Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Journal of the Plague Year, 7

Beginning on December 4, we took our four cats to the vet for ringworm cultures, on the way to their stinky, weekly lime-sulfur dips at the groomer. To gather material from the cat, the vet (masked, gloved, gowned) takes a new toothbrush out of its package and brushes it all over the cat's fur, ears, and paws, to collect possible spores along with fur. Everything on the brush gets stuck into a sterile culture medium. Tiny samples from any lesions are also gathered and added to the agar, or whatever medium is used. This gets sent to a lab, where it is kept in the proper, warm conditions, and examined regularly for growth. Anything that grows is identified  under a microscope as microsporum canis spores, or something else (I'd be thrilled with anything else, even ebola, anthrax, or bubonic plague).

This is the gold standard for determining whether cats still carry ringworm spores or whether the oral medicines, dips, housecleaning, and the cats' immune systems have cleared them of the plague.

Everything in the dermatophytosis (ringworm) literature tells you to wait 21 days for the cultures to fully develop and yield any fungal information.

We did more cultures on the 11th and 18th, too. We spent almost $800 on them all. According to my calculations, the first set of cultures should have been ready on Christmas Eve, the second set came due on New Year's Eve, and our final set should be ready tomorrow.

So why don't we have a single set of lab reports yet? By my calendar, we've been waiting 34 days for the first set and 27 days for the second set. The culture medium is supposed to dry out and deteriorate after about 28 days, so I'm really not understanding this.

It's always hard for me to be patient when I'm waiting for lab results. I don't think there's any worse kind of suspense (well, it's also no fun when your husband is up for a very rare, important tenured teaching position and the unversity takes 7 months to choose between him and another candidate). I was really expecting some news on December 26, when our vet's office opened and they could check in with the lab's online reporting.

But I keep calling and being told that no final reports are ready. In the meantime, our house remains a wreck — torn apart because of the cleaning I have to do to keep the spores at bay. We can't get our female kitten spayed until we have two negative cultures on her and she may go into heat any time now. We want to be able to stop dipping everyone in lime-sulfur every week at a cost of $160.

And, worst of all, my father is in the hospital in Pennsylvania, recovering from a fall, and we can't visit him because, as long as we theoretically have ringworm in the house, we can't hire a sitter to feed and care for the cats, or board them.

We want our lives back. I want our carpets, slipcovers, and curtains, cushions, and warm winter quilt. I want to put away all the tubs and boxes that filled the area under our bed. (I had to pile them around the bedroom so I could clean the floor more easily.) I even miss our paisley shower curtain. I am tired of the hippie-style Indian bedspreads covering our sofa and bed. I want to put away the big tin box filled with our cat medical kit in the kitchen, a constant reminder of all the health problems we've dealt with since October. I'm sick of cleaning and vacuuming. I'm tired of worrying about the cats getting worse. I want information. I want those lab reports!

Yesterday I spoke with the vet's office about this and other issues three times. I stayed home most of the day waiting for a call from our vet herself, which never came. I called again in the evening and asked her to call me; she was supposed to, but she never did. I know she's busy, but this is ridiculous.

I'm on the verge of taking the "no news is good news approach," meaning that, since no one's reported that there IS ringworm in any of those cultures, they must all be negative by now. When you've got it, they can spot it and they tell you. But I still want those final reports. I'm about to call the vet yet again, and probably get more runaround. Once again, I'm thinking about switching vet hospitals, beginning with getting Wendy spayed elsewhere ASAP. Like, tomorrow....

UPDATE: Our vet just called, about an hour after the above rant. "Good news!" she said. We have five of the eight culture results. All negative. We're just waiting to find out what the strange contaminant is on Snalbert's, and then the last two cultures should be ready around the weekend. Wendy is scheduled to be spayed tomorrow. I also heard that my dad has been moved to the rehab area of the hospital and is feeling better, walking, and doing extremely well for a 95-year-old. And things are looking a lot brighter around here.

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