Aby-a-Day – 25 December: The sole of Christmas (Cartoon Tuesday)

In Sweden, the main Christmas celebrating is done on 24 December. After the ritual of Donald Duck, the presents are opened and then dinner is eaten.

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The traditional Julbord, which Björn’s mother orchestrated every year to perfection, consists of pickled herring, smoked salmon, hard-boiled eggs with kaviar,

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the Julskinka (ham with mustard), boiled potatoes, Janssons Frestelse (a sort of potato casserole with anchovies), cabbage rolls (which I can totally get behind because they’re also a Russian thing), handmade köttbullar (meatballs – ours were moose, lamb and wild boar),

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Prinskorv (sort of like hot dogs, but better), a ball of cheese and bread, and a cheesecake.

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This was our first year assembling the feast ourselves, and the first we have done at home instead of going to Jönköping. Beer, wine and shots of aquavit are usually drunk before, during, and after the meal, but this year we also added my kickass eggnog with rum, tequila, whiskey and hazelnut liqueur. Because, hey, let’s start our own traditions! (I also introduced the hanging and filling of stockings, which we open on Christmas day, because that was MY tradition. I still have the stocking I was given on my very first Christmas, when I was six months old.

The one Swedish Jul tradition I am not completely onboard with is the Christmas Day dinner of lutfisk served with potatoes and peas. Not that lutfisk is bad…it’s just bland. It’s basically like eating hard-boiled egg whites. Which is great, I love hard-boiled eggs. Just not necessarily for Christmas dinner. And I don’t really like peas all that much, either. We would always eat it at Björn’s mom’s house…but this year, we are having goose and starting our own tradition (which also includes the oranges my mom always used to put in our stockings).

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The first Christmas I spent in Sweden, I drew this silly little drawing of a “lute fisk” as a joke for Björn’s brother…and today I got the idea to update it a bit with Abys. And a Singapura. Just a sketch for now, but…Happy Christmas, everyone!

Aby-a-Day – 24 December: Julafton and Kalle Anka

It’s hard to describe how important watching Kalle Anka (Donald Duck) at 3pm on Christmas Eve is in Sweden.

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Jacoby…seriously. It’s a big deal. Go sit down and watch.

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That’s better.

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Having experienced four Swedish Julaftons now, I can attest. Donald Duck and Christmas are a thing.

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The annual broadcast, shown in Sweden since 1959 consists of Jiminy Cricket presenting about a dozen Disney cartoons from the 1930s to the 1960s, only a couple of which have anything to do with Christmas. There are “Silly Symphonies” shorts and clips from films like Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and The Jungle Book. The special is pretty much the same every year, except for the live introduction by a Swedish host and the addition of one new snippet from the latest Disney-produced movie (This year, it was a scene from Wreck-It Ralph Breaks the Internet and a scene from The Incredibles II).

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The first year we lived here, we went to Jönköping and watched it at Björn’s mom’s house. We have done that every year…until this year. In a manner of speaking, Jake spent Christmas at Björn’s mom’s house before he even lived here.

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This year, we had Julafton and watched Kalle Anka at home in Skövde.

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But it was hard to not think of the Juls we had spent at Björn’s mom’s house. That defined Christmas in Sweden to me…and Christmas in general to Björn.

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We did miss Björn’s mom’s Christmas tree, decorated with hand-cut paper hearts.

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And also the weird straw pig that lived underneath the tree.

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Björn’s mom also had this display of her collection of Dala horses. Jake tried to fit in.

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“Ugh…these guys are a bunch of stiffs!”

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Like his mini-me, Jake posed with the row of Tomten, too.

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This Julafton was wonderful…but I miss the holiday in Jönköping.

Aby-a-Day – 27 November: Kalle’s sketch of Jacoby (Cartoon Tuesday)

This is a little drawing Kalle did whilst we were on a train home from Jönköping using my iPad Pro and Procreate.

I set him up with a photo of Jacoby to start with.

Then we set it to 75% opaqueness, and he worked on it. It’s a little wobbly, because the train was, of course, moving. I keep asking him to finish it, because I think it has a lot of potential. I really like it.

