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Monday, March 17, 2008

The Comfort of Animals in an insane world

The Comfort of Animals in an insane world
by Tim Rumford
This has been one of the roughest months I have had in many years. My epilepsy returned, something that I have had since my recovery from encephalitis. I used to be so sensitive to light I could not read, watch a movie in a theater or use the computer without having a seizure. That was during the first three years of recovery starting in 1997. During this time I also had spinal surgery which left me in chronic pain.
I was told any symptoms left after that 3 years would remain permanent. This proved to be largely correct. But my seizures and light sensitivity have returned again, nearly 7 years later. Epilepsy never goes away, but the medicine keeps it at bay, like a lurking monster, you always know its there and may return to haunt you.
My seizure medicine stopped working. After a few weeks of getting sicker and sicker from trying to use the computer, read, film and just be. I had three seizures in a week. I had to stop everything. No more reading, driving, or even answering simple e-mails. I saw my new neurologist. He was concerned and has ordered several tests, MRI's, EEG, blood work and... and new seizure meds... My seizures changed. There are different types - Grand Mall Seizures, Petite Seizures, Partial Seizers etc. One things stayed the same -- the trigger is light sensitivity, stress, and illness.

For those that have never had to take a seizure medicine, they can take a very long time to get used to, and often, they must try different ones to see which work for best for your seizures. The side effects can be horrible and sometimes it takes a full month to get used to them.

The first one I tried made me more than groggy, worse, after only a few days, it amplified my light sensitivity, sending me into a whirlwind nausea, illness, isolation and more seizures. I feel like I am moving backwards in time, going back to the state I have worked so hard to get out of. Of Course I have Blue, and this is sometimes the only thing to keep me going.

This is very depressing. Not being able to do anything is also very hard to deal with. Slowly, like right now -- I am able to do small things. This is the first time I have used the computer in weeks. I wear sunglasses and use a filter on my monitor. Still , I now have to write in fifteen minute spurts. I may only get one or two in a day, or none at all.

I stopped the new medicine. The side effects were too much for this humble writer to take. Four days later, still tired to the bone, my eyes returned to the same level of light sensitivity we were trying to fix. I was back at square one. I began to become very depressed. Then just to top it off, I got the flu, again. With a fever of 103.5, vomiting, headache and sore throat, I could stand no light at all. My days were spent in bed with covers over my eyes, or crawling on the floor to the bathroom. There is something else going on the doctors have not been able to pinpoint, some autoimmune disorder not yet diagnosed. So I have been sick on and off for about 6 months. Mostly it was small viral illnesses or flus. This was a short lived flu, but a veracious stomach flu, and as the norm its was again viral, so there is not much they can do.

I have learned to live within a world of many limitations. But every creative outlet I have relies on my ability to read, write, and use the computer – except playing music, and of course hanging out with my pal Blue. Even playing music is out of the question if I am feeling ill. Everybody needs to have creative outlets, and mine were all taken away, or at least it seems from my perspective at this time. I will feel better.
Blue, as many of you have read in my first posts, rescued me as much as I rescued him -- maybe more. He gave me something to care for, to love, and to live for during a time I was seriously ready to give up. Cash in my chips per say.

When I rescued Blue, he was just a little baby, fresh out of the egg, still wet to the touch. I was in the beginning of my so called three year recovery. I was living in a small dingy trailer that was depressing in itself. I could have stayed with my family whom is loving and endlessly supportive. I needed to be alone through that period. I was dead broke fighting for my Social Security Disability. My medicine alone was costing me $1200 a month. I was un-insurable through any corporate insurance company. I now had a “preexisting condition”. This is one of the great sins of our Country, to tell someone they cannot get insurance or medical care, because they are too ill. It happens everyday.

When I found Blue I decided if I could keep him alive, I could do the same for myself. He was the best medicine I have ever received. I made a pledge to Blue in my trailer that night, and I meant to keep it.

Now ten years later I am entering another test in my life, a low point in my health reminiscent of days I thought had long passed. I am not complaining. Everyone suffers in this world. No one is immune. Comparing suffering is a game I try not to play. No one persons suffering is diminished because someone else's suffering is worse or better. I am blessed to be alive, to have a roof and a warm bed, and friends and family that love me. Still, life can get very hard, for anyone. Society demands from us certain things I believe to be very suicidal in nature. Disabled, sick or healthy, these demands can become too much for anyone. Yet these things are always there and at least for me, I cant seem to escape them completely.

