the on-line diary of
ralph robert moore


the official website for the writings of
ralph robert moore

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph Robert Moore.

Print in HTML format.

Return to lately 2014.

june 1, 2014

In our backyard we've placed bird feeders, bird baths. To attract wildlife. We like watching through a window. But like a Ouija board, the feeders and baths don't just attract the good. They bring the bad closer.

About a year ago, we started hearing scrabblings within our walls, across our ceilings. I'd wake up around four a.m., slip out of bed, go upstairs to my study to check my emails, and from the wall behind the bookcases, I could hear something heavy wake up, crawl up the inside of the wall, tramp across the ceiling, right over my head, to an apparently favored area of the attic floor, above our two-story living room. Every single morning.

And we could also hear another creature crawling around the walls of our bedroom while we tried to relax with coffee and watch TV.

The thing is, it's such a nuisance to bring someone into our home for any type of fix, but eventually I did go online, locate a local exterminator, called him. It was a bad connection, but it's always a bad connection these days.

The exterminator showed up at eight the following morning. I took him on a tour of the outside of the house, front and back, in a cold drizzle that started up just before the doorbell. We have two attics, one for downstairs, one for upstairs, so he inspected each one separately, with our flashlight (his fell and broke as he entered our home.) He thought we definitely had rats, and may have raccoons and/or squirrels. Except, he said, that if we do have a raccoon or two up there, we probably don't have squirrels, "because raccoons kill any squirrels they find in an attic." Did not know that.

He laid out four traps, large, rectangular metal wire containers, two in each attic. Baited them , not with cheese, not with peanut butter, but with tinned sardines. Good to know, if I ever need it in a story. The first few days, they'll ignore the traps. He'd be back that Friday to temporarily seal all the entry points around the roof (he found seven.) You seal the entry points so they're forced to eat the baited food. Then back again Monday morning to see what we caught.

Mary and I used to go out all the time. Everywhere. But we don't go out a lot, anymore. Sometimes, not for weeks. Which is what we now prefer. Almost everything we want is right here. The first few months of each year are when Mary and I have to go outside the most. To get our car inspected so we can get a sticker of drivability, to go to various doctors and dentists for annual or semi-annual check-ups of our eyes, teeth, general health.

Usually I breeze through my physical, giving up my fluids with a relaxed look on my face, but this time there were problems. I had a mole on the back of my neck, and another on my lower back. My doctor wanted me to get both checked-out by a dermatologist, to make sure they weren't malignant. Because, you know. So I made an appointment.

Mary and I are together 24 hours today, a luxury we really enjoy, so she came into the examination room with me. The Physician Assistant took a look at both moles, and decided both should be removed. She could do both right then and there. While I was sitting on the examination table with my shirt off. Which I like. Get it resolved. The mole behind my neck she wanted to send to a lab for biopsy, because she didn't like its color. If she didn't like its color, I didn't like its color.

I wasn't sure how you remove a mole, but what she did first was inject a local anesthesia into each mole in a couple of spots. "You're not going to like me as I inject you." It did hurt a bit, enough to where I sat up, but not too much. We made small talk for a few minutes. That peculiar small talk, the type you make in a doctor's or dentist's office while you wait for numbness. She picked up something outside my peripheral vision, reached up behind my neck, where she had pushed in the first injections. "Can you feel that?" I couldn't. She worked up there a short while, me watching her forearm sliding back and forth.


Down to my lower back. Her head tilted to one side, concentrating. Same thing.

Later, back in the parking lot, lighting up a cigarette, I asked Mary what she had used. A scalpel?

No, it was a thin razor. Skinnier than a regular razor.

The biopsy came back negative. So, good news. But then my general physician called to say there were some elevated levels with my blood results. They wanted to take more blood, run the tests again. Not the phone call you want.

Back to the doctor's, more blood drawn.

Optimistic me, I thought okay, maybe this second test will confirm I'm strong like a bear.

Except, it didn't. I had elevated creatinine levels in my blood. Creatinine, as I looked it up on the Internet, is a toxin that normally leaves the body when you urinate. But mine wasn't. The doctor wanted me to schedule an appointment with a nephrologist, someone who specializes in kidney disease. Never a good thing when you have to see a specialist. Kidney disease? Me? Really?

The exterminator showed up at 8:00 that Friday morning, lots of ladders clanging outside our front door. He and his assistant, who we suspected was probably his wife (they make a nice couple if so), spent the next hour and a half walking their ladders around our house, climbing up, nailing small-squared wire mesh over all the dark entry/exit holes that had been gnawed in our white-painted eaves creating an imperfection, like a missing tooth. He told me he left one exit hole partially unwired, so any rodents in the attic could squeeze out, but would have difficulty squirming back in.

