WRITE YOURSELF

MY FIRST PARROT LOSS

Froggie was my first parrot "with feet." I decided that I wanted a parrot that did things with its feet. I know that sounds strange. I wanted a small parrot that was a bit more intelligent and challenging than my cockatiels. I donít care if my birds speak English - I am happy to talk bird to them. But those feet! What a great ability. Anyway, Froggie was about a week from being weaned when he deliberately picked me out at the bird store. He was a baby Meyerís parrot and I loved him dearly.

Froggie and I were supposed to grow old together. I didn't expect to make it all the way to 90, with Froggie 40 years old. Maybe 80 and 30. That would have been nice.

But Froggie died on January 13, 2002, a bit over 7 months old. Was it my fault? If I had called the vet four days earlier would I still be catching him upside down when he came out of his cage in the morning? Hanging by small, scaly black-nailed feet, dropping as soon as he felt my hand touch his back?

I thought his occasional whimpers and new startle response were part of his natural developmental stages (Poichephalus parrots, the family Meyer's belong to, can have exaggerated startle responses.)

I feel so guilty that I didn't realize that what seemed to be tiny anxiety attacks might have suggested impaired breathing due to aspergillus. I feel so guilty that I didnít know everything, that I couldn't have protected him from gasping away his last breath, I feel terrible that this tiny life, so intense, so deliberate, stubborn, and tender is over.

He was still eating well. When he got excited, he made a sort of whining-wheezing sound, but that went away rapidly. This lasted about 3 days before he began to wheeze. I was gone much of that Saturday day, but my son, Jonathan, told me that, every time he went into the bird room, Froggie had been wheezing.

I finally got a hold of the vet at home at 9:00 p.m. Saturday night. Jonathan held Froggieís cage and talked to him while we drove the 35 minutes to the vetís office.  (I am not fond of night driving and this was like the twilight zone. Thank goodness, Jonathan was willing to accompany me.) Froggie was weak (how quickly these little birds sink). The vet gave him an antibiotic shot and began him on anti-fungal medicine. He said it would stress him too much to hospitalize him. I should call him if Froggie got worse - and I should feed him with a syringe. So Sunday, with some honey water, baby cereal and fruit, Froggie was up and around a bit. But he began to crash and my husband, John, drove us to the vetís.

About 4:30 p.m.. Froggie died. I picked up his cooling, limp body and held him against the bare skin on my neck and chest. I knew it was too late, but I was so stricken that I hoped that my warmth would revive him.

Needless to say, I was heart-broken and weeping. Poor John. He started to pull over and turn around to go home. No! I said, we need to meet Dr. Bob and have him examine Froggieís body and then do a necropsy.

The vet looked so sad when I came in with this tiny little body. He had remarked more than once that Froggie was a sweet bird. He carefully checked him over and remarked that he looked pale, more pale than when he had seen him the night before. He still felt sure it was an aspergillus infection, though, and not something that caused anemia.

As it turns out, when he did the necropsy, we all felt a bit less awful about what we did or didnít do for Froggie. Froggie had an aspergillus granuloma completely blocking one air tube to a lung and the tissue had begun to block the other lung.

Aspergillus is a common fungus that we all are exposed to daily in dirt, air, you name it. Normally, healthy birds donít have a problem. If they live in a damp, moldy environment under stress, they might have a chance of getting it because their immune systems are taxed and they are in constant contact with the fungus. It isnít contagious.

I let Froggie eat peanuts in the shell. He did love them. Now I know that, even roasted, the potential for mold contamination is high. The spores are hardy. Did I expose him? We will never know. Aspergillus is a perennial problem with birds and exposure can come from many different sources. I will not feed peanuts to my birds again except as loose nuts in a high quality mix.

I wonder if Froggie might have had something that weakened his immune system from birth? Or something happened to him during feeding? I read about a Jardine parrot (in the same parrot family, Poicephalus, as Froggie) that seemed to have had a lung damaged from aspiration during hand feeding. This set the bird up for invasion of damaged tissue by the fungus. The bird died at less than a year old.

Dr. Bob said Froggie had probably been breathing with a single lung for many weeks! He said we never would have known in time to help him because he showed no symptoms. Perhaps only gradual weight loss, even though he appeared to be eating, would have indicated a problem. Even if the infection could have been cleared up, Froggie wouldnít have survived the surgery needed to remove the mass of dead tissue.

I felt a huge weight off me, even as I mourned the loss of his sweetness. After all, I signed on as his steward and caretaker for life and I felt I had let him down.

Froggie gave me his whole heart for his short, happy life.

When I got back from the vetís after Froggie died, Right Mind, my young male Quaker, snuggled with me and licked the tears off my face. He is such a loving, demonstrative bird. I adopted Right Mind from my vet after someone simply left him at the office.  He had a chronic eye infection.  Dr. Bob said he would care for him at no cost; he anticipated having to scrape his eye after we treated him with antibiotics.  I insisted on paying for the antibiotics.  We spent lots of time together between the oral doses of medicine and the eye drops. 

The other birds have now been checked over by Dr. Bob for any sign of aspergillosis. I am so paranoid still. Probably will remain so for a long time. I am going to get a gram scale and weigh the birds regularly. 

Actually, we all had a laugh, about a month later, when Dr. Bob was looking at Right Mindís eyes. He checked one, then the other. Looking up, he said, "Are you sure this is Right Mind?" After all, he had taken a piece of his cornea out the previous month and he expected to see some of evidence of the infection that led to surgery! I assured him that he had the correct bird (Blue Moon, my terminally shy little Quaker and Right Mind's devoted partner, was leaning off her cage looking at all this earnestly.) Dr. Bob said there was only the slightest tissue irregularity.

That made me feel better - under my care and love, Right Mind had healed well, even though I had lost Froggie.

selfcraft.net/writeyourself
Copyright 2003
Constance Lee Menefee
Cincinnati, Ohio