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What Happened Next

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


I'm not good for much today but burning trash and doing laundry, of which there's always a lot. A lot has happened since my last post thanking everyone who donated to the Zick Health Fund. This whole bat experience has been like riding the Wild Mouse, with sudden jags left, right and backward. I'll be honest: having it unfold publicly has been painful. There are many things I'd rather do than tell this story to thousands of people. But doing what I most long to: suddenly going offline, crawling in bed and pulling the covers over my head for oh, say a week-- isn't an option either, especially when my readers are offering up their good wishes, love and support.

So here's what happened. On February 13, I took in another bat from the same living room where Dee Dee was found. It was a male, smaller and more delicate than Dee Dee. He looked and acted healthy, except for a large swelling on the right side of his face that involved his cheek and ear and almost closed his eye. It looked like a bite, perhaps, something that isn't unexpected in a bat colony. It scabbed over and healed, but the ear was permanently damaged. In this photo, taken March 28, 2010, you can see that there's a big chunk missing from the lower border of Darryl's ear, and his tragus is shrunken to just a little nubbin in the lower ear.

In the photo below, you can appreciate his good ear. The tragus is the little fingerlike projection in the lower outer ear. The tragus and all the delicate ridges and folds of the bat ear help channel ultrasonic pulses to the inner ear where they need to go. Like all wild things, a bat must be virtually perfect in order to survive in the outdoors. That's a lesson that wildlife rehabilitators, me especially, have to learn again and again. You might recall Avis, the hand-raised eastern phoebe who didn't make it. I sure do.

I didn't find out until yesterday at the Ohio Wildlife Center that a damaged ear renders a bat, which forages and gets about using echolocation, permanently unreleasable. So hold onto that thought, bummer that it is, because it will help with what comes next.

I put Darryl in with Dee Dee and they got along great. It was so nice to know they could be together, to wait out the rest of the winter. I had visions of releasing them together. I had visions of bat children, especially when I saw the towels rocking rhythmically the first night they were together. That's bats for you. They're the sexy little beasts.

Some bats in captivity feed themselves out of dishes from the get-go, like Dee Dee.

And some, for reasons unknown, never get the hang of crawling down to their dishes for food and water. After about five days it became apparent that Darryl wasn't eating --he became torpid and unresponsive. Once I got his little engines up and running again, I tried to teach him to self-feed, with little success. He reached out and grabbed a couple of worms on his own, but he clearly preferred catered meals. We went to school, but Darryl decided not to graduate.

So I finally gave up and began feeding him by hand, something we both enjoyed. I really dug communing with Darryl every afternoon. I had to feed him before it got dark, because he got really jiggy then, being a bat and all. Uppity. Squirmy and snarly.

photo by Shila Wilson.

Bats are messy eaters. They make a lot of noise crunching down their mealworms, and mealworm heads and tails fall from their tiny jaws. They're also messy drinkers.

Because Liam loves to get in and help, and because he adored the bats, for several evenings I let him help me feed Darryl from the end of a long bent tweezers. He never touched or handled Darryl; he just fed one mealworm after another into that little mouth while I held the bat, and he was really good at it, better than I was. He could get them lined up just right and knew just when to release the tweezers.

photo by Shila Wilson

Along about St. Patrick's Day, Darryl spluttered while I was giving him water out of a dropper, and a droplet of water landed on Liam's cheek. At the time, I quizzed him sternly on where the water had gone, checked for any abrasions, began to worry, and the more I thought about it, and the more I learned about bats and viruses, the more troubled I became. Liam said that only one droplet landed on his cheek, and nothing went in his mouth or eyes (he wears glasses). We needed to be sure that none of Darryl's saliva contacted a mucous membrane. But we couldn't be sure. We could never be sure. Maybe there was a tiny droplet. And maybe Darryl was carrying rabies. And I didn't sleep much from then on. I'd look in the mirror in the bleary mornings, and I couldn't recognize myself. Even my hair was different--sticking up and out in all directions. Who is this puffy haint, staring back at me with red-rimmed eyes?

