Blue-Violet Iris Interior

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Recap

This year has passed swiftly! It keeps charging on ahead, far out-pacing my ability to write about things individually and as they happen. This post is intended to cover the second trimester of this year, from May through August, following up my earlier report on happenings between January and April.


The first few months of 2015 had several new and unpleasant migraine features, including an extended migraine that didn't respond to treatment and onset of bizarre swelling in my neck when exercise and migraines coincided. May started off with another new bit of neurologically-induced unpleasantness: I started itching. Shifting patches and spots on my skin would itch, moving here and there, with only my thighs--my inner thighs in particular--itching consistently. The seams on my soft sweatpants made my legs itch even more fiercely whenever I moved. The skin itself was unblemished by any sort of spot or rash. An antihistamine provided no relief. Soon, my entire body was not just itching, but burning. Imagine the feeling of a nasty allergic rash (comparable for me with the way I will itch if I walk through a field of long grass during the summer with bare legs) and a really bad sunburn. Any drag of fabric across my skin felt like sandpaper, any place where there was pressure on my body (such as my back against a chair) burned and stung. Every movement hurt. Even not moving hurt. The backs of my eyes itched and when I blinked it felt like the undersides of my lids were coated with sand. I could only tolerate the very softest, loosest clothing. An ordinary cotton T-shirt, for example, felt unbearably harsh and scratchy against my flesh. I often lifted my shirt to stare at my skin with disbelief: it seemed impossible that it wasn't angry red and ridden with hives. But in truth, it was not my skin that was itching and burning: it was my brain. What I was suffering from is a neurological condition called allodynia, a manifestation of oversensitivity of the nervous system characterized by over-excitability of pain nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. I'd had a few episodes of postdrome allodynia in the past, but in those cases, the itching, confined to my thighs, had lasted less than a day. Unfortunately, this round of allodynia was more lasting. At one point this spring, I suffered from non-stop, severe allodynia for two weeks straight. It was miserable. In addition to being horrendously uncomfortable, I was also exhausted and didn't feel well in a general sort of way. I was unable to concentrate or experience pleasure. Even my go-to solution for all of life's ailments, a long shower, was too painful to endure. The treatments available for allodynia overlap with those for migraines (allodynia often occurs hand-in-hand with chronic migraines, but it can be experienced with other neurological conditions as well), so I was already taking what I could. I upped my dose of gabapentin, but mainly had to just sit it out, which is what I did for most of May.

Despite the allodynia, not all of May was bad. For example, I got to spend some more time with little Pipsqueak before the itching started in. I also finished up taking care of Cutie, who'd I'd been walking since February while her owner recovered from surgery. And during one of those last days with Cutie, I saw another shrew-mole! Shrew-moles, for those who are not aware, are little mole-like critters that burrow at or just under the surface. As their name implies, they embody the evolutionary link between shrews and moles. I photographed one in our lawn a few years ago and have been quite taken with them ever since. And of course there was the Great Hooded Merganser Duckling Rescue!

Pipsqueak invites me to join her by the fire.

Cutie is also a white dog, but outweighs Pipsqueak by 80 pounds!

Cutie photographed while having an opinion about a perceived invader to her territory.

While Cutie misses very little, I was the one who spotted this tiny shrew-mole, just a few inches long, making ditches and tunnels in the bark.

Baby mergansers. Read all about their rescue here!

In mid-May, I had my first overnight stay with Pipsqueak. She was still pretty shy the first day, leaving her perch on the couch only when necessary, but by the third and final night, she went so far as to sleep on the bed with me! Besides bonding with Pipsqueak, I spent a lot of time watching the birdlife in her yard, where a great many babies were being brought up. At first, Pipsqueak would merely watch me through the window when I went out to photograph the birds and flowers, but she eventually felt brave enough to come out and join me, hanging out happily in the grass as I attempted to photograph the chickadee parents flying in and out of the birdhouse and the various hummingbirds visiting the feeder.

Pipsqueak peers at me from her customary perch at the end of the couch.

While she was initially still shy, she was always ready for a belly rub!

She never turned down a treat, either!

By the time I left, Pipsqueak was feeling at ease in my company.

This adult chestnut-backed chickadee pauses in the branches with a mouth full of insects before swooping into the birdhouse to feed its young.

Several hummingbirds jousted for the feeder, including this male rufous hummingbird.

A gorgeous clematis flower.

I also spent a week in May with the positively ancient Mr. Gorgeous. His degenerative myelopathy had significantly weakened his back legs and he spent most of his time sleeping. His bowel control had weakened, too, so much so that he was consigned to sleeping the garage at night, where at least it was possible use a hose to assist with the cleanup. He still looked gorgeous when he was awake, though. I photographed various other animals, of course, and was particularly fascinated by the bees and the new beehive on his property!

