Friday, February 11, 2011

Shield your eyes, ugly things ahead

I cut down the prosciutto I started curing many months ago and hung in my crawl space. It is the most horrible thing I've ever created, covered in gray-green mold and cracked peppercorns that resemble dead beetles. I've read East of Eden and I know about botulism. I've seen House and I know about trichinosis. What should I do? I am scared of this prosciutto.

On another sad subject, one of our chickens keeled over and died a few weeks ago. My father recommended doing a necropsy to be sure there's no pestilence in the flock, but I did not heed his advice. A couple of days ago another chicken began to look very sickly and became unable to roost. We call this chicken Lydia. She was one of our first chickens and therefore has a name. More recent acquisitions go  by: "one of the brown ones" or "the little spotted one."

Anyway, yesterday, concerned about the possibility of an epidemic, I made a terrible mistake: I took Lydia to a pet hospital. Not just a pet hospital, but a "rare and exotic" pet hospital in San Rafael, which is the only place I could find within a 30 minute drive that will see chickens.

Chickens are wonderful, but they are not rare and exotic pets.

It was a little bit tricky, the way this worked. First, I met the glowing and lovely assistant who took notes and called Lydia "sweetheart." Then I met Dr. Bacon, with his beard and chunky class ring, who asked all the same questions his assistant had and unplugged Lydia's pasted vent. (Look it up if you must; it put me in his debt.) He said he wanted to x-ray Lydia and I asked, "So, how much will that cost?" He looked annoyed and said, "I don't have it at my fingertips." Then he went out and sent his office manager in with a treatment plan, prices attached. Just like when you go to buy a car.

The diagnostic and treatment plan recommended for the droopy hen: $662. The biggest line item, of course, was the x-ray.

Look, I like Lydia. She's a fine hen. But $662 is 220 times what I paid for her. I would like to say I smiled tightly and said, are you deranged? That's more than the average Burundian earns in a year!

But I am so easily shamed. I am ashamed of how easily shamed I am. They made me ashamed of not wanting to spend money to fix my chicken, and there were three of them. The business manager did not like it at all when I nixed the x-ray. She sighed and the corners of her mouth turned down and she explained that the vet really needed to see what was going on inside Lydia. I held my tiny bit of ground on that x-ray. Then I committed myself to an obscene amount of money to provide Lydia with antibiotics, fluids, and a blood test.

Driving home I was ashamed of myself. I was ashamed of devoting resources to pumping an Australorp full of fluids. Decadent. Wrong. UGH. Can't think about it. Must put it out of my head now.

In future, I only take livestock to livestock hospitals, even if that means driving to Cotati.

Found object, 2/10/11.


  1. 1. don't fear the prosciutto! eat it!
    2. don't feel bad about not xraying lydia. or about giving her antibiotics. that's exactly what i would have done.

  2. We often joke that we "totalled the dog," since routine vet care costs more than she does. But we've never gone 22x over her acquisition cost. (Though the ACL surgery came close, but three years out, totally worth the dollar cost average. She held up her end of the deal by living to 2011.)
    As to the proscuitto: you are very brave. Can you introduce yourself to the urban farmer in Oakland and see what she thinks? Novella Carpenter--that's it. Food poisoning twice in my life has made me very, very wary so I am in some ways not a good person to ask.

  3. You are totally right to do antibiotics and not xrays. Your vet is trying to use your fear and lack of knowledge about veterinary medicine to rake in cash hand over fist. My cat started puking once and the vet wanted to do not one but TWO xrays to see if he had a bowel obstruction. I said "what will the xrays show us? Like, if he has a bowel obstruction, are you going to do surgery?" I figured if I wasn't planning to pay for surgery, there was no reason to pay for xrays that would lead to surgery. So we, too, did antibiotics. They treated me like a kitty-killer and I cried because my grandma was dying at the time. But we gave him antibiotics and he started eating again and pooped out a giant rubber band. The end.

  4. Maybe the mold is normal, like that whitish moldy-looking stuff on the outside of salame.

    Re: the chicken, I would have done the same, if not less.

  5. The mold does look a bit scary, but isn't that normal? I once was given a nice piece of prosciutto by the Beverly Hills Cheese Store and ended up throwing it out when a tiny bit of mold formed... didn't know I was just supposed to scape it off.

    Worse than the cost of the procedures is your vet's attitude towards your reluctance to pay for a chicken xray. Certainly, not a situation where there is a right and wrong choice.

  6. I would have eaten the chicken, but not the prosciutto.

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  8. Don't be ashamed at all. I'm impressed that you stood up to them and negotiated treatment without the xray.

    I found an injured stray cat shortly after being laid off. I located a no-kill veterinary shelter that claimed they'd treat her and find her a home for a small donation. After driving the poor kitty (bleeding all over the cardboard box) out to the suburbs, the vet told me he needed $600 to stitch her up, spay her, and give her the vaccinations she'd need to be adopted. He accused me of being bad pet owner trying to dump my cat on his charity to avoid paying for her vet bills, and strongly implied that he would not take her without a hefty "donation". I caved in and put $150 on my credit card. And then I spent the next 6 weeks "dropping by" to make sure they hadn't euthanized her as soon as my back was turned.

  9. Owen IS awesome! Love the cursive writing. And I agree with everyone else about the chicken.

  10. Mentioned your chicken post to a local friend who is a consultant for the poultry industry; your father was right when suggested to take the dead chicken to be examined. Paul told me it costs like 50 bucks and they can determine in a few minutes what went wrong.



    a story about cured ham

  12. Up in Oregon, I used to have a friend whose dad had a bus (like the blood drive ones) that he would drive to farming communities without vets on set days. (Monday in this town, Tuesday in that one, etc.) Maybe there is one down there that comes near where you live? Maybe you could convince one that he needs to come to your town?

  13. Wonder whether the ham is to be blamed for the silence.

  14. The ham was delicious! But another round of revisions on book almost killed me. . .

  15. Good to know you are all safe!
    Great recipe for veggie burgers in Kansha; thought of you. However, i would not recommend you to inflict this wonderful book on your family lest you want a revolt at home.

  16. Oh, I have that book! It got sent to me when, for a while, the publisher was sending me cookbooks. Maybe. . . ?
    You know what other book I have: Blood, Bones & Butter. It is even better than I'd hoped.

  17. They sent you a copy of her memoirs? I pre-ordered it; I am really looking forward to reading it.

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