About three weeks ago, my little parrot Noelle had a stroke. My husband and I were both out of town at the time and the boarding place had to rush her to the veterinary hospital. The vet told me she probably wouldn’t make it through the night.
I thought I’d never see her again.
Somehow, against all odds, she is still here and we are together again.
I got home late Saturday night. Noelie stayed up waiting for me.
The first difference I noticed is how quiet she is now. Before the stroke, she would have been whistling and chattering. Now, she barely even tries to vocalize at all. When she does, it’s hardly audible.
I got a hoarse sort of bark that showed she was trying, but something was interfering with her normal voice.
She wanted to come to me right away. She can still raise her foot in the air, waving, sometimes to say hello and usually to ask for something. Pick me up.
I sat on the couch and my husband carried her over to me with both hands.
She nestled in against my chest, something she really only does with me.
My husband said he had tried to do this with her, but she would panic because her balance was so poor now. She couldn’t lean forward.
The first time she ever did this with me, I had just come home from a trip. I had no idea what she was trying to do. She kept reaching toward my chest and I thought maybe she wanted a kiss or maybe she was trying to chew on my clothes. Finally she reached me and rested her breast against me, where she wanted to snuggle for half an hour. Welcome home.
That became a thing between us. I would pick her up and she would lean in and I would carry her around, scratching her head or stroking her back.
I fully expected that she would want to do this when I came home, because we hadn’t seen each other in a month. In the past twelve years, I don’t think we’ve ever been away from each other that long.
Yes, she had had a stroke. Yes, my husband had warned me that she couldn’t balance and that she would panic if she found herself leaning into that position.
In my heart I believed that she would be so excited to hear my voice and see me again, she would push and suddenly what was impossible would just be hard.
I was right.
She snuggled right in and I proceeded to give her the scalp massage of her dreams.
This is a tricky moment, the crossroads between fantasy and denial.
On the one hand, here was my girl, exactly in the way I had been visualizing for the past two and a half weeks, resting against my chest and getting her head scratched.
On the other hand, I had heard for myself that her voice is basically gone. I had seen how wobbly and frail she was as my husband carried her over to me. It also hadn’t escaped me that she was up nearly three hours past her bedtime and failing to demand room service.
Only one thing about her behavior was normal, and that was this moment of mommy/birdie time.
We took her in to bed, where my husband had modified her sleeping cage with towel-covered cardboard boxes. Now she can reach her food and sleep on her childhood swing without risk of a fall.
The next major difference I noticed was that we all slept in past nine the next morning.
Normal Noelie would wake me up with a single loud peep at 7:45 am, weekends and holidays. If I tried to sleep in, she would gradually increase the volume and frequency of her chatters until I gave up and got her out of bed. It’s my job to get her up and keep her quiet until my hubby gets up, and he returns the favor when I stumble off to take an afternoon nap.
For whatever reason, post-stroke Noelie sleeps late into the morning and stays up late. In the past, she would be scared to have a visible night sky behind her and would demand that someone get up and pull the drapes. Now she doesn’t seem to care.
I found out what everyone meant by her being “wobbly.” She can still climb, but after she gets to the top of her perch, she rocks and sways all over for about thirty seconds like she’s trying to do a hula hoop trick.
I watched as she tried to groom herself. She can lean to the left to preen under her wing, but she can’t quite reach her right side.
She can still stand on one foot, turn her head backward, and tuck her beak into her back when she wants to sleep, which is often. When she first came home from her second trip to the veterinary hospital, she slept for 24 hours.
A few things changed after I came home, compared to what I had been hearing from the boarding place, the vet, the vet techs, and my husband.
Her appetite improved.
The wobble got less noticeable.
Her reach has improved a little to the right-hand side.
She became able to lean forward for the chest snuggle.
She started to vocalize a tiny bit more, although her voice isn’t much of a much.
Then something terrible happened. She was sitting on her perch and I was clocking out for the day. Suddenly I heard a thud. I turned around and she was laying on her back with her feet in the air. Whatever happened, she had fallen about 15 inches. My heart stopped.
She rolled over on her own. It took her about two minutes to catch her breath and dust herself off. She got up and perched facing out the window, which is probably exactly what I would do if I had just taken a humiliating fall.
I feared the worst - a downward spiral after what appeared to be gradual daily improvement.
Then, two hours later, I saw what I thought was impossible. She was preening a single tail feather, turned to the side in a stretch she hasn’t been able to do in weeks.
It has been a rough ride over the past three weeks. There were a couple of occasions where we were trying to brace ourselves for the inevitable - euthanasia and a lifelong empty space in our hearts.
Now it appears that we made the right decision, standing by and watching and waiting. Little Noelle has been making steady, though slow, improvement. She seems happy. She has a good appetite, she can climb around a little and feed herself, she is ready to interact with us, and she is gradually rebuilding her ability to groom her own feathers.
What the vet has led us to expect is that in her experience, a solitary parrot like Noelie suffered a stroke and was able to make a recovery. It took a couple of months. We know it’s possible. She appears to be on her way, just with a raggedy tail.
Let’s all wish her well.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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