Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Joys and Challenges of Fostering

This past month, I took in and helped care for a neighbor's neutered male diabetic cat, named Cartman, on a temporary foster basis with my neighbor's blessing, to provide him with more individualized care and attention and hopefully to get his blood sugar under control. Cartman was a very loving cat. He was diagnosed with diabetes by a vet 2 years prior, but my neighbor was unable to afford the veterinarian care he needed and has a multiple cat household. She tried to manage his diabetes with diet with canned food (although inconsistently), and complicating this, Cartman was a picky eater. He was under-weight and I suspected his blood sugar levels were elevated. Unfortunately, my husband and I didn't have the money either for veterinarian care and insulin, so we took a conservative home treatment approach (in an other-wise healthy diabetic cat, this is acceptable, however in Cartman's case, this wasn't such a good idea, as I'll explain later). Since coming to my home, Cartman was put on a special diet of Fancy Feast White Chicken Appetizer/Friskies Chicken pate, Iams Kitten Pro-Active dry food (this was later phased out of his diet due to dry kibble having a high level of carbohydrates), and I supplemented this with Vita Gravy (for cats) and Cat-Sip mixed in his wet food, which he loved and lapped up, to help with weight gain. Also, I wanted to get a blood glucose meter to home test and keep an eye on his blood sugar levels and was waiting until payday, when someone on the Feline Diabetes Message Board told me about Newbie Kits for Cats, a volunteer effort which receives donations of diabetic testing supplies and puts together kits (with a blood glucose meter, testing strips, lancets, and special extras such as home-made catnip toys, a warming sock, and low-carbohydrate treats) which they then distribute to individuals who have difficulty affording these supplies. I received my kit today and was very grateful for this gift. Life with Cartman has been...interesting. Our weekday routine starts with Cartman meowing and demanding his food anywhere from midnight to 2am and breakfast at 6 am, which in the mornings, I feed him and ran interference so he doesn't get under hubby's feet while he gets ready for work. Then I lay back down for a bit, usually waking to a meowing kittty either laying on or next to my head and kneading my face. Because of his diabetes, Cartman is hungry more often than most cats and needs (or should I say "demands") to be fed wet cat food every four to six hours. After breakfast he typically would sleep for the rest of the afternoon. Because I work on weekends, Cartman goes back home to be cared for by his mom (my neighbor) and I pick him up either on Sunday night or Monday afternoon and we start the routine all over again :) Yes, it was a lot of work, but rewarding in having Cartman's companionship and unconditional love, and definitely worth it!  

Update: On Monday, October 17th, Cartman took a turn for the worse, resulting in an emergency trip to the vet. Not good news.He was in acute renal (kidney) failure and shock. The vet informed us that the average life span for a cat once they're diagnosed with diabetes is 2 years and Cartman wasn't diagnosed until 2008 (when he was 7 yrs old) and his diabetes have been not well controlled for a few years. The vet informed us there wasn't much we could do, he may make it maybe another 24 hrs at most. We were both devastated. My neighbor was given the option of euthanasia or taking him home to make him comfortable as possible until he passes, where he'd be in familiar environment (which is what the vet felt was best) and she  opted to bring him home. Cartman passed away in his mother's arms on October 18th a little after 5 o'clock in the afternoon, following complications of diabetes. Fly Free Cartman, land every so softly back in both your mommies hearts
Cartman Hall
March 2001-October 18, 2011

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Help Stamp Out Stigma This Halloween

It's that time of year again...It's the season for ghosts and goblins, and unfortunately stigma for those living with a mental illness. Every year, some local haunted house attractions take the form of "insane asylums," featuring "mental patients" as murderers or ghouls. Halloween costumes, displays, or other products may reflect similar themes with straightjackets and statues.While it is often claimed such costumes and fun houses are only in humor and fun, not ment to depict mentally ill individuals, such depictions are based off of a sordid history of early mental health treatment, depicting actual hospitals and conditions the mentally ill endured during that time period. Also, when such stereotypes are used, where mentally ill individuals are only portrayed only as antagonists or villains, portrayed as violent, or when offensive or insensitive symbols (e.g., straitjackets), these perpetuate stigma and stereotypes which can be quite hurtful and damaging to those living with a mental illness today:

•Straitjackets represent extremely painful, traumatic experiences. Their image is hurtful to individuals and families who struggle with mental illness.

•Using straitjackets for entertainment demeans individual dignity and trivializes mental illness.

•Straitjackets are often associated with violence.

•Violent stereotypes are inaccurate and offensive. Most people who suffer from a mental disorder are not violent there is no need to fear them. Embrace them for who they are normal human beings experiencing a difficult time, who need your open mind, caring attitude, and helpful support.”(Grohol, 1998) Grohol, J. M. “Dispelling the violence myth.” Psych Central. (June, 1998).

•Lunatic" is an obsolete, stigmatizing, offensive term—just like racial and ethnic slurs that once were used in the past. "Pyscho" also is insulting and further perpetuates stigma, along with themes like "Halloween of Horrors."

These images reinforce shame and create the kind of stigma that the U.S. Surgeon General has found to be a major barrier to people seeking help when they need it. Remember, offensive portrayals of heart or cancer patients would never be tolerated. The issue isn't "political correctness." It's about human dignity and a public health crisis. Usually, no one intends to offend, but they need to understand that the effect is not only offensive, but also generates stigma. Here's what you can do if you encounter such displays and costumes:

•Complain directly to a store manager of an offending item and ask that a store product be removed from shelves. For chain stores, ask to contact the regional manager.

•Complain to the owner or sponsor of a Halloween attraction especially if it involves a service club and ask for the attraction theme to be changed. The sponsors may apologize but be unwilling or unable to change the attractions this year. If so, ask instead for a public statement or written promise to use a different theme in the future. Also, if the sponsor is a club, ask to make a presentation on mental illness at one of their meetings.

•If dialogue fails, have NAMI members, family and friends phone, send letters, or e-mail the sponsor—as well as to any newspaper or radio station running a promotion. Letters from allies such as hospital directors or medical societies may especially have an impact.

•Contact local newspaper editors and television news directors. Use the controversy as a "teaching moment" about mental illness and the need to eliminate stigma.

Together, you can help stamp out stigma this Halloween.