Creeping paralysis of the hind end made Mr. Gorgeous' back legs very weak and unable to support his weight for long while standing--they are seen here collapsing as he drinks water from his bowl. He had developed a flat-footed waddle when he walked because he didn't know where his feet were and sometimes he scuffed his paws or tripped over them. Still, his case had progressed far more slowly than most cases of degenerative myelopathy do.

It seemed that the less he was able to walk, the more Mr. Gorgeous ran in his sleep.

He sure was handsome, whether or not his back legs worked properly.

Mr. Gorgeous was ancient, though, and hard to wake. He'd gotten to the point that when I spotted him sprawled flat somewhere, I found myself stopping, heart in mouth, to watch for signs that he was still breathing.

I got this nice shot of a rabbit while looking after Mr. G.

This Steller's jay allowed me to get close enough to get several good shots!

I love bees, so it was cool to have access to a hive. I spent several hours lying on my stomach a few feet away from the beehive, trying to get good shots as they buzzed in and out. I'm not afraid of bees, so for me it was a cool opportunity!

Incoming! A honeybee with full pollen baskets returns to the hive.

A bee fans its wings at the entrance to the hive to help circulate air through it.

And here's a picture of Miss Abbey, just because.


June in Seattle is often referred to as "Juneuary" because it is known for being depressingly cool, gray, and rainy, but this year, June was sunny and hot! I found myself in just the right place to enjoy the 90-degree days: Goldie's house by the lake. Each morning before the sun got uncomfortably hot, I'd slather on some sunscreen and Goldie and I would make our way down to the lake. I, of course, was looking for birds to photograph. Goldie was looking for dead fish to eat. I don't know why there were so many, but a steady succession of dead yellow perch floated their way ashore and by scouring the beaches three house to either side of her own twice a day, Sandy was eating as many as half a dozen eight-inch perch per day. She was not alone in being interested in the fish: the bald eagles, great blue herons, and crows were all busy fishing, too. Yes, crows catch fish! It became one of my favorite things to watch. I was not immune from this fish fever, though my interest was in trying to photograph the fish I could see swimming in the lake. This did not work very well, but I persisted on trying! Prior to about eleven o'clock, the lake was usually still and I could see fish below the dock. After eleven, a breeze usually picked up, roughing the surface of the water, and that's when the birds would start fishing. By noon, it would be too hot for me to be out in the sun, so Sandy and I would go in to stay cool. We'd head back down to the lake around an hour before sunset, when the fierceness of the sun had abated and it was possible for me to be outside without applying sunscreen again from head to toe. During the weekends, every single person who owned a boat was out on the lake and so it was rather noisy, but I still enjoyed sitting on the dock with the breeze blowing, watching the boats go by and the eagles fish and the sun go down. Sometimes I even went in the lake myself. On one very special evening, I invited my own dog over for a swim. She loves to swim, but she's prone to a condition called swimmer's tail that causes temporary tail paralysis after vigorous activity in cold water. Our cold, deep lakes seldom get warm enough for her to do much swimming, but the conditions were perfect. Abbey had an absolute blast! My allodynia had finally gone away at the start of this gig, so I was physically more comfortable, too. The whole stay felt much more like a vacation than a job!

Goldie surveys the lake on yet another beautiful day.

Both Goldie and I frequently went wading.

Sunset reddens Goldie's coat.

We had a good time all around.

All smiles.

Abbey had a fantastic time swimming!

This wakeboarder was just one of many people taking advantage of the warm days by getting out on the water.

My attempts to photograph fish in the water weren't very successful, but I did like how this photo of underwater foliage turned out.

There were fish everywhere, including on the roof of the shed down by the lake where a bird must have dropped it.

Goldie feasted on fish wherever she could find them.

Another snack comes floating in.

A fishing crow.

This crow snagged a yellow perch, seen bouncing here on the dock.

Examining its catch. The crows usually stuck to the little three-inch sticklebacks!

An immature bald eagle with a fish in its talons.

A bald eagle flying with a fish in its beak!

This great blue heron had the hardest time choking this fish down.

All the birds were busy raising families and protecting them from other birds. The crows worked hard to drive off the eagles whenever they landed in the trees.

A Canada goose with goslings.

This immature spotted towhee has bits of insects all over its beak where a parent bird regurgitated them.

Eventually, the wonderful, vacation-like gig with Goldie came to an end. It meant I had some time to be at home with my own dog. I'd been away quite a bit so far this year.

Abbey and I have some fun with fusilli.

But more dog-sitting was on the agenda because I got a new client! My neighbors, who are friends with Mr. Gorgeous' owners and the Ancient Kitty's owners, got a black labradoodle puppy and gave me the call to help out. I haven't spent time with puppies since my childhood dog was a baby, so playing with this little fellow, who I'll call Curly, has been a lot of fun. Just three months old when his family brought him home, he couldn't be left alone for long periods of time, so my job was to come by to let him out and play with him (and take his photo) for a while if his people were going to be gone for more than a few hours. He's a fun little guy and there were lots of puppy zoomies involved.


