Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Week in Review

I know I have said it more than once in the last post or two; but what an overwhelming rollercoaster of a week it has been.  It is just over a week now since the nightmare began, and I am finally seeing signs that it is coming to a close.  I still can't believe he made it through Friday - I was right on the cusp of calling it quits.  When I arrived that morning, it was the first time I didn't see even a hint of his personality. But sure enough, as I was about to tell the vet it was time to call it quits; the plasma arrived.  After returning from an emotional exhaustion-driven nap in the parking lot, my boy was back.  It turned around that quickly.

He was discharged from State on Monday, but still had to be hospitalized through Tuesday. His personality has completely returned when I stopped for a visit Tuesday morning; and he has hit the "cranky" phase of recovery - where he feels good enough to protest the oral meds, shove people around during feeding time, and generally act like a cantankerous turd.  Ladies and gentleman, the PIG is back!!!!  (Note - this is the ONLY time I will look upon these behaviors as a "good" thing!!!!) 

We still have a week and a half left of medications, and he was sent home with a long-term catheter to ease administration.  I still can't believe he made it.  I know I keep saying it, but I REALLY thought I was going to lose him.  I knew by about the third day in that it wasn't good - I had this general feeling in my gut that no one could talk me out of.  I am so glad we made the decision to take him to State.

They still are stumped at the initial cause of the pneumonia.  Three types of extremely rare bacteria were found, one of which is a pretty icky strain.  I have racked my brain, trying so hard to find the signs I missed, the blame that I feel the need to shoulder....just SOMETHING to point me in the direction of how to prevent another event of any similarity.  I have discussed it to death with the vets at State and here; and we will more than likely never know.  But here is what I HAVE learned; with unfailing certainty:

1.  A fever is not something to be taken lightly.  Not that I did; by any stretch.  There were plenty of sleepless nights in the barn, fighting endlessly to keep it down.  The area where I "failed" is in letting it go on so long.  As one vet who consulted on the case told me - if you have a fever that multiple doses of banamine fails to even bring down to normal; you have a major problem. 

2.  You HAVE to trust your gut.  This is scary, and I will be the first to admit it.  But with that comes a responsibility to EDUCATE yourself.  If you don't have a scrap of knowledge behind your gut instincts, I will be the first to admit that you probably should rely on the professionals.  I have spent many years knocking myself down because I am still very new to this; and learning new things on a daily basis.  I have buried my own instincts to not cause waves; and in this particular instance, I failed.  I use that word lightly; because anything that carries this valuable kind of life experience really isn't a failure.  But it very well could have been.  I truly believe that one more day could have meant the difference between life and death for this horse.  It was touch and go for a full 48 hours.  Not having access to the plasma, especially, would have brought about a different end to the story.  I saw things turn around before my own eyes, and I have several people to thank for that.

3.  If you are going to carry the responsibility of owning a horse, you need to be able to man up and carry the financial burden that can inevitably come with it.  If you are like me, and aren't fortunate enough to have reserves of cash stocked away for this kind of emergency, then you NEED to INSURE YOUR HORSE.  If for nothing else; carry the major medical.  I can assure you - being backed into a corner of making the decision of how much your horse is "worth" - it's a sickening feeling.  It was the question I kept shoving down on the four hour drive to Raleigh, it's the question that nearly stopped my heart as I initialed authorization on treatment estimates.  Even now, the follow-up hospitalization in Charlotte, a visit scheduled for Saturday for more meds and bloodwork, a trip to Southern Pines for an just keeps adding up.  If I had the average medical coverage of $5,000; the majority of this would have been handled by insurance.  So please - I beg you.  If you don't have the means to come up with this kind of cash for the bizarre emergencies that CAN and WILL arise; insure your horse. 

Lastly - I owe an invaluable debt of gratitude to many, MANY people throughout this ordeal.  My amazing family, friends, boarders...everyone who offered prayers, emotional support, helped cover the barn and many responsibilities while I was gone...

Most especially, Dr Amy Edwards; of Internal Medicine at NC State -   Her patient, caring demeanor - both with the patient AND the distraught owner - will never be forgotten.  My husband, for being unbelievably supportive; both in the emotional and financial decisions throughout this entire ordeal.  Robyn, for making it through the sobbing phone call of not knowing which direction to turn.  Ivy, for the prudent and timely advice that undoubtedly saved his life.  Dr. Hamilton, for the unlimited generousity he has extended in answering so many questions.  The list goes on and on - every one of you who kept my boy lifted up in prayer, sent messages of support and are a huge part of the reason I made it through this.  I may have gone to Raleigh alone, but there wasn't a single day that I felt alone.  You have all touched my life in indescribable ways.

