Sunday, December 29, 2013

My Christmas Catventure

It was a cold November Monday morning, when I saw this cat in our office yard, crawling under the production waste bins and squealing for help. Identified as female by one of my colleagues (also female, if it matters), the cat was black with white chest, looked about 7-8 months old, and apparently was injured – you could see a large swelling on a side of her belly. It refused to eat anything we offered, although was eager to communicate.

Our office is located outside the city and it has a vast yard, but it’s not exactly animal friendly, especially in cold times of year. Nowhere to hide and make a place of living, just hundreds of square meters of trimmed grass. We tried to negotiate with our boss about letting the cat inside the building, but we failed. Sheltering an animal, especially sick or injured, is a responsibility which nobody at that moment seemed to be ready for. So, after some brief meditation, I decided to volunteer. We already had three cats at home, living in the premises, so what the hell, I thought, another cat wouldn’t hurt.

But first things first. The cat didn’t look so well, so I started googling for the nearest veterinarian cabinet. Luckily, it turned out to be just some 3 kms away from our office, in a large shopping center where we often go to buy supplies and stuff. On the lunch break, I put the cat in the trunk of my hatchback and took off to the vet’s.

The first examination wasn’t really conclusive. It was hard for the doctor (again, female, if it matters) to determine the cause of the swelling. It could have been a result of an impact of some sort, maybe a kick. What was obvious right away is the presence of lice and intestinal worms, quite common in stray cats. The doc did her magic, gave some injections, provided with special diet food for sick cats and told me to come back on Wednesday.

There was quite a commotion at home that evening. My thinking that another cat in the household wouldn’t hurt turned out to be rather optimistic. Not divulging the gory details, the cat had to spend the first night in the trunk, and I had to take her with me to the work in the morning. So, basically, she had to live in the trunk. Still better than under the waste bins, I guess…

Anyway, the cat refused to eat anything, including the prescribed diet food, for the whole next day. She didn’t drink, too. And the swelling wasn’t going anywhere. So I started to become concerned.
The Wednesday examination also wasn’t much help. More injections, more belly palpation, more inconclusiveness. This time the doc wasn’t alone though – another veterinarian (male, if it matters) joined the team. They told me to come back on Friday.

That evening, at long last, folks at home came to the agreement that living in a trunk is not quite appropriate for a sick cat, so we finally took her in. We tried to feed her, but she still wasn’t into it. However, the cat displayed healthy curiosity and was eager to engage in playful activity, although had a trouble of moving and jumping around. Also, we figured out that, possibly, before being abandoned, the cat lived in a house, because she immediately, without any instructions or suggestions, started using the cat toilet brought by me earlier from a nearby pet shop.

The continuous absence of appetite, accompanied with fits of retching, indicated that the cat was still seriously sick, and the swelling didn’t show any signs of becoming smaller. On a positive side, the lice seemed to be going away, and she had a bit of Friskies and water Thursday evening. Very little, though.

On Friday, I was determined to take some real action. Fortunately, the doctors seemed so, too. After some more palpation, examination and pondering, the male doctor, who seemed to be more experienced, advanced a theory that the swelling, in fact, wasn’t a swelling at all, but… intestines, fallen out of their original location due to some sort of a tear in the abdominal tissue, probably caused by a severe blow. He said he could feel the bowels with his fingers, as if there was only skin covering them.

Gulping, I asked if there was a way to make sure his theory was correct. The answer was that the only way to be 100% sure was cutting the cat open, an in surgery. Well, that wasn’t exactly the action I had in mind, but it was clear that something had to be done. Still, before cutting the poor animal up, I asked for any way of confirmation that the surgery was absolutely necessary. They suggested x-ray. The only problem was that they didn’t have the x-ray machine, but they could arrange an appointment to another clinic, in the city, not too far from our location.

I could only get to that clinic after work. In Lithuania, it becomes dark quite early this time of year. Around 4:45 PM, when I took off on a mission to x-ray the cat, it was almost pitch black, and it started raining cats and dogs, to complete the picture. In case you don’t know, I’m still a “beta driver” (meaning I got my driver’s license only nine months ago), so it was quite a challenge driving tens of kilometers in such conditions. But hey, duty called.

Another challenge was the young girl in charge of the x-ray machine. You see, young Lithuanian girls usually don’t speak Russian, and as I don’t speak Lithuanian, we had to communicate in English, which wasn’t the native tongue for either of us. But I managed, somehow, to explain the complicated cat situation to the girl, and she managed to comprehend it. The only thing I don’t understand is why she had to have me holding the cat down on the x-ray table, after having her assistant (another young Lithuanian girl) dress me up in a doc’s apron with that ridiculous neck piece. Not that I complain, of course – it was like starring in some veterinarian version of ER… you know, as a mid-aged doctor with a sexy stubble, always surrounded with pretty assistants… but I digress.

The x-ray pretty much confirmed what our local vet had theorized: it wasn’t a swelling, it was entrails fallen out of their place. There was only one option left now – immediate surgery to avoid any further complications.

I drove the cat back to the local vet cabinet. They said the surgery would take at least an hour, and as I was tired and hungry, they advised me to take a break and come back later.

