Overnight birdwatching

P1090742

I have been staying up too late at night.

Last Saturday I went to hear the Australia Ensemble. After I dropped my AE companion, P, at her home I made an almost-midnight sortie to Woolworths for the week’s supplies. After a Skype with D who was in Taipei on a visa-run out of China (he has been in Shanghai since June; his multiple-entry visa is only good for 90 days each visit) it was 1.30 before I sat down to dinner.

Some hours later, at the quietest time of the morning, I heard a muted “whoop-whoop-whoop” noise from outdoors.

I have heard this sound at night before. I told myself that probably it was a pump or something similar associated with a hot water service or other nocturnal mechanical process, but I could not help the romantic hope that it might be some kind of nocturnal bird. I took a torch and went into the back yard to get a clearer aural fix on where the sound was coming from.

I decided the noise was coming from the front of the house and so turned back towards the house, intending to renew my search out the front.

All of a sudden, I was flat on the ground. I had tripped over the tap supported by a star-picket pictured at the beginning of this post. This was not the first time I have walked into this garden feature when preoccupied with some higher object, but it was definitely the worst. “You fuckwit,” I said to myself, though not so quietly, after the first grunt of shock and pain.

My right knee was very sore, as knees are if you fall on them. I’ve had a bit of trouble with this knee recently so was a bit concerned that any recovery might have been set back. I went inside, thinking frozen peas and ice packs.

Then I noticed my left trouser leg was torn. I must have torn it on the star picket. I took off my trousers. Underneath I was wearing black woollen long johns (sorry if TMI). I could see a tear in those and a glint of red blood. Did I catch a glimpse of white? I could not even bear to look at it more closely, let alone take off the long-johns which I now hoped were acting as a kind of supporting bandage. This was too much for me to deal with myself. I called a taxi and gathered the necessaries: earplugs, reading material, extra warm clothing. By about 5.10 am I was at RPA (Royal Prince Alfred Hospital).

I knew the taxi driver was overcharging me for at least the radio hire fee but I wasn’t up to arguing over cents that I would have given him as a tip anyway.

It was a good time to arrive. I was seen straight away and hardly waited at all before the excellent nurse Sean rinsed the wound out (having first mercifully made sure I had a local anaesthetic) and bound it up. I was put on a bed in the ED. The surgeon had been sent a photo of the wound by SMS. He came in and told me I would need to have the wound cleaned out and stitched up under general anaesthetic. I would be in overnight.

First, I would need to be found a bed. At about 9.30 I was told I would have a bed but it took a few more hours before I got to it. More disappointingly, at about 8pm a nurse told me that I wouldn’t be operated on that day. As we lawyers put it, I had not been reached. A cheese sandwich, an apple, some apple juice and some yoghurt were cold consolation for a fruitless day of nil-by-mouth.

Fortunately, Endone was ungrudgingly dispensed, which kept any pain at bay and also, it must be said, helped the time to pass in a hospital haze.

I got to the theatre a bit before 11 on Monday morning and came round in time for a hot lunch back in the ward.

For the second time this year, I was to spend two nights in hospital. The last time I spent a night in hospital before this year was 40 years ago. I hope the mathematical trend does not continue.

I now have the letter for my hypothetical GP whom I am meant to see in the next week – not that you can get an appointment with any doctor so quickly. So I now know that the gash was 7 cm long. This is hardly very much and less than the tear in my trousers. The real problem was that it was down to the bone.

Apart from being constantly asked your name and date of birth, the other thing that happens when you go to hospital with an injury is that people ask you how you sustained it. Some of them write down what you say. Somebody (not necessarily anyone you told the story to) then writes the discharge letter. This is what mine says:

Admission notes extract

It sounds unbelievable: birdwatching at night, injured by a wooden stake. I don’t think it’s what I told anybody, but there it is now in the records.

I was listening, not watching, and the stake most definitely was not wooden. I am certain I always said it was a star-picket and I never said it was wooden.

