Who knew silence could be so overwhelming? More suffocating than the humid tropic air, and not in the least bit golden.
The rest of the flock is older and more placid, having laid their eggs, and had their mates. They even seem a tad jaded, or it might have been that Horace had stolen the limelight. And he’d steal it over and over again right in your face quite literally. Any casual whistle or chatter would excite him and he’d scurry over, hop up on my shoulder or finger, and observe my mouth in earnest. His little beak would mutter in silent concentration, as he got his vocals ready. Then he’d burst out into a completely different melody, a previous record from his limited memory. He’d whistle loud and proud, on and on. He was always eager to show his beautiful vocals off, but more often than not, he whistled and chattered because he was happy. He was my happy little baby boy.
The details of that day lie in a mess. If you live with chronic illness too, you’d know that it’s next to impossible to leap out of bed and immediately go on a nine hour search under the sun with little sustenance and rest. But that was what I did, and I thank my body for giving me that shot of adrenaline. Anxiety, fear and worry kept the flames of adrenaline stoked, and wouldn’t let it die. Death was in the cards today, and I had to keep going, and going fast at that.
We heard his frantic screams the entire day, as we traced his voice from tree to tree. But his calls bounced off all the tall buildings in the vicinity, and many trees were too dense to peer through. Earlier that morning, I had heard my mum yelling that ‘the bird was out of the cage’, before my dad tried to grab it from the window ledge. He must have been frightened. By the time I dashed out, it was way too late. And way too late is often just a few seconds short.
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He refused to come down from the first tree for hours. A neighbour and my dad then tried to help catch him with a long stick and net, which only spooked him off. I regretted my decision to allow that attempt, and spent the next few days thinking about what would be the best course of action if I did manage to find him somehow.
There are too many maybes, what ifs, and could have beens that fateful Monday. It was everybody’s fault, and nobody’s fault. But next time, I had decided that I was just going to sit there with his favourite food, and keep calling him down even if it took me all day, or days.
Stella screamed all of Saturday morning, more than her usual A.M. response to the bird calls at dawn. It was a little perplexing; apart from the regular crows, pigeons, mynahs, sparrows and orioles, there wasn’t a trace of Horace’s distinct cockatiel screech. Then all of a sudden whilst we were having lunch, we heard him calling for us. His voice was crystal clear as it flooded through the neighbourhood air. Cockatiels are flock animals, and Stella kept calling for her baby. We hurried down and found him on a nice, clean, visible branch opposite the road.
Unfortunately, he was too frightened to descend, despite my friendly, reassuring calls, and a bowl full of his favourite fatty seeds, aka McDonalds’ for birds. I combed my fingers through the seeds, and poured them like sand back into the bowl, trying to entice him. He could see them, and hear the soft clicks, but he was just too frightened, or to novice a flyer to know how to come back down.
Stella and Scorcher approached in their big black cage, and the three of them started to communicate in bird language with excitement. Horace was clearly eager to return, but needed some help and encouragement. Right at that moment, a crow swooped right down at him and he took off. I turned my head only to see him streaming through the air, his body twisting to avoid those black jaws of death. Disappointment overcame me like a shadow; we had been so very close.
But I was proud of my baby as I watched his beautiful flight. Who knew he’d manage to take care of himself for five days out in ‘the wild’, and even manoeuvre away from a nasty, veteran city crow? He is after all, a pampered, privileged baby we had hand raised from day one. Who has never had to hunt for food on his own, or find shelter from the sun or rain. This he is now still doing somewhere out there.
There are really only a few options of his disappearance by now.
- He is still trying to find his way back home, but is confused with all the lookalike buildings and trees. I hope Stella keeps up with her calls to come back home as much as possible.
- He flew into someone’s home, which happens quite a bit with missing birds. I hope he flew into a friendly home if so. And I hope they saw my posters somehow.
- He’s already dead. Mauled by a crow, cat or snake. Or from thirst or starvation.
But as long as I have yet to see his dead body, I have hope. I have never noticed the dead birds around my estate before, and today I found two during my hunt for Horace. Mangled carcasses half eaten, black beady eyes unshut and staring back. Looking for a quiet bird in a tree is like looking for a needle in a haystack. I find so many other things – including a tiny, camouflaged woodpecker right next to the traffic lights – but no signs of poor Horace.
As luck would have it, I was also involved in a car accident between these two heartbreaking glimpses of Horace. I found out it was minor only after, because at that point in time it didn’t feel very minor at all. Both my cab driver and my head were hurting rather badly, and she was giddy when she stood up. At first I was struck with shock, before I burst into tears as horrible what ifs flashed through my brain in rapid, non-sequential order.
- What if I was bleeding because of the blood thinners I take for Antiphospholipid Syndrome? I nearly died the last two times something similar happened (sudden corpus luteum cyst ruptures that wouldn’t stop bleeding).
- What if I was denied emergency admission to the hospital which has the expertise and equipment to treat me? Also, just like the last time.
- What if I had traumatic brain injury? (Like I said, I panicked. It would take a major accident for TBI.)
- I hadn’t had a bite all day. When will I be able to eat? (I guess that’s a good sign I could still think about food!)
- Why is everyone moving so slowly? Don’t they know this is an emergency? Don’t they know I have serious medical conditions? They have all my medical emergency cards!
They took me to the nearest hospital, and I was extremely fortunate to get a caring, empathetic and professional A&E doctor there. Those of you who are frequent fliers at the A&E will know just what sort of gems these people are. This came as a surprise to me as it was a shiny new hospital, and I wasn’t sure if they had veteran doctors on their team.
