Dedicating a newsletter to hamsters was so fun, I decided to do another… this time dedicated to birds.
Milli The Gorgeous Cockatoo
Since the start of my career as um, Dr. Finch, the comments have ranged from “Do you see birds? You should! Get it?” to that of my most recent bird-owning client, who, after a wellness appointment with his new baby budgerigar, said, somewhat dubiously, “Well, with a name like that, let’s hope you’re a good bird doc.” I just laughed and said “Yes, let’s hope!” I must be ok… or lucky… his bird is doing fine so far.
My first avian patient was a budgerigar whose owner had called five other veterinary hospitals, and none of them would see her hurt bird. For the record, I now know of several vets in Omaha who see birds, and they are all very good. However, she was panicked and calling through the Yellow Pages, which can be hit or miss. Anyways, my first reaction was to also say I don’t see birds. But the bird was hurt… and the owner was crying… and no one else would see them. And I do love budgies. So I had them come in.
On presentation, the little bird was hanging from the top of her cage from… a paperclip. Gross. This wasn’t an avian case. This was a hardware case—more my husband’s area of expertise than mine. What would Russ do? Stuck wire… needle nose pliers… similar to… hemostats!” I grabbed a pair of hemostats and the bird and gently pulled the paperclip out of the scared budgie’s mouth. It had been a homemade toy hanger. She had ignored the toy, bitten the paperclip, and it had gone through the bottom of her mouth and out her neck. I finished the exam… nothing as dramatic as a paperclip impaling, the rest of her looked like a normal budgie. I treated her pain and sent her home on budgie-sized antibiotics to guard against infection.
Then I sat down and shook for a good half hour as I thought through how many vital structures are in the very small neck of a bird. Amazingly, the wire must have missed every single one of them, because she lived to play with safe, paperclip-less toys, and I have gone on to have many, many avian cases, but none as scary as my first one.
In fact, they have by and large been very fun cases. If you are a pediatrician, maybe you can relate to how fun it is when you are used to patients who will look at you with their cute little faces, but not answer any of your questions, to then having a patient actually answer you in plain English. It is a nice change of pace, even if my patients are only mimicking what I just said. Sometimes, on a slow day, I will talk my clients into staying longer just so I can hold their bird and finish our conversation.
I can honestly say that I have yet to have a patient of any species who was not cute (yes, even the hairless dogs and rats), but the scarlet macaws, rainbow-colored gouldian finches and bright green conures are way up there for breath-taking beauty. In fact, I always save a few feathers from wing trims for my daughters. Many of their stuffed animals, thanks to gorilla glue and contributions from my gorgeous patients, are now angel stuffed animals.
And the personalities! Every bird I have met seems to have an amazing sense of humor just under his or her little feathered surface. One of my best friends is my Mom and Dad’s twelve-year-old budgie, Pete, Pete, the Parakeet. (Mom calls him Pete.) Pete, Pete, the Parakeet knows over thirty words and phrases, and I swear he often uses them in context. My favorites are “Gimme a kiss,” “Whatcha doing?” and “Here Ernie, Ernie.” (Ernie is my parents’ tiny poodle, another good friend of mine.) Pete, Pete, the Parakeet has had two bouts of kidney failure, but is presently healthy and working on his next phrase.
Birds seem to bring me beyond my hospital walls better than any other patients. I do house calls for Pedro, a cockatiel who lives in the exercise room of Lakeside Village. While I am there I get to visit my Mother-in-Law Karen who works there, my friends who work with Karen—Paula, Tanya, Michelle and the rest, and the residents—my great aunt-in-law Aunt Rachel, Pedro’s best friend Catherine, our real estate agent’s Dad, my daughter Abby’s “adopted” Grandma, whose cat we went to check on together, and many others. For the severe introvert that I am, Pedro has brought me a long ways.
I also do house calls for Buddy, a cockatiel who lives at Montessori Children’s Room, where my Mom teaches. I try to stretch that into an all day visit… I get to see the kids (including my daughter!), my Mom, the other teachers, Pete, Pete, the Parakeet, and Ratty and Newbie Rat, friends of Buddy, for whom I also do house (school?) calls.
My friend at Westwood Church, Jenn VanCleve, leads the preschool there and allows me to be the vet for their two budgies, Sky and Puffer. Strangely, Sky is not the sky blue one with the white cloud-shaped mark on his head—Sky is the other one. But fortunately, the preschool kids know which is which and can remind me as needed.
The summer before last, I taught Vacation Bible School at Westwood Church. The decorations all had a tropical theme, so naturally we needed a parrot. I did the best I could and borrowed a gorgeous cockatoo from a groomer at Petsmart. He let me keep Milli all week, and the kids loved her. Imagine forty preschoolers trying to teach a bird to say, “Love is kind.” Milli never did repeat it, though she seemed to enjoy the attention, but I would guess that those kids remember that verse to this day, and in interacting with Milli, they learned in a very concrete way to practice kindness. Milli’s owner did not seem too happy we were brainwashing his poor bird, but he must believe the verse on some level, because trusting me with his pet for a whole week so I could make the week more special for the kids is one of the nicest things a client has ever done for me.
And so it goes that the birds of Omaha are bringing me out and about, to new friends, new experiences, and beauty I would otherwise miss. For all these reasons and more, I love seeing birds as patients. I feel, as I imagine my classmate Dr. Crow feels, and maybe even the Nebraska Humane Society vet Dr. Katz feels, and (I have always believed), the late great Iowa swine practioner, Dr. Hogg, must have felt, as if I am living up to my name, Dr. Finch.