Hospital records are business records and so are admissible as evidence and even if they are not strictly evidence of what happened, they can easily be evidence of what a patient has told hospital employees, which could well be either an admission by the patient if the patient is a party to litigation or admissible hearsay evidence by a dead person who is no longer available.

Professionally, I shall now treat such records with caution, and with skepticism (if it is in my client’s interests to do so). After all, patients are often not the most reliable informants, especially when they come into casualty, and hospital staff may also jump to conclusions. A lot of what they record is only incidental to their main task and their mind may not really be focussed on details which somebody may subsequently wish to rely upon.

Here’s a picture of the scene of the crime, taken on my return. It must be exactly as I left it. Maybe I tripped over something else first rather than simply walking into the tap:

P1090737

But now the best thing.

Just now, staying up too late again, I heard the same “whoop whoop” noise. I went out, to the front this time and very carefully. The whooping stopped as I got closer to where it had come from, but there was movement in the tree and twigs and other detritus falling down. I returned with a torch and in amazing, slow winged flight, quite close to me, this bird emerged.

tawny frogmouth

Not my picture: Wikipedia’s.

It didn’t seem especially scared of me but perhaps it was just following its instinct as it perched motionless on a branch, caught in the beam from my torch. Its eyes were red against the glare. It seemed cruel to prolong this. I moved around so I could look at it from behind but a little while after it flew, not far, to a branch where it could, once again, look at me. I left it alone.

So now I really have been birdwatching at night.

“Are you a twitcher?” Sean the excellent nurse asked me as he directed a thin stream of saline solution into my leg (it was cool and strangely refreshing). I demurred at that. I haven’t the patience to be a true birdwatcher. But I find it difficult to see how anybody could not be interested in such few birds as come our way.

It’s a Shelley thing: flight signifies freedom, at least as a romantic dream. Flight also accounts for birds’ resilience in a man-made environment. It’s not resilience of all species because obviously many birds have disappeared from loss of habitat, but I also love how others, like the (often hated) ibis or, in the inner west, the Rainbow Lorikeets, have established essentially feral populations in the new environment.

Just this week, I have heard the first channel-billed cuckoos, the butcher birds have sprung into renewed song and yesterday afternoon I am sure I spotted a king parrot. Even if it was only a crimson rosella (the call suggested parrot) that is an unusual sighting for the Inner West. It was in a stand-off with a truculent looking cockatoo in a much fought-over tree with hollows, and I doubt the parrot/rosella will prevail, but it cheered me to see it.

To see a tawny frogmouth in Ashfield is really special.

6 Responses to “Overnight birdwatching”

  1. Andrew Says:

    Such a simple thing as walking around the house at night can cause such problems. I’ve never seen a tawny frogmouth out of captivity. What a special moment.

  2. wanderer Says:

    Wishing you good healing, noting that that tibial area has poor blood supply so take good care. Perhaps you should have told them you were sonnambulating to see how that made it into the records.

    Love the birds, love ’em, and the night has a spooky magic, eh.

    Injuries abound – K fractured tibia and fibula, surgery, on the mend, more over my way if I ever get time out from the nursing roster.

    • marcellous Says:

      Thanks, W. Sorry to hear about K and and wishing him a swift recovery.

      Re the tibial area, point noted. I guess this also explains the relatively modest blood loss at the time. Blood in tights and socks didn’t really extend much below the ankle line. I certainly would have expected bigger blood loss from, say, a similar wound in my arm.

  3. David Tennis Pro Wang Says:

    Thank you for applying your mishap to evidence law in practice. I will most definitely take such evidence with great caution when I start practising next year.

  4. Victor Says:

    It’s ironic that travel to Taipei suffices as not overstaying a visa in China.

    • marcellous Says:

      It is ironic: it’s kind of the opposite to the Schengen visa zone in Europe. You can also go to Macau or Hong Kong – either of these if done by train would probably be cheaper from Shanghai than Taipei.

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