Gentry Bronson and Dr. Theussical the sparrow

Dr. Theussical and me – Photo by Whitney Soenksen

There was a horrific thunderstorm in New Orleans the spring night that Dr. Theussical fell from his home. The fall was twenty feet down from a nest built inside a rain gutter. He survived by landing in the soil of a potted palm tree on our back patio. My girlfriend, Whitney, found him shivering in the lightning and rain. A featherless, pink, and blind baby sparrow.

He was the only survivor from his family. One of his siblings had suffered from landing on the hard patio and was dead when Whitney found them both. In the middle of the thunderous, chaotic night, she carried Dr. Theussical inside and made a bed for him in a cardboard box.

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I was asleep during the storm, so I knew nothing about the rescue yet. When I woke in the morning after the torrential wind and rain, I was approaching the coffee maker and I heard chirping. Whitney looked at me with a bashful grin.

She said, “We have a new, little friend.”

Whitney was not normally bashful, so I was immediately suspicious.

Ours was a home of refuge for lost creatures, and that included me. Whitney found me during the seventh month of the COVID-19 pandemic. She brought me into her home during our apocalyptic feeling world, and I began my life with her and two other creatures she had saved: Dottie and Johnny.

Dottie was the sweetest and toughest girl in the Gentilly neighborhood. A black and white pit bull mixed with street mutt. And Johnny was a hound dog and dachshund mix who sang beautiful, howling melodies along with fire engines when they left the station down the block. Both furry creatures became my best buddies.

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That April morning after the storm, Johnny was turning in a series of excited concentric circles under the cardboard box on the kitchen table. In the box, the chirps came from under a series of hand towels and tissues, and I had an inkling who our new companion might be.

I walked over and removed a tissue. Under it was a scruffy, little, pale-pink body covered in patches of furry-looking feathers. The chirps stopped and the little bird immediately opened his mouth so it resembled a tiny black hole surrounded by a ring of yellow. His mouth was open so wide he appeared to be all beak.

Whitney said, “I picked him up from outside last night. He fell from his nest during the storm. I made a bed for him, and I’ve been feeding him bananas and ground-up kibble with water.”

Lying next to the box was a small bowl of mush and a miniature, red surfboard I had received on a birthday cake.

“It fits perfectly in his mouth,” she said and put a surfboard full of banana into the baby bird’s mouth.

He gobbled it instantly. Ravenously. And then he began emitting chirps so loud they echoed through the house. Screaming feed me! Feed me more now! And it worked. More surfboards full of mush were slid into his mouth.

“Can you feed him every hour while I go to work?”

I worked for myself from a home office and still do, but as anyone knows who works for themselves, it can be difficult to write, work, and be Dolittle all at the same time.

I considered her request and replied, “Okay. But can I finish making coffee first?”

Whitney smiled. “Of course. But we need a name for him before I go.”

When names, like words or music, come effortlessly, you know they’re meant to be. You’ve dropped your fishing line into the cosmic creative river at just the right time and snagged a magical fish. I knew immediately what the name of this loudly chirping bird who had escaped death should be.

I proclaimed, “Theussical. That’s his name.”

“Thusy!” Whitney was delighted. “Great. Take care of Thusy today. I’m going to work.” I received a kiss and off she went.

It became part of my responsibilities to nurse Theussical. Thusy for short. He would receive the important designation of doctor later.

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I fed Thusy by mini surfboard every hour as promised, and to keep him quiet, dark, and warm, I covered his box with a towel. A few of my remote meetings were interrupted by baby bird songs and curiously scurrying dogs. And I lost a few sentences because of the strange creature symphony surrounding me. But, mostly, our strange family of feathers, fur, and skin got along well.

Over the week, Thusy grew and learned at an exponential rate and began to move around. He gained his eyesight and his feathers, and he began to recognize me.

Whitney ordered a bird cage and we moved Thusy out to live in the garage in his new home. Safe from the inquisitive eyes and mouths of Johnny and Dottie. Even though he had his own “room”, he hated being alone.

When I walked into the garage soon after his move, he hopped up and began to flutter successfully making it to a rung above his head. I opened the cage door, took him out, and he stood on my finger looking at me with a sassy and proud expression.

He was quickly adventurous and decided he wanted to be near my face, so he walked up my arm to my shoulder. Then, he wouldn’t leave his new roost so I left him there. I went out into the yard, watered the plants in the garden, took out the trash, and he stayed on my shoulder looking at everything around him. Taking it all in and occasionally poking his beak into my ear as if to say, Gentry! Look at this fascinating world around us!

That was when I decided he was Dr. Theussical. He had learned so much so fast and wanted to teach me things. To me, he had earned a doctorate. A PhD in Beak and Wings.

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One of the things that he wanted to teach me was that he was in charge.

He started eating grubs and when I took him out of his cage on my finger, he jumped off, fluttered down, and landed on the garage floor. He followed me to the mini fridge where the grubs were kept, jumping on my bare feet and chirping loudly as I did, until he saw I had the grub. Literally.

