To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived – that is to have succeeded ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson.
After spending the last ten days going back and forth between vets trying to find the best solution to Splash’s eye problem our decision was made for us when we were unable to find a vet willing to come to the farm and do the surgery.
We called Milton Equine Hospital and booked a surgery date for August 6, 2013. The Hospital is about an hour and a half drive from the farm and she needs to be there August 5, 2013 for pre-op blood work and a physical exam.
0500 August 5th, 2013:
We got up early on Monday, Aug 5, 2013 to make the trip. Horses, puppies, pigs, goats, cats, ducks and dogs were fed very early as we rushed around trying to find our mugs of coffee that kept disappearing as we wandered back and forth between the barn and house.
I wasn’t sure I’d be able to put on the shipping leg wraps as Splash has a fear of having her legs touched, but after two attempts she stood still and let me wrap her legs to prevent damage during the ride. It was a little chilly before the sun had risen, so I put a purple blanket on my pony that had little images of ponies all over it. I call it her purple pajamas. With a last picture of those painful eyes we headed for help.
All fed and wrapped up Splash walked onto the trailer without a backward glance (no pun intended) while Turtle and Autumn stood at the gate watching the show. When I returned four hours later they were still standing at the gate waiting for their sibling to return.
I pack up my three little dogs for moral support and started on my trek to Milton. I had so many questions and worries floating through my head that I didn’t register the time. I drove straight through some pretty countryside, but all I could think of was: Is this the right thing?
It’s seems so barbaric and horrific to remove eyes. Like something out of a torture movie: Saw 12.
0730 August 5th, 2013: Arrive at Milton Equine Hospital
I’m a shift worker and most of the time holiday weekends mean nothing to me, so I was surprised to find the doors to the old farm house they call “Main Office” at the Milton Equine Hospital locked. I glanced around and saw a woman on a cell phone walking towards me. Casually, without taking the phone away from her face, she pointed to the back of a building and said “you dropping off for surgery? Go around back and find someone”. I nodded filled with nerves.
I drove the truck and trailer around the back and found a few folks working on horses in the very clean surgery barn. The young girls were friendly and helpful as I unloaded Splash. The pony was nervous, but interested in her surroundings. She moved with choppy motions as her ears spun back and forth with curiosity.
I brought her into stall # 1 and watched while they did a physical exam. Splash was a sweetheart and only flinched when they took her rectal temperature. The deemed her chubby. They gave Splash a flake of hay and continued to reassure me that she would be in good hands. Today they would do blood work, an assessment and start an IV to give fluids. I should get a phone call in the morning from the vet to touch base before the surgery.
I nodded. Gave Splash a few cuddles and as I walked towards the truck I could hear her whinnying for someone familiar. I started to cry as I climbed into the truck and drove away leaving my little girl at the hospital.
1000 Aug 5th, 2013
I’m back home and rushing to get everything done before I go to work, but my brain is still on Splash and it seems to take too long to do things. I’ve got a day and night of waiting or so I think.
0800 August 6th, 2013
The vet called my cell phone and left me a message that the surgery would be postponed until this afternoon. Why?
0800-1030 August 6th, 2013
I called Milton Equine Hospital about ten times until they finally answered the phone and promised to pass the message onto Dr. Cote. She was in surgery and would call me when she was done. Apparently my phone calls really annoyed the staff, because Dr. Cote asked if I was all right, I admitted I was little anxious. Understatement.
1030 August 6th, 2013
I finally got to talk to Dr. Cote who asked how she came to have the signs of deep trauma to her head and eyes? It initially sounded like she was suggesting we hurt Splash, so I calmly explained that we are involved in animal rescue and Splash had come to us with this trauma. We had no information on how she became so damaged. We could only speculate from her injuries that she came from a bad place of abuse and neglect.
Dr. Cote explained that Splash’s aggressively turned down right eye is indicative of deep head trauma. Generally the kind of head injury that is difficult to survive. My heart pounded harshly in my chest as I realized the full extent of Splash’s past. The horrific abuse and neglect that this pony survived had left its mark.
