When Ostriches Attack

Every EMT has run that one call that pegs their personal Weird Shit-O-Meter, and I am no exception. During a career spent working in rural Louisiana, I have experienced enough of these calls to have developed a firm belief in Vuja De.

Now what is Vuja De, you ask? Well, it’s the polar opposite of Deja Vu – the feeling that what you are witnessing has never before been seen in the recorded history of man.

I’m not speaking of the garden variety weirdness that every EMT experiences as a matter of course. Fact is, most any experienced EMT has seen at least one person with a foreign object inserted in a Forbidden Place, or delivered the fruit of an immaculate conception – “What? A baby??? I can’t be havin‘ no baby!” – that such tales told in EMS circles barely merit a polite chuckle and an impromptu game of one-upmanship.

“What’s that you say? A Faberge egg? Stuck where? Yeah well, that’s a good one, but I bet you didn’t know that an egg beater blade could fit in a person’s rectum, did ya? No? Well, let me tell ya what happens when you attach it to the motor and turn the thing on! We had this call one time…”

It’s a time-honored EMS pastime, good for hours of fun and enjoyment.

Well, the call that pegged my meter happened on an early fall night in the not-too-distant past. I found myself kneeling on blood-soaked ground, tending an elderly woman who did not yet realize she was dead. Her husband already was, ripped from stem to stern like a victim from a slasher movie. I’ll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say that it appeared their assailant had wielded something like a cross between a machete and a potato masher. In dry medical prose, their injuries were Inconsistent With Life.

The woman didn’t know it yet though, and insisted on struggling to the last, as we human beings are wont to do when faced with the prospect of shuffling off the old mortal coil. She lay there struggling to breathe, her hands folded to her chest in decorticate posturing, a hallmark sign of a serious brain injury. While I feverishly did my Paramedic Thing and secured her airway while my partner Mike bandaged her wounds in futile effort to stanch the bleeding, I more-or-less casually asked the sheriff’s deputies if they knew who had attacked the couple. More importantly, was the maniac still on the loose?

You know, important stuff to know.

“Yep,” one of them replies laconically. “Right out there,” he points with his Maglite.

I look out into the pasture, and centered in the beam is our assailant, curiously observing the goings-on. He is a rooster ostrich standing nearly 7 feet tall, and he looks, well…pissed. He might have been even bigger than 7 feet. Maybe eight. Or nine. He was big in the way that a jealous boyfriend looks big when you realize you’ve been fondling the ass of Mongo’s girlfriend all night on the dance floor while he played pool with the rest of the defensive linemen.

Forget the cute fuzzy creature at the beginning of this post. This is not the clumsy, ungainly creature that poor Jim would wrestle to the ground and tag with a radio collar while Marlon Perkins narrated the action from the safe confines of the base camp. No, this critter is an assassin. Picture fangs. And soaked to the knees in blood and gore. If he had a name, it would be Jason or Freddy.

I gape at first, then quickly turn my attention back to my patient, busying myself with taping her endotracheal tube in place and helping get her secured on a spine board. We’re strapping her down when I am frozen by the faint, but unmistakable whisper of six duty weapons being pulled from retention holsters en masse.

I look up, and struggle manfully to retain control of my bowels. Our Avian Assassin is now ten feet away, and he looks MIGHTY curious at what we’re doing. I learned something important about myself that day. I have useful skills other than the healing arts. If you ever need a diamond, give me a charcoal briquet and a pissed off killer ostrich, and I’ll turn it into a diamond for ya. Just don’t ask where it’s been.

“Uh, shoot that thing, will you please?” I request, although perhaps not quite so politely.

“Dandy idea,” sez Mike, his hand twitching in the general vicinity of his right hip. On his days off from his EMT gig, Mike is a reserve deputy.

“Can’t do it,” replies Steve, the shift commander that night. His voice hasn’t even changed. Quite impressive, really.

Whaddaya mean, can’t do it?” I splutter. How hard can it be? You know – grip, sight picture, trigger squeeze, repeat as necessary. Seems pretty straightforward to me. From the affirmative grunts of several of the deputies, they think it’s a fine idea too.

“We can’t destroy this animal without authorization. Right now, he isn’t posing a threat.”

I pondered the wisdom of that statement as I tended to the (barely) living proof that Freddy the Avian Assassin was indeed a threat. Steve went on to say, “Just don’t make any sudden moves. Slide the board back behind us, and ease her to the ambulance. If he comes any closer, we’ll take him down.”

Cool customer, that Steve. Not the most independent thinker in the world, but cool. As long as there were six .40 caliber Glocks between me and the bird, I suppose I was reasonably safe.

Riiiiiiiight.

An eternity later, we’re headed to the nearest Trauma Center, forty minutes away. Mike hops up front to drive, while I am joined in the back by the Missus and another medic. We get bilateral IVs, pour some fluids into her and keep on ventilating, and still she gets worse. BP now hovering in the 70s (that’s a Bad Thing
, for you non-medical folks), heart rate steadily dropping, and she’s completely flaccid by the time we roll her into the ER…

“Female, mid sixties, attacked by an ostrich. Husband was DOA. She has a wound through her chest extending from her neck to the lower margin of her rib cage that pretty much removed her left breast, and sundry other smaller wounds. Decorticate posturing on scene. Intubated, two liters of fluids, last set of vitals was BP 70/36, pulse 56, no spontaneous breathing,” sez I to the ER Doc as we rolled into the trauma resuscitation room.

“An ostrich you say?” muses Doc as he peels back the bandage on her chest, listens to breath sounds, checks her pupils and such. He lifts her hands and peers over the rim of his glasses at the numerous bruises and lacerations on her hands and forearms. “I dunno,” he says dubiously. “These look like defensive wounds to me.”

Perceptive fellow. They probably develop those superior powers of observation in medical school.

Uuuuhhh, what don’t you know?” I ask pointedly. If he’s disputing my assessment, I’d like to know why.

“Oh no, don’t get me wrong,” Doc hastens to assure me. He shakes his head, furrows his brow. “It’s just that…well, this doesn’t look like any ostrich attack that I’ve ever seen.”

Long pause. The chuckles begin slowly and become contagious, until the entire ER staff is rolling with laughter. Everyone that is, except the Doc. My head swims with images of packs of killer ostriches roaming the countryside, terrorizing the citizenry and sending them to the ER in need of treatment. Perhaps southern Arkansas has a problem The CDC Needs To Know About.

“Uh Doc? Just how many ostrich attacks have you seen?” I inquire delicately, amidst renewed guffaws. Mike is clutching his sides and gasping, tears rolling down his cheeks.

“Well I’ve seen…actually this would be my first…” the Doc stammers and begins to chuckle himself. Finally, “What I meant to say is that this doesn’t look like any animal attack I’ve ever seen.”

He banishes us promptly from his ER, muttering under his breath something about “only from Louisiana…”

We stop back at the scene to pick up my POV so the Missus can drive it home, and we find six very shaken deputies hovering near the carcass of a very dead ostrich. Steve is sitting on the tailgate of his patrol SUV, shaking his head in disbelief. His hands are trembling, and his voice is no longer very cool.

“We got the go ahead to kill him. I hit him center mass with two .40 rounds. Sumbitch didn’t even flinch…”

“S-s-sum-sumbitch charged us!” chimes in another deputy, his voice quavering. “I had to take him out with the riot gun. Two rounds of three inch, double-ought buck! He p-p-piled up right at our f-f-feet…”

I pat Steve reassuringly on the shoulder, walk over and prod the carcass with a toe. I turn to the rest of the deputies.

“I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve got dibs on the drumsticks.”

Until next time…