My sister and I purchased similar toys for the cousins (my nephews and Lely) until my nephews reached the age of 2 or 3 and their interests went a different way from the simple games Lely and I enjoyed. I’m not saying she wasn’t smart—she could disassemble a remote control, ink pen, cell phone (remember when the antennas unscrewed?), or pop the keys off my keyboard in a matter of seconds. Once when we were hiking, she even relieved my pendant of a sparkly diamond that had sentimental meaning—I never found that stone.
Fast-forward twenty years. One clear morning in May, my dog alerted me to get up early and come downstairs. She headed directly for the cage where Lely slept. Lely appeared to be lame in one leg and was trembling a lot. She had not eaten at all the prior day (something I had dismissed as her being in a “bad mood”). But the lameness concerned me. I was new to the state and had yet to select an avian vet. Several of the members in my bird club recommended the same man, so I made an emergency appointment and my husband drove there while I fed her a mixture of crushed almonds and banana (one of her childhood favorites). The vet assistant put her in an incubator, but did not leave me with much hope for a positive outcome.
Not time to say goodbye
Around 2:30, I returned to the vet’s office. The vet felt that there may be a heavy-metal issue, a tumor, or perhaps her band had become entangled in something in her cage. So, he removed the band and performed some blood tests to see if there was heavy-metal toxicity. Meanwhile, I was given anti-inflammatory medications to administer orally. A friend in my bird club gave me a special anti-inflammatory power that contained turmeric, cinnamon, and other holistic ingredients; I put this on several of Lely’s foods.
Lely appeared to recover fully. We were enjoying all our favorite activities. One Sunday morning in September, at about 3 am, my dog alerted again. This time, Lely was having seizures. At first, I thought she might have been laying an egg and was afraid to move her and possibly induce egg-binding. But, two hours later, the seizures were so severe, she was bashing her head against the cage bars and had bloodied the entire side of her head, including her eye. So, it was time to head to the emergency clinic, which is about an hour drive from my home.
I don’t recall much of what happened there even though I was at this dreadful place for hours. They took Lely away from me to some secret place in the back. Then they put me in that room with the soft lights, sofa, and about 10,000 boxes of Kleenex. I knew what was coming. The vet-on-call came in and said, “I can’t fix your bird.” I cried. We talked. She suggested ending Lely’s suffering. I cried some more. Somehow, we reached the decision that they were going to keep her there and transport her to the avian vet in the morning. Then I left that room and they wanted a payment similar to a couple months of house payments. And after I had paid, they told me they would call me once she had passed.
No!!! I HAD to see my daughter again. So they put me back in that horrid room. And a kid came in with Lely in his hands, her head dangling over the edge of his fingers. Her eyes appeared lifeless and I couldn’t see any signs of breathing. He shoved his hands at me and said, “Here’s your cockatoo.” I pulled Lely to my breast and sobbed. She stirred slightly and looked up at me with golden eyes that showed no recognition, but after slightly over 9 hours, the seizures had stopped. Finally, I felt there was at least a slight chance that she would survive.
The next morning, Lely was transported back to her vet’s office. They phoned me that she was alive and eating. So I went in to see her and the vet. I was greeted by a different vet, one I came to know and deeply respect over the coming months. Additional bloodwork had been performed and Lely was showing signs of elevated liver enzymes. The cause of the seizure was unknown. I was advised that sometimes birds get brain cancer-induced epilepsy. They could do a CT scan, but felt that in her weakened condition, now was not the time. If it was brain cancer, there was only a 50% likelihood that chemotherapy would have success. My father and sister had both been through that treatment and both said they would never go through chemo. again. If rational adult humans who have experienced something would never agree to repeat it, how could I subject Lely to that torture? She would have no way of comprehending why it was being done to her. Sometimes heavy metal toxicity causes seizures. But that had been ruled out months prior. The seizure could also have been caused by the liver issue, so we decided to start by treating the liver enzyme problem.
Lely was prescribed oral meds to help with both the liver issues and prevent seizures—one was to be administered twice and day and the other three times. Additionally, I was given two syringes with emergency medication to bring her out of any future seizures. She was weak and not completely aware of what was happening to her, but Lely was coming home!
