Saturday, July 30, 2016

This Is Not the Life I Ordered

For about the last 8 months, Mr. W has been commuting to LA two days a week for a film project. During the last 5 or 6 weeks, he's only been able to come home on weekends. Though we're no strangers to living apart, after awhile his absence starts to wear on me. Big time. Especially since we've moved, just because the responsibility list is longer in Santa Ynez than it was in Hollywood.

So Monday, when I went to let the chickens out to free range and saw our little Wellsummer hen, Miranda, looking under the weather, my already weakened husbandless constitution began to crumble.

At first, I thought maybe our girl was just overheated. She was panting. Her comb was pale. Her usually perky tail was pointed toward the ground. I led her to a container of water and of course couldn't get her to drink (the saying's not just for horses...). Though it was the middle of my workday, there was no way I was going to leave my ailing chick. So I took to Google and read every blog post and chat thread I could find about her symptoms.

The thing about chickens is that they're really hard to diagnose. Or maybe, when you're a total avian novice like me, they are. I needed Mr. W here to tell me what to do! In between my frantic visits to hen-devoted websites, I was IMing him like mad.

The first thing he told me was that I was forbidden from calling the vet. He was not going to shell out $100 to save a $4 chicken. He told me that if she died, I should just put her in a garbage bag in the garage freezer and he'd deal with her when he got home. Um, not the scenario I hoped would play out. 

Sad chicken soup
I decided to do the only thing I knew how to do: give her the "spa treatment" we'd given Samantha when she got sick. I drew her an Epsom salt bath in a Rubbermaid container, put the container in the master bathtub, then loaded her into the chicken ambulance and brought her in the house.

Desperate to do whatever I could to make Miranda feel better, I decided to try a second step in the "spa treatment" that I hadn't done before. I decided to give her some clean Epsom salt water by mouth. The article I read clearly warned to administer the liquid very slowly so as not to make the chicken aspirate any of it into her lungs. Armed with my syringe, I dripped dots of water along the sides of Miranda's beak and she tiredly gobbled them up. I thought we were making good progress until I noticed a low wheeze starting to build with her breathing.

Thinking she might just have a little chicken phlegm, I gave her some more water. The wheeze turned into a gurgle.


I was sure of it. I'd gotten water into her lungs and that was the nail in the freezer-garbage-bag coffin. My mind ripped back to a familiar place it likes to visit when Mr. W is gone and things feel tough.

"This is NOT the life I ordered," it screamed.

The life I signed up for was one where my husband and I were under one roof, throwing our heads back in synchronized laughter as we expertly remodeled our home. One where we spent warm summer evenings harvesting ripe tomatoes and admiring how tall the corn stalks had grown. One where we grew grapes in our backyard and turned them into delicious vintages which we served to friends at dinner parties.

Nursing a half-dying hen in my master bathtub was never a line item on the order sheet.

I IMed Mr. W and told him I thought I'd just sealed Miranda's fate. He told me to put her out with the rest of the flock and hope for the best.

So, fighting back tears, I did.

About an hour later, I took some apple slices out to the girls and Miranda appeared to have a little more life in her eyes. She pecked at the apples. She drank water from the pan I'd tried to cool her feet in earlier. Her tail was no longer pointing toward the ground.

As my fight-or-flight response began to dissipate, I realized how incredibly stupid it is to even think "This is not the life I ordered." I thought of Elizabeth Gilbert's line from Eat, Pray, Love about how she "had actively participated in every moment" of the creation of her life.

Duh. This was totally the life I had "ordered." Um and by the way—like any of us even have the power to command or control life (okay, well I do believe in The Secret and manifesting and all that jazz so I guess I still). Anyone's life can suck at any point—it's all about where you choose to rest your attention.

Telling myself this sad story on top of my already dismal poultry predicament just made the entire situation feel that much worse. Ah, the pity party. I'm really good at throwing them, but they're sure no fun to attend.

I'm happy to say that Miranda is still with us. Her comb is still a smidge pale, but her gurgle is gone and her neurotic nervous cluck is back. I'm also glad to report that Mr. W has returned to town full-time. Having my right-hand guy here always makes me feel better. Though I'm eternally grateful for both of those things, I'm also thankful for the reminder that lopping a sad story onto a stressful situation only makes everything feel 10x worse. Or as a wise farmer somewhere once said, "A resistant, defeatist attitude never kept any chickens out of the freezer."