When I came home, Diana (my wife) was already back from work. I explained that the cat was in surgery and I asked her to come with me, because I would need help getting the cat back. I didn’t want to put the freshly operated animal in the trunk, I needed someone to hold her while I was driving. We had a quick snack and then we took off to the vet’s.

The hour was up when we arrived. The operation was still going. The doctors, with very pale faces, explained that there were some things they didn’t quite expect. Namely, the abdominal tissue that was supposed to be just torn apart, was literally absent. Apparently, the trauma either happened months ago and the torn tissue had time to be shrunk and absorbed, or it was some sort of birth defect and there was no tissue to begin with. Either way, they needed to come up with some sort of solution, like extending the tissue from other parts of the abdomen. In other words, the surgery turned out to be far more complicated than initially expected and they needed more time to finish it. And they said they couldn’t give a 100% guarantee that the cat would survive.

It was probably one of the longest half an hour in my life. Funny thing how you become attached to the little creatures you take responsibility for. While sitting and waiting in the car with my wife, there was a thought in my mind I was clinging to – “at least we tried.” But it’s never really comforting, now, is it?

And then they called, and I went inside to face the news. And they invited me inside the operational room, and I saw the cat, on the table, flat on her back, glassy eyes, paws apart like in a funny cartoon where cats get impressed in asphalt, only it wasn’t funny. As they filled me in the details of the surgery, I wasn’t really listening but trying to see if she was breathing…

In the subsequent few seconds I learned several things: First of all, it wasn’t she, but he (so much with the cat gender identification skills of my dear colleagues). And he was very much alive, just still under anesthesia. Overall, the surgery was successful, although nothing short of a miracle. Now all we could do is wait and see if the restored tissue would hold.

They put that ridiculous post-operational collar on his neck and we carefully took him to the car, still unconscious. Cats get cold after surgery, as we were told, so Diana tried to keep him warm, while I was driving home.

As the anesthesia was wearing out, the cat was becoming more and more restless. As expected, he was disoriented, couldn’t walk a straight line and was vigorously trying to tear off the protective collar. He only was relatively calm when he felt my hand on him, so that’s pretty much how I spend that whole evening, lying on the sofa with a semi-conscious cat, half-asleep myself.

That weekend he started eating and drinking, to our immeasurable joy. With each passing day he got better and better, began moving around and playing more energetically, even too energetically at times, causing us to fear that his stitches wouldn’t hold. Everything pointed out that this catventure was headed to its happy end, we got a new member of the household and he was one lucky son of a… cat. In fact, so lucky that I decided to call him Felix, because it means “happy” or “lucky” in Latin.

Still, the story wasn’t quite over, yet. In the subsequent days a small, but clearly visible swelling had formed in the operated area, and it refused to go away, so the vets started fearing that some of the internal stitches could have given way or the tissue could have developed another tear. They strongly recommended a follow-up surgery and I, despite Diana’s protests and my own reluctance to subject the animal to another hardship, decided to heed their advice.

So, two weeks after the first operation, another Friday evening, they performed the second surgery. This time it was quicker and, fortunately, turned out to be almost unnecessary. The tissue turned out to be fully intact, healed and skinned over. The swelling the vets panicked over turned out to be just some liquid gathered in the operated area, which sometimes happens. They removed the liquid and that was it. Unfortunately, they had to make a cut on the side, so they shaved quite a chunk of Felix’s beautiful black hair, making him look a bit weird. But who cares, the most important thing is that the cat was declared completely healthy, and the hair… well, it’ll grow back in spring.

This is it, folks, the end of this thrilling catventure. We celebrated this Christmas with a new member of the family, who really enjoys being around us. What can be better? So, Happy Holidays from us and Felix the Cat!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Godfather, Part II

A couple of weeks ago we had some intense Eastern Orthodox infant baptism action, with your humble servant in the role of the Godfather. The infants in question were my wife's first cousins once removed, little fraternal (meaning non-identical) twin boys. Their mother is Catholic by confession, but for some reason she had her daughter christened by Orthodox tradition, and now the boys were to follow their elder sister's footsteps.

Interestingly, their father is an atheist and, on top of that, they all live in Israel -- the family moved there from Lithuania some 15 years ago, one of the reasons being the father's Jewish ancestry. I know, it's a crazy mix of cultures and traditions, but that's the odd charm of it, I think.

I'm not the most exemplary Christian in the world, but I already baptized someone when I was young, I know how honorable this whole thing is and, in support of subtle Mafioso references of this blog post, it's an offer you can't refuse -- you don't say "no" when someone asks you to be a godfather, you just accept the honor humbly and readily.

The action itself took place in the countryside. There's a Russian Orthodox farming community some 40 kms south-east of Vilnius, in the village of Mikniškės (Mikhnovo in Russian). It's a beautiful place with long history of amazing survival through the turmoils of the 20th century, with all its wars, power changes, repressions and all kinds of disasters.

As we were told, there are currently about 80 people living in the community: priests with their families and common believers of different ages, ethnicity and professions. They lead simple lives, working the fields and greenhouses, living in small, mostly wooden houses.