You can say that chronic illness has trained me well to adapt and accept. Whilst my cab driver could leave after an hour or two despite her giddiness from the trauma and painkillers, I had to be kept under observation for 15 hours or so. The ironic upside of the COVID-19 pandemic is that hospitals are mostly cleared of less urgent patient appointments, so I get to see my doctors much faster, and wards are emptier. I am talking 5 minute compared to 4 hour waiting times. And one other person in the ward instead of five.
I whiled my time away reading and scheduling blogs, and participating in share threads. The injected tramadol no longer has an effect on me. It is my goto painkiller on a normal day for chronic pain as I’m allergic to standard panadol. Whilst I don’t take it much at all, I have built up a resistance to it over the years. I have seen patients giddy and faint from a 50mg injection, and my friend was only allowed a 40mg tablet post surgery. But a 100mg injection doesn’t do a thing for me, especially for high levels of pain. The last time I needed fentanyl to control the corpus luteum bleeding pains. For now, I am grateful there are still a few options should there ever be a severe need.
15 hours ended quick enough to me. As a young girl I would go for my hospital appointments alone, and I would always have my black notebook and pen with me. I’d spend hours reading, thinking and writing poetry, as I waited to see my doctor. Back then there were no mobile phones, so that was my only way of passing time. Years of hospitalisation and the agony of waiting to get out have also instilled a patience in me during crises such as these. The irony, and I’m not sure why, is that I don’t handle everyday stress or minor stressors well, but am ‘in my zone’ when dealing with big, especially life or death, situations.
Of course, dealing with loss, grief, trauma or any other uncomfortable emotion isn’t easy to cope with. But these lessons I’ve learned from chronic illness make it easier, as I have a logical mental system in place. ‘Easy’ is relative, and ‘easier’ is even more relative. The hurts have not disappeared, but I’m able to sit in the mess and be okay with that. Grief, like chronic pain, comes and goes. It is the ocean, and I am the shore. I will be broken, but there I remain. When it comes, it comes. When it goes, it goes. But sit with it, and you’ll be okay.
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I was also feeling terribly down the day after he was spotted, and didn’t do a thing. I’ve learned that it’s okay to give myself grace. To sit and stare at the wall for hours if need be. It is not a crime to do so, and the world will keep on spinning. But right in that moment, what I needed was absolute stillness. The solidity of that stillness is the bridge of return, that enables me to step back into the world that’s spinning. That is what acceptance means to me. It isn’t a defeat – you know I’ve tried and am trying my best to bring poor Horace home – but an allowance of grace. To keep trying my utmost best, whilst honouring how I feel and where I am in time.
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Surprisingly, I was highly productive the day after, and drowned myself in work and blogging for nearly 12 hours (I get a bit obsessive like that). I found happiness in that productivity, and that I finally managed to crack certain tasks that I had been procrastinating on. And I want you to know as well, from what I’ve experienced with all the losses with chronic illness, is that it’s perfectly okay to be happy even within your grief. There are no bad or good emotions, only negative or positive reactions and responses to them. It isn’t black and white; more like an inseparable swirl of colours from a paint palette that’s been accidentally knocked over.
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The funny thing about Horace is that I never liked his name, but my ex-partner did. We thought that he’d be sold within a few months, but nobody wanted such a plain looking bird. Every single one of his siblings were coveted shades of white and yellow pearls, all except for him. But his character was bright and he wasn’t for a minute dull. I didn’t like his name and he probably hated it too, because all he could say was ‘Scorcher’, which is his father’s name. But now all I yearn for is to hear whatever he has to say again.
What inspires me about birds when I hear them, is that they sing their beautiful songs simply because that’s what they do. I hear them in the thunderstorm and rain, and under the merciless, beating sun. That is how I’d like to live my life, like a bird. To sing my song despite everything, just because that’s what I do, and who I am.
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This song is dedicated to Horace. I wonder if it’s some kind of eerie premonition. It’s the music playing in the background of the video clip I sent out for people to help identify and call out to him.
“Dance while you can
Before the night is over
We know how life
How life can change
In an instant, baby
Dance while you can
Don’t you know life is horror
I’ve seen how fast it can change
Look into my eyes
We know life pulls the rug from our feet
One day to another
No time to be shy
We must treat this and every night
Like the last goodbye”
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And here are some cute pictures in loving memory of Horace, as we await his return. There is something you do in Buddhism called ‘放生’ (fang4 sheng1), where you release life meant to be slaughtered, to prevent a calamity upon yourself. This used to be part of Chinese culture where emperors and empresses would release hundreds of birds during events, as well. Whilst my mother doesn’t practice Buddhism, she reminded me about this as I laid in the hospital bed. Perhaps Horace had escaped in order to prevent me from a more devastating car accident. Whilst this may not be logical, I would like to remember him that way. Horace, my lovely little hero.
In Loving Memory of Horace, as We Await His Return:
Welcome to the world!
Baby Horace, Magnus and Edgar.
Cockatiels are always so happy.
Baby Horace & Edgar getting headrubs.
Handfeeding them hungry babies.
Horace learning to talk and whistle.
Because broccoli is delish.
My cutest little pie.
Birds grind their beaks when contented
*Note: This article is meant for educational purposes and is based on the author’s personal experiences. It is not to be substituted for medical advice. Please consult your own doctor before changing or adding any new treatment protocols.
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