The point to sealing the holes was to force the rats and whatever to eat the food he had placed in the traps. As he told me when he installed the traps the week prior, animals will shun the traps, because the traps are new, and creatures that live in people's attics are a cautious lot.

After the holes had been sealed, he and I went to the second floor to pull down the ceiling stairs for the upper attic. He went up with a flashlight, pink insulation falling down from the rectangular stair opening in the ceiling. He had put two cages up there last Wednesday, one large, one small. "Doesn't look like we got anything." I didn't think we would, yet. "Oh, wait. We did." I could see the flashlight beam sliding around in the attic. His voice lowered . "A raccoon." He asked me to get a pair of heavy duty gloves from his wife, and a large plastic garbage bag. His wife was on our front lawn, putting equipment back in their truck. She peeled the gloves off her own hands for him to use. Back upstairs, I passed them up to him, along with a 30-gallon black plastic trash bag.

After a few minutes, me at the bottom of the pull down stairs, glancing around my study, trying to spot something I could whack the raccoon with if it suddenly bounded down the attic stairs, cranky as all get-out, the exterminator walked backwards down the attic stairs, big black garbage bag around the bottom of the large wire cage, and as his feet stepped back down on the carpet I could see the raccoon inside the cage, large and lethargic.

When the exterminator returned from his truck, we checked the attic for the first floor. Entry for this one's located in the large closet off our master bedroom. Entrance is through a large, rectangular sheet of white-painted wood set in the ceiling. I had set up a step ladder he could climb to lift the long rectangle up and over to one side, to be able to climb up into the attic. "This one I'm scared of," he told me, and I was surprised that he said that, but anyway, once he did climb up, using my flashlight to poke its beams around, he said both cages up there were empty.

We decided that the next Friday he'd come out again and walk around our house, to see if anything tried to get past the wire mesh seals. We wouldn't be home (I had my consultation with the kidney specialist that day), but he'd call me if he saw any tampering. In the meantime, and for the next couple of weeks, I'd call him if I heard any scrabbling coming from the ceilings over our heads. After two weeks of no new noises, I'd pay him for his services, then Mary and I would contract with a carpenter to repair the damages to our roofline, using materials that are nigh impossible for a rodent to chew through.

So I went to the kidney specialist, on a Friday, a day we prefer to stay home, but that's the way it was.

We were called into a back examination room. I got to stay dressed. Which I always appreciate. My doctor, when he arrived, seemed intelligent and caring. Big points. I exhaled. He asked a lot of questions. He held my hand. "Your fingernails are curved. That could indicate a lung problem." But they've always been curved, since boyhood. My second blood test revealed my creatinine levels had gotten even higher. Wry smile from the specialist. "Not the direction we like to see them go." He scheduled a sonogram of my kidney, which would be performed at this same facility. "After that, we might want to do a kidney biopsy."

So of course, once I got home I looked up a kidney biopsy on the Internet.

And it was not reassuring.

It's done at a hospital. And the hospital where it would likely be performed had received low marks in different surveys of hospitals so far as cleanliness and patient mortality were concerned. The biopsy itself meant long needles would be punched through my lower back while I lay stomach down on a table, to inject anesthesia. That administration was characterized as "painful". But even worse, after the procedure, I'd have to lie on my stomach in the recovery room of the hospital for an additional five to six hours, to make sure there was no internal bleeding. I couldn't ask Mary to sit out in the waiting room that long. We'd be separated the better part of a day, which we never had been, in over a decade. So I had the worry of this kidney biopsy scrabbling around in the attic of my day to day thoughts.

The morning after the exterminator removed the raccoon was blissfully quiet. For the first time in months, I sat down at my computer in my study upstairs, at four in the morning (I have trouble sleeping), and there was no scrabbling above me or behind me. Right now, we had a long to-do list, but I knew from past experience it was too early to cross off from that list, Get Rid of Rats. We'd wait and see, and listen.

Wednesday, I was upstairs in the morning, typing, when I heard a scrabble. It took a moment to register, because I was so used by then to hearing the sound. Then I stopped typing. Hey, wait a minute, I'm not supposed to be hearing that sound anymore.

You know, we were discouraged, but at the same time, we more or less expected it to turn out this way. With almost everything you do in life, you have to hit it more than once.

