Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A long few days...

Sunday night, around 9:30. I was eating a late dinner with my husband. We were watching an old season finale of the Sopranos. The hot topic was the death of Pie-O-My, Tony's racehorse, and his inability to come to terms with his grief.

My husband got a call. Since it was an unusual time to get a call, I watched him carefully as he spoke, trying to read his lips. One of my worst fears is that someday, sometime, one of these late-night calls will be about Limerick.

I caught pieces of his side of the conversation.

"Hello...she is?...Really...? Uh huh...hang on," he said. His face was pale.

"Someone from the barn says Limerick is laying down in her stall, she's all stretched out, the woman tried to get her up but she laid right back down again."

He said something else but I didn't catch it. My heart was plummeting through my stomach, through my abdomen, and to the floor.

"I'll be there immediately!" I said. I jumped up and raced into the bedroom to put jeans and sneakers on.

Panic and adrenaline had me by the throat. My husband followed me into the bedroom.

"The horses had no water," I thought I heard him say. What? The words flitted through my head and were gone. I only had one purpose, one thought, one feeling within me--to be by Limerick's side.

"Can you come with?" I suddenly said. I realized I would need someone to call the vet for me. The fact that people were already at the barn did not register. I was panicked and trying to be prepared as quickly as possible.

My husband began to put on shorts and sneakers. Seconds ticked by. It was much, much too slow for me.

"Just meet me there, I'm going now," I said. And with that, I was out.

I ran to my car as fast as I could, ignoring the whine of my broken toe. I jumped into my car and peeled out of the parking lot. It was dark and besides me, there were maybe two other cars on the road. Sunday night. Work tomorrow for most. Lightning lit up angry clouds to the east in brilliant bursts of white and purple. There was a tornado watch until 1am.

I raced down the hilly, narrow, curvy road to the barn at almost sixty-five. Speed limit: 30. The lightning rolled nonstop across the great face of the storm clouds in front of me. I prayed no small animals would dart into the path of my car.

As I drove up the driveway to the barn, I could see Limerick's white face in the upper barn, her head drooping. Another boarder was holding her, and a second woman stood nearby. I parked my car by the upper barn and jogged into the barn. Limerick didn't even flick her ears forward.

Her face was pinched in pain and her eyes had a lifeless glaze to them. She was focused within herself. My throat tightened and I struggled to not cry. It hurt me to see her like this.

I cupped a hand beneath her soft muzzle and looked into her eyes as I kissed her nose. "What's the matter, baby?"

But of course, I knew what was wrong. Her tummy was hurting. She had colic.

The other woman led me to Limerick's stall. She told me how she had been watering the horses because there was no water in their buckets. When she got to Limerick's stall, she saw Limerick laying flat on her side beneath her water buckets. Very odd place for a horse to lay down. She began to hose water into Limerick's buckets and a little of it splashed onto Lim's flank. But she didn't move.

The woman realized something was very wrong and tried to get Limerick to stand up. But immediately, she laid back down again.

That's when they called my husband.

The lightning continued on. The wind blew hard, sending leaves and bits of hay and stall bedding flying through the air. If you didn't keep your eyes averted, the wind would blow something into them. As we walked outside to the indoor arena, Limerick ignored the brewing storm.

My husband arrived.

"Should I call the vet?" he said.

"Yes!" I fumbled for the vet's name. My own vet or the other vet? My own vet probably wasn't on call. Or was she? I felt safe with her, but I didn't know if she could come. The women helped me out. They told my husband who to call and gave him the vet's numbers. The other vet.

I walked Limerick. I massaged her mane with my right hand and held the lead shank with my left hand. She walked on my right side, her nose floating less than an inch above the arena dirt. Her ears drooped and her eyes remained glazed over. She wanted to lay down. I kept her moving.

If a horse with colic lays down, there's always that chance they will roll and thrash about, trying to shake the pain. This leads to twisted intestines, ruptures...death.

