Rachel died a week ago this morning.
I'd taken her in for a second cortisone shot, hoping for a miracle cure like the first time. It made no difference. She got weaker and weaker and finally stopped eating and drinking. I had a long conversation with the vet last Tuesday evening, having already made an appointment to bring her for an evaluation on Thursday. But she declined sharply after that, only changing position a couple of times during the day, and falling on her side when she tried to walk.
When I opened the run a little after 8 Thursday morning, she was still breathing, but that was about it. When I went back to fetch her around 9:30 for the trip to the vet, she was stiff, though with terminal paralysis or rigor mortis I couldn't quite tell; I thought maybe I heard a heartbeat. We took her in anyway, and one of the techs confirmed death. As I'd anticipated from our earlier conversations, the vet wanted to do a necropsy to see if it was Marek's disease (which is so common that chicks are routinely vaccinated against it at 1 day of age) or something more exotic. I wanted to know, too.
The doc called back a couple of days later and left a detailed report on my voicemail. Not Marek's, which I guess is the good news. The cause of her presenting symptoms? Inconclusive. We're left with the original diagnosis of some neurological weirdness; maybe she'd had a stroke at some point. But the immediate cause of death was a massive fungal (aspergillus) infection of the right lung, possibly caused by aspirating food. I'm struggling with the realization that my tube-feeding back in May, when her neck was so terribly contorted that she couldn't eat on her own, might have killed her.
Rachel and her flockmates were tightly bonded. The other two, usually reliable layers, slowed way down during Rachel's final illness. They haven't laid an egg since she's been gone. Now, of course, I'm worried about them. They look fine, and I'm hoping they're just sitting shiva, in their poultryesque fashion, for Ray.
This is not what I signed up for when I got chickens. I didn't want to start with baby chicks because of the mortality factor; at 64 I have enough of that to deal with in my human life. I tried so hard to keep my hens safe and happy without being overly obsessive. But right now I feel like I'm living out some kind of Chickenland worst-case scenario. Of course I'm thinking about adding to the flock, but not til I find out what's going on with Max and Shelly. Would new playmates cheer them up, or stress them out further?