Eating Something that Doesn’t Agree
It happens to humans and animals alike.
It seems I can breathe easy, as can Sarafina – for the record, he’s a boy – because it seems his bout of sickness this weekend was the result of having ingested something that really didn’t agree with his digestive system. It all started Saturday morning…
As usual I gave them two Nutriberries for their morning treat. No problem, he ate those. Then a little bit later I had myself a bowl of Cheerios, a dish they love to share with me. (They being Sarafina the Grey & Nala the Cockatoo.) They very much prefer it when it’s soggy. Normally I can barely get a bite myself before they’re begging and ready for another O. However, Saturday Sarafina – the better eater of the two – was completely uninterested. First red flag. Next I made them a ‘warm’ dish in the late afternoon. This is a mixture composed of cooked beans, rice, noodles, lentils and more. Again, Sarafina usually dives right in. Not so. I left to get some work done thinking maybe he’ll dig in after I leave. When I got back later I saw he still hadn’t touched his food. More red flags. Then I bring them both out and put them on the stand where they can watch me fold laundry. Sarafina continues his strange posture, very deliberately stretching his neck and head up, thereby elongating himself, and the base of his neck looks ‘wider’.
At this point, after watching him at various points throughout the day – not eating well, very quiet, strange posture, squinting his eyes more, and just looking lethargic and ‘icky’ – I’m feeling quite concerned. After having these parrots for 13+ years I know that when they’re actually showing signs of illness that means they’ve been sick for quite some time, it’s just that now they can no longer hide it. Which makes sense in the wild. A prey animal that’s sick (therefore weak) does not want other flock members, lest they ostracize it, or predators to single it out. So it’s much safer to fake being in good health for as long as you can. In captivity finding an already ill bird could mean the bird is only hours or even minutes from death. My licensed avian veterinarian – Dr. Peter Sakas – told me about a Cockatoo who came in clenching its feet, unable to open them, with droppings the color of tomato soup; the bird according to x-rays and further diagnostics had ingested metal and had lead/zinc poisoning. Amazingly enough he is still alive, even in the hospital while I was there. Needless to say those owners are extremely lucky, lead’s not good for anyone.
Back to the story at hand: So I returned Nala to his cage, that way I could restrain Sarafina without any fuss from him. Upon this exam I noticed his cropped felt like it was full of air, quite blown up really. Right away I felt panicked, all the symptoms I’d seen through the day suddenly felt quite grave. Being out of town I didn’t know where to go to get the best avian medical care. Avian specialists are not all that common though many vets will tell you they’re comfortable seeing birds there are also many who just don’t see them. That said seeing a bird for an exam is quite different from knowing what to do in an emergency. I spent an hour – an hour I didn’t mean to spend – calling around to the emergency vet referred by Sarafina’s doctor to emergency vets anywhere from an hour to two from where I was. I was more than willing to drive the several hours back but didn’t know if he had that time. When he began to vomit my life felt like it was completely out of my hands and all I was hearing was “Our doctor on staff tonight is comfortable doing the exam”. That’s not, as you can imagine, so comforting when you’re worried about what needs to happen after the exam. Ultimately I had to figure which was the worst of two evils.
Honestly I tried to keep my s*** together but call me a girl, my emotions just got the better of me. Of course everyone I talked to knew I was distraught! I told them again and again I was looking for someone with more experience with birds than less. One woman told me the owner of their clinic had birds in mind when they had it built, making sure to have necessary bird equipment. Looking back I should have asked more questions about the doctor’s experience PERIOD. I was literally at a crossroads, 100 yards before the freeway, my hand in Sarafina’s carrier keeping track of his status and just how much clear mucus he was vomiting, I either needed to head north or east. Hearing about the facility I chose east.
My anxious state was certainly not healthy for Sarafina, nor anyone else for that matter (I had to bring Nala & my dog). To lighten the mood I sang to them and drove with one hand in his carrier the entire way, it comforted him. I began to notice the closer I got the harder his occasional bites were, and the more I heard some noises coming from him. I said my prayers and pleaded with God and drove like he was on my side (and I think he was). 🙂 I think the vomiting ultimately helped his condition.
But then I got there. Entered the building. A young man came into the reception area and told me a doctor would be with me in a minute. I smiled and held tight to my light-hearted attitude, not shy to laugh or be friendly regardless of the torture I worried I was sharing with Sarafina. Then a woman came out in colorful scrubs. I smiled and asked her how her night was going, it seemed rather quiet in there. I don’t think she could have been any less friendly. More red flags. Not a good sign. She expressed something almost like a smile when she looked up and saw Nala staring hard at her through his carrier (I’d put it on the counter so he’d stop screaming).
After getting me checked in she took me to a room. I got Sarafina out and waited. Then the young man from before came in. He didn’t carry much confidence about him, I wondered what he was there for, more info? Nope. He introduced himself as Dr. So-and-so. I wish I could have seen my face because I can tell you everything inside me dropped and imploded.
“You told me a doctor would be with me in a minute. You’re the doctor?”
He blushed and apologized. Whatever confidence he may have had abandoned him and all I saw was a sheepish boy. He said he was used to telling people that; people didn’t always let him go if he told them he was the doctor. Isn’t that the nature of the game? Grow some buddy.
Now onto the matter of his age. I’m sorry, well not really, but I had to do it. I didn’t spend all my energy and waste precious time trying to find and guess at who might be the best of the least experienced to take my bird in crisis to only to find this less than confident young guy. Upon asking he said he’d been out of school for a year! I cried. No seriously, I couldn’t contain myself. A year out of school! He went on about having 6 months training with exotics and how young doctors la-de-da… … … Do you think that meant anything to me? No. Do you think I expressed how upset I was that no one – hearing how distressed I was searching for someone with more bird experience – had the heart to mention I was driving my sick bird to a kid who still smelled like lecture halls and textbooks? Oh yes, yes I did. But I had to stop, I was there and Sarafina had to be seen. So I began explaining the day all over…
Before you start to feel bad for the kid and think to yourself that just cause he was young doesn’t mean he didn’t know what he was talking about let me tell you he never did a complete exam. Never listened to his heart or looked inside his mouth. I restrained Sarafina to show him how I felt the crop full of fluid, initially thinking it was air (and now I think it was air first). Then he felt his body some, felt around his lower abdomen and cloaca, then oddly inspected his wings where they met with his body. And that was the full extent of his exam.
He said he wanted to do an x-ray and that should show us if there were any obstructions. I asked to be present. At one point one of the techs holding Sarafina held him from the front, not fingers and thumb on either side of the lower mandible and behind his head thereby restricting his movement so he wouldn’t hurt them or himself. I was about to say something when she readjusted her grip to return him to me, and don’t you know she was actually smiling and being friendly with him (yes it was that lady).
The doctor looked at the image and said there was no blockage, no proventricular (first part of a parrot’s stomach) issues. Said his heart, liver, and kidneys looked perfect, perfect was the word he used. I didn’t bother to ask why one side of his chest seemed to protrude more than the other, I already wanted nothing more to do with the place if Sarafina was no longer critical.
To shorten this already long story, with no obvious signs of an emergency and Sarafina’s improved demeanor I chose to take him back and wait until I could get to a specialist. At the very least I would take him to an ER closer to home. And that’s what I did.
Tune in later tomorrow for the end of this story and how if you can get your bird to Dr. Peter Sakas. Thank you to everyone for having Sarafina in your prayers. Right now he’s sleeping, albeit having gone to bed pissed.