Many, many years ago - when I was still in college - I found a tiny red bat. He'd flown into one of those electric bug-zappers, probably chasing after some bugs. He was scared, hurting, and his wing was a charred, mangled mess, but I just couldn't leave him there. I raced back to my art studio, grabbed a pair of leather gauntlets and a box, and took him home.
The next day, I called everywhere I could to find someone who knew about bats. I finally reached a bat rehabilitator. Unfortunately, she lived about eight hours' drive from me. She did, however, give me advice in dealing with the little guy.
"Don't expect him to get better," she cautioned, "Don't even expect him to eat or drink. Red bats are kind of like 'nature's popcorn'... They are so small, even a minor injury makes them give up and just wait to die." She also taught me how to keep him comfortable in the meantime - most significantly, always make sure that he had something to hang from. I never knew that "standing upright" was actually uncomfortable or painful for them, but apparently it is.
So I worked with him. For three days my friends and I would keep an eye on him, carefully clean his mangled wing, and offer him food and water. The second day, he started drinking. The third, he even ate a few mealworms.
When I went to check on him the next morning, I found him in the bottom of his non-aviary, cold and lifeless. Apparently he had felt spry enough in the night to move around and stretch, which re-opened the wounds on his wing. There just wasn't enough blood left in his tiny body to keep him going at that point.
I was sad. I was excruciatingly sad. But there was an undercurrent of happiness, as well. Even when it was hopeless, we kept trying; we kept fighting. And even though we lost in the end, that little bat gave it everything he had.
And as I write this, the vet just called; Amelia is out of surgery. Things still look dire, and at this point there's nothing left that anyone can do. On one level, however, that's OK. She's a tough girl (is that ever an understatement), and none of us ever gave up. We all fought the difficult fight, and didn't take the easy way out. Little Vlad would approve.
UPDATE: It's about a month on, and Amelia is watching the cats and squirrels taunt her through our back door. She wound up losing about half of her intestine (and is still too thin), but our scrappy tank of a dog somehow managed to pull through. I tell myself that - despite the abysmal odds - she wound up with a perfect storm of skilled hands, caring hearts and never-give-up-the-fight attitudes all around. Some days, it really does work.