Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Past Deadline: Mom, Can We Get a Pet Hippo?

I have had the distinct honour over the past several months of being a palliative care nurse for goldfish. Our school of fish has, apparently, reached life end.

I am not nearly as good a fish nurse as my mom. Perhaps this is due to her having been an actual nurse (for humans) years ago combined with the fact she used to keep lots of tropical fish. In fact, she was even a fish maternity nurse sometimes, too – there were lots o’ guppies in my childhood.Did you know guppies eat their young if you don’t scoop the babies out of the tank right away? Interesting….

Anyway, for several years Boychild has had goldfish courtesy of his aforementioned
Nan. At the height of this venture he had seven of them. Over time, as critters are wont to do, the fish grew and got older and, well, started to die off. First we lost two of the fish. Then, months later, three. For a time we were left with a pair.

Boychild has coped admirably with the loss of these pets. He has asked lots of questions, but seems to understand that things are born, grow old and die. Perhaps because it is a bit tricky to cuddle with a fish he hasn’t seemed to have felt the loss keenly, although he misses watching them swim around as he falls asleep at night.

Through all of this my mother has been my source of info for fish care, although I haven’t always been able to follow her advice to the letter. Whether this can be interpreted as euthanasia or murder I don’t know, and it’s hard to ask a dying fish how it feels. “Are you in pain? Can I get you something? Perhaps a gill transplant?”

Nevertheless Mom has recommended everything from isolation tanks with salt water, meds for specific ailments (they turn the tank water a lovely blue hue) and everything short of mouth to mouth. Sometimes, though, she just says, “Hmm. I don’t know, Steph. It doesn’t sound good.”

I mean, really, sometimes there’s just nothing you can do. I have spent an inordinate amount of time staring wistfully into the tank and wondering about the wee gold fellas as they either gulp too much or not enough. Eventually I would resign myself (and my son) to the thought that the end was nigh.

One day last week, as I peered frequently from my desk through the doorway of Boychild’s room, I could see Fish: The Last slowing down. The Penultimate One had died the day before and Boychild had drawn a picture of a fish on orange paper and taped it to the side of the tank so FTL would have some company.

For a while I thought the meds might work for FTL, but as he/she lurched about and twitched and finally keeled, I sighed and pulled the plug on the air pump. Rest in peace, FTL.

At our house there hasn’t been a great push, thankfully, for large, expensive funerals for these fish. Most of the time I do the honour solo in the bathroom whilst Boychild is at school. One time he wanted to see the deed performed, but I think he found it to be somewhat anticlimactic – and who could blame him, really.

So now, with an empty tank and a head full of imagination, we’re getting the requests for replacement pets. Apparently already having two cats and a turtle is not enough. A rabbit is leading the list. Anyone who knows me knows rabbits are my favourite, but they are a heck of a lot more work than fish.

Fortunately, our fish nurse has intervened and made an offer Boychild could not refuse. Not only is
Nan going to fix up the tank and make it all sparkly, she is going to donate a few dollars towards new fish. (She loves fish, you know – not to mention Boychild.)

So far neon tetras are leading in the polls for replacement fish. After all, they’re small, sleek, silvery and have fancy red and blue racing stripes. The latest fishy chapter is set to begin.
Published in The Perth Courier, Feb. 2/10.

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