There’s a little bird alive in the world tonight. She came within minutes of dying on the hot sidewalk at a busy Los Angeles intersection where she lay, unable to move, her eyes listless, the lids sinking shut. She’s alive because Roo found her. If she hadn’t, I wouldn’t have noticed her in the morning glare.
We had just gotten out the door and into the bright sunlight of Venice Boulevard. It is a loud place. City buses roar past, an endless stream of boneheads compete with each other for who has the loudest sound in their cars, all the motorcycles have loud pipes, and the sirens of one of the hardest working fire houses in the country blow all day and night.
Roo was not in great shape. On the night we arrived a citizen shot off a .22 round right outside the door - not 15 feet away from where Roo lay. The gunshot pushed Roo over the edge of what was left of her calm. She was terrified. It would be 36 hours before she would eat anything. On top of all that it was hot and humid. Roo was miserable, and, because she wouldn't think of going out after the gunshot of the previous night, she was going on about 15 hours of holding it (which, by the way, never seems to bother her).
As soon as we stepped out on the sidewalk, Roo stopped to smell something. I was shielding my eyes from the glare and I wasn't paying attention to what she was interested in. After a moment I saw green feathers. I expected to see a dead bird. I edged her back with a little pressure on the leash. Roo backed off.
Lying there was a parrot. From beak to tail, about a foot long. She - or he, you can't tell from the outside - was on her belly with her wings tucked in, but sloppily. Her head was down on the sidewalk and she was alternating between barely breathing at all and panting. There are cats everywhere in that neighborhood. It was a miracle that one of them hadn’t gotten the little bird.
A gaggle of fourth graders was walking by,
“Is that your bird?” a little girl asked, clutching some books to her chest.
“No, but listen, I’m going to run inside, I’m going to be back in a few seconds. Stand here and if a cat comes chase him off. Okay?”
“Okay,” the little girl said.
I know nothing about birds. I was worried that if I just picked her up I would hurt her more so I wanted to get a towel so that I could spread out the pressure and pick her up without letting her head sag. I ran in and back outside in 15 seconds. As gently as I could I got the towel evenly around the bird and picked him up.
“Thank you, Sweetie,” I said to the little kid. “You helped save this bird.”
With the bird in a cardboard box, a frantic round of phone calls and internet searches began. I had one of the most enervating conversations imaginable with the woman who answered the phone at a clinic that had an avian vet. I told her that I had an injured bird, unconscious, labored breathing, who, by the look of him could die at any second.
"I could schedule you for 1:00," she said. It was about 10:45.
"No, no - I’m not making myself clear. This bird is badly injured. I need a vet right now."
"Let me see what I have," she said. She must have been looking at the schedule. “How’s twelve?”
"Is a vet there who can see a bird? Now? This is an emergency - there can’t be any waiting. I'm just asking you if I can bring the bird in and have him seen immediately. If not, I have to get of the phone and find someone else!”
“Oh, okay… let's see... Why don’t you come at 11:30?”
I was starting to hope this woman would pass out from heat stroke she seemed to be suffering from so that someone else would pick up the phone while she got the ice packs she so badly needed.
“Please listen to me. Answer this question: Is. The. Doctor. There. Now? I have a dying bird who was in an accident. Tell me if the doctor is there. This is an emergency."
"No, he's not here yet. He usually comes in around 11:30."
"You must have his cell. Call him. Find out when he'll be there. I can be there in ten minutes. You have to tell me if he'll be there, because if not, I need to keep looking for another vet. This bird is dying. Do you understand?"
"I think he's going to be here soon." She asked someone sitting net to her when he was going to be there. "Oh, wait a minute - he's here," she said.
"Tell him there's an emergency coming in right now," and I got off the phone. Who knows where any new line of discussion would have led. If the doctor was there and not performing brain surgery, he was going to see this bird.