Last night, I turned onto the barn driveway with Samson safely in tow.  The moment I hit the gravel road, the tears started rolling down my cheeks.  There were many, MANY moments I feared I may pull back in with an empty trailer.  But it wasn't meant to be - he's a fighter.  In so many ways; ways that inspire ME to fight just as hard.  For him, for April, for any horse that comes my way.  They are the reason we do this.  It is too easy for us to make it all about US, but if you aren't in this for the horse, you need to get out now.  If you aren't inspired by the unfailing spirit of a horse with the odds stacked against him; who refuses to give up; then you are missing a piece of the human spirit I can't tell you how to replace.  One of my favorite quotes of all time is from the movie Seabiscuit; and I think it sums up Samson's story in a simple sentence:

"You don't throw away a whole life, just 'cause it's banged up a little" - Tom Smith

I hope that I will never lose sight of this kind of inspiration.  And I hope that one day, I can have a mere fraction of the fighting spirit this guy has shown me over the last week.

Home Sweet Home...

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Continued...(Saturday, Sept 22nd)

Somehow the last entry was posted prematurely; so here is a follow-up of how things were looking this morning - dramatically improved.  The vet in charge of his case sounded positive for the first time.  She said the dull episodes had been gone for the last twelve hours, and temperature gone for 48 hours.  He had been taken off his IV fluids for the first time as well.  Pulse is still higher than we would like, but after 48 hours of antibiotics, it is looking like his body is starting to respond positively.

I got to take him for another stroll outside.  It is obvious he is tired, but being out in the sun does him so much good.  They have made it a regular part of his daily regimen.  He whinnied at a group of people passing by, and it more or less brought tears to my eyes.  Then the tech came to bring us in for meds.  As I took off his halter, I started scratching his neck and behind his ears, and for the first time in a week, he leaned into it, moving his head up and down into the scratch.

I am guarded, because it has been so up and down - but I can't help feeling like my boy is back.  His personality, his fight - for a brief moment yesterday, I thought he was done.  I had made up mind that I was not going to make him fight a battle if he was too tired to go on.  And then I arrive this morning, and my sweet boy is there - ready to fight another day.

So keep the prayers coming. 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Pony 911

It has been a long week of worry and sleeplessness.  It all started on Sunday afternoon, when I put a hand on Samson and instantly realized he was burning with fever.  After his temp registered 105.3, I was certainly panicked - but he did this one time last fall, and one dose of banamine knocked it out.  We nursed him into the night, finally going home to sleep once we had him in a safe range.

When I arrived to feed the next morning, the temp was back to 104.7.  I called the vet immediately and waited for them to arrive.  His exam was fairly unremarkable, and they administered a long-acting antibiotic and took bloodwork.  Another long night of fever-fighting followed.  Banamine, cold hosing, alcohol baths and fans...But he still had his appetite and general demeanor intact; so I stayed cautiously optimistic.

Tuesday was fairly unremarkable, but the continuing fever trend was really starting to mount my concerns.  The fever was topping out a degree lower each day though, so I figured we were at least headed in the right direction.

Wednesday morning dawned with a markedly depressed horse.  The fever was
 down considerably, but his demeanor was flat and even more lethargic than the previous days.  The fever was low enough to hold off on the banamine - a first since Sunday - but around 1 pm it started climbing again so I gave him another shot.

What happened next was one of the most terrifying situations I have ever been in.  Within minutes, he was laying down coughing, and then went into respiratory distress of some sort - his sides heaving and groaning for breath.  I dialed the vet and relayed his status, then climbed in the stall and put his head in my lap.  His neck jerked violently, and his head stretched back and his eyes closed. I am not kidding you - I thought that was it.  I put my forehead on his, and told him to hang on.  I kid you not - he opened his eyes, stood up somewhat unsteadily, and his breathing returned to normal.

The next few hours were a flurry of activity so chaotic I barely remember the details.  I spoke with a trainer, got bloodwork sent for a consult, made a million phone calls, and waited for my vet.  To make a long story short, three hours later I had shoved a few outfits in a bag, and was on the way to NC State with my precious cargo behind me.

I cried for the better first half of the trip.  When I arrived, I was feeling so hopeful - no fever for the first time.  An hour later ultrasounds were completed, and initial suspicions pointed to pneumonia or colitis.

The attending vet called the next morning with two additional diagnostic requests to narrow it down - a full set of chest x-rays and a transtracheal wash; where they obtain fluid from the lungs to send off for culture.  Both results indicated bacterial pneumonia, and we are still waiting for the culture to indicate which type of bacteria.  Regardless, they began a combination of broad-spectrum IV antibiotics.  I went back to the stall where he munched fairly happily on his hay.