The exterminator was scheduled to come back that Friday, to walk around our house and see if any of the wire-sealed entrances were reviolated. But then Wednesday night, around midnight, in the first floor attic, more or less directly above our sleeping heads, a loud clanging started up. So here we are in darkness, heads raised off our pillows, listening to this metal clanging fury. Fuck. I realized by the sound that what had probably happened is that a second raccoon had gotten up there, gone into the trap after the food inside (tinned sardines), and got caught. And then, in a rage-filled attempt to escape, was apparently bouncing off the walls of the trap, trying to get out.

And that loud struggle went on. All. Night. Long.

By four in the morning, I was exhausted. I got out of bed, stumbled upstairs.

When the sun came up, I called the exterminator. Thankfully, even though he had a busy schedule, he was able to come out two hours later. With new traps.

Access to the downstairs attic is through our walk-in closet off the bedroom. Remember? A large, white-painted square in the closet's ceiling you lifted and moved to one side. Up on a ladder, he started lifting the rectangle. Lowered it. Looked at me. His face lost some confidence. "I think he's moved the cage directly on top of the opening. He feels really heavy."

Show of hands. How many people want to hear something large and furious living in your attic is on top of the rectangular square you have to slide to one side to gain entrance to the attic?

He passed me the flashlight. "Keep shining it around the edges of the rectangle as I lift it up, so I can see what's going on, and if there are any others, still roaming around free."

I did.

After he slid the heavy board to one side, me angling the flashlight up, illuminating the wire squares of the cage, we could see the black and gray raccoon within. Big. Lying down in the cage, but more alert than the raccoon we caught the other day.

The exterminator put on some thick gloves. Started sliding the cage off the top of the board. The raccoon inside the cage lunged at him, crashing its rectangular head against the front of the cage.


So this one still had some fight. Had to admire that, but even so…

After the exterminator transferred the cage to his truck at the curb of our home, and put new baited traps in both attics, we agreed he'd come back out next Wednesday. If there were no more animals in the traps by then, I'd pay him, although he'd still have to clear out any additional animals for a reasonable length of time. My thought was, two weeks.

We went back to the nephrologist's office, for the kidney sonogram. The printed instructions said, Try to have a full bladder at the time of the sonogram. A full bladder will make it easier for the sonogram to pick up details of your kidneys.

So I'm sitting in the waiting room with a real urge to pee. A tall woman comes out, asks us to come into the back rooms.

The sonogram itself is fairly easy, and painless. They wipe your abdomen with a gel to facilitate easy gliding of the sonogram sensor. You lie on your stomach, rolling over on either side during the procedure, with your shirt off but your pants on, although you do have to unbuckle your belt at one point and lower your pants just an inch or two. The sonogram sensor itself is pressed down into your skin, so that does put pressure on your full bladder, but it's not so bad. The woman giving the procedure had a cough. Keep that in your memory.

Once the sonogram was finished I wanted nothing so much as to pee, but I couldn't, since we then had to drive over to a nearby lab for blood and urine samples.

The lab was one of those standalone buildings that look extraordinarily impersonal, like the buildings the Morlocks use with the Eloi. We sat with a bunch of other people in cheap chairs lined along the waiting room wall, like people waiting their turn to be beheaded. When my name was called, I was led back behind the waiting room door to a long corridor. My fluid collector, or whatever you'd call her, flipped through the computer-printed tests that had been ordered, impressed. "Okay. You have a lot of tests that have to be done with your samples. So try to urinate as much as you can." She handed me a white Styrofoam cup that was as big as something you'd get at a McDonald's drive-through. I took it into the adjacent bathroom, did my best, but I could only fill it half full. When I came back out to where she was waiting, I apologized. "I only half-filled it." "That's okay." She took me into a small room, stuck a needle in my arm, one of those syringes where once you fill the vial, you can detach that vial and insert a new, empty vial to be filled. She did that, like, three times. "Okay. You're good to go."

We had to wait a couple of weeks to revisit with the nephrologist, who would tell us the results of my kidney sonogram and extensive blood and urine tests, to see what they revealed, and what I'd have to do next.

The Sunday after the Friday when the second raccoon was caught, I was upstairs in my study between DVDs we were watching in our downstairs bedroom, having a smoke, and I heard a breathing sound up in the white ceiling. Traced it with a cocked ear to an air vent downstairs, the front of the house, an air vent in our dining room. I called Mary out to witness the noise.

Right above our heads, a quiet, wheezing sound. Like an animal exhaling in sleep. At times, the exhaling would rise in volume, like it was dreaming. And who wants to listen to a rodent dreaming? What do they dream about? Cheese? Destruction of a rural home? The pestilent takeover of Europe during the good old days?


But then, after Sunday, we heard nothing.


Such a warm blanket to pull up to your chin.