Some neighbors had gone to especial lengths to block my car into its parking space. Melody would have to drive. That was better - I wanted to hold the box anyway to suspend the little bird from shocks. Rooki sensed the urgency and hopped right into the car as soon as she was asked. I shouldn’t have been as amazed as I was. She was just displaying one of the hallmarks of a fine dog in tune with the situation. It seemed to take forever to grind through traffic. There was a string of stoplights as long as the Milky Way. The Kahoo stood with her paws on the front armrest watching me hold the cardboard box a few inches above my lap and watching the bird. The little green parrot’s head, with red feathers on top, was trying to keep her eyes open to see what was happening to her, but it was hard, and her lids kept closing softly as she lost consciousness. Her panting was sharp and fast and becoming more labored. I ran the back of my index finger along the top of her head as gently as you would along the surface of a pool if you didn’t want to ripple it. It was idiotic. I felt like that might have been better than whatever it is like to be a parrot dying alone in a box.
At the front counter they had it together and said the doctor would look at him right away. I passed the box to a tech over the counter and started to wait. Mel parked and brought Roo in. Again Roo surprised me, walking right into a vet’s office like that. Later, when I was out of sight, Mel said she didn’t like it one bit, but for now, she was willing to go along. There were two bulldogs, each with breathing trouble. A trembling little Chihuahua sat on the bench beside his mom, looking at everybody with her ears plastered back and her eyes bulging. A big dog who looked like he was half Weimaraner and half Labrador sat facing the woman he was with and kept licking her hand while she smiled at him.
The tech came to get me. “Hang on a second, Rooklo,” I said as I followed him into the examining room. There was the box with the little bird on a steel table.
The vet was a jovial-looking man with a beard in lavender scrubs.
“All right, what we have here is a bad concussion, the bird is semi-comatose, and he has a broken tibia tarsus - the nomenclature of the bird leg is, believe me, terrible. Beyond terrible. You don’t want to get me started. Let’s just say the tibia. What would be the tibia in you and me.”
“Is he going to make it?”
“He might. If we get him on fluids right away, maybe. I’ve seen worse. But there’s no way to tell. As you can see, he’s not really conscious. We could just leave him alone, and I don’t think it’ll last long. We could euthanize him, that’d be about a hundred dollars, or, we could start him on fluids and antibiotics and splint that leg. Normally I would pin a leg like that, but there’s a lot of damage, and it might need to be amputated, and I won’t be able to tell until we see whether the blood supply resumes, say by tomorrow. Nerve damage will take longer, if it heals at all. So, a splint for now and see how he does. He, she - I don’t know. You can’t tell without a DNA test. They look the same from the outside.”
Other than some understanding of the aerodynamics of their job, I know nothing about birds, and this surprised me.
“Don’t you have to start right away? Don’t you have to get him on the fluids now?”
“Yeah, who knows how long he was lying there. We would have to start immediately. It’ll probably be about five hundred dollars. That’s for overnight. I don’t even want to start with how much we’re talking about if he needs surgery. No point in talking about that now, anyway.”
“Please - just do whatever you have to do.”
“All right. Let me get you an invoice.” He left the room.
The doctor had positioned the bird on her stomach. Her head was flattened out in front of her on the towel. Her little eyes were pressed shut, but every once in a while she opened them. She had taken a good bonking and she didn’t seem to be seeing anything.
I started telling her the sort of things you say to make yourself feel better, the sort of things you hope in times like that. “You’ll be all right. You’re going to make it. You’re a tough little bird. The toughest. And the prettiest - look how pretty you are, little bird. I know how you feel with that broken leg and that knock on your head. If I could make it, so can you,” and on and on in that vein. At least half of the things I look back on having said in my life make me wonder.
The doctor came back with a sheet of paper for me to sign with a few things totaled up on it. I signed it and he said, “All right. We’ll get on it.” He told me to expect news that afternoon and took the box out of the room.
When I got back out into the waiting room, Roo looked at me with those sharp brown eyes and her ears at full attention. She had gotten worried when I left and had spent the time trying to make herself small and get out of sight. She put on her big smile and starting hopping straight up and down. She looks like a cross between the Bulgarian national trampoline champion a bunny with her front paws dangling when she does that. If I caught her doing that while a shockwave from a nuclear explosion was on its way it would still make me smile.
I don't know what time it was. From the moment Rooki found the bird to now had gone by in a fast blur. There was nothing left to do but wait for news, figure out what was next, and, at last, take Roo for that first walk of the day.
[To be continued in a day or two.]