Little did I know what the next months would be like. My neighbor across the street had epilepsy and we conversed a lot about what it was like when she would come out of a seizure. She told me that she was aware of everything that was happening during the seizure, but it would take her days to weeks to remember everything and verbalize it. She described the following days as though every muscle in her body had been worked out beyond her limits. My neighbor said that she typically took 2-3 days to recover and was extremely painful.
The beginning is always the same as the end
Lely was having a difficult time eating. I sent my husband to purchase more of the “sticks” Lely had loved as a chick, applesauce, and almonds—her favorite nuts—which I ground using a mortar and pestle to make concoctions so Lely wouldn’t have to work hard to eat. Each morning, I awoke and put Lely on the granite island in my kitchen. I started the coffee pot and then began the day’s food preparation for my daughter. One of my friends from my bird club started delivering birdie bread, muffins, pomegranates, birdie waffles, pasta, and other nutritious treats. She would phone a few minutes before arriving so as not to awaken Lely with the doorbell or my dog barking. For some reason, the “new” Lely was terrified of the dog that had probably saved her life.
Lely wasn’t herself anymore. She didn’t talk and couldn’t stand on a perch. So I dug out the old blue plastic storage tote with her baby toys. I let her explore plastic keys and textured links, Dominoes and wooden puzzles, and a toy with bent metal wires and wooden beads that slide up and down the metal hills. She wasn’t mentally ready for foraging toys—in fact, she couldn’t stay focused on eating long enough to consume enough food for a bird her size. I was constantly pushing her face into the food or sticking something in her beak.
I only left the house to go to the vet for checkups every couple of weeks. My days were dedicated to Lely. But she was getting better. Through the years, she had learned two critical vet tricks—“bird in a box” (for weighing) and “upside down bird”. Somewhere during this time, Lely remembered the vet tricks, so the exams became easier on her. Her liver enzymes were finally normal. So now her only medication was the anti-seizure one. There was finally hope. My neighbor phoned and stopped by periodically. She affirmed that I was doing the right thing by staying home with Lely and not even going out for church, bird club meetings, or to grocery shop. She said, “You’re a Mom. That’s what we do.” We often talked about her seizures and she helped me make sense of everything Lely was probably experiencing.
That difficult decision
‘The Curse of Oak Island’ is my favorite TV show and the only one I won’t miss. So, one Tuesday night in November, I sat on the loveseat watching it with Lely in my lap as had become our tradition. It was the episode where Drake Tester passed from epilepsy. It hit me deeply and on a very personal level. I still cry when I see that episode. The next morning around 5 am, my dog alerted again.
I knew what to do. I calmly administered the contents of the first syringe. Nothing. Lely was still seizing a half hour later. I called my neighbor. She said that if she were me, she would give the second one as well. I did. Nothing. More time passed. OK, time to contact the vet...or the emergency clinic…no, the vet. Yes, definitely the vet. They open in an hour; it’s an hour drive. Need to take a quick shower and get dressed anyway. Did I shower yesterday? My husband could watch Lely while I took care of these things. Yes, that’s what I would do. I would shower. Then we could start to drive in the direction of both vet and ER. I could call from the car. I could make a decision on the road.
When we arrived at the vet’s office, they were waiting and they took Lely to the back. Then they called me into an exam room. Lely was still seizing. They could give her another dose. I approved. Nothing. They asked if I was ready to make that difficult decision. No!! Couldn’t we just try another dose? Nothing. This time, it had been about 4-1/2 hours since the seizures began. The vet said her brain would never be what it had been prior to this seizure—if we could get her to stop seizing. The only hope to cease the seizures was to put her under general anesthesia. But in her extremely weakened state, I was advised she would probably not survive. I remembered how my neighbor had told me she was fully aware during her seizures. I did not want Lely’s last memory to be lying on a cold steel operating table. She would be happier in my arms. It was time to make the decision. There were papers to sign. One last “upside down bird” command. And then it was over. Lely was no longer in pain. “Bye, Lely. Good bye, cockatoo.”