I thought that quickly getting both me and Liam pre-exposure rabies vaccinations would protect us, so I moved rapidly down that path. I asked you for help, and you responded magnificently. But that turned out to be a blind avenue. I am very grateful to virologist Tim Winship and faithful friend and veterinarian KatDoc "I hesitate to ask this, but why..." for gently helping me understand what I really needed to do. In a situation like this, friends like Tim and Kathi are beyond value. What happened to Liam constituted a potential exposure to rabies virus, so he would need post-exposure shots (much more expensive and involved than pre-exposure vaccinations) should Darryl test positive for the rabies virus. Oh, dear. Oh, no. And by the way, so would I. At that point, I was well past caring about me. I'd gotten us into this terrible mess; I deserved whatever awful thing happened. I could only think of my little boy.

I couldn't put our sweet Liam through those shots needlessly. They can be painful, and they're terribly expensive ($12,000). Problem: You can't test a live animal for rabies. You have to look at its brain tissue for the virus.

I will condense the heartache, worry and agonizing process of coming to the decision to euthanize and test Darryl so we'd know for sure if those post-exposure shots were necessary into two words: pure hell. When the Lord handed out reverence for small lives, he dumped the whole bucket into my heart. As my dad always said, "You've got your priorities backwards." Being built backward, it took me a weekend to get my priorities straightened out, and take this little animal I dearly loved to Columbus to be put down and tested for rabies.

If the bat tested negative, Liam wouldn't have to get ANY shots. If Darryl was rabies positive, well, we'd cross that bridge when we came to it, because we'd have to figure out who else might have had even a trivial exposure. Bill, Phoebe, me, Liam; others in Bill's family, all of us perhaps slated for post-exposure prophylaxis at $12,000 a pop. Can you take a chance that you didn't somehow inhale something as you were peering at the cute little bat you didn't know was rabid? Rabies is unforgiving, unequivocally fatal. I couldn't sit around with my head in my hands. I had to act, and act fast.

So on Monday, March 29 I packed up Dee Dee and Darryl and a sharp-shinned hawk who couldn't fly and drove my odd little ark to Columbus, to the Ohio Wildlife Center, to have Dee Dee and the hawk taken into their capable care. They also did me the service of putting Darryl down.

I sat in the OWC's tiny reception area for the better part of an hour, desolate, and watched through tears as a parade of citizens came through with animals and birds, to be met by kind volunteers and staff. A couple with a road-killed red-tailed hawk. Too beautiful to leave on the highway, I guess. Another couple with a fox squirrel contained in a trash can, its hind legs dragging behind it. Too sad to leave crawling about under the feeder. A nice woman with a hopeful smile and a wingless, tailless cardinal that she'd doubtless pulled out of a cat's jaws when it already constituted a meal. Too dreadful to leave to the cat to finish. A couple of raccoons bundled in towels. Who knows what their story was. I was staggered by the seemingly endless supply of sad cases and nice hopeful people, by the kindness of the OWC staff and volunteers. I was hit hard by the reality that I, with my two bats and my grounded sharp-shinned hawk, was just one of far too many desperately needing their immediate, free help.

I am so very grateful that OWC exists and cares and works around the clock to try to get some good out of all the sad carnage people, their machines and their pets visit on wild animals. They've taken in and cared for over 36,000 creatures since 1984. The Ohio Wildlife Center is 2 1/2 hours away from me, but it is my closest and only option when a creature needs surgery or I need expert advice on its care. I have leaned on them too many times.

Director of Animal Care, Lisa Fosco, looked at Darryl's ear and matter-of-factly declared that with impaired echolocation abilities, he'd be unreleasable anyway, which made me feel just a little bit better about the decision I'd had to make. She left the room and after awhile came back with a little Ziploc bag with Darryl wrapped in paper towels inside it. I filled out a possible rabies exposure report form, put it in the bag, and drove it to the Columbus Department of Health's laboratory outside Reynoldsburg. As I circled around the compound of imposing brick structures, I saw a man with a cattle car and asked him if he knew where the rabies lab might be. He opened the trailer door, revealing a dead cow, and said, "I hope this is it, because I gotta get this cow tested for rabies." Eep, eep, eep.

Cows, I understand, come down with rabies more than you'd think because when they see an animal in distress, say a bat crawling through the grass, they get curious and often sniff or lick it, getting bitten in the process. Bless their hearts.

