Losing a pet is tough, even when it’s “just a hamster”.

I woke up this morning exhausted after a restless night involving being mauled by a lion, so it didn’t start well. When I got up, I walked towards the bathroom, passing my hamsters’ cage. I didn’t make it to the bathroom. Lying on her back in the sawdust was one of my hamsters, Juju. She wasn’t moving, and I knew straight away that she’d passed away. I knew, but I didn’t believe. I didn’t want to believe.

I have—or should I say had—two hamsters, Yuki and Juju. I bought them last March to celebrate being asked to stay permanently at my first ‘real’ job, at which point they were already about 6 weeks old. They were sisters, both albino, but they were nothing alike. While Juju was curious, active and receptive to being picked up, Yuki was difficult from the beginning, with a knack for drawing blood and hiding away. That’s why I call her my hampire, especially with her bright red eyes. If I’d have given it thought before, I would have guessed that Yuki would go first, as she didn’t get a lot of exercise or seem that interested in food. Juju was always running, exploring and the first to get to a newly refilled bowl.

Juju's closeup

Juju shortly after we bought her.

So it was with dismay and some denial that I watched Juju start to get thinner and more frail. Her fur started thinning, and she was frequently scratching. I knew they were both getting older, but it seemed so strange that two sisters could age at different rates.

I did what I could. I made sure there was fresh food, including bits of cucumber and other nutritious treats. I made sure the cage was cleaned weekly and lots of bedding was put down to keep them warm as the weather got colder. I even got some tea tree oil cream from the pet shop to see if that helped with Juju’s itching.

Juju seemed worse than usual last night, and I wonder if she could sense her time was up. In the past, if I’ve made any noises or opened the cage, she’d at least peek her little twitchy nose out from wherever she was sleeping. As I said earlier, if I put any new food in the cage, she’d come scurrying at high speed. Last night, she didn’t make an appearance, even when I put some dried banana chips (her favourite) outside her cave. It was only when I slightly lifted up the cave that she came out a little. Flan had earlier had to actually reach in under the cave to get her to rub some cream on her skin, and he’d said her breathing sounded papery.

I was terrified, and I made up my mind to call the vet first thing in the morning. I didn’t want my poor baby suffering if there was something more I could do, medication to give her. I think that’s what made it so much harder this morning. I’d committed to taking her to the vet, and then it was too late.

I couldn’t go to work. It took me over an hour to work up the courage to get her out of the cage, and then it was only with Flan’s motorcycle glove and a lot of paper towel to carefully wrap her in (with paper bedding to pad around her legs, which were stiff with rigor mortis). I then put her in a biodegradable bin bag and put her to the side. I couldn’t handle the next stage: what to do with her body. I don’t have a proper garden; the small yard is covered in stone tiles and gravel. After lunch, tired and numb, I finally decided to go to the nearest garden centre, where I picked up an outdoor pot, soil and some plants. Despite not being one for gardening and plants in general, I found burying her under pretty flowers to be very therapeutic. I avoided it for hours, but I was glad once I’d finally finished the task.

A beautiful gravesite for my Juju

A beautiful gravesite (in the wind)

Now I know some people might say, “She was just a hamster.” I know because I’ve been told this. I realise losing a hamster is not quite like losing a human friend or family member, or even like losing a dog you’ve had for many years. Juju was only about 20 months old, but that was plenty of time for me to form an attachment to a small, fluffy creature that depended on me for her wellbeing. I don’t appreciate having my grief belittled by people who think I’m silly for caring about an insignificant animal. I loved my hamster, one of the many beautiful creatures on this planet, and I’m entitled to feel her loss even if she doesn’t have the brain size of a human.

Rest in peace, my sweet, cuddly ball of fur.

I never thought I’d say this, but I need to stop studying!

I’m taking a break from online courses. There’s just so much out there, and I’ve given into my urges to enrol in every interesting course that comes along. The problem is, I’m seriously raising my stress levels trying to juggle 4-5 courses at once. I’m already working extra hours because we’re at our busiest period (start of the school year at an online education company), and trying to do all my coursework on top of that means that other parts of my life are suffering.

I set out at the start of the year to study three courses over the year, and with over a quarter of the year left, I’ve already completed four. Meanwhile, I’ve neglected other challenges, like knitting, painting and sketching. Sadly, these activities would actually help me reduce my stress levels if I took the time to engage in them. This manic need to learn everything all at once needs to stop today!

Hopefully, by taking this time away from studying, I can spend more time relaxing and engaging with the world outside of the computer. I spend my whole day at a computer, working to ensure that others can study and pass their exams. I need to focus on my body – both my physical health and my mental health. I’ll try to also keep my promise to blog at least once a month, but I also need to catch up on my reading!

Has anyone else struggled with this strange addiction to online learning?

Fun fact: You can be allergic to the cold.

It’s called Cold Urticaria, and it can be either inherited or acquired. I’m fairly sure I’ve acquired it. And I’m writing this to share how I figured it out so that if anyone else out there is going crazy from the itchiness and mystery, that might figure it out too.

