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.

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