How do animals feel pain?

One of the most awful conversations I’ve ever had was with my mother who, dying of cancer after months of traumatic, expensive and ultimately useless chemotherapy and yet more months of calamitously declining quality of life, said (referring to my two sisters and me), ‘I wish one of you had married a vet – because then he could just put me down.’

It’s utterly unthinkable to me that we don’t have control over our own deaths – that we can’t legally choose to end our lives, for whatever reason. It’s an open secret that morphine overdoses are frequently (if quietly) administered to people in hospital dying slowly and horribly, yet from time to time an ‘example’ must be made of those who help their loved ones die with dignity, like Sean Davison. For my mother, the final straw (on top of so, so many others) was when the hospice nurse arrived on a Friday afternoon with a commode and a wheelchair: not only could my mother – a joyously energetic and creative woman when she was healthy – no longer walk, she could no longer go to the toilet on her own. It was no coincidence that she died the same weekend.

In those last few months, my mother often told us that she wanted to die: her refrain to me was ‘I’m so tired‘. She was quite literally tired of the effort it took to go on living, without anything to make it worthwhile: she had no appetite, and took no pleasure from food (a tragedy for someone who adored cooking); she couldn’t knit or read, and even watching TV exhausted her; her passion for gardening was a distant memory; she was constantly bone-cold; some of her medications made her constipated and nauseous, while others made her paranoid, and she often scratched at her face and hair as if bugs were crawling on her; she cried frequently – honestly, if I’d had a dog in her condition and didn’t do the humane thing and put it out of its misery, I would fully expect to be prosecuted for cruelty.

Which brings me to animals, and how they feel pain. My Wobbly Dog, Sara (above, having a companionable moment with one of the household cats, Maui), has had to endure much in her 6-or-so years: a puppyhood of violence and neglect, a scorpion sting, epilepsy, chronic tremors, misalignment of her spine, lameness – really, it’s all been A Bit Much. She limps heavily and often keeps her lame foot off the ground, so I’m aware that she’s in some discomfort – I just don’t know how much. But sometimes, when she’s had a particularly bad day or night (fitting often and sometimes unable to walk – when she has bad times, they’re baaad), she looks at me with an expression that rips my heart out: I can hear her saying, ‘Please, I’ve had enough.’

I haven’t been able to bring myself to even think about life without Sara, so I’m nowhere near the reality of having her put down – but I do wonder when that point will be. I don’t want her to be on painkillers or other powerful medication for years (she’s no longer on epilepsy meds because they made her so sleepy and lethargic she was barely living a life) but I don’t want her to suffer needlessly either.

How do you know?

Pop-up restaurants

Not surprisingly – given that our valley has become a Foodie Destination – a ‘pop-up restaurant’ has arrived in our little town. I didn’t know what a ‘pop-up restaurant’ was – I had to google it – but it turns out that it is what it says it is: a temporary restaurant, sometimes in a private home, often during a festival or some similar community celebration.

But I know a person who did a ‘pop-up restaurant’ back before it even had a name. I’m guessing it was in the late 1970s or so, and Lesanne, the mastermind behind the concept, couldn’t have been older than 13 or 14. I don’t recall many of the details and had nothing to do with the planning. Amanda (Lesanne’s younger sister and my best friend) and I were pressganged into being waitresses (the term ‘waitron’ hadn’t yet been coined), which we thought huge fun; I don’t know what Lesanne’s mom, Elizabeth, thought of it all – it was, after all, her kitchen and home that were turned into a temporary restaurant.

What I do remember is the flyers (designed by Lesanne) we were required to hand out at school, inviting our classmates and their families to the pop-up restaurant. And I remember that only one family – the Joughins – arrived, which was probably just as well, since there were only 3 or 4 tables set out in the garden, and not enough cutlery and crockery to cater for more than about 8 people. Lesanne (and probably her friends) cooked the food in the kitchen upstairs, and Amanda and I were kept busy ferrying it down several long flights of stairs to the garden. Was it a success? That, I can’t recall.

Elizabeth, whose house was designed by her architect husband, Paul (who died not longer after), was an incredibly longsuffering single mother to four children – five if you count me, and you should, because I practically lived with them. Once, shortly before the house was to be photographed for a prestigious architectural magazine, Lesanne, Amanda, some of our other chommies and I commandeered a store-room in the back garden and turned it into a ‘gang hut’. (We were all Famous Five and Secret Seven fans, and were forever looking for mysteries to solve – irksomely, we never found any.) Using a bucket of red paint we found in the garage, we painted ‘Gang Hut’ over the door of the store room and decorated it lavishly inside – it was where we were to hold our secret meetings. Elizabeth almost had a heart attack when she came out the back door and saw what we’d done – the garden, which previously prettily offset the house, was now lorded over by a messily decorated store room, the wobbly scarlet words ‘Gang Hut’ visible from every conceivable photogenic vantage point.

To Elizabeth’s credit, she didn’t immediately kill us all (which is what my father would have done). And it was this amazing example of the ability to stay calm in the face of frankly inhuman challenges that stood me in good stead when I found myself to be a single parent very early in my own children’s lives: every time I felt driven to infanticide, I took a deep breath and thought, ‘What would Elizabeth do?’ My children are still alive today, so it must have worked.

Awesome women

Seven busy women came through from Cape Town a few weeks ago to run the 21km PPC half-marathon. (My sister Bev, in the orange top, also ran it last year.)

They stayed over in my house, and I loved their energy. They’re a disparate group but they’re all clearly very fond of each other, and the obvious bond between them was great to see and experience.

I so enjoy being around women when things need to be done. I love men, but it’s such a blind spot for most of them – doing the necessary without having to be asked or (worse) told. Women just get on with it. So, for instance, one of the women told me very specifically that she doesn’t clear up when she’s at other people’s houses – all the while casually ferrying used dishes from the dining table to the kitchen.

Although I’d switched on the electricity backup, I warned them that my solar geyser isn’t big (150 litres) and that the last of them would probably have to shower in cold water. They drew numbers to decide who would go first and who last – and, by some miraculous woman-power, the last to shower reported that the water was still piping hot. When you consider that my son regularly empties the geyser of hot water during the course of one shower, this was awesome indeed.