Take one small white chicken: a much-loved little hen who you have raised for the past 6 1/2 years, after adopting her as a 1 day old chick. Go down to the coop one day and find that little hen looking very sorry for herself – her head hung low and her usually pert comb flopping heavily over her left eye. Not so much Pirate Pete, think more along the lines of ‘Mad-Eye’ Moody from Harry Potter.
So you go to the kitchen and you cook up some scrambled egg, adding a tasteful garnish of fresh parsley. Your Handsome Husband enters the kitchen. “Oooh scrambled egg!” he says appreciatively.
“Think again!” you reply with a frown. “This is for Cobweb Gladys.”
As you head out of the door, leaving him salivating and somewhat perplexed, you add, “There’s some bread on the side, you can have that.”
Wife of the Year, that’s me.
You place the tasty breakfast in front of your little hen, and sigh as she refuses to eat it. You let both chickens out into the garden, and follow the poorly hen’s every move like a crazed stalker. Over the next few hours you pick random leaves and offer them to her to peck, marvelling at the variety of greenery on offer for the average garden-dwelling omnivore. Then you sigh again as you realise that what minute amounts of food or drink make it into your little hen’s beak, soon squirt out the other end twice as fast…that’s if it doesn’t dribble out of her beak first.
Leaving your boys on sick chicken duty, you head indoors to cook your little hen a nice bowl of warm rice, mixed with chopped grapes and mealworm. You put tonic in her drinking water (minus the gin) and take it all down to the coop. Your little hen stands at your feet, so you pick her up and tuck her under your arm. She nestles against you and blinks slowly.
“What’s happened, Cobweb Gladys?” you ask in a soft voice. You feel so helpless; you’ve never seen your little hen look so poorly. She just closes her eyes and bows her head. You place her down gently on the dirt floor of the coop and she slowly makes her way up the ramp to the hen house…oh so slowly. Meanwhile her sister, Dim Doris, munches noisily on the treats that you have provided, wondering if it’s her birthday or maybe Christmas, but not really caring either way.
The next couple of days pass in much the same way. You miss the coarseness of your hen’s voice shouting obscenities at you from across the garden, the way she always scuttles towards you at full pelt from the moment she spies you. You dose and you nurture and you cook; oh yes, you cook up all sorts of treats to tempt her.
By the fourth day it is raining, but you still let your little hen out of the coop – she only wants to be near you, even if that means sitting in a chair under an umbrella, listening to the rhythmic tap, tap, tap of the raindrops. You chat to her about all manner of things and she listens carefully with half-closed eyes.
“Come on, Cobweb, you need to get better. We’ve still got lots of fun to have together” you repeat over and over again.
Then you discover your chuffin cat, usually so full of life and cheeky attitude, looking forlorn and refusing to eat. I repeat: refusing to eat! That single fact in itself rings alarm bells. So you dash her to the vet, who checks her over and shakes his head. He holds her down, shaves her throat and takes some blood: brutal but necessary. She sits hunched and dejected, her fight having ebbed away.
You kneel down and press your forehead gently against that of your ailing cat. “Noggin” you whisper in a choked-up voice – a word from your shared vocabulary, a word that means everything yet nothing. You close your eyes and sigh, a tear making its escape down your cheek.
Your beautiful, naughty-natured cat won’t be coming home. Instead you have to leave her attached to a drip, laying on a heat pad in the sick ward. She watches you leave, her glassy eyes pleading with the little energy she has left, a look that punctures your heart.
You are tasked with taking her blood samples directly to the animal lab, to speed up the process of investigation. Then you return home, to an empty house brimming with memories of your cat’s unique chuffness: her discarded catnip mouse, a clump of fur carelessly tossed on the carpet, her battered scratching post rudely upturned in the corner.
You look at the telephone, waiting for it to ring with what you hope will be positive news from the vet. Anything, just please make it positive.
The silence is too much to bear, so you head down to the chicken coop. As you approach, you hear a lowly <cluck>, somewhat despondent but still far more than you’ve heard from your little hen all week. You open the coop door and she potters gingerly out into the garden. You watch as she pecks carefully at a few selected leaves. There it is: a small glint of sunshine battling its way through the funereal thunder clouds. You need that right now.
A crane fly lands gracefully on the ground near your sick chicken. Never before have you been so pleased to see an insect beheaded before your very eyes, as your little hen pecks at it then shovels it slowly into her beak. Such a shame that her sister suddenly snatches the insect carcass, pulls it from Cobweb’s beak and eats it herself. Still, half a crane fly is better than none. That will help the protein quota. You’ll take that.
After what seems like an eternity, the telephone springs into life: the news you’ve been anxiously awaiting. You hold your breath and listen. Your cat is still poorly, but stable…however the blood results haven’t shown anything nasty; in fact they haven’t shown much at all which is confusing the vet. They indicate that your cat is fighting something big, maybe a virus. (You can recover from viruses, right?) She has been pumped full of antibiotics and painkillers to try and help her. Then the vet drops a bombshell: he is concerned about your cat’s breathing. Her heart is racing and her respiration is far too fast. A decision is made: being on the sick ward is distressing your poor cat and making her worse. The vet asks how you feel about tending your ailing cat at home, counting her respirations, checking her breathing – can you nurse her overnight then bring her back in to the surgery the next day? Yes, you can do that. Yes! Just let your chuffin cat come home, let you nurse her. You can count, you can cuddle, you can nurture. Who needs sleep anyway?
You usher the chickens back into their home, surrounding the coop in a bubble of positivity. “Come on Cobweb!” you say to your little hen. “You can do this.” She looks at you and cocks her head on one side, her comb still flopping over her eye. It looks like she’s trying out a new ’80’s hairstyle. You nod at her and she blinks slowly. An agreement of sorts. This has to be the start of her recovery.
And now you have 2 sick pets to care for.