How to spend all your money without really trying

Whoops, I left another one of those long gaps, huh? I didn’t mean to. I’ve just been so busy crying, you see. [Sidebar: EVERYTHING IS FINE. It’s so fine, it’s all-caps fine. I have to keep reminding myself of this. EVERYTHING IS FINE.]

When I last left you, my awesome rainbow chairs were finished, but also so was our fridge. I was trying to just go with it, you know? Because the rainbow rockers truly are awesome. (In fact, they’re so awesome, recently a gruff, busy-on-his-cell-phone UPS man embodying every stereotype you might imagine came up the walkway, saw the chairs, and when I greeted him at the door, grinned and said, “Those chairs are AMAZING.” God bless you, UPS man. You are, as the kids say, lit.) And the new fridge is lovely, what with its ability to keep food cold and everything. So it’s all really fine and my particular mental illness about spending large amounts of money would just have to cool it, because everything was fine.

And then Chickadee came home for a few days so that I could shuttle her back and forth to some specialist appointments in Atlanta (because parenting doesn’t end at 21, especially if your supposedly-adult child is afraid to drive in the city), and THAT was all fine, except for the pretzels.

Days where we drive all over the place for doc appointments end up being pretty long, and the FIRST day we did it, that week, I had neglected to bring snacks, which meant I was a hangry mess by the time we got home. (Look at me not commenting on how crabby my delightful daughter was!) (Whoops!) So the SECOND day, I grabbed a bag of gluten-free pretzels and stuck them in my purse, as one does. When we went into the doctor’s office, I left the pretzels in the car. And when we came out and started to head home, I pulled the bag back up off the floor and set it between the two of us. “Want some pretzels?” I asked Chickie, as I unrolled the top and grabbed a handful.

Let us pause for a moment while I explain, for those without any food allergies or issues, that regular pretzels are an easy/cheap snack, but gluten-free pretzels cost about four times as much, and many of them are terrible. Otto had bought me a HUGE bag of GOOD gluten-free pretzels a week or so prior, and it was like Christmas had come early. Normally I would hog all these delicious, expensive pretzels to myself (in fact, I keep the few gluten-free processed snacks in the house at the very bottom of the pantry, out of sight so no one else eats them by accident), but Chickadee has recently gone gluten-free as well because once you have a chronic illness and your joints feel like you’re 90, you pay more attention to other people (definitely NOT your mother) mentioning that wheat contributes to inflammation and a gluten-free diet may help. In conclusion: gluten-free pretzels are expensive and I do not share, unless you are also avoiding gluten, in which case I will. Grudgingly.

Chickadee grabbed the bag while I steered us out to the highway and threw a couple of pretzels into my mouth. And then she said, “What’s this?”

I glanced over. She was holding the bag up, and showing me that the side of it was… punctured. Ripped, actually. In several places. Not enough that the pretzels had fallen out, but definitely perforated in a raggedly manner. Sort of like… ohhhhh, I don’t know… maybe something small had been chewing on it?

I finished chewing and swallowed and briefly wondered what the symptoms of hantavirus might be. I took the bag from her, placed the remainder of my handful of pretzels back inside of it, and rolled the bag closed. I placed it back on the floor. “That,” I said, pleased I’d remained so calm for this entire process, “Is the reason we are not going to eat any more pretzels.” My knuckles were white on the steering wheel. It would be two hours before we arrived home. What horrors awaited me there, I didn’t know. I had a pretty good idea, though.

Once home, I greeted Otto and grimly informed him of the pretzel bag breech. Bear in mind that we had JUST thrown away HUNDREDS OF DOLLARS worth of food with the fridge failure. It just felt like insult added to injury, you know? And as we began pulling items out of the pantry it was clear that the pretzel bag was not a one-off. We definitely had mice. Because of course we did.

We threw out several hundred dollars MORE of food, though—look at me, brightsiding!—this meant a full clean-out of the pantry, all shelves wiped down, weird salad dressings which expired in 2015 were uncovered and tossed, and I was delighted to discover that apparently my rice cooker came with a special insert for boiling eggs (it had been pushed to the back and forgotten). Otto and I have distinct approaches to a job like this, by the way. He is quiet and methodical, while I erupt with fury at regular intervals. (“Really? REALLY, ASSHOLES?? My lentils?? YOU CAN’T EVEN EAT THOSE WITHOUT COOKING THEM, Stupid, and those were organic red lentils and they were expensive and I HATE EVERYTHING.”)