Dr. Theussical also learned quickly how to use his wings for more than fluttering, and one day as we were wandering around the yard, he made his first flight. It was short; just a test flight really. From my shoulder to a patio chair and then back to me. His aim was off when he returned, so he landed on my bare chest with his tiny talons, but I was able to scoop him off, stroke his little head, and place him on my shoulder.

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I began to feel confident that I could keep Dr. Theussical safe with me, so I started to let Dottie and Johnny into the yard with us. All of us creatures frolicked together in the sun near our above-ground pool. Spring blossoming, flowers radiantly blooming, and the sounds of Jazz Fest starting to be heard.

During our third week together, we were all comfortably getting along. I decided I would try meditating outside on a lounge chair with Dr. Theussical on my shoulder and the dogs sunbathing nearby. Johnny loved the sun, so his long, brown body was luxuriating calmly on the lounger with me, but Dottie was unusually extra alert.

When I sat down half-lotus-style with Dr. Theussical resting on my shoulder, Dottie came near and just stared at us.

“Dottie, are you going to be good?” I asked.

She sat six feet away looking intently at us.

“Dottie. Just relax. Enjoy the sun,” I said.

I took in a deep breath and began to focus my eyes downward. In the split second that followed, Dottie leaped forward, swallowed Dr. Theussical, and ran up the stairs inside the house.

“Dottie!” I screamed.

I was petrified. I thought she’s eaten Thusy. Oh, my god.

“Dottie!” I screamed again and ran into the house with Johnny on my heels.

She was in her crate looking like a combination of sad, embarrassed, and shameful. I frantically went to her, expecting to try to pry her jaw open and peer inside. Then, wings went by my head.

Dr. Theussical was alive.

He was flying from room to room inside the house. Living room to office to kitchen to dining room and back to the living room in a circle. He was frantic after being inside Dottie’s mouth. And Johnny began chasing him.

I became the insane ringmaster of a circus that had gone out of control yelling, “Johnny! No! No, Johnny!”

He was barking and leaping and feverishly excited. Both of us were trying to catch Dr. Theussical.

During our ridiculous chase scene, an ashamed Dottie left her crate and went upstairs to hide. I heard her paws galumph up the stairs.

Then, I was able to capture Dr. Theussical with both hands. I had no idea if he was hurt and I imagined he suffered at least a broken wing from Dottie’s mouth. But he was fine. Dottie just wanted to play with him, or maybe in her sweetness, she wanted to mother him.

Dr. Theussical didn’t want to be in my hands or inside or anywhere near Johnny and me after the traumatic events, so I brought him to the patio door and let him fly out. His first big flight into the sky.

Afterward, I left the garage and birdcage doors open, but Dr. Theussical didn’t return that day or night. Whitney and I both thought we wouldn’t see him again.

Dr. Theussical the sparrow on Gentry Bronson's shoulder

Dr. Theussical on my shoulder - Photo by Whitney Soenksen

All was calm the next day while we missed our feathered friend. It was a Saturday, and Whitney was cleaning leaves from the pool while I floated reading a book. In the stillness of that moment, Dr. Theussical flew out of the sky. He landed on my shoulder, started pecking my ear and chirping.

“Thusy! You came back!” Whitney exclaimed.

I was startled, fell out of my floating chair, and nearly lost Dr. Theussical in the water, but I cupped him up and stroked his tiny head. He jumped on my shoulder and kept chirping.

He probably returned because he was hungry after his first night on his own, but I imagined that he missed us.

Dr. Theussical stayed the rest of the weekend eating grubs and following me around. His flights were much longer and he’d disappear for longer periods — sometimes for a few hours — but he always came back.

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On Monday morning, I went to feed him and he refused to leave me. He was incessant about staying on my finger, shoulder, or chest.

I said, “Dr. Thusy, I have to go inside. I have work to do. And you can’t be inside because of Dottie and Johnny. Do you want to end up in someone’s mouth again?”

He stared at me angrily from my finger. Chirping and stamping his feet.

“You have to stay outside, Thusy. I’ll come visit you later.”

I placed him on a patio post and he stared at me when I went inside. When I slid the door shut, he continued staring at me through the glass. I began preparing for my day and each time I passed the window, he was there, staring inside. Looking at me.

Eventually, I had to begin working so I went to my desk and opened my laptop.

A few hours passed and I walked to the window to check on Dr. Theussical. He was no longer on the post so I went outside. He wasn’t on the patio and he wasn’t in his cage or anywhere in the garage. I kept looking for him that morning and afternoon, scanning the trees and rooftops, but he never returned.

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I still look for Dr. Theussical. I look for him among the birds on telephone wires, perched on tree limbs, sitting on the edges of rain gutters, and sailing by in the sky. I examine hosts of sparrows checking to see if I recognize him. Hoping he will recognize me.

He’s never flown back. Not even for a brief visit. But even though he hasn’t, I know Dr. Theussical sees us down here. I believe he’s grateful to us for saving him, and I think when he looks down, he sees friends on the ground.

Our home is where fur, feathers, and skin became a family for a brief time. It was just for a few weeks. A flash in all of our lives. And when Dr. Theussical took flight, we all shared the same sky.