Aby-a-Day – 13 August: Exploratory surgery (Medical Monday)

Today I had to do the second hardest thing a cat parent has to do. Today I took Jacoby to Jönköping…and left him at the djursjukhuset there.

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I think he knew something was going on. When I woke up, he was lying on top of me. His biopsies are tomorrow morning, but because of the train schedules, it was easier to bring him in this afternoon.

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After breakfast, he stayed close to me on the sofa. I’m sure he knew something was up…even though I tried to remain calm.

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But the truth is, Jake is having surgery tomorrow. He is having different areas of his digestive tract biopsied so we can finally know what has been bothering him since February or March. And while it’s a routine procedure and everything should be fine…it’s still surgery.

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And that’s a hard thing to think about when it’s your best friend, your feline soulmate of nine years.

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And while most of your brain knows it’s just surgery and he’ll come through it with no problems…there’s always this evil little bit in the back of cerebellum that can’t stop thinking that this train ride, this time in the waiting room, this moment where he’s in the transfer cage and going back into the depths of the hospital you almost never get to see…this might be the last time I pet that head, hear that purr, tell him I love him. The odds of that happening are low, to be sure…but we’ve all heard stories of routine surgeries going wrong. You don’t want to think that way, but you do.

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I took a couple of awkward selfies of us on the train…

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…until I remembered about Incredibooth. Selfies are much better when they look like photobooth strips.

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On our journey to Anicura, I of course let him out of his carrier whilst we were on the train.

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Jake was his usual Strollercat self, riding the rails the way he has a thousand times before.

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Before we left, I packed one of his favourite spring toys along with his beloved catnip Jackson Pollock fish. This is one of his all-time favourite toys and he was even licking it in his carrier. I hope it gives him some comfort tomorrow when he wakes up from his operation.

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I let him walk from the bus stop to the hospital.

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He’s actually starting to recognise where he’s going when we come her, which is a sign we’ve come here too many times. But there was no way he would make that trip in his carrier, and who was I not to indulge him?

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We had a bit of a wait before a nurse came to collect him, so we sat in the special cats-only waiting room.

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There are shelves on the wall for people to set the cat carriers…

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…and they have two Feliway plug-ins installed!

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There were other people in the cat waiting room when we first got there, so I kept Jake in his carrier. Once they left, however, I let him out to walk around. He seemed to like the waiting room, but of course he’s never been afraid of going to the vet.

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He was very affectionate while we waited.

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In fact, he felt so happy and comfortable in the waiting room, he flopped down and started grooming himself.

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It kind of made me sad, because I could see how much his hair had grown back from the ultrasound he’d had a month ago…and that’s going to get shaved off again tomorrow morning.

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Finally we we called back to an exam room. He was weighed (4.02 kg, better than the 3.9 kg he was on 6 August, the last time I got his weight), and we talked a little about the procedure to come and what will happen after the operation.

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I had to take off his collar, which made me a little sad, but they let him have his toys, so when he wakes up in his hospital cage he’ll have something from home to help make him feel better.

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Finally, they wheeled him off to his hospital cage, and I went along home with my empty cat carrier.

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I had an hour to kill before my train home came, so I went to O’Leary’s (a favourite quasi-Boston hangout) and played a little of my favourite slot machine game, Wild Pride, and I won 845kr (about $92 USD)! That surely must be a good omen, right?

Tomorrow is going to be a long day, waiting for the phone to ring. I will go back to pick Jake up either Wednesday or Thursday, depending on how quickly he recovers.

Aby-a-Day – 6 August: “It’s worse than a needle in a haystack. We don’t even know it’s a needle we’re looking for.” (Medical Monday)

We took Jacoby into the Anicura hospital in Jönköping almost two weeks ago to have more blood drawn for more tests to try to sort out what is going on with him. Whilst we waited for the nurses to come. we availed ourselves of the free treats.

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The first thing the nurses did was take Jake’s blood pressure. It’s a bit more involved than a human getting blood pressure tested.

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There’s a sort of doppler machine and they use headphones to listen to his blood whilst they press the button on the sphygmomanometer.

