The water in the winter pond is as clear as glass. At this time of year, when the weeds have sunk to the bottom to escape the ice and the various algae have ceased to bloom in the sun, you can see the fish in perfect detail. I have been spending a lot of time fish-watching lately, as there is a sick fish in my son’s pond. He does not need clear water to be seen as he spends all of his time on the surface. For a few days, he was floating, belly up.
The golden orfe developed a slight kink in the tail a couple of years ago. We did the research. There was no way of knowing what was causing the problem; it could be anything from genetics, to damage, to disease. We explored all the options, treated the pond just in case and waited to see what would happen; sick fishes seldom do well. We considered removing poor bent-tail fish to an isolation tank, but have found in the past that the stress of taking fish out of their accustomed environment has only one sad end. We read and dismissed the advice to euthanize sick fish. Not only were the methods suggested horrible and would undoubtedly cause suffering… but after my son’s own remarkable recovery from deadly injuries, we have first-hand experience of medical miracles. We never dismiss hope.
Sure enough, bent-tail fish continued to dive around the pond. Granted, he rested more in the shallows, acquiring a stillness that often had visitors telling us that we had a dead fish in there. Bent-tail proved otherwise by zipping off at speed as soon as you approached.
But the kink in the tail grew steadily worse. It still didn’t seem to stop him swimming at speed. He still fed and played in the sun and, apart from the obvious disability and a failure to grow as much as the other fish, he seemed healthy, his scales and eyes bright.
Nearly two years later, things took a turn for the worse. On several occasions we found him apparently dead, floating upside down on the water. Only on close inspection could you see the gills moving slowly. Then, five minutes later, he was swimming around strongly. But not for long. Most of the time, he was upside down. He didn’t seem distressed at all, or that would have put a different pressure on us to find a right answer where there is none. The distress is ours, responsible for his care and wellbeing and having no answers at all. I have felt this before with my son when he was stuck in the coma from which, it seemed, there was no way out. The little fish raised all those heart-wrenching questions and emotions again.
But that was a gift in itself. With an unexpected twist in the tale, my son was able to share with me some measure of those emotions this time, gaining an insight into something he has only seen from the outside and in ‘cold blood’ before. We were willing the little fish to get well again… just as I had willed my son to come out of the coma whole and healthy. We know that bent-tail will never be the fish he once was… but, as long as he is able to do what the other fish do and enjoy his life in the pond, that is better than the alternative. And if recovery was not possible we wanted bent-tail to slip away peacefully without suffering. And there was nothing we could do except watch and hope, for either of the two opposing endings to his story.
Days of watching passed. Each morning, on arrival, my first thought was to check on the fish, watching closely for any movement of its gills. Twice I had the net out and the trowel for his grave… and he swam away. Then there came a final day when he didn’t move at all; he lay on the surface, upside down, with just the faintest flicker of his gills to show that he still lived. I didn’t expect him to last the hour.
There are times in life when there is simply nothing you can do. You can only wait, hope and pray for the best possible outcome, whatever that might be. Sometimes, it is not the one you would choose, but it must be accepted as you give what love and care you can.
“Resilient little beggar,” said my son as we watched bent-fish zip around the pond today, back to his particular brand of normal. The same could be said of my son. Bent-fish has recovered. It is several days since he was last upside-down and he is giving the cat a good run for her efforts with a flick of his bent tail. He still tires easily, still rests in the shallows…and still plays and feeds with the other fish the rest of the time.
Hope wears may faces. Sometimes it looks like a fish.