An Update on Sasha

Love of animals is a universal impulse, a common ground on which all of us may meet. By loving and understanding animals, perhaps we humans shall come to understand each other. — Louis J. Camuti  [Click to Tweet this quote]


As I write this, Sasha is sleeping peacefully at my feet.


Nothing new there. She always sleeps at my feet when I’m writing.

But I’ve written that opening sentence three times.  Three beginnings to this blog post.

What is it about, really? What do I need to convey?

I’ll start with the facts:

  • Sasha had the TPLO operation on her right rear knee last Wednesday morning.  So far, she’s had no setbacks or surprises.  For the first two days, three times a day, we cover her incision area with an ice pack and hold it in place for 10 minutes. For the next two days, we do the same with heat. This is harder than it sounds for she likes to lick my face and I’ve watched her eat mice.
  • Three times a day, we give her three separate medications, always with food. She’s currently on an antibiotic and two pain medications.
  • We walk her, but only far enough for her to “do her business.”  We must take great care that she does not use her leg any more than is absolutely necessary.
  • And we watched her constantly those first few days to be sure she didn’t lick open the incision.

Here’s a photo of Sasha last Thursday night, her first night home, leaning up against my leg as I sit on the floor with her.  That’s my slipper there on the right side.

sasha-1Yup.  She’s got a poodle cut on her right rear quadrant.  That was to expose both the incision and the epidural areas. I’m glad we didn’t wait until winter to have this done. That would have been really cold on the bare skin.

But for me, the interesting part of this process has been how I came to the decision.

And that’ll be the question at the end: How do you make difficult decisions?

I’m talking about ambivalence here.

amˈbivələns/      noun
the state of having mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something or someone.

(Thanks, Google.)

Once upon a time I was led to believe that ambivalence showed a lack of care, concern, or even interest. Somewhere along the way, I learned better.

By the time I wrote my memoir (At Home on the Kazakh Steppe) I’d become quite familiar with ambivalence and knew it meant having strong feelings about the outcome, but in opposite directions. Two mutually exclusive pulls, two directions, me in the middle.

I felt it when we first joined Peace Corps; I felt it when we were about to leave for home. And I felt it as I weighed our decision over Sasha’s operation these past two months.

So, how does one break out of ambivalence? [click to Tweet]

Yes, that’s what I’d like to know. How did I come to the decision?

My rational list of positives and negatives really didn’t help. It almost felt as though the more information I gathered, the less important any of it was.  Did I want her to have an operation that intentionally breaks an otherwise healthy bone?

Even what Woody calls my “algorithm” didn’t help me.

What’s my algorithm, you ask?  First, you must know that this works ONLY with mutually exclusive choices.

“Do I go or stay?” “Do I eat it or not?” “Does she get the surgery or not?”

It takes a bit of envisioning for it to work. I imagine my life five years out (maybe ten; it depends).  And, I regret my decision.  I try this on with each option.

  • I go? OK, I imagine myself five years out, looking back and regretting going. How do I feel?
  • I stay? OK, five years out I look back and regret staying. How do I feel?

With my Peace Corps decision, this worked like a charm. For, regretting NOT DOING something is generally more regrettable than regretting the DOING.  It was Lucille Ball who famously said,

Thanks to for the image.
Thanks to for the image.

But this decision involved someone else (can I use “someone” when referring to a pet?  Feels odd). I could not escape the fact that I was responsible for this living being. There was no doubt I wanted to make the right decision. The best decision. For us.

Life is life–whether in a cat, or dog or man. There is no difference there between a cat or a man. The idea of difference is a human conception for man’s own advantage. Sri Aurobindo 

Turns out, this was an emotional decision at the end. I found that the more information I gathered, the less important any of it became. It was a gut instinct I went with and my gut said, “surgery.”

This surgery is not a quick fix. It is painful, invasive, and expensive. Sasha deals with the first two; Woody and I deal with the second two. Yes, it’s invasive in our lives too.

I talked to many generous people these past two months, both those who are glad they had the surgery done and those who are glad they did not. Many here wrote me to offer your support, both emotional and financial. I appreciated hearing from each of you.

But in the end, this was something Woody and I needed to tackle ourselves.  The money became less and less of an issue as we settled in to the inevitable decision to be aggressive in our decision. We are not destitute; it just feels like it somedays. And sometimes, when there is a shock, time is of enormous value.

Thank you for your support, your belief in me, and your friendship.

We are all on this journey we call life together. Even the four-legged ones among us. [Click to Tweet]


How about you? What’s your decision-making process?  

19 Responses

  1. L. E. Carmichael
    | Reply

    Hugs, Janet. One of our beloved kitties has cancer, so we grappled with the surgery question, too. We ultimately decided that surgery was too invasive and risky, and opted for palliative care. She’s outlived her prognosis (3-5 days) by 14 months, so I guess we did the right thing! It would be nice if we could know for sure, though…

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thanks so much, Leslie. And I’m sorry to hear about your kitty. Your comment reminds me of Atul Gawandi’s wonderful Being Mortal. That just because our medical community now has the power to fix something, does not mean that is the right path to take. He writes of the “medicalization of old age” and does it so well, I sent a copy to my older son with instructions to share it with his brother. Atul’s message may well have played a role in those early weeks. And yes, wouldn’t it be nice if certainty were easy. Hugs back.