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Jake was less than impressed with the cuff on his arm (which was still bald from the last time he had blood drawn.

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After getting his BP, it was time to draw some vials of Jake’s blood. I hid his eyes because I don’t like to watch when they take my blood for a test!

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I have no problem watching someone else get their blood drawn, though.

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But before they were done drawing all the blood they needed, Jake broke loose from my grasp and dislodged the needle.

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His pulling away like that caused a haematoma (bruise) on that arm, so they had to shave his other arm to get the rest of the blood.

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Again, I covered his eyes so he couldn’t watch the blood coming out of him.

I just got a call from Dr. Cecilia with the test results, and…I’m going to have to take him in next Monday afternoon. Tuesday the 14th he is going to get biopsies done on his intestinal tract.

We still need the parathyroid test confirmed, because Dr. Cecilia needs to call the lab again; the results don’t make sense to her and she wants to verify them. But he has increased antibodies and decreased albumin in his blood and he seems to be “leaking” protein in his digestive tract, but it’s not coming out in his urine, so we need to figure out why that’s happening. His calcium levels are fairly normal, though, so that helps rule out a few things.

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I will have to take him in Monday, and he’ll stay overnight. Then they’ll do the surgery Tuesday morning and keep him for observation. They may do an ultrasound Wednesday, and then I pick him up Wednesday afternoon or perhaps later depending on how they feel he’s doing. The biopsies do leave small holes in the tested organs which are sutured, and in 5%-10% of cats there can be complications due to these holes. Hopefully we won’t have any of that. The alternative to the surgical biopsies is to try giving him corticosteroids such as prednisone, but the problem with that (as anyone who’s ever watched House MD knows), is that because we don’t know what is causing his pain and weight loss, the steroids might just mask the problem, without helping to cure it. Or they could be contraindicated for whatever his condition actually is and make everything worse. Or, when we do get the diagnosis, having had cortisone treatments might mean we can’t go ahead with the new treatment because of drug interactions.

Luckily, it does not look like FIP, and the protein levels don’t indicate that it’s anything like FIP, which is good, but it could be lymphoma (which is what we thought Logan might have had before FIP was confirmed). It could also be a lot of other things: pancreatitis, chronic inflammatory bowel disease, intestinal ulcers…it’s really hard to say.

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The bill is going to be around 20,000kr…so glad we have insurance and that this is not a pre-existing condition!

Aby-a-Day – 17 July: Cats of the World (Cartoon Tuesday)

Okay, technically not a cartoon, but you may remember when I took Alfred to Anicura to say goodbye to Logan, I mentioned the “Cats of the World” poster hanging in the cat waiting room.

Here’s the Abyssinian…he looks grumpy, like Jacoby. The ears seem a bit small, though.

They illustrated the red Abyssinian separately. Again, the eyes and ears seem small. They didn’t include the other Aby colours.

The Somalis were included on the poster together. Again, they don’t look quite like Somalis, do they?

Last but not least, we have the mighty Singapura! Of all the drawings, I think they caught the Singa best of all.

Aby-a-Day – 16 July: “No guts, no glory” (Medical Monday)

(This post was written by Björn, as I was so busy helping the doctors I wasn’t as able to record what was going on.)

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Jacoby has been really grumpy for the past few months now. He’s been hissing and growling, lashing out at the kittens (but not hurting them, thankfully) as well as attacking Alfred and Angel. He’s been barfing more than usual, and on top of that, he’s lost a significant amount weight over the past seven months, going from 4.9 kilos in January to 4.1 kilos the first weekend in July (10.8 lbs vs 9.4, or a sixth of his weight). We’ve been mystified by this change, which is so unlike Jake. He used to be a sweet, stable cat, and his current grumpiness has to be an indication that something’s physically wrong with him. He’s been to our local vet a few times; a blood test done in April showed no abnormalities and we tried amitriptylin, Metacam, Feliway, calming collars…everything we and the vets could think of, but nothing helped. While at the cat show a couple of weeks ago, we were talking to our neighbor about cats (of course), and she mentioned a cat of hers that had had similar symptoms because of plastic he had eaten that had stuck in his digestive tract. That set off bells – Jake has always been a plastic eater, to the point where we have to tuck the plastic garbage can liner in carefully so he doesn’t eat the bits hanging out; we just had never made the connection between that and his sudden personality change. We had an ultrasound appointment with our regular vet, but as it’s vacation time right now, the ultrasound technician wouldn’t be back until 24 July. We didn’t want to wait that long now that we had the idea about plastic, so Koshka called the AniCura animal hospital in Jönköping, some 100 km (60 miles) away. They are the same people who took care of poor Logan in his final days, and we know that they are a professional outfit.

