The Tough Side of Expat Life – Part 1

Sorry to have disappeared for the past 3 weeks. We have been going through some challenges which have required all of my time and attention and I just didn’t have time or energy to write.

So what has been going on? First, there was an incident in one of our kid’s schools. I cannot write about it on this blog in any sort of detail but let’s just say that it was something that shook me to my core. I had to get involved quickly and mobilize other parents to make the school take necessary corrective action. They did eventually but it took a lot of energy, persistence and anger on my part. It also brought to light some very disturbing cultural differences. It is my opinion (although Colombian friends were first to suggest it to me) that Colombians have been through so much violence that nothing is a big deal here. People are polite and do not lose their cool, no matter what is going on. They are also, from my point of view, too complacent. There seems to be a sense that nothing will really change so why bother

Just as I was recuperating my energy from the school issue (and wondering if I am crazy to have my child there), our beloved cat Montgomery (who has been with us for over 13 years) was diagnosed with kidney failure. We noticed that he had been drinking a lot since we returned back from the US and lost some weight. I honestly thought that he had parasites. I took him to the vet about a week and a half ago and was shocked to learn that his kidneys were failing. The prognosis was not good: most likely less than a month to live. But the vet agreed to do some treatments for a few days and see if that would help him and extend his prognosis with a good quality of life.

The worst part of this for me was the realization that I haven’t taken Montgomery to the vet for blood work in almost a year and a half. Had I done that, they would have caught the kidney failure at an earlier stage, thus improving his possibilities for a longer life. We were all upset by the diagnosis, but I was personally devastated. I know that I can rationalize that I didn’t take him to the vet like I should have because we were in a new country, lots of issues with the kids (health, school, changing schools, moving, changing nanny and housekeeper, lots of stress) and most of all, he seemed healthier than ever until these symptoms showed up, but I still felt horrible and responsible. So I read all I could about this condition and took Montgomery to Bogota for treatment almost every day for a week.

The good news is that Montgomery has responded very well to treatment. His toxin levels are down and he is energetic at home. His prognosis has been extended to potentially several years, which is not bad for a cat who is between 15-1/2 and 17-1/2 years old (we adopted him as an adult at a shelter and they estimated his age at the time). We are now doing his treatments at home (blood pressure medicine, homeopathic medicine, eye infection medicine and, hardest of all, injections of fluid that clean out the toxins in his body every other day). I have become a sort of a veterinary nurse.

The bad news is that he has lost a third of his body weight and has good days and not so good days. I seem to finally be getting the hang of the fluid injections but it’s a very unpleasant process for both Montgomery and I. I am also concerned about how he will do when we go to Ecuador in 5 weeks. I have arranged for our super responsible and loving nanny to stay with him and for a vet to come to the house every other day to give Montgomery his injections (I can’t ask the nanny to do this. My husband can’t even watch me do it.) But I still worry.

What has really impressed me here in Colombia is how quickly the vet was able to diagnose Montgomery’s illness and offer treatment. He took bloodwork when we got there and the results were ready in 40 minutes. Montgomery was receiving his first treatment within an hour of walking into the vet’s office on a Friday afternoon. This was crucial to saving his life and turning things around!

Had we been in the US, our vet would have taken lab samples and told us that they would be back from the lab in 2 or 3 business days. This being Friday would mean that they would be back on Tuesday or Wednesday of the following week. Given everything that I have learned about Chronic Kidney Failure, Montgomery could have been dead by then.

On the other hand, there are many medicines in the US geared towards improving longetivity and quality of life of cats living with CKF. I have mentioned these to the vet here only to hear, “I have never heard of these medicines here in Colombia. Maybe you have them in the States but not here.” It’s hard to know that I can’t do everything possible for Montgomery as long as we are here.

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