Wednesday, February 8, 2012

How I Came to the RMRP - Part III - Rehab

Three days after I was admitted to the RMRP's Critical Care Unit, I was finally able to stand on my own two feet again. I was a shaky, poorly-balanced version of my old self, but I was steadily improving under the care of the Humans at the RMRP. Of course, that's not how I viewed it at the time! I had no idea what was going on, only that I was in a small metal cage, that people kept catching me and sticking me with needles, and that I was very, very far from anything familiar. Now that I have a better idea of what was going on then, I can understand that I was kept in a small, quiet cage so I wouldn't bash around and injure myself further, and that I was caught once a day for medications that were essential to my healing (and so Humans could clean up after my stinky Owl messes).

But just because the Humans were doing all that to me for my own good didn't mean I had to take it nicely. I was too weak to fight back at first, and the world seemed to lurch whenever I moved to fast. But the first day I felt well enough to grab at the gloved hands that reached in to capture me, I did so quickly and strongly, and the Human on the receiving end gasped in surprise (although he followed the gasp with, "Ooh, good, she tried to talon me!"). That was the same day that the world stopped lurching enough for me to grab and eat the food they held in front of my beak, and I wolfed down my meal to the sounds of compliments from the the Humans. Soon after, I was able to focus on and eat food the Humans left in my cage, and they no longer had to catch me to get me to eat--what a relief that was!

But that's as far as the good news went. After a week in the CCU, and daily tests where the Humans tried to get me to look at things off to my right side, I finally figured out why I was still having such a hard time focusing on things: I was blind in my right eye. It wasn't that they were trying to surprise me when they slowly brought a finger or pen out from behind my right side until it was in front of my was that they were trying to figure out where my vision kicked in over there. And the answer was: never.

I don't know if I can convey to you how horrible it was to understand that I would never again see out of my right eye. There's a reason Owls' eyes are so big: they're very, very important to how we survive. For a Human, losing vision in one eye means inconvenience. For an Owl or another wild Raptor, it means death. Without two functional eyes, Owls don't have binocular vision, and without binocular vision, how can an Owl hone in on is prey and successfully swoop down and catch it? (Actually, because of the size and importance of Owl ears [they're enormous], and the way the whole eye-ear-neck system works, some Owls can still hunt with impaired vision in one eye, but that will be a lesson for another day). But my ability to hunt like that would depend on the severity of my head trauma  and its effects on my balance and depth perception. And the only way to test that was by putting me in a larger cage and taking it from there.

Nearly two weeks after being admitted to the CCU, I was moved to a larger cage outside. It felt wonderful to be exposed to the chilly night air again, to be able to see the moonlight on the cottonwoods, and hear the snowflakes falling through the air. But it was a difficult transition. I would look at a perch, aim at it, fly, but somehow miss and end up on the ground. Fortunately, the Humans had thought ahead and provided me with enough low stumps to enable me to hop and jump my way up to a perch that I missed the first time. But it was incredibly frustrating to be unable to do something so simple and natural to a bird like me.

Had I mastered the perch-landing part of the process, the Humans would have then put me in a larger cage for more flight practice, then put live rats in my cage to test my ability to catch small, darting creatures at night with vision impairment. But, sadly, I had failed the baby-steps. I didn't understand it then, but it was time for the Humans and I to make a decision: could I become an educational ambassador?

Check back soon to see how that decision was made...

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