The Mrs. and I were watching TV when we heard a loud “thump” come from outside. The sound was easily identified: it was the unmistakable thump of a bird strike on a window. I ran over to the other room from which it sounded like the strike occurred, and looked down from the large window to the ground nearly two stories below, and saw what looked like a dead female goldfinch.
I ran down to see if it was dead, or worse, dying. From a distance it looked dead. As I got closer though, I could see it convulsing. I thought I would have to put it out of its misery. But even though the voices in my head were telling me to kill quickly and be done, another voice, a quieter voice, a softer voice, a harder to hear but at the same time crystal clear voice, said “don’t give up on her yet.”
I reached down and gently picked her up. It looked like she was a goner. One of her legs was curled up tight under her belly and rigid. Her head was turned to one side. Her eyes were shut. She was breathing, but also convulsing. “Put her out of her misery.” “No, don’t give up on her.”
I very, very carefully looked her over. No blood. As gently as I could, I moved her wings. No breaks. With one delicate finger, I lightly stroked the side of her head. It moved, but didn’t flop. Not broken. Then one eye opened up and looked at me. Her beak opened and closed a little with her breaths. It was almost like she was trying to chirp, but couldn’t. I just held her softly and walked around the yard with her, keeping her secure and in the warm sun.
We walked like this for a few minutes, as I continued to wonder if she would die in my hands. She was still shaking. One eye was still closed. One leg was still pulled in tight under her belly. Then that leg moved, and her claw held gently on to my finger. I could almost hear her say to me, “don’t give up on me.”
We went to the deck, where I sat with her in my hand. After about ten minutes, she was sitting upright. She was still clinging on, still doing nothing but breathing. But her other eye opened back up, and she started moving her head a little from side to side. The Mrs. came and sat with us in tears. Very carefully, she slid her hands under mine, and I slid my hands out of the way. She held the finch for another ten minutes or so, watching carefully. Then I took her back.
We aren’t veterinarians. We don’t know how to care for birds. And we have two hungry cats inside the house. Trying to bring an injured finch inside wasn’t an option. And finding a vet on a Sunday would have been a challenge. I decided the only thing to do would be to try to let nature be a healer.
I wanted to find a safe place for the finch where she could rest, and hopefully recover. It had to be a place where all the local cats wouldn’t find her. It also needed shade and cover from the crows and jays that would surely kill and eat her if they saw her. I knew just the spot. I went to our large rhododendron bush and found a branch about five feet up, with some dense branches under it to confound the cats, and plenty of canopy above to prevent death from above.
I placed my hand with the bird against the branch, and gently nudged her with my other hand until she stepped over. Then I watched for a few minutes to make sure she wasn’t going to fall. But she appeared to be clinging securely and breathing regularly. And then I had to let nature take its course.
I spent most of the rest of the day doing tasks outside. Every now and again, I went over to the rhododendron to see if she was still there and still alive. Each time I checked, she was in the same spot, but still breathing. Then, after a few hours, when I came to see her, she saw me coming and flitted up to a higher branch. The next time I came, she flew out and disappeared into a neighbor’s yard.
I have no idea what became of her after that, but she was strong enough to fly away and alert enough to respond to my intrusion. So I can only assume nature is healing her. This much is certain: she would never have survived if I hadn’t helped her. She was completely helpless at first, and would have been easy pickings. But there is a bigger lesson here:
I didn’t give up on her, even though at first glance it looked like she was suffering horribly and in the throes of death. I am sure many of you reading this would have also tried to save her – that is what compassionate humans do. But I am also sure many of you would have killed her out of compassion. We do it all the time when animals are injured. We say we are putting them out of their misery. We say it is the humane thing to do. I was very tempted to do just that – but I didn’t.
What happens when we give up on little things? What happens when we tell ourselves to just go ahead and kill and bury the injured little bird? How far are we from doing the same thing – not to little birds, or pets, or wild game or livestock – but to people? When we can’t spend a few minutes of time and make a small effort to stay with a little bird in what might be its final moments, how can we expect to spend months of time, thousands of dollars, endless hours of doctor visits and treatment and therapy on a person when “experts” say the person will never survive, or will never walk, or will never talk or eat again?
The lesson from the little bird is, don’t give up. Everything can get better if you give it a chance and don’t give up. Instead, we as a society are moving dangerously in the other direction. Oregon has physician assisted suicide. The FDA is threatening to pull the plug on medicines that may prolong life but are not “cost effective.” How much further do we have to go before “death panel” stops being a shibboleth and starts being an official government office?
Some day, I will surely be in a situation where I have a difficult decision to make about myself or a loved one. Continue the treatment, or accept defeat. Pull the plug, or keep fighting. Do, or do not. Well I may not know what the future will bring, but I know this much: when decision time comes, I am not going to listen to the “experts” telling me to take the easy way out. I am going to listen to the birds.