Reeling a little from that encounter, I drove away and finally found a promising looking door. I rang the buzzer and a thin man appeared and led me, still carrying my little bag, to a lab covered with biohazard signs. The heavy steel door opened and a very large man with latex gloves, a shaved head and a black goatee nodded and took my little bag. "Got a bat there?" He told me that if all went well I'd hear from him the following afternoon. Which is today, as I'm writing this, the phone inches from my hand. I've tried, but I can't do anything else but write this and wait for the phone to ring.

And it just did. Darryl's test came back negative for rabies.

Good night, sweet leather-winged boy. I will hold my Liam all the closer for having loved you.


This afternoon, I start my pre-exposure vaccinations, because fools like me need more than angels, virologists and veterinarians to look after them.

47 comments:

I am weeping. For the sadness that is part and parcel of living on this beautiful orb and for the joy that in the sacrifice of Darryl you learned that all is well for Liam.

The sorrow and the joy.

Bless your great big wide open 'looking at it backwards' heart for your work in the world. OMG how we need you and all the dedicated beings who do what you do.

This is a beautiful post, sad and yet joyful at the same time. Thank you for sharing your work. I've been a bird rescue/rehab volunteer and witnessed situations like those you describe, and it's so hard. But it's never worth endangering yourself or a family member, and I'm so glad to read you are all OK.

Okay, so I welled up with tears, too. Me, who felt guilty for days because when collecting shells off the beach last summer, I neglected to notice that a few housed hermit crabs, and they suffocated in the plastic bag before I got around to rinsing my shells. I'm sorry for your experience but you have gained from it, as it should be.

I was feeling melancholy this morning so reading this did not help my mood rise but this is life. The cirlcle of life and choosing to love another whether it be your child or a little brown bat. Love leaves us vulnerable But... the pros that love brings so outweigh the cons. Love always wins and we would do it all again in a heartbeat.

Is DeeDee now at the wildlife center? Thank you for sharing the story and I am so glad Liam has not been exposed to anything that could cause harm.

Julie, thanks for sharing. It's been quite a journey for you and your family. I am sad for Darryl but glad the test turned out to be negative.

*Sigh* Second day tearing up at work...

Sweet Darryl. Of course, your life had inherent value. But, I hope you realize how many lives you touched. How you taught Julie and all of us about your strange and wonderful species. How you brightened the day of those of us working in a windowless office pushing paper, just by seeing a photo of you (against a beautifully complementary colored towel, I might add).

You are a strong and brave woman, Julie. You will get right back in there the next time there is an animal in need because that is who you are. Your compassion and empathy for other species is in your DNA.

My eyes are full of tears, here at work--for all of it. For having to make that decision about Darryl(yes, I'm just like you in that regard) and the immense relief for the outcome and no shots for Liam. You wrote this beautifully.

You go though so much joy, and so much sadness. I'm so glad Liam is ok.

How bittersweet a post. What a hard road. Thank you so much for sharing all you have learned. A treasure, albeit sad, of knowledge, all around.

So many tears, mine included, out here in the world for this bittersweet event. Such a cruel and necessary choice to be made. I'm glad for your good ending for all involved, except of course for Daryl. My heart is soft for all those little creatures, too. We are blessed with their existence and privileged to share their lives.

Blessing to you and Liam, and all your brood.

Oh gosh dern it--you went and posted a picture of my favorite boy (whom I have never met) and of a wondrous creature, Darryl the bat.
And, here I am, taking a break from cleaning--blecchh--and now I am crying. How am I going to see to dust?
Gosh dern it.

BUT--so glad the story has a happy ending for people, and--I guess truth be told--for Darryl too. In the wild, he would not have made it. You gave him a bit of rest and comfort.

I'm sitting here crying for a little bat, for Liam's good health, and for your sweet and loving heart.

That was on the edge stuff and very sorrowful, so glad it ended well and you are doing the pre-vacs.

Reminds me that sometimes choices are not between good and bad, but better and best. My heart goes out to you, Julie, but like other posts here, I'm glad you chose your mother's heart for Liam. He is a treasure.

Posted by Anonymous March 31, 2010 at 3:12 PM

Liam is blessed to have you as a mom and Darryl was blessed to know you as a mom, too. You make this world a better place for all the Darryls.

Hugs and kisses to you and Liam.

My heart is broken. You did the right thing, but how sad for little Darryl. Thanks for posting this, Julie.