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We got up early on Friday 13 July, and took the local bus to the railway station. The train ride was one hour, passing through the fields and woods of a summery western Sweden. We arrived in Jönköping around 10am, and killed half an hour before getting on the bus to the animal hospital.

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Jake visited the local tourist office where he made an impression on the staff.

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Next to the bus stop, there was a pigeon with a death wish, as it strutted about without any regard for the predator in the stroller. Good thing for the feathered fool that Jake was tethered.

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Then we got on the bus, where Jake regaled the bus with the song of his people.

The three of us arrived at the hospital some 20 minutes prior to our appointment. The animal hospital is a well-run operation, with separate waiting rooms for cats and dogs.

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Jake was called up, and it was time for his ultrasound. The ultrasound tech was a friendly Pole named Dr. Wojciech who had 20 years experience in examining animals with ultrasound. He shaved Jake’s belly (the fur would interfere with the readings otherwise),

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applied the gel,

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and began the examination.

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Jake struggled a bit, but he bravely endured the 25-30 minute examination. Dr. Wojciech pointed out the organs to us, like the intestines, kidneys, stomach and so on. It was really interesting to see Jake’s insides.

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He could tell us that there was no signs of any plastic or other foreign bodies, which blew our working theory out of the water. There were signs of some enteritis in the small intestine, but Dr. Wojciech didn’t think that was the reason for Jake’s problems.

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After the ultrasound, we were taken to another examination room while we waited to see the next vet. You may recall from when Koshka took Logan to this vet that they have excellent bird TV.

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Well, this time it was extra excellent.

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A magpie came to eat at the feeder! Jake wasn’t especially impressed, but Koshka got very excited.

Dr. Cecilia arrived, and, like Wojciech, she impressed us with her professionalism.

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She asked us about Jake’s symptoms and problems. As an optometrist, I know about how to do an anamnesis, and I thought she was very thorough.

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Dr. Cecilia ordered a full set of blood tests to be taken, and a veterinary nurse (whose name unfortunately evades me) brought syringes and the other paraphernalia needed.

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Jake got a mild sedative, was rolled into a towel, got his front leg shaved, and his blood drawn. He was very brave about it, not causing any trouble. The vet nurse bandaged his leg.

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Dr. Cecilia wanted a urine sample, which was to be drawn by Dr. Wojciech.

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Jake had to go back to the ultrasound room, where his bladder was located by ultrasound.

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By using a syringe and drawing the urine directly from the bladder, any contamination by proteins from the urinary tract was avoided. Dr. Cecilia returned, as she’d remembered one more thing she wanted to check. She palpitated the base of Jake’s neck, and confirmed a suspicion she had. She noticed that his thyroid was somewhat enlarged on the right side. Jake got a prescription of Royal Canin Sensitivity Control. This diet is to be followed until the vet calls back about the final diagnosis, but if we are lucky, there’s just a problem with his thyroid. That is easily medicated.

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The whole visit took about two hours with very little waiting time between the examinations. The vet bill was about 6000 SEK (about USD $680), but most of that should be covered by the pet insurance. We said our goodbyes to the hospital staff, and took the bus for a quick trip to IKEA.

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Even in his stroller, IKEA would not let Jake in, so we took turns shopping. And, since he had fasted from 21:00 the night before, Jake was ravenous. While I shopped, Koshka let Jake try his new food, and he polished off two packets of the wet version.

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After IKEA, we had a quick visit with my mom, brother and sister, and then, finally, dinner at a new Mexican restaurant in the center of town.

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A long day for all of us, but well worth it.