The Odd Mix

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Location: Virginia, United States

Friday, April 07, 2006

Long Day, Sad Night, Tired Morning

Fair Warning: This is not a happy post. Call it PG-13 for animal suffering.

Miss Blue

For all their grace and beauty, size and strength, elegance and endurance, horses are delicately engineered machines which exist in a somewhat mismatched environment. Like a turbine engine in a desert or a computer in a room full of three year olds they perform amazingly as long as they work; but when things go in the crapper, they do so catastrophically.

Yesterday (arguably, two days before that) things went into the crapper. One of our horses – Miss Blue, named for her unusual blue eyes – had been acting colicky for a couple of days; not eating much, showing signs of abdominal discomfort, lying down more than normal, not drinking enough water.

We had the vet out to check her twice (you don’t typically take a horse to the vet’s office – they come to the farm. And no, it’s not cheap) and they didn’t think anything was terribly wrong. Don’t misunderstand me, these vets are fantastic and they took this seriously. There is just only so much diagnostic work you can do in the field. A horse’s digestive tract is about one hundred and twenty feet long so even with their arm in up to the shoulder there is a relatively small portion of the intestine they can palpate.

Yesterday afternoon she took a major turn for the worse. We tried walking her; putting her in a trailer and driving on dirt roads; forcing 16ozs of Maalox down her gullet. Doctor Jay came out at 7:00pm last night after he was supposed to be home with his wife and son (he had started work at 8:00 am and stayed with us until 2:30 this morning. I told you he was good). He put a gastric tube into her and pumped her stomach and then started forcing water to keep her hydrated. He did another examination and found that in at least one place he could reach – possibly as many as three – her intestines were displaced.*

By midnight she was showing signs of more and more pain and we knew what we felt was the right thing to do. At 1:45 we had contacted all the parties we felt needed to be involved in the decision and gotten consensus (horse ownership can be complicated) and we walked her to a secluded corner of the farm a few hundred feet away from the house and barn. By the time we got her there it was evident that something had ruptured and she was dropping into shock. The vet got a needle into her jugular vein (not easy with a shocky horse) and administered a lethal dose of barbiturates. Her head sagged, her legs quivered, she lay down in the cool grass with a big sigh and she was quiet and peaceful for the first time in days.

Miss Blue was a very sweet horse. Despite suffering abuse from an earlier owner there wasn’t a mean bone in her. We all loved her – especially Annshh. Willy and AnnShh talked until the wee hours of the morning while I got a little sleep so I could get up and go to work this morning. We are all very sad but we are at peace with the fact that she is no longer suffering. The kids, too. I think Caleb took it hardest at the time; Gabriella is having a rough go today; Bissy will likely let it out tomorrow (if things follow their normal pattern). ‘Liese is too young to fully understand what happened.

Personally, I mostly felt relief when she went down. She was really suffering and there was nothing we could do for her. I am extraordinarily grateful that she was not one of my kids’ personal horses. Any time one of our animals die it is a sad thing, but I am at peace that we did the best we could for her. Rest in peace, Miss Blue. And now we go on from here…

Update: My children are farm kids, understand death, and knew what was happening last night. There is nothing gross to see with Blue's body - she looks like she is sleeping - so when the kids begged to see it my wife acquiesced. She called and told me that 'Liese tried to wake her up before she understood that Miss Blue was dead. The kids then covered her body with flowers they picked. I was fine - now I am starting to tear up.

* The (Not So) Gory Details: Also called “twisted gut” or “gastric torsion”, one or more loops of intestine shift out of position causing the blood flow to sections of the gut to be restricted. Motility is impaired (stuff not moving through the intestine); fermentation of gut contents causes painful gas buildup and increases pressure on the already restricted vascular structures; portions of the gut can become necrotic (die) or rupture releasing gut contents into the peritoneum; end of story. This condition can potentially be reversed in the early stages by massive surgical effort and prolonged supportive care; however the cost for such a procedure starts at $8-10 thousand and increases drastically with any complications. Even with surgery, the prognosis is poor. Such measures are, sadly, well beyond our means, even if we had felt it kind to subject her to such extreme measures.


Blogger Tink said...

I am so sorry... What a horrible choice to have to make. But you did the right thing. It was the humane thing to do.

12:44 PM, April 07, 2006  
Blogger tammy said...

I am so sorry to hear about your horse. Even though it was for the best, it still made me cry...

2:35 PM, April 07, 2006  
Blogger LynAnne said...

What a beautiful memorial your children gave your horse. She was so lucky to have lived her life with such a beautiful family. How terribly sad she couldn't be with you longer. My heart goes out to you on your loss.

9:05 PM, April 07, 2006  
Blogger mama_tulip said...

I'm sorry. :(

11:19 PM, April 07, 2006  
Blogger bon said...

Sorry to hear about this. Y'all did the hard but loving thing by this horse. Still...meh.

12:16 AM, April 08, 2006  
Blogger Stefanie said...

That's so hard. I can still remember like it was yesterday but it was probably more like 30 years ago when our family dog had the exact same thing. We did the surgery but she did not make it through. I'll always be sad about it. She was crying in pain so much. I guess it happens to large breed dogs as well.

2:32 AM, April 08, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have a gift with words. I am so used to reading your sarcasm and wit on your comments on my brothers' blogs. To read a story by you ( even though sad) was neat. I am sorry for your loss. The children with the flowers made me proud somehow.

Williams Brother

11:11 AM, April 08, 2006  
Blogger aka_Meritt said...

The kids covering her body with flowers was beautiful...

5:53 PM, April 08, 2006  
Blogger Tree said...

Oh, how sad...and how beautiful that she was so loved and that your kids covered her in flowers.

6:47 PM, April 08, 2006  
Blogger Katie said...

Very sad. I grew up on a small farm, too, and remember finding one of the sheep that had died. It was a very sad feeling. We cried a little and then went out to do our chores. That's farm life.

11:47 AM, April 10, 2006  
Blogger Carrie said...

I'm so sorry. I grew up with horses so I know how hard losing one can be.

That is how my Arabian died 7 years ago. They become members of the family. :(

So sweet that your girls covered her with flowers.

12:55 AM, April 11, 2006  
Blogger Jennifer said...

oh my gosh. I can't imagine.
She was a beautiful horse. I'm sure you are all devistated. :(
You did what was right though.
I'm glad you explained about the $$ of sugery, because I was wondering what would have happened if the first doc would have figured it out.
I'm so sorry.

7:20 PM, April 14, 2006  
Anonymous horselover said...

I'm so sorry. That happened to a horse I used to ride. I loved her. :(

4:14 PM, June 11, 2012  

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