I've been following your bat chronicles since the beginning, though I haven't commented.
Though you and I exist on opposite bands in the rehab rainbow, I can still ache for what you had to do. In my work, if it's not releasable, we rarely say goodbye. It becomes one of our own or goes to another center with a void in their permit.

But our rehabbers and YOU, you glorious women, are on the front lines of a continuous battle to save one life here, another life there, an endless parade. And with your story, add on the safety and health of one of your children?

I hold shoulders in our euthanasia room sometimes when all that they can do isn't enough and they need to be reminded of what they DID accomplish. And right now, I wish I could hold your shoulders.

Oh, Julie :BIG HUGS:

I'm so sorry to hear about little Darryl. That's the problem with us humans -- we start naming our rescues and then we're destined for heartache and heartbreak.

You have to know that every single one of us, practically, that reads your blog has probably rescued some sort of critter and had our heart broken in the process.

I remember my little "Larry Bird" (named after the basketball player). Interestingly, my son remembers, too, some 30+ years later.

Don't give up the caretaking, but, try to be more realistic about it. You can be the driver of the local ambulance service to get all your critters to help by people who know the rules.

Bless you and your family for being such wonderful people. Your kids are gonna make a real positive contribution to this lumbering, limping planet.

BIG HUGS.

Barb

no doubt, not a dry eye in your reader-world JZ... bless you.

Wow! What a journey! I know that sick feeling in your stomach when you can' sleep for worry over your child particularly when it comes because of something that you blame yourself for. I am glad it all turned out well in the end. I wonder if someday, DeeDee will give birth to Darryl's babies. That would be something. Wouldn't it?

Please don't call yourself a fool. If you are, we all are. This is what I love about you. You are brave enough put it all out there...we weep with you, we laugh heartily with you...and stand up and applaud you. With each and every post your share, you light us up.

I have enjoyed the stories of Dee Dee and Darryl, wishing I had the same opportunity. Yes, loving a bat is compassionate love, Bat Girl.

I'm glad all is well. Really glad.

xo,
Mare

My heart aches for you Julie.
But I'm so grateful that Darryl's sacrifice allows you to relax and avoid the shot process for Liam.
I admire you for sharing this very human story.

I'm so sorry, Julie. I'm just holding you tight in my heart.

I'm so sorry, Julie. I'm holding you tight in my heart.

As I sit here bawling just like the rest of us, all I can think to say is you are in my thoughts Julie.

My heart is breaking and I didn't even have to make the choice. You are one brave woman. And we all appreciate you sharing your joys and sorrows with us. It really is an honor and a privilege to learn through you. Liam is blessed to have you as his mother.

Thank You again and again, Dana

Posted by Anonymous March 31, 2010 at 7:35 PM

Julie, my heart goes out to you as I realize the burden of worry and decision that you have carried through this time. I am thankful that you, Liam, and your family are alright.

Sharing this story in public has taught hundreds and hundreds of people much valuable information about rabies. I believe, probably in the near future, that knowledge will go on to keep someone else from harm and worry. Your teaching is priceless.

Wishing you some time in the sun for rest and renewal !

;-)

Good heavens, Julie. What a wild ride. I am so glad you did not pull the sheets over your head this week. Not for me or your readers, but for you and Darryl. Thanks for taking me along.

I'm so sorry you had to go through all this. (Do we really need more lessons that we are fallible and life isn't fair?) And, as a Mom, I especially empathized with that terrible anxiety about Liam. What a struggle with a complex and unforgiving situation! But now, Liam is fine (what a relief) and Darryl had more and vastly better last days (and nights under the towel with Dee Dee) than "real life" had offered him. I so admire your willingness to share this story. Thank you.

Thank you, everyone, for sharing this ordeal with me. Your good, thoughtful wishes really help. I should let you know that Dee Dee is alive and well at the Ohio Wildlife Center. She has some wing problems so we don't know how well she'll be able to fly until they release her in the exercise room in mid-April. Keep your fingers crossed for her.

And the sharp-shinned hawk has a swollen elbow, but he can fly! and is a good prospect for release. He's wrapped and resting at OWC. I do hope he gets released so he can make more sharp-shins. There are too darn many cardinals in Ohio and he has work to do.

