I’ve been trying to write this one over a period of weeks, struggling to add masterful flourishes to impress you all with my writing prowess. Ha ha ha, I’m such a dork! The cold, hard facts are that this story is so funny, there is really nothing I can add to it. So here it goes, the uncut version of, “Pigeons, Beware.”
I was on my way to work as usual. I got off the train and climbed the 62 steps up to the surface. Yes, I’ve counted them as a way of justifying that I’m not totally out of shape, it’s just that there is a lot of them. I am always huffing and puffing at the top of those blasted stairs. I will say it has motivated me at the gym, but 62 is a lot of stairs. You try it and let me know how you do, unless you are training for the Boston Marathon or an athlete, then, suck it. Or rather, don’t.
As I made my way across Government Center plaza, I recovered fairly quickly from the heavy breathing and was down to a half-open mouth and a medium huff and puff. The plaza is a large, rather unfortunate architectural outgrowth of the unfortunate Boston City Hall, built when concrete was a thing in the 70s. It’s not ageing well, but I must cross the vast, empty brick plaza to get to work. I was staring straight ahead, thinking random thoughts when some movement of two pigeons on the ground appeared in my peripheral vision to the right. This is not unusual. They mill about all over Boston and tend to scuttle away when you come near them, or if you want to vacate them more speedily, encourage a young child to run dead on toward them. There were no young people around, so I was confident they would scuttle away.
Suddenly, one of the pigeons flew up and hit me with its chest, hard in the mouth, which as you may recall was open from those 62 stairs; and then he flew off. It really hurt, like when a baby or toddler bumps you in the mouth with his head. If there were a meme/gif, of me, it would go like this: My face is first surprised, then pissed off at the impact, then my helpless hands try to brush the nasty thing off my face, even though it is long gone by then. This would be followed by a look of disgust as I work my tongue in and out of my mouth trying to rid myself of pigeon. The scene finishes with me brushing off my coat with my hands (why? What good did I think that would do?) and looking around for either confirmation of what just happened or hoping someone had “Pigeon Yuck Be Gone” spray I could use. My friends are convinced there is security video footage of this
I was still a good 10-minute walk away from work, and I had nothing to clean off whatever the thing had left behind, so there was nothing for it but to keep walking and accept that I already swallowed whatever might have been transmitted. I also sent a fervent note of encouragement to my digestive and immune systems to get whatever that bastard might have left me.
Once at work, I washed my face, and my boss gave me some mouth wash. As I was entertaining my coworkers with the story, one of the doctors I work with walked by and heard me. Then he laughed and said, “That’s disgusting! You know they are rats with wings, right?” See, the thing about working with doctors is if there isn’t any real danger they will make jokes and make fun of you. I retorted that he could forget about getting me to do any work for him because I’d be Googling “pigeon diseases” all morning.
“Psittacosis,” he said with a smile.
“Is it bad?” I asked.
“It’s fatal,” he responded with a huge grin.
Ha ha. I really hate doctors sometimes.
After about 3 tries to spell that darn thing, I came across this from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
Psittacosis is a disease caused by infection of the respiratory tract (throat, windpipe, and lungs) with a type of bacteria that can infect all types of birds. Psittacosis in people is most commonly associated with pet birds, like parrots and cockatiels, and poultry, like turkeys or ducks.
I would add errant pigeons to that list.
The symptoms are flu-like, and the CDC disagreed with my coworker’s prognosis, declaring it curable with antibiotics. although it did caution that some people need to be treated in the hospital. Great, I work in a medical academic center, so all my coworkers and people training can come laugh at me.
Not to be outdone, another doctor I work with, a neurologist, heard the story and explained, also while smiling, that since pigeons generally have a good spacial sense, there was probably something really wrong with that pigeon to have run into me. She seemed a little too delighted when she assured me she’d keep an eye on me for any symptoms. Then she said something about the infection disease specialists writing up scientific papers.
Well, I’m happy to report I disappointed the doctors I work with and did not come down with psittacosis or any other bird-borne disease.
I used to think pigeons were rats with wings, and I recently read a book read that talked about how interesting, adaptable, and cool they are. I don’t recall the author getting smacked in the face by one. I almost fell for it, but pigeons better stay out of my way. My mouth is closed and my eyes are wide open.
Photo Credit: Disaffected Scanner Jockey tells a pretty horrifyingly funny story about pigeons.