Tuesday, we saw the rats or whatever had chewed through a new section of our roofline. So when the exterminator came out Wednesday, I pointed that out to him, and although he was there basically to pick up his check and collect the cages in our attics, he got a ladder out of his truck and climbed right up, sealing the new hole. I do have to say, he was always extremely responsive to our requests, even when we didn't have a scheduled appointment, and we really appreciated it.

The rat problem may be solved now. Or not. We'll see.

Whenever I talk about a repair service we receive I like to mention costs, because people don't seem to discuss actual prices that often on the Internet, and I would think it'd be helpful, just as a point of comparison.

The exterminator charged an initial fee of $180 to do an inspection of our attics, and lay out four traps. All the rest of what he did, going up on ladders to seal off all the entry and exit holes with wire mesh, capturing and removing two raccoons, distributing rat bait throughout two attics, came to $400. His first bid was higher, but I negotiated with him in the kitchen, and got a couple hundred dollars knocked off. So our total cost to get rid of the rats was $580. Money well spent.

We planned on having a carpenter come out that next Monday, to quote a fee to repair the damage the raccoons caused, but I started to get sick. You know that onset: Feeling a bit sluggish, realizing you're coughing more than you normally do, going through a lot of Kleenex, then realizing something is wrong.

Lying in bed, miserable, looking back, I realized I probably got my cold from the woman who did my kidney sonogram. The one who was coughing. As I started feeling better, Mary came down with the cold. It apparently had a one week gestation period.

So we didn't call the carpenter out after all. Just lay in bed, coughing, sneezing, moaning.

Another week passed.

We went back to my nephrologist. And I was nervous. I admit it. And I'm sure it showed in my eyes. I didn't want someone in a second-class hospital punching extra-long needles down into my back, and then having to lie on my stomach for five or six hours later before I could drive home to Mary. And what if there were a complication, and I had to stay overnight? It would be difficult to convey that to Mary, because of her aphasia after her stroke. I didn't want her alone in our home, worrying.

As it turned out, the nephrologist didn't bring up the biopsy. My sonogram looked normal, so no cancer. My prostate was slightly enlarged. "Is it bigger than what you'd normally find in a man my age?" He closed his eyes. "No. I probably have an enlarged prostate too. Almost all men do. I'll give you a pill that should relax your prostate."

He then talked about the different tests I could take to gain further information as to why my creatinine levels were so high. One was a pulmonary test (lungs); the other was a cardiac test (heart).

The tests would cost about two thousand dollars.

I shrugged in that small examination room. "I'm not old enough yet for Medicare. I have Blue Cross/Blue Shield, but my annual deductible is ten thousand dollars. We can afford to pay for these tests out of our own pockets, but how necessary are they?"

And he got this sloppy, aw-shucks grin on his face. "To be honest, Mr. Moore? Your creatinine levels will probably go back down on their own. So, why don't we hold off on those tests? I'll just adjust your blood pressure medicine."

Fine with me.

One way to keep raccoons out of your attic is to not provide them with a way to get up to your attic. In our back yard, our crepe myrtle, which we planted about twenty years ago, is so huge its branches overhang the first floor roof. And in fact, we saw one raccoon crawl across a branch, its dark gray and black heft weighing down the end of the branch, so that it allowed the raccoon to easily step its paws off the branch tip onto our roof. So one day we went out in our backyard with a tall stepladder, and I sawed through all those overhanging branches (and there were a lot of them), pulling their extraordinary length down to the ground, although technically they were still attached to the tree, although really, only by a wooden thread. And yet, when spring came, the twigs' buds on those bent down, almost completely sawed-off branches bloomed into green leaves, which is absolutely stunning, since I would think the branches would be dead, but no, the tree reached down so its elongated green fingers could touch, again, the Earth. I admired the strength of our crepe myrtle, its refusal to accept "No."

Soon after that, water started leaking out of one of our downstairs bathroom toilets. And water leaked onto the wooden floor behind our washing machine. And our doorbell stopped working, which is more of an inconvenience than you might think (imagine your phone not letting you know you have an incoming call.)

And just the other night, we got a call from our next door neighbor.

"Rob, just wanted to let you know, you have a very large tortoise in your driveway."

In my previous Lately I joked about turtles getting into our attic, but now we had a very large tortoise in our driveway? And this neighbor was not one to make practical jokes.

I got dressed. Went outside to the darkening lawns, rooftops. No tortoise. Looked throughout the front landscape of our home. Nothing. And he had specified, not just a "tortoise" or a "large tortoise", but a "very large tortoise."

Where was it hiding? Things fall apart. I know that. What very large tortoise was slouching towards us?