What little uncontaminated sustenance remained after the clean-out lived on a couple of folding tables in the kitchen for a few days while the now-empty pantry housed nothing but mousetraps and revenge. Once the coast seemed clear, we put absolutely EVERYDAMNEDIBLETHING not already in glass or a can into a plastic bin or jar and you think I’m exaggerating, but I assure you I am NOT. Our pantry looks like a bomb shelter. I ended up putting stuff back one night when Otto had to get up at o’dark thirty to go somewhere and I didn’t want to wake him to ask where the label-maker was, so really it looks like a bomb shelter put together by very green preppers, because every bin is labeled with a Post-It and a Sharpie.

So if you come over and want to know if that enormous plastic bin labeled CHERRY POP-TARTS is actually full of cherry Pop-Tarts: it is. Mouse-proof cherry Pop-Tarts.

(There are still traps in the pantry, but now that everything is in bins I suspect whatever mice we didn’t kill have moved on to a house with a normal pantry.)

Okay. So! To recap, in the space of about two weeks, we threw away most of our food and spent a metric butt-ton of cash on a new fridge, 500 plastic bins, and more food. During this time we also spent a good chunk of money on those specialist appointments I mentioned, plus one of those doctors would like Chickadee to take a medication which retails at $800/month and which our insurance does not want to cover. HAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAA*sob*.

About a week after all of THAT, I finally took the dogs to the vet for their yearly shots and such. I wasn’t late—they were due in May, and we went in May—but I was later than usual, because of everything else going on. The dogs were, of course, super pissed at me for letting the vet make sure they’re healthy, but I am used to that by now because I have been parenting for over 20 years and already know that I Am The Absolute Worstâ„¢.

As the vet palpated Duncan and looked in his ears, he asked me if I’d seen any changes in his behavior worth noting. I reminded the vet that Duncan is basically furniture we feed several times a day, and asked him what sort of behaviors I should be noting…? He laughed and said that well, Duncan is getting up there in age, and if I see him having trouble moving around, or he’s drinking more, or not wanting to eat, these are the things I should let him know about. Then I laughed and said No, he’s the same Duncan as ever, but, um, Licorice has been a little weird about food lately, actually.

Licorice was busy sniffing all the delightful scents in the corners of the exam room at that point, and as I glanced over at her I suddenly remembered something Monkey had told me he’d read. “She also kind of, I don’t know how to describe it, really—we always say she made us a water slug—but she’ll drink a bunch of water and then kind of hork up a little mucus? Monkey read that dogs can have reflux. Do you think she might have a little reflux? Other than that she’s fine.”

The vet finished up with Duncan, gave him a treat, and put him back on the floor. I grabbed Licorice and put her up on the table and he started his exam. “Well, that could be… could be a lot of things, honestly. Can I take some blood? We should probably just do a quick check.” Of course I agreed, because I am a monster, and three shots wasn’t enough, I should let them take her blood, too. (This tiny blood sample nearly doubled the cost of that visit, but who needs money anyway??)

This visit to the vet where I was completely unconcerned about the health of either dog (this is called foreshadowing) occurred the Wednesday before Memorial Day. I know this because the vet said the results would be back maybe as soon as tomorrow (Thursday), but certainly by Friday. There was no call on Thursday. At about 4:00 on Friday, it occurred to me to call them, and the lady on the phone said the vet was out on an emergency visit but he had a lot of calls to return and would probably do so later that evening, not to worry. Okay. He didn’t call that night.

And then it was a three-day weekend, you know? So Tuesday came, and I assumed he would call, but he didn’t, and that night when I said to Otto, “I guess it was fine? I mean, they’d call if it wasn’t, right?” his eyes got a little larger and he he slowly suggested that I call them first thing in the morning. So I did. And they said the vet would call me back (hmmm, familiar).

That, friends, is how it came to pass that when I had assumed everything was fine and this was a low-priority call, our vet finally called us back on Wednesday afternoon to let us know that Licorice is in renal failure. He rushed to explain that it’s early, and manageable, and as I (tearfully, guiltily) asked how we hadn’t seen any signs that she was unwell, he said that renal failure is sneaky and many dogs seem fine right up until they are about to die from it and then I had to sit down and maybe missed the next part of the conversation.

