Change is hard

He’s an old man now.

His feet are puffy and red. The skin on his face is thin. His feathers, however, are still vibrant green.

Three weeks ago, I walked into my small macaw’s room and flipped the light in the dark, looking for something or other. One of his eyes stayed shut. I wondered if I’d caught him half asleep. I turned off the light.

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A day or so later, I took him outside on his perch and set him near the edge of the pool. I lowered myself into the water, making our faces level. I noticed the redness in his eye. An infection? Or did he just poke himself. I should really cut his nails..

It seemed to clear up on its own until, two weeks later, I found him with an eye glued shut again. “Oh no, Bird bird!” I put warm water on a paper towel and gently touched it to his eye. It opened.

I thought about cancelling my vacation. This vacation I have been preparing for since I bought my ticket in February (and probably even before). Bird bird has been with me since I was 4, and he was a year old. That makes him 22. That makes him old. Could I live with myself if the combination of this illness or infection and his loneliness from missing me combined to cause his death? Birds are known to die of heartbreak. And colds.

I took a shower with him. He gratefully leaned into the warm mist. He does not usually like to be touched with fingers (4-year-olds aren’t the greatest at teaching birds to enjoy petting) but he let me gently rub his face with one of mine, oh so carefully wipe away the gunk in his eye. He is finally starting to trust me, to really trust me.

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Ultimately, I decided I couldn’t make a decision without more information. I scheduled a visit to the vet. I prepared a box lined with towels in the passenger seat next to me. He made sounds of fright, and so he rode the 20 minutes on my shoulder. He hasn’t been in a car since we moved to San Diego.

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I don’t know how I know he’s grouchy. His noises change. He gets nippy. He doesn’t want to be moved. The car ride made him grouchy. But he’s a good bird and weighing him at the vet office was easy enough. 145 grams. (I am so desperately in love with a being that weighs just 145 grams.)

The vet said his feet are perhaps just puffy because they are “old man feet.” She trimmed his nails. She suggested a soft rope perch. And he probably has conjunctivitis. For her opinion and a tiny tube of ointment, I willingly pay $110. I go home with hope that I did the best I can. Not hope about his lifespan.

I know he will die someday. I didn’t realize, however, I would recognize him growing old. I thought that, like many birds, he would die suddenly after having hid a simple cold from me. By the time you find them on the bottom of their cages, it is often too late.

His feet are strong enough to cling to his perches. They are strong enough to climb on top of the shower rail. Yet, nails trimmed, he could not cling so strongly to my fingers. Not like when he was young.

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Eye Exam

Hello. I am currently dictating my blog post to my parrot.* He is typing with his talons. I hope he is doing a good job. He probably is – he is basically human but very little and also green. His name is Birdbird.

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I thought my eye sensitivity would diminish at some point tonight (and I could more quickly write this post), but it has not. It turns out my eyes are dumb and one of them decided to be farsighted and the other decided to be nearsighted. So we had to put the extra dilating drops in them to figure out exactly how much. It’s funny — the doctors make you bleary blind and then you can’t even see the price stickers on the frames they try to sell you and then they give you film sunglasses in an envelope and say it’s perfectly safe to drive home.

The doctor put up the usual test — a chart on the far wall. I covered my left eye. I read all but the last row. I covered my right eye. Startled, I read the entire chart.  “I thought this was my bad eye.” Through a series of tests — flipping lenses, cards of letters, those stinging drops — I learned something about myself I had never known. My left eye is farsighted, and amblyopic.

Last night I sat in the hot tub in my parents’ backyard. They were out of town. I glimpsed my nude body below me — something I don’t see often. I am not familiar with my topography. I think we all find our own bodies strange to some degree. Yet, I am entirely comfortable in my strangeness. For 7 years of my life, I believed this body wasn’t mine, and so, I am used to my body feeling alien.

“This is why I tell parents to take their kids for eye exams,” my doctor said. “If we had caught this when you were 10 or 11, you could have had a chance.” Point blank, she told me, “You will never have normal vision in your left eye. It is what it is.” This eye had always been that way, the other compensated, and now that the dominant one is starting to change, I am noticing the discrepancy more and more. Luckily, for whatever reason, my brain continued to use partial information from this amblyopic, or lazy eye, and its vision is fairly ok. Just a little farsighted.

Younger, disinvested in my borrowed host body, I ignored inconsistencies. I took the eye tests and passed them robotically. I didn’t bother to explain that I often closed my “bad” eye so that I could see better. I didn’t mention my surprise at doing well for these simple readings of letters on flash cards. I was an alien, someday I would go home, and these things mattered little.

Now I’m here. I’m very much human. It might be nice to have better vision, yes? It might be comforting to recognize myself more often in the mirror. Oh, but the losses are small, in my case. I am glad to be learning my body like it is new. And glad to not have learned to suffer at its limitations, to assume ownership of flaws. So, now I’ll take these vision quirks, and the sense of wonder at still being able to find something new about my physical self, even at age 25. When my hair starts turning gray, I imagine I will feel the same.

It is what it is. At least now, I know.


*I love my bird. I got him when I was 4. For political reasons I have to say I don’t think it’s humane to own a pet parrot or exotic bird. They are wild animals and need to be able to fly, have friends all day, and eat a variety of foods. There are other pets more suited to domestic life. That said, he was born in captivity and has never been able to fly due to deformity. I think the life I give him is ok but could be better. Some parrots also have very little chance of being reconditioned to the wild and I support rescuing them. Please choose birds that could use a second or third or fourth home!