Thursday, May 7, 2009

My Fall From Grace

Just when I was feeling just a little bit, kinda-sorta, almost good about my parenting - you know... doing the right thing; saving worms; walking the walk and talking the talk; even being chosen to receive a parent/caregiver award from the Long Island Speech and Hearing Association -- leave it to mother nature to knock me right off my self-appointed pedestal. Lest I get too cocky, the grand dame of God's green earth let me know in no uncertain terms that I am just another humble mother desperately paddling to keep my head above water... or my daughter's gold fish paddling below water. Key word... paddling... as opposed to belly up, that is! (Pic: Patrick)

Olivia rescued 2 comets about 6 months ago. Those are the $0.10 feeder gold fish you see thousands of in the 10 gallon tank at the pet store. The ones that the bigger, more-expensive, fancy fish eat for breakfast.... literally. The ones whose average lifespan is 2 days. So, Alex Rover (from "Nim's Island) and Mia (just a nice name for a fish) joined Patrick (from SpongeBob Squarepants) who was a "fancy goldfish" heldover from our original 3 gold fish -- 1 carnival comet and 2 fancy gold fish -- after two of them took an early trip to the happy fishing grounds. So, our newest happy trio spent their short lives in a 10-gallon tank on my kitchen counter. As such, they were very much a part of our daily lives and activities, present for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day.

Unfortunately, about 2 weeks ago, their world came splashing down around me. First, Olivia noticed that Patrick developed the telltale (or would that be telltail?) white spots on his tail fins. I treated with water changes and an aquarium antibiotic leftover from the last fish-killing infection we contracted to no avail. We lost Patrick and then Mia with barely an opportunity to intervene on their behalf. Olivia was sad but recouped admirably, counting on Alex Rover to carry on for his fallen comrades.

About a week later, Big Al, as I used to call him, developed the tiniest little spot on his tail. The size of a grain of salt! One tiny dot so small it was barely visible... but Olivia was on the lookout because of our recent losses. So very minor, or so it seemed at first, until Alex's fins began to clamp, then split as the white dots spread to his dorsal fin. I sent the hubby on an emergency run to the pet store for meds with a list of symptoms and my best-guess for what might be afflicting our last poor fishy. #1 on my list = the ICH! "Talk to the fish guy", I said. Despite the fish guy's agreement with my diagnosis, Daddy came home with meds for a secondary infection but not for Ich. I still don't know why the guy sold him what he did but after 24 hours it was clear we did not have the right product. So, we sent Daddy back the next evening for Ich-specific treatment. This time he came home fortified with salt and a huge bottle of RidIch and less-than-hopeful instructions for treatment. Per the directions, I tossed my biologically balanced but now ich-infected, bio-wheel in the trash with my carbon filter and each night for a week, as specified in the directions, I syphoned half the tank into the sink -- doing my best NOT to swallow the ich-tainted water -- replaced it with fresh, temperate water, treated it for metals and then added 5ml of RidIch, a deep blue stain/dye into the tank to kill the dreaded parasite. Each night, Alex Rover perked up, his fins unclamped and he stopped gasping for water. Each morning he hungrily finned at the surface for breakfast as he did every day of his previously healthy life and, eventually, the white spots vanished, his fin split healed and all fins were fanned. I was encouraged.

On day 8 -- DAY 8, for God's sake! -- I pushed Olivia through her nighttime routine as I do every night. I prepped the boys for bed as I do every night. I treated Miss Molly Box's dry eye condition as I do every night. And, finally, I happily headed for the stairs when I realized I hadn't treated Alex Rover. Mind you, the directions called for treatment to continue just 3 days past the disappearance of the last white spot. I felt confident that we'd gone 5 days past that milestone so I was technically "done" though, to be certain we'd killed the ich, I fully intended to continue indefinitely until I felt reasonably sure that Alex was here to stay. I checked on Alex. His fins were fully fanned. He was breathing easily and swimming about. "Do you think he'll be ok if I do the water change and treatment in the morning?" I asked my hubby who, with as much fish-sympathy as he could muster, casually responded, "I'm sure he'll be fine with that, Mag." Hesitantly, I nodded and spoke those regretful words, "God help me if that fish is dead in the morning!" In my wildest dreams, I didn't think that was a possibility given his healthy performance.

But, there I was at 6:00 AM the next morning, peering into the blue-tinted tank and Alex is laying belly-up at the bottom in his favorite corner... Darn it!!!!! I was DEVASTATED! My daughter took the bad news valiantly and we gave poor Alex a burial at sea. I still don't know why he bit the dust... or bit the gravel. I take no comfort in the fact that the fish guy told my husband that Alex probably wasn't going to make it.

I've continued well over a week's worth of Ich treatment because I read on the internet that the parasite can live on as long as a week waiting for another host. And, I'm not anxious to provide one! Olivia is anxious to save a few more comets but, to be honest, I'm a little ich-shy! I'm not sure I'm ready to commit to killing more gold fish... I mean saving more gold fish. And, though Olivia has assured me that our comets lived far longer with us than they would have otherwise (my explanation to her after we lost the final three), I'm not sure I can go through the daily life and death struggle when/if illness strikes. I think I need more time to get over it.

So, there you have it. As good a job as you think you might be doing on any given day, with parenting, you're never more than one gold fish away from total humility! It's amazing how much a ten cent fish has rocked my world!

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