Why I’m Not A Vet
This is going to be one of those non-traditional blog posts–at least for me. The truth is, I started The Naturally Healthy Horse because I enjoy writing about horse health, and I wanted to share information which I thought would be helpful to others. But occasionally, I feel it’s necessary to share a personal story, and this is one of those instances.
Two weeks ago, I had to face something I’ve been dreading for years–a medical emergency with Hershey. I love all my horses, but I can’t pretend I don’t have a favorite. After all, Hershey and I have been together for nearly 20 years. He’s the horse who helped me realize many of my barrel racing dreams (once upon a time), and he’s also the main reason I started this blog. I can count the really great horses I’ve had over my lifetime on three fingers, and he’s one of them.
It all started when I went out to feed that Friday morning and found Hershey laying near the barn while the mares were out grazing. My stomach immediately went sour. I knew something wasn’t right. But I tried to remain calm. I went ahead and prepared their feed and supplements just like every other morning. Maybe he’s just resting, I tried to convince myself, though I knew it wasn’t true.
He got to his feet and ambled into the barn, along with the three mares, but he wasn’t interested in his food. He continually looked at his left side, and my fears were confirmed: he was colicking. My mind began to race–what could have caused this? Hershey had never colicked before in his life. I went inside to call the vet, and got an appointment for later that morning. In the mean time, I used my colic acupressure points. But unlike other episodes of colic I’ve dealt with, they didn’t seem to be offering any relief.
Then, another problem presented itself. Hershey refused to load in the trailer. He’s never been particularly fond of getting in the trailer, but back when I hauled him to barrel races almost weekly, we developed a method where I would lunge him (at a walk) just in front of the open trailer door. After a few laps around, he would get in on his own. But he hadn’t been hauled anywhere in the last five years or so, and he would not even consider setting foot in the trailer on this particular morning.
So I called the vet back to see if he could come to my house instead. Only this time, I could not get a hold of him. I was panicking by now, thinking I wouldn’t be able to find anyone to come out, but then I found another local vet who was able to come.
Hershey’s vitals weren’t bad, but he did have limited gut sounds, so the vet decided to go ahead and tube him. But then another problem: he couldn’t seem to get the tube to go down Hershey’s esophagus. I could hardly stand to watch him try over and over again to get the tube to go down, but finally, it did, and the vet was able to complete the procedure.
Before leaving, the vet mentioned it was possible that Hershey had choked and that was the reason the tube was so hard to get down. I realized this was probably the case and immediately felt horrible because it had most likely happened when I fed the previous evening. I may not have soaked his timothy pellets long enough. If he had been choking all through the night, the stress of both that and not being able to graze could have easily caused him to colic.
Thankfully, Hershey recovered that day. I checked on him at least once an hour, and by evening, all seemed to be going fine.
Fast forward to Sunday evening. When I went out to feed this time, I noticed the left side of Hershey’s neck was swollen and hard. He was also acting strangely, licking his lips, and a greenish substance was coming from his mouth. He appeared to be choking again. The sick feeling in my stomach feeling returned. The vet who’d treated him before didn’t work weekends, so I scrambled to find someone else who could come.
The good news is that by the time I was able to find a vet to come out, the choking had resolved on its own, but I was still very concerned about the swelling. The vet agreed it was worrisome and said she could come out that evening.
As it turned out (and as I suspected), this vet said the swelling was most likely caused from the injection the first vet had given. The needle had probably gotten outside the vein, allowing the medication to get into the muscle. I cringed, remembering the horrific pictures I’ve seen of horses who’d been given banamine in the muscle. Now I had two things to worry about–a choking reoccurrence AND an infection in his neck.
Fortunately, neither one has happened so far. The swelling has gone down (he’s been on antibiotics), and I’m resting a little easier now. I have an appointment to have his teeth done next week, and I’m hoping that will further reduce his risk of choking again.
Aside from being a nightmare, this whole experience has reminded me of why I’m not a vet. Because at one time, that was really what I thought I wanted to be. But I learned as a teenager that being a vet isn’t all puppies and roses. My best friend’s dad was a vet (still is actually) and after helping out at his clinic a few times, I realized it wasn’t the job for me. There are just too many aspects I wouldn’t want to deal with.
Veterinarians have my utmost respect and admiration. What they do is difficult. I’m sure there are many rewarding moments, but there are many heart-wrenching ones as well. No, I don’t always agree with some of their views when it comes to certain things, and yes, sometimes they make mistakes (as appeared to have happened with Hershey), but many of them are excellent at dealing with emergency situations–and this tends to be one of the few times I call them anymore.
After the vet I used for many years passed away a couple years ago, I’ve struggled to find another vet I feel completely comfortable with. But I think after this last incident, I may have found one. She does farm calls, plus she’s friendly and has a gentle touch with horses. In fact, she’s the one who I’m having back out to do Hershey’s teeth.
I regret not saying thank you enough to my old vet. Because I was extremely grateful for the care he gave my horses over the years. I intend to be more vocal about my appreciation from now on though. My horses mean so much to me, and I want the people who treat them, especially during emergencies such as this one, to know how thankful I am for them.
If you have a good vet, remember to tell them thank you. Because most of us just aren’t cut out for that kind of work.