« 34 – A Rough Passage | Main | The Teachers - Part 2 - Flies, Famine And New Friends »

Open Features: I Saved A Life Last Night

Sonia Noble tells of a monumental effort to save one small feathered life.

Just before locking up at the office, I strolled round the empty building collecting cups to put in the dishwasher. I found a discarded newspaper which I picked up and slowly flicked through at my desk, enjoying the peace and quiet, satisfied that I had sent the long report which I had typed back to Dr. Wood for editing.

My mobile phone rang. Paul said he had let the ducks out. He had found a chicken in one of the water butts. It was one of my favourite breeds, the hybrid brown hen, the Warren. He said he heard some flapping when he went down to the allotment after work and found her, drowning and flapping desperately. He had put her in one of the sheds. I told him I was leaving work right now and would be down there shortly. I locked up and went home, quickly changing from office attire to down-and-out attire for the allotment.

I went in the feed shed. Nothing. I didn't think she would be in the empty larger shed next door, but in the dim natural light in there, I saw a rolled up piece of sacking in a grey plastic tray. I knew the tray had been empty as I had put it there. On investigation, there she was. Wet, eyes closed, very cold to the touch and it seemed, either a breath away from death or perhaps already dead. I scooped her up and held her close, soothing and talking softly, begging and urging her to hang on. Come on baby, come on love. Come on...

I could feel or see no signs of life but decided to rub her chest and blow some warm air into her. I went to the shed with a chair in it and quickly sat down. Her head didn't flop loosely which made me think there was something of life there. I opened her beak and gently blew. Her throat and chest filled with air. I rubbed and manipulated her chest.

I did this for several minutes with nothing to justify carrying on. I was by now knelt over her on the shed floor, urging her "Come on baby, come on love, come on..."

Paul had said he was just having a drink and would meet me down at the allotment. I expected him any moment and looked up. No, Paul wasn't there, but there was a group of curious Khaki Campbell ducks quietly watching my efforts, heads turned to one side with an eye watching my every move. They would clearly see the subject was a brown hen, but whether they understood what was going on I do not know.

I knelt on the wooden floor, bending over the wet, cold and perhaps lifeless body, prizing open her beak, breathing into it again and again, then massaging the chest with movements which were sometimes light and sometimes more urgent, not knowing where her heart was or which movement was right or wrong.

Then there was something... I wasn't sure what, but it was something so slight, a noise which I hoped wasn't just the air coming out that I had just put in. I was hoping it was a sign of arousal.

My prayers were answered with a slight twitch of the head. I opened one of her eyes. It gave no indication as to whether she was alive or not.

In films you see folk check on the eyes for signs of life. Slowly and very gently I touched the hen’s eyeball.

She blinked.

I was ecstatic!

I began again with the "come on love, come on baby, you can do it...come on love", blowing into her mouth and holding her close to pass the warmth of my menopausal body onto her near icy one. She was wrapped up like a babe in arms. I was holding her close, like a newborn.

Paul had arrived and was busying himself around the chicken shed. He had seen she was not moving. He suggested we use the humane euthaniser to kill her. I told him I was going to continue to try to save her, and when he looked closely he acknowledged there was some improvement.

He suggested wrapping her up and leaving her in the shed, but how could I do that? She was freezing and needed warmth. I was determined to take her home for the night. Paul tried to dissuade me, but I held her close then put her on the floor in the rear of my car.

She was by this time occasionally twitching her head and flexing a curled foot. Once in the house, I took her out of the damp towel. I then cocooned her in a huge dry towel.

Paul suggested we eat later, so that left me free to devote more time to the hen. This particular hen had avoided the usual route to the soup factory when what were deemed to be her best egg laying days had come to an end. I suppose she was around 18 months old when I “found’’ her on the Internet. She had been with us for two or three years, and now, hopefully, there would be a second extension of her fragile life.

I took her upstairs, ignoring our two dogs who were eagerly waiting for attention. They must have wondered what they had done wrong. Not even an 'Hello Sam' or 'Hello Jack.' I switched on a hair dryer, directing the warm air towards her. As I held up first one wing then the other to direct the air flow beneath them I could still feel a deep cold within her body.

However there was now another sign of improvement. I laid her on her side, intending to direct the air flow to yet another part of her body. She righted herself. She sat in a position of her own choosing. The eyes were still closed but she was warming up.

I wondered whether a crushed Aspirin or a droplet of whisky might do something for her. I kept up the cuddling and the caressing warmth with gentle soft words of encouragement. She was by now occasionally opening her eyes but just as quick, shutting them again, as someone would who was being aroused from a deep sleep and wanted to return to it.

She was moving her head, twitching. Paul thought she was having a fit and again suggested that we should put her out of her misery. I again refused, saying we could do so in the morning if there had been no improvement.

Now I was wondering how I could keep her warm through the night. Paul was no doubt worrying that I might suggest that she should share our bed. Then I remembered the heat lamp. We had an incubator upstairs, with an accompanying heat lamp.

I took the hen upstairs, along with a green plastic crate that we be ideal for containing her. I placed her on a big towel beneath the crate, then set the heat lamp above her. She seemed content to rest and conserve what energy she had. I then switched off the light and closed the door, leaving her in soothing darkness.

When I checked on her in mid-evening she was standing, eyes wide open.

I was happy. Elated. I picked her up, aware of her fragility, and took her downstairs to the lounge. Paul was amazed. A miracle had occurred.

Then I returned her to the warmth upstairs, happy that there was a good chance she would be still around in the morning.

At 5 am I awoke and went to see the patient. She was standing up, quiet and calm. As a mother would softly say to a child before a reasonable hours of wakening "Hello baby, good girl..." I gently stroked her little comb before going back to bed, bringing a medical report to a half-asleep Paul.

When the alarm went at 6 am I had to steel myself not to go directly to her. After a quick wash I prepared Paul’s coffee and sandwiches so that he could get off to work at 7 am. Only then did I go upstairs to give a few pellets of food to the patient. She was now out of the crate and accepted the food with a calm eagerness. She also welcomed a drink of water.

To see her eating and drinking was most satisfying. I couldn’t wait to take her back to her friends at the allotment. They must be thinking they had seen the last of her. I placed the hen in the crate, the crate in the car, then drove Paul to work. After dropping him off I headed for the allotment. Once there I went to the fweed shed for a can of identification spray. I put an spot under the patient’s wing so that she could be positively recognised as the bird who had had a near death experience.

I then carried her to the throng of brown hens. When I set her down she went straight to the pellets which I had sprinkled on the ground. After eating some pellets she went to drink from the large terracotta planter. Then she was up in my arms again. I opened the lower gate. The throng followed on the short walk to an area of long grass.

I put the miracle hen down on the dewy grass before retreating. Peeping through the slats in the tall gate I saw that she was nibbling the grass, as though yesterday had merely been a bad dream.


Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.