This last few months have just gotten worse and worse progressively. At the height of illness, I had three nervous breakdowns in one day. I was a mess. Blue again has saved me. With the neurological issues comes extreme agitation I try to keep at bay.

Blues behavior is changing in ways as he gets older. However, instead of acting...old, he acts more young. He plays more now than ever, he invents new games and new ways of getting the attention he needs and wants and we shower him with it. He dances and sings more. He goes in to a mood where he acts like a baby, flapping his wings as he did when he needed food as a baby, and making baby sounds. His bond with me changes and grows. There are things he does I am not sure people would even believe, but believe this, he has once again rescued me from myself. He has shown me there is joy everywhere.

I am am very much a realist, a rational person. I believe and have witnessed things I cant explain in life. Not only with Blue but many other things. The world is full of mysterious and beautiful things far from our grasp of knowledge, but I also believe all these things have explanations.

Somehow, Blue knows when I am sick. He also knows if either Katie or I are stressed. I figure the knowing about the stress is from the changes in the inflections in our voices. Blue is very much aware by the tone of my voice, what kind of mood I am in. If I cry, Blue will immediately land on me and sit on my shoulder as close to my head as he can. If I get sick with something like the flu, which amplifies my other problems, Blue goes into care mode. He will not leave my side, sometimes for weeks. I just got better this morning from the flu that hit me right after the medication fiasco. A huge bottle of a yet another new seizure medicine awaits me, and it makes me sick just looking at it. But in a few days, I have to try again.

When I got the flu, I was throwing up, having small seizures, and had the worse case of restless leg syndrome I have ever encountered. I was so tired I could not function, but could not rest or even sit down -- for 12 hours due to RLS. My agitation grew worse as I got sicker and could not settle my legs down enough to simply rest, sleep or just... be. My fever got to 103.5. It got so bad I was slithering around on the floor. I felt like I just wanted to crawl out of my skin. I was slithering down the hallway, wearing sunglasses to keep th light out of my eyes. Blue fluttered above me worried like a medical helicopter trying to find a place to land on me that was still.

I tried to calm Blue down, but I was so sick I could barley speak to Blue. Then I noticed he has something in his beak. Blue will often give me something when I am not well. Normally he will return a stolen object, like a guitar pick, coin, or key. Mostly he coughs up a peanut to give me, which I accept and pretend to eat. I am not sure he buys it but I make a good attempt. Sometimes I will show him that I have hid it in my own spot. If I do this, Blue will not return and take it.

As I tried to focus on what he had, I realized it was exactly what I needed and was planning on finding as soon as I could get up off the floor, get to the bathroom, vomit, and be able to speak to a doctor. Blue had my new Neurophysiology Doctors business card in his beak. . I was in trouble. I was alone and I needed to call him. My neurological problems were so bad coupled with the flu and a high fever, I was very scared. Blue had been trying to give it to me for ten minutes.

It would not had been so strange if this card had been something Blue had shown previous interest in, but he had not. It had been sitting on the coffee table for three weeks. Blue often steals from here, and checks out the area daily. He had passed up stealing that card 100 times since I placed it there. I am not saying blue knew this card was my doctors. But he sees me use the card, many times when I am sick.

I accepted the card from Blue. I gave him a guitar pick in return, the only thing I had with me which we now give back to each other ever so often. He also took the card back when I was done, and hid it in his bowl, where it still sits. He takes it out now and then. I have let him keep it.

Still today Blue will not leave my side. He is sitting 4 inches away now. If I get up he will follow. This is what Blue does when I am in distress. If I am well, he flies all over hiding things, getting into trouble, plays, and although we interact allot, he entertains himself very well. He can spend hours investigating something new or hiding and re-hiding his many cache's of treats and treasure and stolen objects. As long as I am in eyesight, I can keep him out of trouble and he is happy.

If Blue is alone in the house he is content and will sing softly to himself. We put a camera on him when we left for several hours to see how he was alone. He was fine and I was very happy to discover this. Everyone needs time alone, even a bird. Although he is not alright for any long lengths of time in our absence. I we leave him alone for more than 5-6 hours, he will become sad. So Blue is never alone for that long. Its part of the promise I made. It's also the reason I try and tell people to think very hard before you keep such a bird as a rescue. The commitment is huge -- one I am happy I took. Unlike a dog, I cant give Blue to someone else should I become tired of caring for him, he would never be the same. I know this will never happen. Should something happen to me, Katie has bonded enough with Blue that he would remain happy.

