April has been a pretty rough month. I have been putting off posting until things evened out a bit, because I don't like to write a big dollop of self-pity - especially when so many other people are going through trying times as well...
At the start of April, J's grandfather died. He had been unwell a few times recently, but had only just been told that he couldn't go on living alone because of his Parkinson's. He'd agreed to this, then took ill, was taken to hospital and died a couple of days afterwards.
So the news wasn't totally unexpected, but we hadn't realised he was as ill as that (I'm not sure if anyone did). We have been bearing in mind that this was a reasonably merciful way to go - Gramps really didn't want to move out of his house, and in the event he didn't have to, and he wasn't confused or demented and he didn't linger on suffering. But it's still sad.
We went down for the funeral and spent some time with J's family, who are, as ever, lovely.
That was the first week of April. About a week after we got back, we noticed that Pumpkin, one of our guinea pigs, was making a noise and looking uncomfortable when urinating. J had noticed this a few weeks earlier, but I hadn't been able to catch her in the act and was rather inclined to put it down to his OCD - he does get very worried about things, often without much cause.
However, we could now clearly see that Pumpkin was in pain, and thought it was likely to be bladder stones, which are common in guinea pigs. They're caused by a diet too high in calcium, which some guinea pigs have difficulty excreting (it's genetically linked). The stones can be fatal - two friends of mine have recently lost guinea pigs to them. We took Pumpkin to the vet, who thought this was a likely diagnosis and admitted her for ultrasound scanning to confirm it, then possibly surgery to remove the stones. Pumpkin is a little tiny thing, so we were quite upset at this prospect; but the alternative would be putting her down, which we couldn't bring ourselves to face.
We returned home. That evening, Brownie started showing the same symptoms as Pumpkin.
So we took her to the vet too, and spent the rest of the evening wondering if we were going to be down to a single pig, and feeling that it was all our fault for feeding them the wrong things. All this was complicated quite a lot by the fact that we don't have a car and were obliged to rely on Mum for lifts to the vet - which she nobly provided. In the midst of this, my great-aunt fell and broke her hip and was hospitalised, and my grandmother hasn't been too well, which put yet more pressure on poor Mum.
As it happened, Pumpkin did have stones, but they were relatively small and she passed them on her own before she was due to have surgery - when she was scanned again, they'd gone. Brownie didn't appear to have stones, but she had calcium buildup which is a precursor, and she had it flushed out (as did Pumpkin). Both of them came home a week ago, and although Pumpkin has been a bit subdued, she's beginning to perk up. Brownie seems to be completely recovered.
All this was very stressful. We love our animals, but hadn't previously come up against the moral dilemmas of having a seriously ill pet. A lot of people would find it silly to go to so much trouble over a little rodent, and I can hardly blame them - but I don't think we could have decided not to.
This week has mostly been taken up with squirting antibiotics and vitamins into the pigs' tiny little mouths, letting them lick slimy drippy invalid food off my fingers, and making sure our well pig didn't chase the others and make them panic. Training for parenthood, maybe?
Things are starting to calm down now. The pigs seem to be recovering on course (the vet said it may take them six weeks to return to normal, but they improve every day). My aunt has had her hip pinned together and seems to be doing OK.
I think we might take a while to recover completely, though.