Two and a half weeks ago (on the Wednesday), I felt my fingers getting itchy. It irritated me for a little while, then faded away. The same thing happened the next day, but I didn’t think much of it. Actually, that’s a lie – I googled ‘itchy fingers’ and gave myself a little fright, as people with diabetes can get itchy fingers, it seems. I didn’t think it was an allergic reaction at the time, as I’ve never had allergic rashes before, and I’ve only ever had hives once when a cat licked my face.

That Saturday, I went to Fountains Abbey with Flan. We were up in Yorkshire for a wedding, and we had a few hours to spare before having to get dressed up for the event. It was a little chilly, and there was a bit of wind and a scattering of drizzle. At the top of the hill, by the entrance, my hands got itchy, from my fingers to my wrists. It faded after we’d walked down the hill and the sun had come out for a bit, but the rash came straight back as we got to the hilltop again. I put it down to just being allergic to some unique Yorkshire plant that was found there.

Itchy hands in Yorkshire

Itchy hands in Yorkshire

The reception that afternoon was primarily outdoors, with the sun out but a breeze going. Any uncovered skin turned red and blotchy, and I started to go mad from the itchiness everywhere. My neck, my ears, my arms, my knees… The bride’s mother gave me some antihistamines, but the only thing that helped was to stay in the tents, where the allergen couldn’t get to me. Again, at the time, we all assumed I was allergic to a plant found in Yorkshire.

Fast forward a few days, and I’d noticed the rashes appearing more frequently on my legs and arms, going particularly pink after an hour in a heavily air-conditioned room. Not Yorkshire then. I went to the doctor, an absolutely delightful and genuinely caring GP for a change, who prescribed me a short course of steroids and stronger antihistamines. The steroids were amazing, and I didn’t have any rashes while on them. Unfortunately, they came to an end, and in stunning fashion.

I took the last two on the Saturday morning a week ago, then went out for dinner in the evening, having to walk quite a bit between buildings and buses. Arriving at the restaurant, my nose was red and a little numb, and my hands were pink and blotchy. Both faded over the course of 15 minutes. The fun really started on the way home, when the weather had cooled down further. (So much for summer, eh?) By the time I got home, I was itchy all over, with rashes covering most of my body, head to toe.

Arm rash after walking home from the bus stop

Arm rash after walking home from the bus stop

This is when I started to get a bit suspicious. I noticed that, on my legs, the rashes were redder at the front, only a bit spotty at the back. The more covered area of my torso was fine, having worn several layers, including a tank top underneath my shirt. I think this is when I first voiced—jokingly—that I must be allergic to the cold. I didn’t think it could be possible.

The doctor I’d seen had said to come back the following week to see one of her colleagues (she was on holiday), and I awaited this appointment eagerly. I was having daily cases of rashes and red noses just from the quick trip to work. One morning, my fingers even got swollen from the walk into the office, and they didn’t feel normal for a couple of hours after. I wanted some answers, and expected a blood test and/or referral to an allergy specialist.

But the night before the appointment, I got feverish from something seemingly unrelated, and it was painful to take deep breaths the next morning. My fever had gone down, and I wasn’t shivering, but my neck was very tense and my chest felt tight. The doctor was (understandably, I suppose) dismissive of my allergic reactions and cared more about my breathing. After checking my oxygen saturation level, she sent me away, promising to talk with ‘the medical team’ about my breathing problems. She didn’t care that I’d actually come in for a specific reason, smiling and saying not to worry about it in that very over friendly and condescending manner that some doctors have.

I received the promised phone call and was asked to come in the next morning for a D-Dimer test with a nurse. I had no chest pain the next morning, but I did have rashes on my ankles, so I persuaded the nurse to also take some blood for allergy tests, as the original doctor had suggested I get. I’m still waiting on those results.

I’d read about cold urticaria at this point, but I’d dismissed it since I wasn’t getting hives, just red, flat splotches of colour. However, I was frustrated with waiting, and the next appointment I could get with a doctor was two weeks away. This morning, my fingers got red and swollen from holding my cold cereal bowl, which made me think about giving the diagnostic test a try.

What’s this test? You simply place an ice cube on one’s skin for 4-5 minutes and seeing if a hive forms – perfect for self-diagnosing. Having no ice cubes, I took a cold gel pack that had been in the freezer and rested the corner against my arm for 30 seconds. That’s all the time it needed to form a full-on hive, which didn’t go down for about an hour!

Cold urticaria ice test result

Cold urticaria ice test result

Looking at the photo above, I’m fairly sure that what’s been driving me crazy the past few weeks is cold urticaria. I’ll take my evidence to the doctor when I eventually see him, but in the meantime, I whipping out the gloves and scarves, and maybe a balaclava to cover my face so I don’t look like Rudolph. Not exactly the fashion in late summer/early autumn, but I guess this is further proof that I’m allergic to England!

 

My resources:

Cold urticaria – Wikipedia
Cold urticaria definition – Mayo Clinic