He's a black labradoodle puppy.

Lots of running and pouncing is involved in being a puppy.


The beginning of July saw me back at Goldie's house for another beautiful weekend. Little did I know that this would be our last time together. Goldie passed away in September. (Read my memorial tribute to her here.) This final visit, though short, was lovely, as stays with Goldie always were, so I have no regrets about how we spent our final days together.

Sweet girl.

July 9th proved to be a momentous day that altered the course of the summer (and very nearly upended Abbey's life and therefore mine). The events will get a post of their own, but in summary, Abbey underwent a procedure to removed twelve years of hair and wax from her ears, had a bad response to it, had an even worse response to the medication the vet gave her to ease her vestibular distress, entered a state of extreme sedation that she was not able to come out of, spent two nights in the emergency animal hospital, and returned home weak, wobbly, occasionally incontinent, and virtually unable to eat or drink. It took her about five weeks to completely recover, so I spent most of July taking her out every hour or so to reduce accidents, feeding her small portions of soft food and giving her water through a syringe every few of hours, and doing my best to care for her. The slowest thing to come back was the strength and mobility of her tongue and mouth, so it wasn't until August that she was able to eat her usual dry kibble and lap up water from her bowl again. It was a very scary time! Thankfully, my senior girl is otherwise very healthy, so she managed to bounce back.

Weak, wobbly, and unable to eat without assistance.

There was one really awesome thing about July, though: the air conditioner. Heat makes me really sick, so rather than see me spend another summer confined to the couch, my parents gave me an air conditioner for Christmas. It was installed in my bedroom while I was taking care of Goldie, so I came home to sweet, cool relief! July proved to be the hottest month on record in Seattle, with highs routinely in the high 80's or even the 90's, but thanks to my air conditioner, I did not suffer a single extended heat migraine. As it turns out, Abbey loved the air conditioner, too. She spent most of her recovery sprawled on my bed with the AC blowing on her. In the mid-afternoon, when it got too hot for me to be in other parts of the house, I could retreat into my room with a laptop or a book and relax in my cool sanctuary. It also allowed me to sleep in comfort. The air conditioner definitely made the summer of 2015 doable. It would have been so hard to be trying to look after Abbey while suffering heat-induced migraines.

Abbey and the AC.


August was another hot month spent largely in my air conditioned bedroom, with a few notable exceptions. I spent a few hours with Curly on a couple of occasions and two mornings with Pipsqueak. I also picked blackberries at a friend's house, though I spent more time photographing the chickens than picking berries...

Curly in nutty zooming puppy mode.

It's all four paws off the ground as Curly chases after his Kong.

Pipsqueak welcomes me with a wagging tail.

There's nothing like doing a little sunbathing after breakfast!

"Pet me more!"


The main event in August was our annual trip to the Northwest Washington Fair to see the draft horses. There is also the inducement of equine drill teams, pony chariot races, trick riders, livestock barns, and the festive small-town county fair atmosphere. The only downside of attending the fair was that the stimulation set my itchy allodynia in motion again. (You can read about a previous year's trip to the fair with lots of photos of the draft horses and other elements of the horse show here.)

Mt. Baker looms behind a carnival ride.

The fair has multiple barns filled with animals, like these baby goats, all raised and being shown by 4-H kids.

Handsome dappled Percherons are hitched to a wagon for part of the horse show. 

All summer long, I'd been working away at a reading challenge put on by the Seattle Public Library. The "bingo" sheet featured twenty-five categories of books and the goal was to either complete a row or, if you were so inclined, all twenty-five. Because I am a voracious reader, I set my sights on reading a book for every category. It was a lot of fun to make my choices and to have shipments of books regularly arriving in the mail! I gobbled up books during the portion of my days spent in the air-conditioned comfort of my room. (A small brag: I read seven other books this summer in addition to these twenty-five because I had a few weeks where I hadn't gotten the last couple of books yet and I needed to fill my time somehow...) I finished the very last book on the 1st of September, the perfect way to end my summer!

The twenty-five books I read this summer for a reading challenge.

Here is my completed bingo sheet showing my book choices. Click to enlarge if you actually want to make it legible!

Some of my favorites were "H is for Hawk," "The Way We Never Were," "The Luminaries," "Pioneer Girl," "The Little Friend," "Cloud Atlas," and "A Brief History of Time," but I enjoyed reading all of the books. I'm such a fast reader that I end up doing a lot of rereading because there's simply no way that I can realistically get a new book every time I finish reading the previous one. I enjoying rereading books, but I'd forgotten how fun it is to get a bunch of new ones. I'll have to keep that in mind this winter and perhaps set up a new challenge for myself!

In summary: the four-month period between May and August contained six dogs, a duckling rescue, fishing crows, the emergency vet, an air conditioner, allodynia, record highs, twenty-five books, a county fair, and was, on the whole, an enjoyable summer.