A strange thing happened yesterday. My wife noticed a small bird floundering in our pool. Not wanting to remove a dead bird later, I picked it out with a skimmer, and deposited it carefully in the grass near the edge of the water.
It should dry off and be fine, I thought.
I continued to lounge in the evening air. Some time later, I noticed that the bird was still there, so I stopped to investigate. The bird still lived, but it was covered with a few dozen ants. I am not sure why, but I picked her up, a female yellow grass finch, probably the single most common bird in South America. She shivered with hypothermia, not noticing me at all, and it occurred to me that nothing deserved to die like that.
I killed ants by the dozens as they migrated from the wet bird to my warm hand, then I picked them off the bird’s tiny body, cursing them as I did so.
A few minutes with the hair dryer, and the bird was fluffy again, but didn’t show many signs of life. After a time, she started looking around a little, and clung to my finger with tiny talons, yet she never showed an ounce of fear. She just didn’t have the energy. Instead, she just nested in my warm hands.
A full half hour later, I perched her on the limb of a bush as night fell. She roosted there, half aware, but warm and dry. I checked one more time before I turned in, and still she sat.
She won’t live until morning, I thought. But I had given her a chance at it.
As I lied awake in bed, trying to relax, I couldn’t help but thing about the bird, and how it had made me feel. All the times I was a nurse, I remember feeling like that. Compassion might have been the motivation, but it wasn’t the feeling. I didn’t feel particularly sorry for the bird, but I wanted her to live. I WILLED it.
I had felt focused, like I was confronting an enemy. It could have also been described as tenacity. I had decided the bird wasn’t going to die, that I wasn’t going to permit it. I remember thinking this same thought to myself over the years as I cared for my human patients. Sometimes I was successful, and sometimes not, but never once was my will shaken, not a single time. I might fall apart afterward, but while there was a job to be done, I couldn’t allow failure from within.
This morning, shortly after I woke up, I went outside to check on my patient. She still roosted in the same spot I had placed her. As I approached, she turned her head, and flew straight to the top of the tallest tree, full of the vigor of life.
Life 1, Death 0. Today was starting out on the right note.