Suddenly, a baby bird lay in our path. I think it was a pigeon. It had no feathers, closed eyes, big yellow beak. One arm (for it couldn't be considered a wing yet) twitched. It had fallen from one of the many nests in the rafters. Before I could move Limerick out of the way, she stepped on the bird. I watched it as we walked away. It didn't move.

Was it an omen? I worried and worried.

The vet arrived and after an examination, noted abnormal gut sounds. He suspected she had a blockage somewhere. After injecting her with Banamine and a sedative, he performed a rectal exam and did not find anything, even manure. Not a great sign. He tubed one gallon of mineral oil and one and a half gallons of laxative into her stomach.

I sat on a lawn chair in Limerick's stall to watch her, waiting to see if she would lay down, poop, do anything. The Banamine was working. She remained standing, nibbling at stray pieces of hay here and there. Now and then she would doze off, her eyes opening and closing, ears flicking back and forth. Sleepy myself, I turned my hearing aid's volume on high in case I dozed off and Limerick made a funny noise. The sound of driving rain and the creaking of the door to the hay loft above me was suddenly overwhelming.

After a couple hours, I fell asleep. When I awoke, it was 1am. The barn was dark and still. Limerick was no different so reluctantly, I put the lawn chair away and went home.

At 7:30am, I was back with her and stayed with her, on and off, until 6pm. My parents joined me. Limerick seemed to be doing well at points, then she would stop passing manure. She did not drink and was slowly becoming dehydrated. Her attitude was just okay--not the agony of the night before, but not normal Limerick either.

My regular vet arrived at almost 3pm. Gut sounds, normal. Temperature, gums, heart, all normal. Lim was indeed dehydrated; not horribly so, but enough to be of concern for a horse that had colicked the night before.

The vet tranquilized Limerick and performed a rectal exam. This time, there was manure close by and she was able to pull chunks of it out. Then she pushed a tube up one of Limerick's nostrils and pumped a gallon or so of water into her stomach.

The vet and I both think that Limerick colicked because she consumed those dry, hard hay cubes then had no water to soften them up and wash them down with. Food passes fairly quickly through equine stomachs; the majority of digestion is done in the intestines. So if a hard, dry, chunk of food passes through a dehydrated horse with no access to water, you're asking for an intestinal blockage right there. The vet also said that some horses are more sensitive to this type of thing than others, and unfortunately, my poor mare is one of them.

Why did those horses not have water? During the weekdays, and Saturday mornings, the "barn guys" feed and water the horses. They are good, reliable people. On the weekends, a woman does it. Now, this woman already has multiple complaints against her by several different boarders.

How can you forget to water a barn full of horses?

I emailed the barn owner to complain. She responded by saying that the woman insisted she watered the horses (of course!). The barn owner capped off the email by saying that the woman was a responsible person...!

What if those boarders had not been there on Sunday night, watering the horses? What if Limerick hadn't been found? What if she had lay there all night, the pain growing like a beast, until she was sweating as much as her dehydrated body would allow, rolling and thrashing to free the pain from her belly? A thrashing, colicky horse on his or her own is never, ever a good thing.

Limerick is fairly okay now. She is passing manure normally but she is not drinking enough water. Horses can drink from eight to twenty gallons of water a day and I suspect she's probably drank about three or four gallons today, even less. I've been giving her electrolytes and monitoring her water intake closely. I hope she starts drinking soon.

Today, I wanted to weight her with the weight tape I have. But I put it off. I took my time grooming her coat to a sheen. I kissed her nose and brushed her face with that soft goat hair brush she loves, smiling as she closed her eyes in pleasure. I cleaned her feet and brushed her mane. Finally, I weighted her. She is forty pounds less than she was on Sunday. Her hip bones are prominent and a bed sore sits on the tip of her right hip bone. Another tiny bed sore is behind her right eye. Marks from Sunday night.

I love this girl so much, it just kills me inside to see her this way. The sorrow of the situation had been dammed. But seeing that number on the weight tape and that tiny bedsore on her hip broke the dam.

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