Brown thrashers got in this morning. Things are looking up.

(((((((((((((JULIE))))))))))))))

I am heartbroken for you and Darryl and Liam, but I am so relieved about the no-rabies diagnosis.

Biggest hugs to my favorite blogger (and Liam too).
xox
Dorothy

I'm not sure backwards is the word for your priorities. You just have a willing spirit, an open door and a kind heart. Liam and Darryl, your family and friends, and lots of others you've never met have benefited from all of that goodness... and that includes me.

Thanks as always for sharing. I can't tell you how much I admire you for being brave enough to not only take on something like this in life, but to tell the true story, warts and all.

Sending y'all hugs and sunshine from NH.

I'm glad it was negative and that Liam is safe.

Having said that, I'll go against the weepy grain and state my opinion again that the risk is too high with bat rehab.

As you said, 'Rabies is unforgiving, unequivocally fatal."

You do enough for wildlife with your writings, paintings, and general eco do-gooding. You don't have to do it all.

In the end, (now this will sound so harsh) an individual bat's life is not important. (Yes, I know it seems that way after you allow yourself to become attached)

But, if you step back for a moment, the energy and risk involved give us what? A released individual bat that may be eaten by an owl the very night it's released? In the meantime you and your kids are at risk for a rather sneaky fatal disease?

Huh?

I'll sign off with something you already know, it's the habitat sweetie, not the bat.

Don't hate me.

I just never thought this was a good idea and this post confirms that for me.

Gonna think about this one for awhile, FC. Yes, you warned me early on to be very careful, and I believe you when you said you never thought it was a good idea in the first place. It's easy to beat myself up in hindsight, and you can be sure I have beaten myself up over this. I'll take my swats from you, seasoned with 20/20 hindsight as they are.

What has made this ordeal so painful was how backward it all was. Peeling the rotten onion of the whole situation--realizing that I should never have gone into it without inoculations in the first place, after it was already too late; realizing that Liam shouldn't have been helping feed, after it was already too late; realizing that an individual bat's life is as nothing to my child's, after I got attached; realizing that I never should have posted photos of the bats until I knew how it all turned out, after everybody else got attached; realizing that what I thought would protect us actually wouldn't...I could go on. It was a nightmare, one I'm still struggling to wake from.

I've never been good at looking at animals at the population level. I always get tangled up with the individual, because at heart I'm not so much ecologist as behaviorist, loving to observe an individual closely, to differentiate it from the rest. I was marked by Ernest Thompson Seton's writings as a small child, and I've never wavered from that desire to connect with one creature and know something of its life.

I know there are those who say that wildlife rehab is for bunny huggers; that it's a feel-good thing; that we should leave them lying by the road because they're likely toast anyway in the big scheme of things. I think that people who feel that way (and I'm not implying that you do, though I wouldn't be surprised if you share some of that feeling) should spend a day in the reception area of OWC, seeing how much ordinary people can care about a squirrel or a snake, and seeing what it means to them to be able to help a hurt animal even a little bit. I want to live in a world where most people swerve to avoid a box turtle, not swerve to hit it. Wildlife rehab about building a connection between people and wildlife, and it may indeed be meaningless on an animal population level, but it is far from meaningless on a human spiritual level.

And now everybody knows a hell of a lot more about bats and rabies than they would've if they hadn't fallen for Dee Dee and Darryl. I'd be the last to utter that dopey platitude, "It's all good!" in this situation, because clearly it isn't. It isn't even half good. But I am sadder and wiser for it. And I've learned, I hope, to wait to tell the story when it's over.

I will say to you what I say to my daughter when she is very stressed out about Important Things. I look her in the eye, or in her eye through the rear view mirror:

Darlin? It Is Going To Be OK.

I do not agree that an individual bat's life is not important. Every life is important in ways we cannot understand. I am not saying this because of any particular religious view. I just have a profound respect for the natural world and all the creatures that live on this planet. (I might make an exception for cockroaches.) What strikes me as most tragic about what happened is that it didn't have to happen. Will all due respect to Julie's skill and knowledge as a wildlife rehabilitator, I think she realizes in hindsight that with a few precautions the crisis would never have arisen and Darryl would still be alive. Like all creatures, we must, of course, think first of our own safety and that of our offspring, but what sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom is that we look out for the other creatures, too. In a purely Darwinian world, we would show no mercy, even to each other. But we are sentient beings and must show compassion to the animals and plants with whom we share the earth.

sooo, enjoyed this group of posts about the bats. I never got entangled like the rest, he died..... It's a bat. Oy!

i have to say FC has got it on. Gotta love him.