Back to the vet we went, this time for prescription Renal Management food, which smells like death but at least it costs more than the food we humans eat. Instructions were given and now we feed her this glop for a month and retest. The good news is that she thinks it’s delicious, and the better news is that after a couple of days on the new food she started zooming around the house like a puppy, again, and it turns out that what we’d assumed was a regular advanced-age slowdown was probably just her feeling like garbage. (Otto did not buy a plastic bin big enough for me to store my guilt in, unfortunately.)

To recap, that now leaves us with one dog on special expensive food for her kidneys, and one dog who has to eat small meals five times a day because he’s hypoglycemic. Well, okay. That’s fine. It’s all fine.

Rather, it WAS fine, until last week. If you don’t remember what we went through when Duncan was diagnosed with hypoglycemia, it was scary and expensive and it started with what looked like him having seizures. So when Otto woke me up very early one day last week to say, “Something’s wrong with Duncan” our first guess should’ve been something blood-sugar related, but it wasn’t. This seemed different. He was twitchy. He couldn’t get up, or control his legs very well. And it was scary and I DO NOT LIKE IT and Otto wrapped him up and took him to the vet as soon as they opened. They kept him for a day and it was Zombie Dog, The Sequel: He’s Still Undead, apparently, because once again his blood sugar readings were “incompatible with life” and he ate and wagged and perked up and was just fine except for the part where he should’ve been dead.

He came home with prescription food (but not the same prescription food Licorice is eating, of course, because that would’ve been too convenient) for glucose management and instructions to feed him EVERY HOUR. Because we weren’t planning to leave the house or do anything else. Ever. No problem!

Duncan enjoyed the new food. And he seemed better. And then over the weekend he started seeming a little off and then he threw up, and I reminded a (very worried) Otto that he nearly always pukes when we change foods, probably no big deal. But then he threw up again. So I switched him to brown rice and he threw that up. And we went to just water and he threw THAT up. And then he couldn’t stop throwing up, and it was Sunday, and our vet doesn’t work on Sunday, so it was off to the emergency room at the big fancy vet hospital.

Long story not that much shorter, after three days they never did figure out what caused this “acute bout of gastritis” but they DID take ALLLLLL our money and also do a lot of tests including a sedated CAT scan where they found a couple of “nodules” which they would hesitate to call actual tumors but it’s all very unclear and anyway here is some new prescription food and he can go home and let’s follow up in a couple of weeks for another test to see if one of those nodules is secreting insulin. Neat. Meanwhile, for two nights I couldn’t sleep because my darling little fluffy curmudgeon of a white noise machine was missing. (His snoring is melodic. Shut up, it IS.)

Otto brought Duncan home late yesterday afternoon and he (Duncan, not Otto) was too tired to do much but lie in the middle of the kitchen floor. It was pretty pitiful.

pitiful Duncan on the kitchen floor
(I did get a good laugh out of one friend pointing out that at least he’s “bikini-ready,” though.)

I let him snooze for a while and then I gave him a bath. I gave both dogs baths, actually, and washed all the dog beds, because Duncan was all matted and Licorice also needed a bath because she likes to roll in things. Also Licorice would not leave Duncan alone, which was odd because she normally ignores him. But she needed to be all up in his grill, sniffing him. I would love to believe this is because she missed him and wanted to make sure he was okay, but honestly I think he just smelled weird.

I know he wasn’t feeling well because I bathed and scrubbed and brushed him out and blow-dried him and he didn’t try to bite me even once. When it was all over, he retreated to the couch to sleep off the horror.

fluffy Duncan on the couch, wanting me to leave him alone

He’s done a lot of sleeping and some eating and he’s clearly still exhausted, but he’s okay.

In conclusion: We are broke, but everything is fine. Can I offer you a cherry Pop-Tart or maybe some prescription dog food? It’s all we’ll be eating here for a while.


  1. Karen R

    Because, eventually you may need to sleep for more than an hour at a time, and you haven’t yet spent all your money, check out automatic pet feeders – assuming that the food is dry. There are even ones that will dispense only for the animal who has the corresponding tag on their collar.

    • Mir

      Licorice is small and will shove her head under his chin to get at his food. Ask me how I know!

  2. Mary K

    You’ve sure hit the animal jackpot – mice! Two sick dogs! Next up: marauding squirrels? So sorry it’s such a big ball of suck. :-( Glad, though, that your sense of humor is intact!

  3. Mary K. in Rockport

    OY! That is all.

  4. Chuck

    So – did you catch all the mice? Fingers crossed!