The vet went on to explain that Splash has spacial relation problems from the head trauma which makes it very difficult for the pony to understand where her head is most of the time. Dr. Cote is concerned that Splash will not recover well from the surgery due to the history of massive trauma, her inability to be aware of herself combined with being blind.
I sigh. I try to breathe. I listen.
She continues to tell me that both of the eyes are in horrible shape and are very painful. She believes its best to take both the eyes out in one surgery to reduce the risk of a second ansethetic. Dr. Cote is very concerned about the recovery, but believes the risks of surgery are worth allowing Splash to have a life without constant pain.
I’m told the surgery will begin at three p.m. and will take three hours. I should not expect a call before six p.m. and she will not call me until Splash is awake and standing. The recovery is expected to take about two weeks.
Dr. Cote and I dance around her concerns and she never comes right out and says the worst, but she hints at the sad possibilities. Splash is a fighter. To have survived her past is remarkable and I hope she has the courage to survive this surgery.
1318 August 6th, 2013
Waiting. Wish I could go and see Splash so she can hear the sound of my voice and know that she has not been abandoned. I wish I could tell her about all the people pulling for her at home. I wish I could make it tomorrow. Wish I could make two weeks fly by.
1500 August 6th, 2013 (3 p.m.) Surgery Time
She’s going under and I can almost smell the gas mixed with plastic as her already dark world fades away. That funny feeling of floating before everything becomes meaningless and you wake up confused. My girl.
I was watching parts of the movie “Signs” with Mel Gibson where Mel’s character defines life as a series of events suggesting all things happen for a reason. There is a particular good part where Mel describes the two groups of the people in the world: those that believe in miracles and those that belive in luck.
Under stress we look for something to make us feel better. A belief that will bring comfort.
1850 August 6th, 2013
The vet called! Update!
Dr. Cote sounded tired, but said that Splash was doing well. The surgery was successful and both eyes were removed without any difficulty. The left eye was very large and must have been horribly painful, so she thinks we should see relief in a few short days.
Splash was spending some time in the padded stall to recover, but she was already standing and holding her own. I can finally let out that breath I’ve been holding. I will feel much better when I can talk to her and let her know she hasn’t been abandoned. Its been a stressful day for everyone and I am grateful to feel relief. She made it. What a fighter!
In retrospect, given Splash’s history of trauma the best place for her to have this surgery was in a hospital and I’m glad that she was in the capable hands of Dr. Cote.
This has been an interesting educational experience. Splash is my first horse to have undergone surgery and stayed in an equine hospital. If everything goes well tonight she could come home tomorrow. Cross your hooves!
Thank you so much for all the support and donations towards her surgery. Thank you for all the thoughts and prayers. Thank you for sharing my worry.
0800 August 7, 2013
The vet called and said Splash had a good night. No distress and she seemed quite comfortable. Their only concern was that Splash hasn’t passed much manure. She needs to poop. Dr. Cote said as long as Splashes passes more manure she could go home this afternoon. I celebrated too soon.
1345 August 7, 2013
I called Milton Equine Hospital and spoke with the front desk lady Lisa who said Dr. Cote was on another phone call, but would call me back as soon as possible. I’m waiting.
1500 August 7, 2013
Lisa called to tell me Dr. Cote would like to keep Splash for another night. She’s not producing as much manure as they’d like to see post surgery. I should explain that horses have very sensitive digestive systems that need fairly constant stimulation. Horses are grazers due to their anatomy. Horses can’t vomit and get stomach upset very easily much like bloat in a big dog like a great dane.
Post anesthetic colic (PAC) is a well-recognized complication of surgery in horses (Blikslager et al. 1994,. Proudman et al. 2002). Anything that upsets a horse will upset their guts which is often an dangerous situation for a horse.
I don’t want to jump to conclusions and worry because they didn’t says Splash was colicking, they said she wasn’t producing as much manure as they liked to see, so her system is still running, its just running a little slow from all the medication. The best place for her is at the hospital so they can treat her with IV fluids and medications.
