At one point during my peripatetic career, I worked at a big city hospital. Their primary mission, of course, was saving lives.
That’s not what I did there, since I had no clinical training or medical expertise whatsoever. I served as the on-site interior designer, made sure all the elevators were up-to-date on inspections to meet JCAHO guidelines, and wrote for the employee newsletter — sort of a Jill-of-all-trades.
My boss, Bob, had a penchant for unusual pets. On Saturdays when we all worked overtime, he brought his pet ferret in a leather pouch to keep him company. One time the little guy, let’s call him Harold, got loose in the boiler room and led Bob and all the mechanics on a merry chase. Other than that, Harold was pretty well-behaved and likable even though a member of the weasel family.
Bob had also just acquired a large salt water aquarium that was set up in his office next to mine. I guess the first fish was thrown in gratis with the rest of the paraphernalia because there was only one. Bob proudly introduced a gorgeous sparkling turquoise little thing known as a blue devil damselfish who was evidently quite expensive but expected to live ten years. The little guy darted this way and that in the tank, obviously thrilled to be the only small fish in a big pond.
I dropped in occasionally to be mesmerized by the tank, with its soft purring motor, multi-colored coral layering the bottom, the requisite pirate’s chest, and a small rock cave for a swim-through. And, of course, one small darting blue fish.
Bob announced a few weeks later that the following week he was vacationing — where everyone who lived in beautiful sunny south Florida vacationed — at a tropical island. He said he would bring back several more saltwater fish and asked me to feed little Baby Blue while he was gone. That seemed simple enough. I only lived a mile from the hospital so I could make a quick feed-and-dash on the weekend.
That went well, until Monday morning when I noticed the fish was swimming lethargically, ignoring the fish flakes I’d left for him the day before, now floating on the surface. I observed that he was slowing down and tipping over to the side, increasingly erratic. Oh, that can’t be right. A co-worker walked into the office and I asked for his opinion. “He’s not getting enough oxygen” was the diagnosis.
I checked the equipment: the motor was still softly purring and bubbles were ascending. I rushed down the hall to the Respiratory Therapy department, thinking “STAT Code Blue!” although I didn’t say that aloud. I begged one of the therapists to consult on this crisis — how to oxygenate a fish. Considerate of my distress, he grabbed an oxygen tank and rushed back to the office with me.
Once the oxygen was introduced into the tank, the damselfish shook off his lethargy and resumed a slower pace of darting. He even took some gulps of leftover food. I thanked his rescuer, who was quite pleased by the outcome. I began outlining how I would tell this exciting story in the next employee newsletter.
I came in early the next morning to see a small patch of blue floating in the middle of the tank. Sadly, not all lives can be saved by modern medicine. At least Baby Blue got a burial at sea.