Here in the trenches it is hard to stop and pause. It has been a hellish couple weeks, but this past one takes the prize. I don’t ever remember things being this awful. I was already somewhat on my knees and then wham. Horses do stupid shit all the time. 1200lbs of nothing but trouble. Sometimes it is minor, a scrape or a bruise. Other times it goes from normal to catastrophic in no time at all.
This past weekend it was a typical early morning phone call, one of the horses wasn’t feeling well. She tends to have episodes like this, so I thought nothing of it. Just dragged myself out of bed and walked out to check her. She was very quiet, and indeed was sick. I gave her an IV injection of an NSAID to provide some relief while I figured out where the vet was at. After 30 minutes she still looked poor. hmmmm. Not her usual presentation. I’ve known this mare a few years, and she usually responds well and quickly. The vet would be out to see her, so I settled her in the stall and waited for the vet. Our regular vet wasn’t available, so another local vet came out. We like this vet, and though young she is very solid and bright. She set about trying to figure out what was going on with the horse. It didn’t look good. She placed a catheter in her neck and we started running many liters of fluids. With a colic like this horse we run 20L of fluids into them and evaluate again what is going on. The injection had brought her temp down and she was looking a bit better after the vet decompressed her stomach via NG tube. None of it made much sense, but we just set about making her more comfortable and seeing if she would respond to the fluids. We spent the day with her and carefully kept track of her vitals and she improved overnight. The large dose of antibiotics seemed to have caught it. a big sigh of relief. We continued fluids. The fever returned. Not a good sign. If they respond initially, and then get sick again it normally means the antibiotic chosen wasn’t effective, only slightly. She also began to show similar signs of colic. Here we are coming into Monday.
I’m trying to get some sleep before we start our hellish Monday- our part time help isn’t here. It is a trying day by all accounts. Just before 6 AM I am roused from a deep sleep by something shrieking just outside my window. It is an awful feeling to go from dead sleep to wide awake and running outside in your underwear. Apparently something had chased one of the roosters across the lawn and up onto the deck. When he flew up he wedged himself between the slats of the deck railing. There he was carrying on and we had to figure out a way to get him unstuck. One careful tug and the pissed off rooster was free. That is how Monday started, but it was only going to get better.
We started the usual feeding and turning out. Nothing out of the ordinary. I was rushing to try to get as much done before I had to leave for therapy. I finished mucking a couple stalls and did one last walk thru before I got in the truck. I made it as far as the end of the barn aisle. Our aisle is 126′ long. I was at the very last step when a god awful ruckus starts up at the other end. I know by the sound, that a horse has gotten itself stuck on the ground. They may a very distinctive noise with their hooves when they panic trying to get up. It was the noise of his feet on the stall wall that got us all running. We got to the horses as two of them run off into the indoor arena. One of the two is an older horse. He was in a panic. They roll their eyes back and you can see the whites clearly when they get alarmed. But this horse was well beyond alarmed. We got him into his stall and I began checking him for injuries. He had a number of abrasions and two baseball size lumps on his side. As I took his heart rate I watched these hematomas grow to cantaloupe size. Alarm bells were going off in my head. I’m looking at all the signs he’s showing me, and it is a bad scenario. I head to the phone to call the vet. She’s at the other end of the county and isn’t planning on getting to us until her scheduled visit that afternoon. I tell her what is going on and she say to give him an injection of pain killers and she will be there later. I go ahead and follow her orders. But somewhere in the back of my head that little alarm bell is still going off. I look at my watch and it is now 10. So much for session….ugh. I am pissed. I needed that session more than anything. Now I am staring at a horse I know is going to crash. I just know it. I’m not sure why, but my gut was telling me that. I stood watching him and realized there was no way he could wait until that afternoon. I call the vet back. She was out within a half hour. She looked at the horse and saw, what were now basketball size hematomas. She checked his vitals and went out to grab her ultrasound. We quickly prepped him and she started imaging his chest and abdomen. It immediately became clear why he was looking awful. He was bleeding into his chest. The trauma on the left side had broken his rib. The displaced fracture had damaged the lung. It was partially collapsed. We moved to the other side to see if blood could be found there as well. It was there, and also in the pericardium. This horse was in critical condition. She quickly placed a catheter and for the second time in a few days we were running fluids. The horse’s owners were in route. They arrived just as we finished up. His only hope was if the bleeding stopped. Our vet urged them to refer the horse to a clinic. They refused. She headed off to the next call. I sat watching the fluids run. That little alarm in the back of my head had been right, but I didn’t realize how right till a short while later. He collapsed shortly thereafter and there he lay. His owner sat on the ground holding his head. He was soaked with sweat, but ice cold. Classic signs of shock. His color was no longer sheet white, but closer to blue. Everything indicated he was dying. There was nothing I could do. I returned to the phone. The vet headed back. She checked him and suggested they euthanize him. They halfheartedly began to think about it. The vet asked “should I go draw it up?”. Don’t you know, the old horse got up! Never in all my years have I ever seen anything remotely like it. When horses look like that they die, or you euth them. They don’t get up, ever. So here we are with a horse that won’t quit. Over the few hours we stayed by his side and ran fluids. The clients had their own vet come out, and she examined him. None of the vets felt he would make it thru the night. So, we headed into the twilight with that knowledge much on our minds. We slept in the barn. As the night wore on he became uncomfortable. For horses we have some excellent pain medications that are fast acting, but very sedating. There are risks whenever you give an animal, or human medication, never mind IV, and never mind a compromised one. I headed into the stall, like I have done a thousand times before. It is nothing difficult, and nothing that bothers me. Some horses don’t like needles, but sick ones don’t usually bother putting up a fight. I gave him the sedative and returned to the office to draw up more painkillers. I returned to the stall and noted something was very amiss. He was behaving strangely and had started to stagger. This isn’t normal. The owner rushed to his side. Those little alarm bells were ringing again. I stepped inside the door of the stall only to see the horse start to fall and flip himself over. It is possibly one of the most horrible sights a horse person ever sees. more than a thousand pounds of animal completely out of control. I grabbed the owner and we got out of the way, barely. He landed heavily and lay there. Great, now I killed him. Of all the times for a horse to have an adverse drug reaction, now was not the time. Here was a horse we were trying to keep quiet, so he could clot and stop bleeding and he is bouncing off walls. It is also 3 AM and we are alone in a barn. We sat with him as he lay heavily sedated. Eventually he rolled and lay sternal. Okay I thought, we might survive this one. No sooner had I said that when he stood up. I was still thinking it was fine until he flipped over again. We all hear about horses doing things like this, but until you see it, you aren’t prepared. I realized then in that moment how much we take for granted. How many countless times I have injected exactly the same drug. No problem. But that night was different. Scary. My nerves were now so on edge. I wasn’t sure what the hell was going to happen. He stood again, mouth bleeding, head hanging. I think I actually started praying. and I don’t pray. The owner and I both stood outside the stall shaking. The sheer luck that we both had not been crushed was well on our minds. He remained quiet. I had to return to the stall to give the next injection, but believe me I was a bit worried. It was uneventful. Thankfully. The rest of the night and the next few days were countless rounds of changing fluid bags and monitoring vitals. It is still going on, so I’ll try and post again tomorrow…..