His fever had started to climb, so they had administered another dose of banamine.  I was alone with him thirty minutes later, when he abrubtly quit eating, and started looking for a place to lie down.  All of a sudden, he dropped to his side and started laboring for breath again.  I shouted for someone to help, but no one came.  I yelled again - silence.  So I did the only thing I knew to do.  I put that big chestnut head in my lap, and I told him he could go if he needed to.  I stroked his cheek and told him how much I loved him, and how he had changed my life, and  would never forget it.  And wouldn't you know - that breathing started to slow, and he started to hold his head up again.  I slipped outside the stall and found the nearest person to inform.  Tears were still rolling down my cheeks as a team of six or seven doctors descended on his stall.

Moments later, he was encouraged to his feet and submitted to a neuro exam and a follow up ultrasound.  He was initially showing signs of uncoordination, but by the time the ultrasound was completed, he was more or less back to normal.  It was concluded that he had developed a severe reaction to the banamine; so it was discontinued immediately.  He was upgraded to the intensive care unit as well, where more eyes could be on him.  I stayed for a few more hours, and when everything remained stable, I left for some much-needed sleep.

This morning painted a different picture.  I was there the minute they opened, but the horse that greeted me was not the boy I know and love.  The vet in charge of his case suggested a round of plasma; due to the suspicion that his body is fighting showers of endotoxemia.  I agreed to give it a shot, since he had yet to hit the 24-hour mark since antibiotics had started.After they left to prepare the tranfusion, I lost it.  The horse I saw in front of me didn't have the fight he previously had.  It was as if all the will to live had drained out of him.  I called a friend and barely made it through the conversation of deciding how you know it is time to help him end the fight.  And wouldn't you know - they arrived and began to start the plasma.  To skip ahead a bit, I decided to see if there would be any change.  I fell asleep in my truck in the parking lot, and when I went back in, they let me take him outside to hang out and eat grass in the roundpen.

My horse was back.  He was so happy out there, munching grass, and even whinnying to the passing horses.  I haven't heard that sound in a week - it was like music to my ears.  So there we were, just enjoying the rays of warm September sun beating down on us, as if nothing had happened.  I left a few hours later as he slept, worn out from the excitement.

It has been such a rollercoaster.  Things appear to be improving, then crash down before my eyes.  And then they improve again.  Tomorrow will be 24 hours after the start of the anitibiotics, and I am hoping and praying for some progress.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Last Minute Victory

I didn't even have a chance to update my blog about our last minute success in pulling everything together.  Long story short, my farrier (God LOVE him!) came out bright and early Friday morning to tack the missing shoe back on, so we rescheduled my lesson for Friday night and zipped off an entry form just before closing time.  Friday night was more or less chaos.  Thank god for Brenna being available that evening - I left the chores in her very capable hands, and headed over to Kelsey's for a jump school.  Considering the fact that we have had several weeks off of jumping between incessant rain and my concussion incident, it went pretty decent overall.  Towards the end we had a bit of a mare moment that got a little ugly, but we got through everything and ended on a good note.  I wasn't too worried about it - bad school means a good show, right?

I didn't get back to the farm til 7:30, and then had to clip muzzles, legs, ears, bathe, whiten socks, clean tack, pull out shipping wraps, saddle pad, and bonnet to be washed, pack the trailer, and then finish chores.  Needless to say, it was ten o'clock before I even headed home, and then had to do a load of laundry, polish boots, and arrange all my other showing necessities.  The night before a show is always rough for me.  The moment my head hits the pillow, I start thinking about all the different ways that things could go.  It makes for a REALLY hard time getting to sleep, which is especially rough when the alarm is set for 5 am. 

But whatever.  I made it up in time to shower, gas up the truck, and feed horses before starting to load.  Robyn pulled out to go pick up another horse, so I was left by myself to load April.  Of course, the day of a show, we would have issues.  I hesitate to elaborate on it much, but the combination of exhaustion and stress of being late led to a minor sobbing fit on my part.  Thankfully she fed off my newly released tension, and walked right on the trailer to meet me.  Big hugs and pats ensued.  I swear - that mare will stroll on the trailer five times in the row, then randomly throw a total fit.  I'm going to have to practice Ivy's loading tips more frequently....

We got to the show in time to have about five minutes in the warmup ring, which wasn't enough for me to try any of the fences together in the intended order.  The first time I went to a show, I was able to memorize my course and jump the fences in sequence during warmup....not this time.  My security blanket was gone - time to enter the real world. 


My first class was the 2'3" jumpers, and it is still literally a blur.  I let myself get completely distracted during my circle before the first fence, and I was flustered from that moment on.  I had the first four fences memorized, but after they had been jumped I started feeling like I was off course, and I felt that way all the way up to the last fence.  I literally became a passenger, and I think we may have run around a good little bit - no doubt, the speed is what caught us a 3rd place ribbon in that class! 

