Tribes at the Barrow Street Theater

Yesterday I had the amazing experience of seeing Nina Raine’s Tribes at the Barrow Street Theater. The play concerns a family with a deaf son. It  was riveting.This was one of two performances interpreted into American Sign Language and the audience, made of largely of deaf people, was especially captivated.

When I speak of my work as a sign language interpreter, the thing that surprises people most is that most hearing parents of deaf children don’t learn to sign.  It is common for me to interpret between immediate family members. People are incredulous–why wouldn’t parents want to communicate with their children? In Tribes the family believes it is best for their son to bring him up orally, as if he were hearing. The character of Billy doesn’t sign at all, and relies on lipreading and guesswork to understand his family.

Russel Harvard, the actor who plays Billy, was born deaf. His parents are deaf, as are his grandparents. At a discussion with the cast following the play he announced that he recently became an uncle–his nephew begins the fourth generation of deafness in his family.  Harvard did not personally experience the frustration of his character. Being the only deaf member of the cast, he said, helped him prepare for the role.

What is great about Tribes is that it doesn’t feel pedantic, but is a story of a family– a troubled and colorful family struggling to communicate and accept each other. It is superbly acted and the intimate theater in the round at the Barrow is a perfect venue. The action was gripping and immediate. I would recommend the play to anyone who enjoys good theater. To be part an audience with so many deaf people who have a personal understanding of the protagonist’s struggle was particularly profound.

Mooka

This is my first blog post. I kept waiting for something interesting to happen. Now I will commit to positing three times a week. It’s the chicken and the egg thing. I can’t wait for interesting things to happen to write. By writing I will see that life is interesting. Anyway, this is what has finally gotten me to write.

Tuesday night  I read on Facebook that a cat, Mooka, was having a very hard time living in a cage at Petco on 100th Street. I volunteer with a rescue organization that has cared for Mooka for a long time(I don’t know how long) but I had never met him. He had recently been adopted and brought back because he was bullied by the owner’s cat. This was the second time this has happened to Mooka. The volunteers who know him talked of him having a personality change. He was no longer a sweet love-bug, but was swatting and growling. They had to trim his nails very short. I decided to put an ad on Craigslist. The next day I heard from a woman that sounded like a great candidate for a forever home–and luckily she has no cats. She wanted to see him at Petco. I was worried that she’d change her mind if she saw Mooka in his current state so I took him home to give him some TLC for a few days. He hissed and growled at my two cats, obviously afraid. I have to keep him in a separate room.

So yesterday–I was in the room with him and he kept looking at the door, nervous about my cats. I left the room and when I came back Mooka was in the same spot on a low shelf, in the corner. I wanted to pick him up but I knew it wasn’t a good idea. I sat on the bed next to the shelf, sat with my legs folded Indian style and started to sing a chant I’d learned years ago at the Sivananda ashram to Ganesha, the elephant god, the remover of obstacles. It is three lines that are repeated indefinitely–kind of like row, row, row your boat. I closed my eyes and chanted–thinking that I have such a lousy voice it might send Mooka under the bed. As I chanted I concentrated on sending Mooka healing and good fortune. I wanted him to have a good life. I wanted him to heal. A few seconds later he crawled into my lap. I continued to chant–like a lullaby–over and over as I pet him.

It was the first time in a long time that I truly wanted something good for someone else without thinking of myself. Of course the experience was healing not just for Mooka, but for me too. And being with Mooka continues to be gratifying. The adopter will come meet him on Sunday and hopefully she and her eight-year-old daughter will have a great life with him.

Considering Euthanasia: When It’s Time to Let Go

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Considering Euthanasia: When It’s Time to Let Go

When Catherine, my beloved Abyssinian cat of 18 years, was diagnosed with advanced renal failure, I hoped she would go peacefully in her sleep. It would be a natural end to her long and happy life, and I wouldn’t have to make the heartbreaking decision to euthanize her.

As the weeks went on, there were days when she barely moved, followed by rallies when she seemed like her old self. I was afraid I wouldn’t know when to let Catherine go. I wanted her to have every good day coming to her, but didn’t want her to suffer. Looking for guidance, I spoke to friends who had cared for a dying pet, veterinarians, and even an animal communicator.

Considering Euthanasia: The Response from Others

One friend that I had vetted for information on euthanasia was against the practice. Her cat had died of old age snuggled between her and her husband in bed. I wanted that for Catherine too, but my vet told me it was unlikely. She said cats often live past the point where they are able to sleep comfortably, walk, eat, or use the litter box. She didn’t think it was fair to let them linger.

Other friends of mine who had euthanized their pets still questioned their decisions. One feared her cat had felt pain during the procedure because he’d opened his eyes. Another regretted not putting her kitty down sooner, because she suffered near the end of her illness.

At my vet’s suggestion, I located the nearest 24-hour emergency medical center. I also researched vets in my area who made house calls. If it was necessary to euthanize Catherine, I’d hoped it would be possible to do it at home.

Considering Euthanasia: Looking Towards Professional Resources

I called Dr. Wendy McCulloch of Pet Requiem, a veterinary house call service in New York and New Jersey. She explained that the process involved two injections: a sedative followed by an anesthetic in a large enough dose to stop the heart. Some vets use different methods, so it is something to discuss beforehand. She believes it is best for the pet if the owner can be present. When I asked about my friend’s cat opening his eyes during the procedure she said it was a natural response to sedation, and not an indication of pain.

Dr. McCulloch has resources on her website PetRequiem.com, including a scale to help evaluate an animal’s quality of life. Considerations include whether a pet seems happy, and if there are more good days than bad.

Considering Euthanasia: A Struggle to Make a Firm Decision

A friend who had taken classes in animal communication offered to do a reading for me. She said she could “talk” to Catherine telepathically and find out what she wanted.  All she needed was for me to e-mail her a photo. I was skeptical, but went ahead. When my friend wrote back that Catherine was ready to die and wanted to be euthanized, it didn’t make sense. Catherine was in the midst of a rally: eating well and zooming around the apartment like she had since she was a kitten.

A few weeks later, I found myself browsing professional animal communicators on the Internet.  I called a woman who gave complimentary end-of-life readings. She said Catherine wanted a natural death. But she also said that Catherine no longer wanted to be touched. I knew that wasn’t true because she still nuzzled against my hand to be stroked.

That was the end of my looking to others to communicate with Catherine. I decided I knew her best, and started to trust myself.

Considering Euthanasia: Catherine’s Story

Two months after Catherine’s diagnosis, I came home to find her unable to get up. I scooped her into my arms and called Dr. McCulloch, who came right over. She examined Catherine, and said she was close to death. Without intervention she would die in the night, but she thought it was kinder to euthanize her now. I agreed. Catherine was lying on her favorite cushion on the couch. I petted her and told her I loved her as she drifted off. It couldn’t have been more peaceful.

Afterwards, I wondered if I should have euthanized Catherine sooner. I don’t know how long she was lying on the floor before I found her. Like my friends who had cared for their dying pets, I had lingering doubts.

Often there is no clear best course of action. As caretakers, all we can do is consult with our vets, monitor our animal’s symptoms and behavior, and make our decisions with love. Then we have to let go.