The cat got diabetes, or how good planning can not beat the universe

Matilda got diabetes


Last summer in Spain, we found out that our cat has diabetes. Well, frankly, we had not discovered it ourselves, but the veterinarian whom we visited discovered by coincidence that Matilda had a far too high blood sugar level. Further testing confirmed the suspicion and then we had to learn new stuff: how to measure her glucose level on a daily basis, how to administer insulin, and where to get all the materials we need for it. Most importantly for this blog post, we learned the implications for our Costa Rica plans.

Trying not to brag about it, but we are good at planning

The last time I checked, I was good at planning and organizing. It was an actual check, part of a personality test which I did when searching for a new job, back in 2013. I am good at organizing stuff. With an eye for both the long term and the short term, the big lines and the details. Cristina is good at it too. The difference between us is that I don’t like organizing trips, whereas she does. A lot. The mere thought makes me tired but to her it is a hobby. I almost have the suspicion that it is the real reason behind this trip. So you can imagine what a great 16 months she’s had preparing for this sabbatical. It shows through the blog posts. Anyways, so we are good at planning, and here I would like to share some of the deeper insights we have gained so far. You’ll understand what the cat has to do with it.

A quick-start guide to planning

Elsewhere in this blog, you may have found the post(s) about lists. They have a lot to do with planning and organizing. If you need a concrete starting point for whatever operation, start with the following list of things to do:
1) Start as early as you can
2) Gather as much information as is useful
3) Make a rough planning of your operation (which could be a list in itself, or a calendar or both).

Tick box with green tick

While you do these three items, you expand your to-do list and add additional lists depending on what you want to do exactly. Easy, although I can promise you that it will quickly become messy. That’s okay, just keep reviewing and revising your lists to conquer that mess.

Initially, point 1 and 2 above are closely related because you only know when to start with the preparations when you know enough about your operation. So it could be that you start too late because you didn’t know any better. Or it could be that you start too early and find out that you did so. Since the latter is easier to fix than the first, my suggestion is to start immediately.

Tip 1. Start as early as you can. Really

Here are two insights that I learned the hard way. First, you start immediately, even if you think you can start later. Second, you start (immediately) with every major part of your operation that comes to your mind.

very busy at the beginning … is far better than having to scramble at the end

Of course, you will make up your own mind about this and it is okay to learn your own lessons. And frankly, there is an argument for not starting immediately. After all, there is a trade off between starting immediately with gathering information and waiting some time before you begin. The reason to start immediately is the following : Yes, you’ll be very busy at the beginning, but that is far better than having to scramble at the end and have no time left to solve problems. On the other hand, the earlier you begin, the more time there is until the start of your operation, which means the more likely it is that things will change in the meantime.

Tip 2. Enough may, or may not be enough

Another tip, or rather a catch, is about point 2) that I mentioned earlier : ‘Gather as much information as is useful’. Nowadays, with the internet, the amount of information you can get your hands on is often more than you can deal with, and also more than you need. So you need to know when to stop searching. A rule of thumb could be that initially you need to have a bird’s-eye view, enough for the overall planning of your operation and enough to know where to find more details easily (bookmark those webpages!). The rest can come later. But not too late, because the first catch is always at play. Because of that, it is just a rule of thumb. After all, it might be that you just didn’t dig deep enough and missed an important ‘detail’ about the timing of the visa application process that you might have wanted to know long in advance.

Preemptive work 1. Start early

You can do some preemptive work. Starting early is a big part of that. The earlier you start, the more time you may have to solve problems before the operation starts. If disaster strikes just before the start, then that is bad luck of course, but by starting late you increase the chances of that happening simply because in that case disaster can only strike just before the start (there is no long before the start anymore).

Preemptive work 2. Potential disaster scenarios

Other preemptive work is to consider for a moment what could go wrong if you do A and what you could do in such cases, so-called contingency plans. If you then find out that there is a big chance of something going wrong that is impossible to fix then don’t do A but try to find an alternative. I have a tendency to see potential disaster scenarios (PoDS) all the time and am constantly busy with this type of thinking. It’s helpful but only to a point, because in my experience more often than not, things go as planned – or is that because I am seeing all those PoDS??. Other people, Cristina for example, are more optimistic or too optimistic and assume that nothing ever will go wrong. I guess there is a balance here and if you are working as a team, you might be balancing each other.

Preemptive work 3: find the bottlenecks

A special case of thinking of PoDS is to try to prevent bottle-necks in your planning. If too many things are depending on one other, that is a bottleneck. For example, for many official business you need a valid passport and often it is required that the passport is valid for six months (or so) when you enter a foreign country. That is a huge bottleneck obviously. If you can avoid such bottlenecks that would be preferable, but sometimes you can not. Then you had better make sure you pass that bottleneck successfully. So check your passport’s validity long in advance because it may take time to renew it.

What does the cat have to do with it?

Okay, okay, but what about the cat? Well, the cat is an illustration that all our lists, all our planning, potential disaster scenarios and contingency plans left us empty handed for the truly unexpected. How on earth could we have seen coming that Matilda would get diabetes? We were only lucky to have found out half a year before the trip, so we could prepare.

We were also lucky because it is a big deal for our plans that she has diabetes. Suddenly we are stuck in a medical regime that requires us to measure her blood glucose level twice a day with 12 hours in between. Measuring is mostly a trick of punching a small hole in Matilda’s ear with a lance (a special needle) in order to create a drop of blood that is not too small and not too big. Once you know how to do it, it is easy, but it took us weeks to learn. Depending on the measurement we have to either or not administer insulin with her food which we have to give directly after the measurement.

Implications for our plans

All this means that we can not leave Matilda alone for more than twelve hours. So our plans to go on multi-day hikes have become difficult to realize. Unless we find someone in Costa Rica willing and able to treat Matilda. Considering the long training time, such a person will be hard to find. Bringing Matilda on the hike is no option because pets are not welcome in the nature reserves and parks.

Another consequence is that the type of insulin matters and the one we are using is not available in Costa Rica. Also, we considered that it might not be easy or practical to find all the consumables that we need: per day two syringes, one lance, two measuring strips and two alcohol swipes. That does not sound like a lot, but for a one-year trip we ended up filling half a suitcase with the consumables … and wondering how customs would respond when they find 800 syringes in the suitcase. We brought the veterinarian’s recipe and the receipts, just in case. At the customs check, the bag went through the scanner and no-one blinked an eye.

Conclusion: you can not beat the universe, … fortunately

Matilda told us that we can not beat the universe when it comes to the future and the diversity of the present. Planning and organizing is our feeble attempt to take control. It gets us somewhere, but ultimately the unforeseen is indeed unforeseen. The good news is that in most cases, you can actually live with that. You can change your plans, try again later, or simply forget about them and move on. I am betting that most Ticos feel that Cristina and I are taking this whole sabbatical preparation two light years too far.

Moreover, without the unforeseen, much of what we do would not really be worth the while. At least not in my mind.

3 thoughts on “The cat got diabetes, or how good planning can not beat the universe

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.