I came out of the ring feeling pretty flustered and bummed, and listened to a few encouraging words from my trainer.  Next thing I know, a thick shock of dark hair shows up beside me - and I look down to see my husband's grinning face.  He completely surprised me by sneaking out of work to come and cheer for me, and it was all I needed.  He wasn't able to make it to my first show with April, so his presence meant the world to me.  Game on!

Next was the 2'6" class, and after watching the course a few more times, it became much more solidified in my head.  I focused on giving my mare the best ride I could, and we had a MUCH better course that time around.  Another third place finish!  Suddenly Robyn and Kelsey were encouraging me to add one of the 2'9" courses at the gate and do one I did!  The third course went even better.  It was a Power & Speed round, where the timed portion is fences 5-9, so I really focused on getting better turns and rhythm through fences 1-4.  April felt amazing, and really saved my tail on a super tight turn to fence 9.  She is such a talented mare in the jumper ring! 

Needless to say, the last minute add-on course won us a blue ribbon, and I am still grinning about it with pride about my awesome mare.  I still look at pictures and think how lucky I am to have such an amazing horse!  It has been a lot of ups and downs, but days like this make the journey MORE than worthwhile.

Thursday, September 6, 2012


"If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment."
                                                                                                                  - Henry David Thoreau

One thing that we all must accept in the world of horses, is the inevitable disappointment that occurs - sometimes over and over.  It wouldn't be a journey if there weren't highs and lows, and this is something that I know - but it doesn't make it any easier to accept when it happens.

Regardless, we trudge on.  We take the blows, whether emotional or physical, get back on, and press forward towards the goal.  There are days I wonder why I strive SO hard to make things happen when I feel like they never will.  But I have yet to give up, and have no plans of doing so.

I'm starting to get a little superstitious.  Which is funny, because I have always been the least superstitious person in the world.  I mocked my husband when he told me stories about baseball players wearing dirty cups (EW!) because they felt if they washed it, they would have a bad game.  The only quirk I've ever indulged in is the occasional knocking on wood, and I swear - it's only been when discussing something horse-related.  But I digress.  I swear, every time I try to go to a show with the group, something happens.  A piece of wire is impaled in a frog, a shoe is thrown, the horse is "off", the trailer seems like something always happens.  The only plan I have been able to sucessfully stick to was the jumper show I went to on my own. 

So, I came back from a hack last night to discover a lost shoe - the day before my lesson, and two days before the next jumper show.  I have one of the best farriers in the greater Charlotte area, but the downside to that is that he is never sitting around twiddling his thumbs, ready at a moment's notice to tack a shoe back at the moment, we are in limbo of whether it will be replaced in time to be ready for a show.  Disappointment strikes.  I stomp my feet, utter a few expletives, and slap the headphones on with some head-banging music to fend off the storm inside of me.  Go to bed, wake up, and have regained my sense of perspective.  I'll be the first one to admit, I'm just as human (a.k.a. immature, impatient....) as the next guy.  I won't even pretend to take it in stride every time, because it's the furthest thing from the truth.  Thankfully, I am progressively challenging myself to take it a little better each time.

In other news, I was cleared to start riding again about a week ago.  The concussion symptoms have all subsided, minus a few brain fart moments like losing my debit card and phone...It took a few days to get my general stamina in the saddle back, but it has mostly returned, and we have been back to our original schedule.

The fear tried creeping up on one ride.  I felt that old familiar pang, as I was working through a classic red-headed herdbound mare moment on a conditioning ride.  She threw a pretty decent-sized temper tantrum when her boyfriend left her in the dust on a hack.  I let them go on ahead and chose to work on the issue instead of having them babysit me.  Big mistake.  Mare fit ensued, complete with planting, spinning, a little rear - and for the first time in I can't remember when, the old thought of "maybe I should get off...." crossed my mind.  As quickly as it came, I dismissed it, and finally managed to get through it and get back to the barn.  Then came the inevitable disappointment at the return of the old "fear" symptoms.  But you know what?  I brushed my ego off and got right back on the next day, and finished one of our best jump schools to date. 

I guess I knew I hadn't built up some magical immunity, to where the fear might never return.  This sport comes with risk, but the measure of our success isn't in the reward of ribbons and showing - it is in the everyday obstacles we overcome.  For me, that obstacle is fear and confidence issues.  And I am striving to continue succeeding in beating it, day by day.  What I have found, in the last couple rides, is that I did get spooked.  In all honesty, most people get a little shook up (no pun intended!) after a concussion.  I think the biggest thing in my favor is the partnership I have built with my mare, and the huge bank of positive experiences in the past that I can rely on.  I trust that horse, and I truly believe she is beginning to trust me as well.  I am discovering that may be the most effective ingredient in the recipe for riding through the fear.