  5. KC

    Hope things get better soon! In all the ways! (oy, that is a lot of ways, though)

    Re: the expensive medication: look into Patient Assistance Programs. Sometimes they are available for when insurance turns you down; sometimes they are available to help with copays. There’s also the option of appealing the insurance denial unless you’ve gotten to the end of the appeals process on that (lots of paperwork and some waiting, but sometimes it works; some doctors won’t help past a certain point [for behold, it is a time sink] but you can do it as a patient as well); it takes time to process, but if you’re paying cash for the medication every single month, then you still come out ahead if they do ever approve it, even if you have to pay for a few months.

  6. Jeanie

    I am so sorry your babies are sick. I’ve been there a bunch with several dogs and know the pain of not only the vet bills and cost of prescriptions, including prescription food, but the worry will do you in also. You at least found an amusing way to write about it. I took just one dog in for a routine exam and booster shots today. It’s not pretty when you get the bill. I hope Licorice and Duncan will be as okay as possible.

  7. Kristin

    Just commiserating on ALL THE GUILT as our twelve year old Golden was just diagnosed as diabetic. Outside of the excessive drinking and peeing (which appeared very suddenly and resulted in a prompt vet visit) I assured the nice vet that he was acting his usual self. Turns out I also now have an elderly dog once again zooming around like a puppy and now I can’t place exactly when he started slowing down due to what I assumed was ripe old age. So. Hugs to you and the pups.

  8. Niki

    First – so sorry you have been in this giant crap pile. What a mess! Second – seconding what KC said. Appeal, appeal. Just because your insurance doesn’t usually cover it doesn’t mean they might not cover it if it’s the best treatment in Chickie’s situation. Honestly, $800 a month is cheap in expensive medicine land – my big one (and kiddo’s now too!) costs my insurance almost $5k a month and it’s the first line med these days. See if her doc will appeal and ask for a peer to peer review. They may insist that she try other things first though. And patient assistance programs are amazing, and they exist to help people who can’t afford expensive meds, whether they don’t have insurance, have high copays, or their insurance won’t pay. So go to the website of the drug manufacturer and see if they have one for this drug. Good luck! We aren’t quite so bad these days at our house, I’ve just decided that being a chronically ill person with a chronically ill spouse and a chronically ill kid is just too much for one person to deal with. At least while hubby was out of work he had time to comparison shop for the dog’s surgery and got it for 20% of the first quote we were given. I told him I had to deal with everyone else’s medical stuff, he could handle the dog.

  9. Debra

    Oh damn. We get mice. They like to come in under my kitchen sink and make their way to my dishtowel drawer where they proceed to pee and poop on everything.
    Look into chewy dot com. All the pet stuff including rx meds much cheaper than the vets

    • Katherine

      We had mice once, who decided to make a nest in our dishwasher insulation. Just for your information, mouse poop stinks when it is warm. ie every time we ran the dishwasher, the whole kitchen stank! And when the repair guy came to check things out and at the insulation was not usable, we ended up with a twin bed blanket as our insulation, because otherwise it was another trip charge and an expensive piece of insulation.

  10. The Other Leanne

    So…18 mos ago, my then-16 year-old cat couldn’t keep her legs underneath her and was tipping over like Arte Johnson on a tricycle (dating myself here). It was Christmas Eve and there was 8″ of snow on the ground, so we couldn’t do a thing about it for 3 days. Renal failure, stage 3. She now eats food obviously made from unicorn wings and angel tears, gets a couple of meds that are cheaper than the food, and here we are. She still chases herself around the house periodically and watches bird videos on YouTube. My sister’s cat has had kidney failure for 4 years and is 20 years old. It’s entirely manageable, provided you have an income and/or organs to sell on the Dark Web. Chewy is the place to get food, even if they are a bit obsessive about confirming prescriptions. Best wishes to both doggos.

  11. Liz

    Thinking of you all.

  12. Corey

    Well, thank god it’s all fine. And for the bright spots, like rainbow chairs, UPS drivers with heart, solutions to at least some of the suckage, and being a superlative at something. You might be The Absolute Worst, but my label is only The Ruiner. It doesn’t even sound outstanding. Hoping everyone rolls along, feeling better in a more budget-friendly manner for awhile.

  13. elizabeth

    Medical Professional (PA) here: We often find our patients can get their prescriptions much cheaper using the GoodRx program. I have a handout on it at the office but I’m out for a week. I bet you can find the info by googling. The program saves some people hundreds a month.

    Best wishes.

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