  2. Marian Beaman
    | Reply

    Ambivalence could have been my word for the year 2016 thought I didn’t know it at the time. (Instead I chose wholeheartedness.)

    Both Cliff and I felt ambivalent about moving this year – me, less so. Now I’m glad we did, but facing the decision to leave our old address did not come easily. Yet we did it: Audacity has to hold hands with ambivalence, I think.

    Your love for Sasha is palpable through the screen. I remember when my son and wife (both teachers with limited resources) chose to spend an enormous amount on keeping Teddy, their cocker spaniel, alive after bees stung him. Because of their boys’ attachment to the family pet, I believe they didn’t think they actually had a choice.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thank you for my next needlepoint: Audacity has to hold hands with ambivalence. There is a kind of big jump one takes, finally, at the end. Just “do it,” could also hang on my wall. And audacity can be helpful there. Thanks for that.

  3. Kathleen Pooler
    | Reply

    Janet, I totally understand both your ambivalence and your final
    decision to go ahead with Sasha’s surgery. You’re right , it is an emotional decision and I’m certain I would do the same. In the end, we have to live with ourselves. Wishing Sasha ( and you and Woody) a steady and uneventful recovery. Thanks for the update.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thanks Kathy. Today marks one week and so far she is doing really well. We go back Monday for her first check up, then again at the two-month mark. Caring for her has slowed our life down a bit, which I’m grateful for.

  4. Merril Smith
    | Reply

    Oh, Janet what an enormous decision! Did you feel some relief once you made it? I agree with you and Marian about “audacity” and “just do it.” (Or as the colorful expression goes, “Shit or get off the pot.”) 🙂

    We have spent thousands of dollars on health care for our cats, and I think I would have made the same decision about Sasha. I think, too, it helps that you did the research, even if it seems like information overload. I have had health issues to decide about my own health, as well as pets, and it always makes me feel better to know that when I’ve made a decision, it is based on information, as well as emotion.
    A big hug to you and a pat on the head for Sasha! I hope she continues to recover well.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thank you, Merril. Sasha will accept a hug too. 🙂

  5. Laurie Buchanan
    | Reply

    “Audacity has to hold hands with ambivalence.”

    I love it!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hello Laurie. Thanks for stopping by. And thanks for all those Tweets of my posts over the months. I so appreciate your support.

  6. Joan Z. Rough
    | Reply

    I’m with you all the way, Janet, ambivalence and all. When it comes to our furry children who cannot tell us what they feel and think, it so difficult to know what to do. I make my decisions on the way my gut feels. If it feels right I go ahead. If not I give myself a few more days or weeks and try again. Usually my first hunch or intuitive hit is the the correct way to go.

    I wish that you and your beautiful Sasha will have many more days together to wander the fields and mountains in Vermont.

  7. Roberta Aber
    | Reply

    Janet, thank you for your post…very thought provoking…as the comments confirm. I remember something someone said to me once about decision-making; try to minimize the potential for future regret. I don’t say that I live by that advice, but it does flash through my mind when I have to make a choice.

    I’m thinking about you, Woody and Sasha. What a beautiful girl! And she has a great home.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Aw, thanks, Roberta. Sasha seems quite happy at the moment. This is what the vet said would be the dangerous time: she’s not hurting, but she’s also not yet healed. So, she wants to be back to her old self and we must keep her reined in. Reining in is so not my style. 🙂 Hoping to see you again when I come out in December. (Kendall is in the annual “Joseph” performance at Weathervane — has a solo too. FYI. Wanna go with us?)

  8. Shirley Hershey Showalter
    | Reply

    Let me second the vote for “audacity has to hold hands with ambivalence.”

    That’s a good motto for many decisions.

    May your dear Sasha continue to get better day by day and may you enjoy the reward of such unvarnished love.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thank you, Shirley. We have already felt her (dare I call it) appreciation.

      I’m thinking Cliff might come up with an image for the audacity and ambivalence holding hands. Do I see a high dive in there too?

  9. Tim Fearnside
    | Reply

    Janet, I’m glad to hear Sasha’s on the mend and that you were able to come to a decision that felt right. Like you, I tend to rely on “guts” when making important decisions, but also like you in this case, I find this is often easier said than done. The two things that tend to do me in are (1) my brain (overthinking), and (2) fear. This may be why I also like the notion of “audacity” (or perhaps more simply, “courage”) being a necessary partner in the decision making process. Perhaps the ambivalence we often experience when facing difficult decisions is nothing more than a shortage of courage in regard to our gut instincts and moral convictions (?)

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Oh, I can so relate, Tim. I love that you’ve brought in courage. Is this what “they” mean by “the courage of one’s convictions?” Never thought of that angle, so thank you for that addition. As for listening to my gut and how easy or difficult that might be, I find I need to let the clamor of other noises die down in order to hear what my gut is trying to tell me. And that sometimes takes time. I trust when the “hungry black bear” is racing toward me, I won’t need to take too much time to decide what to do. I guess some decisions come with the luxury of time and some don’t. Thanks for adding to the conversation here, as you always do.

  10. […] wrote about it in  Sasha Weighs In.  Then Alpha Mom wrote the update called, not very creatively, An Update On Sasha. I thought her update was really more about her than about me. Something about making difficult […]

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