When I am home, Blue demands one thing from me, sick or well; I must always be in view of him unless I am just getting up to go to the bathroom or get something quickly out of another room.

Every day I have needed to take a nap at 2:00. My body sort of shuts down. If I am not watching Blue, I put him in his cage. He is so interested in getting into EVERYTHING, that I do have to watch him when he is out. When I went to take my naps I would put him in his cage. Recently, he refuses. When I start to dose off, he will scream at me from his cage.. This the only time he ever screams or acts loud. Its like, “Come get me NOW!” It has nothing to do with being in the cage. Its not a cage to him, its his house, and 95% of the time, the door is always open. He demands time in his cage to hide and arrange his nuts and to rest.

I could not figure out how to solve this problem. I needed my rest too. Blue needs contentment. I am responsible for Blue including his contentment. I raised him, I opted not to let him die but to remove him from the wild. If he is unhappy, its my doing, end of story. It is my responsibility to fix it. The bedroom is one place Blue is not allowed to fly free. Katie does her arts and crafts in there, and too many things that are dangerous to Blue and readily available for him to steal. He used to just sleep on my head, or a perch nearby my bed. But I worry too much he will get into trouble as I sleep. A few weeks ago, dying for sleep. I placed the cage right up to the door of the bedroom so Blue had a clear view of me sleeping. This not only worked, but Blue enjoys it and sings softly to me as I slumber and eventually will take his own nap. He now looks forward to this time. He expects it, and thank goodness.
Had I not been so sick, I would have figured this out long ago.

The Documentary is continuing, but changing as my life spins somewhat uncontrollably around me. Its hard filming Blue, and will take time to capture all the little moments that shows who Blue really is. I am very glad Beth has been so easy to work with and understanding of what is happening in my life.

Tomorrow will be like Christmas for Blue. We just got him a slew of kids toys that do all kinds of things when you push a button, make a noise etc. Blue has a deep fascination with electronics, particularly if they have buttons, lights, and react to his actions. The TV remote, the phone, my computer, the camera, all these things fascinate Blue to no end. It was Katie that came up with the idea of trying these toys and its a great idea. I look forward to watching him learn how to make them interact.

It took seven sittings to write this. Blue is still 6 inches away watching me. I am much better today, but Blue is not convinced its over, and he is right. I have tests and new meds awaiting me.

I see Blue pave new paths to greater and greater happiness and enjoyment of life as he gets older. I often wonder which one is really the smart one here. I never trained Blue. I let him make his own rules. I never trained him to come to me on command, or let him think I was the master as you would with some animals, such as a dog. You cannot punish a bird. You cannot get mad at a bird. It serves no purpose and will only harm it. This freedom allows Blue to try things. It also makes him free in the sense that he is his own master, at least of his small realm. I may have to save him from himself at times, but its Blue that discovers happiness in the mundane items we give him.

Its Blue that seeks out joy, love and affection. It is Blue that can take a pare of chop sticks and find joy in them for an hour. Then show us they are much more than just sticks, but toys to play tug of war, sticks he can sit on and ride as we hold them and move them around as he enjoys the movement of being on such a bouncy unstable stick that barley holds his weight. That a chop stick can be chewed up, hidden, and best of all, can be used to gently pet him all over. He loves this. He finds joy in removing the paper, and the interaction of playing with the sticks and us. These joys are just a few of hundreds he has found in the simplest things. It reminds me of being a child and playing for hours in a cardboard box. When I was a young boy, my mom reminds me I would play for a day with a roll of tape and a huge cardboard box, building a fort, or whatever. We loose are childhoods. We grow up and we also loose the ability to find joy in something as simply as a cardboard box. Blue does the opposite. His mind seems to stay young, in spirit, as he grows old.

I hope to find that kind of peace, again.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Your heart is so full of love for Blue it comes out loud and clear in your words when you talk about him. Blue is a very lucky bird. I am amazed he is so friendly and tame. I had a lovebird once that was mean and never showed that much love. :)

Realist said...

Thank you! I greatly appreciate the comment. I want everyone to know I am MUCH better. I was allergic to both the seizure medications. I fired my Neurologist and found another.

We decided for now its best I don't drive and remain off the seizure meds. The isolation and the depression have faded. I am still learning to limit my time on the computer, reading etc. Somehow going through all of this left me in a better mental state then before it happened. Very hard to explain. Sometimes suffering can teach you a great deal.

So its time for a new happy post! Blue just got in all new feathers and is looking greater then ever.

Again thanks for your kind words.