiver told me. He died while being neutered and suffered some brain damage after being revived.) So yeah. Quincy and its magnificent kitties will remain on the Must Do list for the foreseeable future.

Silva Battista hosted that evening’s Welcome Wagon, which focused on their Katrina rescue efforts. It was amazing to hear about it all from a witness. It hadn’t struck me that street signs would be underwater, so it was interesting to hear the logistics of how they’d direct the boats in New Orleans by using satellite maps back in Utah.

Bent on Benton’s

Me & MauryI have a special place in my heart for Benton’s House, another of the special needs buildings, so that was Thursday’s agenda. While the caregivers were doing meds and special feedings, Maury and I went out for an hour long walk. You’d never know he couldn’t use his back legs when he got to the sanctuary. I think he would have stayed out all morning, staking out lizards, if I hadn’t finally toted him back to the lobby.

Got to do a stint as Dilly’s maid and meet all the new cats in Niblet’s. Last time I visited, we’d managed to get shy Grover (nee Attila) down from the rafters with some Temptations. He’s a little old man now, but his posse of “huns” still loves him, and he can still be persuaded with promises of plunder (treats).

After lunch, Chauncy and Slidell monitored my dish washing skills. (Their advice? Moar pettins, plz.) I got to clean a bit more but mostly spent the time socializing with some shy cats in each of the rooms. Went back to say goodbye to Dillymonster, who didn’t have to swat or growl at anybody the whole time I was in there. Good to see everyone’s giving the diva the respect she deserves.

Brain Trust

After finally meeting an imaginary friend, I spent my final shift picking the brain of Mike at Colonel’s, whom I’d met on my very first volunteer shift back in 2008. He had some great advice on handling feral cats for my Sunday shifts volunteering at the spay/neuter clinic (chiefly: do it as little as possible). I learn all sorts of new things every time I work at Best Friends, and sometimes months later I realize I’m putting them into practice. These I’m putting into place next Sunday.

The landscape is beautiful; the people are wonderful. There’s something special about being in a space where everyone’s there to make the animals’ lives better that makes Best Friends a magical, unforgettable experience.

Best Friends Trip 2015Check out the album on Flickr