Monday, October 22, 2012
Back in July we purchased a 20-gallon aquarium for my mother. She lives with us, but although she is ambulatory and in generally good health, she does not get out of the house much and no longer reads or pursues any hobbies. My husband thought the fish tank might provide a pleasing alternative to television as well as turn into something that my youngest child would be able to share with his grandma. I remember our having an aquarium when I was growing up and don't recall its being that complicated. So when my husband suggested one for my mom's birthday I agreed. How hard could it be?
A lot harder, it turns out, than I ever imagined. I have lost track of the number of times I have carried water samples to the pet store. When we first set up the tank, we followed the instructions perfectly. We added all the recommended water treatments and let the filter work for a week before we took in the first water sample. That sample tested too high on the pH scale. We added "pH down," waited a few days, and tested again. Still too high. After several more trips on the pH merry-go-round, we finally achieved safe range and got the green light to buy our first fish. We took home three of the red wag platy specimen, a hardy, tropical fish marketed as an excellent choice for beginners like us. We were excited to finally have fish and thought we were on our way! The salesgirl cautioned us about overfeeding, a common newbie mistake. Instead of feeding the fish twice per day, as the fish food container suggested, we limited feedings to one pinch of fish food per day. Our platies (platys?) seemed to be happy.
Within a week, however, we could tell something was wrong. Our fish were not as active as they had been. We noticed what looked like tiny white specks on several of them. Back to the pet store we went. It turned out our fish had Ichthyopthirius multifiliis, a parasite more commonly known as "Ick." Not to worry--there is a treatment for that. We bought a bottle of "Super Ick Cure" and added as directed. But within a week all the fish were dead. We returned them to the pet store to collect on our two-week money-back guarantee and also took back another water sample. Upon dipping the test strip into our baggie of water, the salesgirl's mouth fell open: "That is the highest ammonia level I have ever seen." (For the record, a few years ago the city of Chicago became our water source, so if it's the tap water we are not alone in our toxicity.) We went back home armed with ammonia remover and did several rounds of treatment over the course of a week before retesting. The ammonia was still incredibly high. This time it was suggested that we replace most but not all the water. I purchased a tank vacuum and suctioned out about 2/3 of the water, cleaning the gravel at the same time. I replaced the water I had removed, starting from scratch with a new filter cartridge and the usual additives. I have been back to the pet store several more times, and while the pH level is fine, the ammonia level is still unacceptably high. The last time I went, the salesgirl (there are actually at least three, and they all recognize me now) looked at me with an expression of puzzled pity and suggested we totally empty the the tank and start from scratch.
We are three months into our fish odyssey and I am tired. I have run out of both money and motivation. I don't want to carry the plastic bag of shame to the pet store anymore only to have a pretty, young salesgirl sadly shake her head at me. I don't want to continue sneaking into my mother's room when she is not there in order to steal water samples from the tank without having to endure her knowing looks. "It will be easy," I told her all those months ago. "You don't have to do anything. I'll take care of it." Three months later her tank sits, pretty and gurgling, but devoid of life. Maybe I need to buy some of these. Do you think she would notice?
In other news, I am happy to report our puppy is still alive.