2100 August 7,2013
Dr. Cote called tonight and said Splash is doing great. She passed lots of manure and is ready to go home in the morning. We were told to pick up a racing mask with plastic eye blinkers to help protect the incision. I went online and found an even better solution with a Guardian Mask http://www.guardianmask.com/ I called the company based in Texas and left a message asking if the mask would be suitable for a horse who had undergone a bilateral enucleation. An hour later the owner from the company called and we talked about rescuing animals and she offered to donate a mask for Splash. I was so moved I shed a few tears as the owner told me about their blind dog and how they also do rescue work. I feel so much support toward rescue. It’s heartwarming.
1100 August 8, 20
Brent and I got ready to go to Milton to pick up Splash. We loaded the puppies into the big truck and headed for the highway. It was an uneventful trip with one stop to pick up a racing mask with plastic eye protectors for Splash since we wouldn’t have our guardian mask until the weekend. We stopped in the small town of Campbellville, Ontario and bought a temporary plastic eye protector.
We arrived at the Hospital and went into the office to pay the bill. We were surprised to learn that the surgeon had donated two hundred dollars towards the surgery. Dr. Cote was incredibly moved by Splash and her courage. She told me that Splash was the perfect patient and unbelieveably trusting in people, which came as a shock given her traumatic history as told by her injuries.
Dr. Cote said she was grateful Splash had found a family that loved her enough to provide this surgery, so she can live a painfree life. She was happy to have had the opportunity to meet a wonderful little pony and to be able to help. Most of the staff at the hospital were happy that Splash had finally received the help that she needed.
Brent and I were anxious to see Splash without eyes. What would she look like? Would she still be the same? Would we notice the difference? We turned a corner and saw our pony standing quietly in her stall. She nickered softly at the sound of my voice and took a step in my direction. The tears burned the back of my eyes as I examined the neat stitches in place of the large blue eye. It looked good. Tidy and clean. There was some swelling on the right side which Dr. Cote said was probably because she tilts her head to the right, so the fluid had drained to that side.
Brent and I listened carefully to the post-surgery instructions. Splash was neither sedated nor on painkillers and seemed quite comfortable. She was going home with a king sized bottle of antibiotics and a eye protectors.
We were both relieved to see our pony again and curious to see her progression.
One of the vets helped us fit the new mask and even sewed in gauze pads to protect her eyes from all sides. You can see a little bit of the barn where the surgical cases live at the hospital. They were shop vaccuuming a stall!
Once Splash was fitted with a mask I put on her shipping boots and we made our way to the trailer for our drive home. She was a little anxious about the sound of the vacuum, but managed to walk down the aisle and right into the horse trailer.
We took it easy through the windy roads of Guelph Line Road to the highway. We had to stop and take away Splash’s hay because her diet is limited post-surgery. We’re trying to get her system back to normal and that means re-introducing food slowly.
Brent and the puppies were my co-pilots on this journey and were so relaxed they fell asleep mid-discussion.
Once home we walked Splash around a little bit and then put her in her stall for a rest. She spent the first hour picking every last piece of hay out of the shavings. I wanted to feed her, but I have to stick to her restrictive diet for a few days. She’s lost a bit of weight and she looks goods (remember they said she was too chubby).
In retrospect I am incredibly grateful we took Splash to Milton for the surgery. I learned that her head trauma is far more severe than I believed. She received care in Milton that I would not have been able to provide at home. A special thanks to all the folks from Milton Equine Hospital.
I’m happy to have my girl home. Thank you again to all the people who made this possible by recognizing a lost pony who needed help.
We’re very tired, but so happy to be home. I don’t think she realized she was home right away. It wasn’t until Turtle was brought in did she get excited. They greeted each other with lots of nickering and horse talk. He nuzzled her neck and she snorted happily.
Brent got used to walking Splash around on a lead for half an hour four times a day. Stall rest isn’t for everyone!