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Surviving Traumatic Stress

By: Michael LaRocca - Copyright 2004

November 2004

Author of: An American Redneck In Hong Kong
Published in 2001, which actually contains very little about Hong Kong. It's mostly cat and dog stories.


Picasso, lounging on the suitcase.
Let's all take a lesson in stress management from someone we all want to be like, my lovely Calico cat, Picasso. I've spent years hiding the cat carrier from her, because it might remind her of numerous trips to vets and catteries, including an especially traumatic three weeks in a Hong Kong cattery followed by an all-day trek in vans and planes to Hangzhou with a three hour stretch in Shanghai Customs. (Lunch is sacred in China.)

Six months after buying our second laptop computer, I decided to get it up and running. Basically, it needed an Ethernet card for Internet access, and I don't speak Chinese. As it was the beginning of our second long summer holiday, I recruited a student to act as translator. (He asked a friend how to say "Ethernet" in Chinese ahead of time.) We had fun, then he rode to work while I rode home with my new "toy."

Getting the second computer up and running involved moving furniture, and in the process the cat carrier was exposed. Picasso visited it, sniffed it, rubbed against it, purred... I removed the door, and she climbed inside and slept a while. And that's how you deal with the traumatically stressful. You just jump right in there and purr. The closet remained open. She visited the carrier from time to time.

The next day, I brought home a business card from a local veterinarian. It was vaccination time for Picasso, and I needed another translator. The card was from the closest vet, a clean place where I've often bought cat food or litter and seen gorgeous patients of the canine and feline varieties. I had no idea if they did vaccinations. I had no idea if any vet in Hangzhou did vaccinations without special-ordering stuff and generally freaking out.

I had a list of vaccines in both Chinese and English, courtesy of the Hong Kong SPCA, which I intended to give my translator along with the business card. Picasso sniffed the card, rubbed her face on it, and looked directly at her cat carrier. We've always said she's too intelligent.

I had emailed a student about being my translator. She called me on Saturday and got the phone number, comfortable she didn't need all that other stuff. She sent me an email on Sunday to say nobody answered the phone either day.

There are two places in our apartment where Picasso likes to sleep. Monday, she instructed me to put the doorless cat carrier in one of them, so I did. She sleeps there sometimes.

The student called me on Tuesday to tell me she got an answer, and no appointment was required. She wasn't able to find out if the vet had the vaccines in stock because I wasn't able to get the list to her. So, would it be a disaster? One never knows over here.

At 10:00 Wednesday morning, I met the student at the school gates, a three-minute bike ride. Usually 5 to 10 minutes, but I was running late again, so I cut it to 3.

Student had bought her bike only a month earlier, so she warned me to ride slowly. Yep, yet another 20+ year old Chinese student who'd never ridden a bicycle before, defying all stereotypes.

We rode to where I live. I'd guess 10 minutes. I locked up the bikes in the special secure room. Walked upstairs to the fourth floor. I retrieved the cat carrier and reattached the door. Picasso, lovely and brilliant little lady that she is, hopped down from her high sleeping place in the office so that I could scoop her up. Token resistance to going inside the cat carrier. Trust me, I was not looking forward to climbing up there and trying to retrieve her. She is the picture of grace, speed and athleticism. I am not.

The student told us that the vet had a question about how savage Picasso was. He was ready to get two, three, four helpers... as many as it took. Manpower's cheap in China. I guess with a crazy foreigner involved, he was expecting some monstrous Maine Coon Cat with a fat belly and a bad attitude. But, Picasso is a lovely little lady cat with a long history of being a wonderful patient. Just don't try to shave her neck or she'll kill you.

We walked downstairs and to the street. Flagged a cab. He took the long way, since he didn't know where it was and I was slow relaying that to my translator, so I'd guess it required six minutes instead of the usual three. Same price, though, and no left-hand turns. With all the roadwork and traffic, probably the fastest way to go after all.

Into the vet's office, where Picasso was the only customer. Some dogs barking in the back room, but so what? Student did the talking. I checked the vaccine bottle, which was in stock, in the refrigerator as required, to make sure it was right, as all labeling was in English. It was. Same brand as I used in the US when I vaccinated my cats myself.

{Note: Three cats aren't fun, especially not the last two. They see what happens to the first one and freak out. Not me! Meow!!}

Picasso resisted being removed from the carrier by the vet, then ran down his back with claws extended. I scooped her up and held her. At that point, the vet realized the door was open and quickly instructed the nurse to fix that. We cannot have the foreigner's cat fleeing the scene and running out into the street. But of course Picasso didn't. She was with Daddy. Purrrrrr...

Vet took the needle from the nurse and did the shot himself. Very gentle. Not even a flinch from the little girl wrapped around my shoulder. I put Picasso back into the carrier. Vet recommended trimming her claws, since she did run down his back. I've trimmed many dog claws, but never cat claws. They do that themselves. So, I declined.

{Is that why vaccinating three cats at home was so painful? Beats me.}

US$8 for the shot. Another taxi. Unlocked the secure bike room so student could ride off into the sunset. (Not literally - it wasn't that late.) I walked up the four flights and released Picasso 35 minutes after departure. Does it work that way for you in the US? Of course not! Hah!

As you may recall, Picasso sniffed the vet's business card back on Saturday and immediately looked at the cat carrier. On this Wednesday morning, she knew this was "the day." What "the day" involved had no doubt been a four-day mystery to her clever little mind, but she knew it was something. Now we skip ahead to 10:35, Picasso resting on the living room floor, looking at me as if to ask, "That was it? Let's go somewhere else, Daddy."

And finally, oblivious. That is the word I've used to describe little Michael LaRocca, the wholly fictitious narrator of my Rising From The Ashes. Here's another example of obliviousness.

Same day as Picasso's outing, in the afternoon, I went downstairs to buy something and noticed that the vendor had a Calico cat in the store. Lying on a shelf amidst the inventory, bathing contentedly. She lives there. And then it hit me. Calico cats are quite rare, and yet Picasso has three of them for neighbors. Plus a fourth lives on campus. Wow, I brought her to her homeland. Calico country. Meow!

She is the most colorful, intelligent, loving, beautiful, and healthy of them all. Naturally. She is, after all, Picasso.

How rare are Calico cats? The answer is at Calicoeng.html, probably in more detail than any of us needs. While looking for that site, I inadvertently discovered that the Maryland State Cat is the Calico cat.

Who Moved My Rice? was published September 30, and it's full of stories like this, the link contains free sample chapters. Because you can't eat grits with chopsticks.

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