Sara Jacobson


Every spring, Ospreys migrate to the northeastern coast of the United States. In this essay, a chronically-ill woman living in a suburb of New York City grapples with the notion of resiliency as a pair of Osprey come into conflict with the local electric company. Through a tumultuous hospital stay, she looks to the Osprey as a guide in rebuilding when everything feels broken.

Humans are not the only earthly species that enjoy a summer holiday. Birds all over the world, make their migratory journeys as the seasons change every year. Each April, Ospreys land en-masse on Staten Island, a New York City borough located south of Manhattan. They spend their time fishing the surrounding waters of the 58.69 square mile island while building nests made out of large tree branches. In early May, I witnessed a local Osprey couple building their seasonal nest on a telephone pole adjacent to a main thoroughfare. Either side of the road is heavily covered in marshland, making for a perfect environment for the Osprey. Unfortunately for the birds, their choice of structure was deemed unsafe by Con Edison, and a week or so after the initial build, Con Ed dismantled the nest using a cherry picker. 

Much in the way of nature can easily go unnoticed when one lives in a city — or so has been the trend until the early 2000s. Nature on the island no longer requires searching and seeking, but rather demands caution of the road. The deer population has exploded, even with on-site sterilization, foxes have returned in large numbers, Bald Eagles can be seen picking off a fresh fish entrée, and Ospreys make their nests above crowded roadways. 

After the nest was destroyed, I worried about the fate of the birds. Would they make another nest? Would they forgo procreating for the season? Were they as angry at Con Ed as I was? 

Just a couple of days later, my questions were answered — although perhaps not all of them. Over the roadway, driving home at dusk, I spotted one of the Osprey carrying a large branch in its mouth. I followed the line of sight and with a slight grin, watched as it landed on the exact same telephone pole. Defeat was clearly not an option. Resiliency or bust! I looked on in awe. The birds had not been deterred. 

Then came round number two. It was early in the morning when I received a text message from my husband. They’re doing it again! I could hear the anger through the typeface. He sent a photo of a Con Ed truck and a series of orange flags on the telephone pole. This time, Con Ed had a plan. Now there could be no possibility of a rebuild, they must have assumed. Over dinner that evening my husband and I lamented over the Osprey’s fate. Terrible, we agreed.  

I often ponder the idea of resiliency. What makes one species or person capable of rebuilding while others give up? 

During this time, I found myself in the emergency room. Mother’s Day. My husband and I had the entire day planned but my stomach did not cosign. I downed a shot glass of a thick white substance meant to settle the stomach. It didn’t work. They inserted a line into my veins and sent me for a cat scan and ultrasound. Pancreatitis, the doctor exclaimed. Not textbook. Later in the day, the doctor informed me that I would be admitted to the hospital for monitoring. I assumed it was a minor issue and that I would be discharged the next day.

Nighttime was a brutal torture chamber of nurses ushering in and out of the three-person hospital room. The older woman across the way refused to use the bathroom and refused a bedpan, but did not refuse the incessant Facetime calls at 2 am. Television full blast at 4 am. Blood draw at 5 am. By the morning, the smell emanating from the woman’s bed was unbearable. When my husband arrived for the day, he helped me stand up and we walked the halls until I could forget the noxious fumes. 

I begged the nurses to clean the woman and the room and finally, they did. They sprayed a disinfectant after they removed her soiled sheets and the woman began to scream. You’re gonna kill me with this smell! I have COPD! I could feel the anxiety bubbling up from my pancreas and into my esophagus. On the next walk, the attending nurse told me not to leave the unit. I looked at my husband when we were farther down the hall and said: I get why someone would want to escape.

On day three, I spoke to the manager and he switched my room. I had to beg throughout the morning, but eventually, the request was granted. This time there was only one other patient. She was hard of hearing and in the late stages of dementia. Her middle-aged daughters came to visit but were seemingly unaware of the severity of her condition. I was grateful for the quiet, however, and grateful for the big window. For the first time in days, I could see the outside world. At least there was that.

On the morning of the fourth day, the gastro team entered the room, each in their own respective uniform, not uniform to one another. They explained that the bloodwork had not yet returned and therefore, I would need to remain at the hospital for at least another day. They left the room as they had entered, as a team, all together, with a mission. The sun peered through the window in the quiet space, passing by my sleeping roommate, who had now not eaten in a couple of days and was not on IV fluids to my horror. I was alone. No nurse, no doctor, no food delivery person, just me and my thoughts. Another 24 hours. Another day of being hooked up to an IV. Another day of lying in a bed. Another painful shot in the back of the arm to prevent clotting. Another day away from my husband and pets. Another day of nothingness. 

Salty liquid began to stain my cheeks for the first time since I’d stepped on hospital ground. As the tears fell in succession, I worried that my hydration levels were too few to be crying like this.  My husband walked in just then. What’s wrong? He asked. He quickly placed his backpack on the chair and embraced me, my whole body going limp. Sobbing. I was so good. I said. What do you mean? He asked. They want me here for at least another day. I can’t do it. I cried into his shoulder, wetting his sweatshirt. He held me until I calmed down — until the river turned into a trickle. 

Breakfast came. I watched some television. We played on our phones. The sun traveled high into the sky and then returned to the horizon. Night came and with it, the shot with the big needle. I took a deep breath and in it went. I tried to sleep, a tricky beast of a thing when the bed self-adjusts with every move. I worried. The answers were few and far between. No doctor could tell me why this happened. 

The sun rose that next morning, and with it, my purpose. I woke up to a new nurse. She was capable and quick and did not disappear for hours at a time. I told her that I would be leaving that day. She reassured me that she would make every effort to put this desire into action. My husband arrived around 8 am and we assumed our routines, had breakfast, and watched a bit of television. By noon, I was released. 

You know the Ospreys rebuilt their nest again… I told my husband. I forgot to tell you. 

Above the road, in between the orange flags, the Ospreys had collected branches and set them with intention. I pass by there often and see them perched between the flags, or sitting on a nearby lamppost. Round number one and two were unsuccessful but round number three? I have yet to see the babies, but I am hopeful.

Sara Jacobson

is a

Guest Contributor for Panorama.

Sara Jacobson is an Assistant Professor of English at City College in Harlem, New York.