Motherhood. It can be draining even for the most prepared. But for one mallard duck, it almost took her life.
Fortunately, her unlucky turn occurred at a hospital — Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, to be exact.
For the past five years, ducks have used the koi pond at the hospital as a creche, but in March, this mallard — dubbed "Emilie" for Emilie Gamelin, founder of the Sisters of Providence — was left behind when her 13 ducklings took flight.
The mother duck was left so weakened from her arduous term of motherhood that she molted her wing feathers, leaving her flightless — her condition exacerbated by an unhealthy diet of bread products provided by well-meaning visitors.
Kary Ann Luttge, a donor-room assistant, and lab finance manager Mary Beth Clark decided to take up the mantle of getting the mallard healthy enough to take flight and find its family, which they say is likely still somewhere in the Los Angeles area.
The bond between languishing duck and its nurturers has grown over time.
On a recent afternoon, Emilie meandered around the courtyard surrounding the koi pond. But as soon as Clark and Luttge came outside, it waddled over like a dog whose master had just come home from work.
Luttge had a bag full of nightcrawlers, a tub full of mealworms and a calcium supplement — all the protein and nutrients Emilie needs to have her wing feathers grow back so that she can fly again.
As the two women dangled earthworms in the air, Emilie jumped to gobble them up — major progress compared to her state just a few months ago, Luttge said.
Emilie is now fed in the morning and afternoon — a feeding schedule that has required an investment of hundreds of dollars on the part of Luttge and Clark, who have also been kept busy gathering food stock from Scales N' Tails in Burbank and from the sporting goods section at the Walmart near Clark's home in Simi Valley.
Luttge said she even comes in on the weekends to make sure Emilie gets her slimy snacks, and is planning to ramp up the feedings to three times a day.
"I live close by, so I come and I feed her and sit with her," she said. "She quacks when I come — she's lonely, you can tell she wants to go home."
Luttge said she had consulted with an expert from a duck rescue organization who told her that it would take until August for Emilie to fully recover, at which point she will be able to locate her family on her own.
But Emilie isn't the sole beneficiary in this arrangement. Mary Ann Madden, a marketing coordinator at the hospital, said that for the families of long-term patients, having a feathered friend to pass the time with is "really soothing and healing."
On Tuesday, as Dr. Mike Neskovic happened by, he voiced his agreement while crouching down to get a photo of Emilie as she foraged in the bushes.
"This is really great psychotherapy," he said.