“Relax,” said the nightman, “We are programmed to receive.
You can check out any time you like but you can never leave.”
(the Eagles, Hotel California)
The little face peers up from deep inside the fleece blankets and appears to give a squirrely grin. That odd little voice begins to “talk” and one front leg is lifted high as gentle scritches under her chin and across the top of her collarbone are happily accepted. With the carrier now tucked into the safe confines of a hospital cage outside the surgery room, Clarisse is far more calm and content than I expected and, indeed, she is far more calm and content than I.
It was just over four years ago a badly broken adult female fox squirrel was brought to us; apparently she’d been hit by a car and was suffering from a severe closed-head injury and trauma to her upper spine that left her unable to use her front legs and paws. A serious case; the kind where the main treatment is endless prayer. For several weeks the squirrel, whom we called Clarisse, was syringe fed a hearty slurry. She took it eagerly and as the days passed she slowly regained her strength, began to put on weight, and then much to everyone’s delight began to regain movement in her front legs. The first time she was able to reach out for the syringe was a day of celebration; the gods had certainly held her in their favor for eventually she was back up on all fours. Not quite enough for release but enough to climb a bit in a large cage and to sit up and eat like a proper squirrel again.
Regular meals, plenty of nuts, soft blankets in which to sleep; all were found to be the stuff of which the mercenary dreams of a fox squirrel are made so, for Clarisse, life was good again. The days then years passed with uneventful sweetness until one day I noticed she had not eaten much and was not particularly interested in her nuts, either. When she did decide to munch on some fruit, a frighteningly little squeaky wheezing could be heard so she was promptly put on a course of antibiotics.
This went over like a lead balloon but the wheezing stopped. Clarisse, however, did not return to her normal, happy little self. A couple of weeks later I discovered a small lump near one of her breasts so she was promptly carted off to the vet. While potentially serious, on the gamut of potential this one did not appear to be at the deep end of total badness so surgery was scheduled to remove it.
I write this as I wait for the vet’s call to tell me how the surgery went. And no matter how many times I do this, it remains a nerve-wracking and stressful experience. Anesthesia is far riskier than most people realize; waking up is simply not guaranteed. Then there is the post-surgical diagnosis and prognosis; so very many unknowns and, frankly, it drives me crazy. As the hours pass I search for omens, some small sign to hint at God’s judgement. Giving in to tears on the drive home to await the outcome were met with the final musical bars of that great old song, “Hotel California” and it occurred to me that once we begin this road of loving and caring for wildlife, like the song says, we can’t really ever leave. The barely-recognizable remnants of two squirrels mashed into the pavement of the road remind me that no matter what transpires for Clarisse today, everything we have experienced since her arrival does matter and it matters in equal, full measure to every single soul that comes into my care. For she has lived a far better life than what had originally been penciled in as her fate; she got the ice cream on her cake, so to speak, and while trading one’s freedom for complete comfort would be chosen by a very, very, very few wild animals, when living freely and well isn’t possible then complete care from someone who understands and respects is the next best thing.
LATER THAT AFTERNOON: At last the call comes from the vet’s office. Clarisse is out of surgery, awake, and ready to be picked up. By all indications the tumor was not the dangerous kind; perhaps even simply an aging mammal anomaly since her blood work showed little more than a healthy but rather stressed squirrel. I am greeted by sleepy eyes and grumpy grunts; when we finally make it home Clarisse is visibly relieved and I later find her sleeping contentedly. For all intents and purposes she has come through amazingly well, and while we have no idea how much time she has been allotted by those ever-watchful Fates, for now, yet again, life is good.