The church itself, where the christening took place, is rather small (originally intended to be just a family chapel), but very beautiful, with a skillfully painted interior.

After the ceremonial part, with wriggling and struggling 3-year-old kids who naturally had no idea what was going on and what that paunchy, bearded old man in funny clothes could possibly want from them, we all spread out exploring the area. The kids got all the fun as the reward for their stoic endurance.

In conclusion, here's me, the humbly proud godfather, with total number of godchildren increased from one to three in one day. How awesome is that?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Never bring pincers to a tank fight, dude!

This is a website header design for an American pest control company, done last summer. Basically, it's all about overkilling a stupid roach with a blast from a tank... sort of. Everybody hates cockroaches, so join the fight!

You may think this car-tank (or whatever it is) is a fruit of my delusional imagination, but you'd be terribly wrong. That... thing actually exists! It's a classic Mercury Marquis with some... er... additions. I changed only a couple of minor details and added a camouflage coloring. Everything else is a true story, bro. What can I say... Americans!

If you are a cockroach and you're reading this post, stop right there and think twice before messing with this baby. Because that's how these pest control guys roll. Lock 'n load!

Sunday, August 11, 2013


Ok, I know I promised the next post would be all warm and fluffy, but it turns out to be more like chilly and sleek, sorry about that. But hey, it's the heat of the summer, who's to complain? Anyway, on to the subject...

Kvass is a traditional Russian refreshing drink, made of rye bread... wait a minute, this is a Georgian drink we're talking about here. Why would someone make Georgian kvass? Another of life's great mysteries? Well, not really. Fact is, kvass has always been a hugely popular drink in the former Soviet republics and remains so to this day.

Nothing much to say about the label itself, though. It's traditional, heavily relies on stock images, with the exception of those rye ears, entirely hand made and assembled in Photoshop by yours truly. Done last summer, for a small Georgian enterprise specialized in non-alcoholic refreshing beverages.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Sazandari Lemonades

If you follow this blog, you might know that last year I got a full-time job, which pretty much meant the end of my freelance career. Still, from time to time, I've been able to squeeze some freelance jobs into my schedule. So I'm planning to dedicate the next few posts to some of such works done last year and earlier this year, starting with a series of refreshing drinks from the summer of 2012.

Sazandar (Georgian form sazandari) is a word of Persian origin, used as the name for the traditional three-man folk bands, popular in 19th century Azerbaijan, Iran, Armenia and Georgia. There's a chain of restaurants in Georgia, named Sazandari, offering traditional Georgian cuisine. Such restaurants often serve exclusive drinks under their own label -- mostly refreshing beverages. This is exactly the case here.

The task was straightforward: a series of labels with "traditional" (or, rather, pseudo-traditional) elements, in sync with the general style of the interiors and exteriors of the restaurants in question. In plain English it basically means trowing in some wood and stone textures. Oh, and chains! They love chains.

For the first time, I have used digital matte painting techniques in this design. Again, in plain English it means taking a bunch of moderately crappy photo materials and digitally overpainting them to the point when it all starts looking cool. Learning to work with a graphics tablet finally paid off...

The old man in a traditional Georgian costume you see in the trademark looks all peaceful an noble, but don't let the looks deceive you! Actually, he's a Frankenstein monster, assembled from different photos and stock materials and heavily overpainted to hide the "stitches". On top of it, he's playing an instrument made of a bloated dead pig. Monster!
Ok, enough scary stories. Next time it's gonna be all warm and fluffy, I promise. See ya!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Jazzed & Confused

Long time, no see. In fact, the last post was more than a year ago. So I guess it's official: I've made the list of super-lazy bloggers. Achievement unlocked.

Anyway, there is nothing important in this update, just wanted to let you know that I'm still alive. A few days ago I even had a brief surge in my virtually non-existent social life: Diana received an invitation to a Jazz concert along with her husband, who happens to be me, so we went there together, all dressed up to the code.

The concert was performed by the German State Jazz Orchestra (BuJazzO) and it took place at Vilnius Philharmonic Hall. It was an official event, organized by the German government and attended by the presidents of Germany and Lithuania. So, naturally, the band started with the anthems of Lithuania, Germany and the European Union. I really liked the Jazz arrangement of the Lithuanian anthem. The original is an uplifted, but rather calm march, and what the band played was some crazy-heroic-viking-jazz version of it, with heavy drums and stuff. Really goosebumping.

In fact, the whole concert was mind-blowing. It was diverse, bold and thoroughly enjoyable even for someone like me, who is far from being a Jazz fan. There was a little surprise in the middle of the concert, too: the Mayor of Klaipeda performed "What a Wonderful World" and he not only played remarkably, but also sang in trademark Armstrong growling style, spot on.

I don't have any concert photos, but I have a couple of shots from the after-party with me and Diana. Look at us, all shiny and happy.

And here's me, contemplating over a glass of beer.

That's it for now. I'm planning to be back with some design-related updates as soon as I can. There's still no budge in the art department, unfortunately. But the summer isn't over yet, so we'll see...