While reading your posts it was mostly assured you'd never let Liam touch it or go near it, it did happen, in a round about sort of way. Then i read FC's slap. and agreed. Then read yours. and agreed. and commiserated. But only after that response in this comment section, before that i wanted to slap you, too. :) in a sweet sort of way. honest. You're my hero in so many ways.

Please don't do that again! make me wonder what the heck is she doing? Rehabbing is fine and noble, but some animals? and with children in the mix?

I hope you get past and over it, lose the guilt and quite possibly rehab another, even a bat. And yes, i'll never look at a bat the same way again, they seem like such amazing creatures. But, i'll never rehab one! Is that a good thing? or bad from all this?

:)

Amen to all you have said in your blog and replies! Life and death are difficult for all living creatures; but we are in it together and the respect and care we give each other in the experience of living each moment help make the world a little better over time.

"I've never been good at looking at animals at the population level. I always get tangled up with the individual, because at heart I'm not so much ecologist as behaviorist, loving to observe an individual closely, to differentiate it from the rest." -- JZ

I love that JZ... a sentiment I think many of us can relate to.
And we all love the way you just courageously put yourself out there -- the good, the bad, and the ugly -- for all the world to see... and learn from.

Julie - I have nothing to add except a hug and understanding. I was falling in love with Darryl just from stories and pictures - I cannot imagine how difficult it is for your heart even when it had to be done.

Be well - thank you for this and everything.

PS - I forgot to add a hug to your tow-headed little boy, Liam, with relief all is ok!

I read this post earlier today and just couldn't find the words to respond until several hours later. I can't remember another time that I read any blog and found my heart pounding and myself saying aloud, "Oh, God, no!" as I read. Such anguish and sorrow and just raw emotion. And such courage to share it.

You have your priorities absolutely right. Sweet leather wing creatures with torn ears and tiny furry souls are fortunate that there are people like Julie who care enough to take them in and learn about them and wrap them in soft blankets. And when she has to make a heart-rending choice, she has the will and sense to make it and then the heart to feel the pain that goes with such a decision.

I have been reading along with the rest because I was fascinated, curious and surprised to realize how little I knew about these tiny creatures that once invaded my house on a regular basis. Thank you for sharing the whole story, including the mistakes, and letting all of us learn with you. That takes a whole lot of guts.

"What has made this ordeal so painful was how backward it all was." -- JZ

It is only backward in hindsight. Throughout this process, you acted responsibly based on your current knowledge of bats/rabies. As your knowledge grew, your actions changed. And once you realized that you could never, ever know for sure whether or not Liam had been exposed to rabies (no matter how carefully you analyzed the facts of the situation), you did what you absolutely had to do by euthanizing Darryl and having him tested.

Next time you take a breather from beating yourself up regarding this ordeal, please give yourself credit for doing the best you knew how to do. Thinking "I should have known better" is a way of imagining that it is somehow possible to know enough to never make choices that have unfortunate repercussions.

Thank you for sharing this story. You are a brave, loving, intelligent woman and you have my utmost respect.

Posted by Diane Borders April 2, 2010 at 5:51 PM

Liam is growing so fast. Suddenly he is a young man.
Amazing how that happens.

Sorry about Darryl, glad you both are well.

So sorry.. A a raiser of many wild things I feel for your loss. Sometimes our over loving hearts take us places our intelligence knows better. Then comes the real test as we must asuage the pain of our endevors and bow to the realities of life... Lesson learned, we go on wiser, a little less crazy, but still addicted to the joys of the wild.

Posted by Holly F April 12, 2010 at 7:44 AM

Me again. Such a sobering post. Sad -- so sad, but necessary. When my husband worked as a vet in MN, mostly on dairy cows, a holstein was bitten by a rabid beaver wandering in its pasture, and the whole herd of cows had to be vaccinated, along with the farmer. My husband is very aware that you do not blindly reach down the throat of a seemingly choking horse, just in case....

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