Jan. 5th, 2009

foalstory: (Ally gaze)
Driven to find Answers (literally)

The drive to Idaho is not one I'd ever like to repeat, at least under those circumstances. Typically I can't do road trips since about an hour+ in a car puts me to sleep. Try a strange BIG (one ton dually) truck pulling a trailer (I had about 8 hours trailering experience in me) with snow blowing sideways across the road (high winds, flat plains) so you could only follow the tracks of the semi in front of you (two lanes but we all condensed into one for safety's sake) and silently pray.

Oh, and meanwhile you are hoping your horse is still ALIVE in the back of the trailer and hasn't fallen down dead from heart failure yet.

Or when you are REALLY in the middle of butt fuck no where, can't get anyone on the phone, finally get Sarah H and have her google map your location and where a gas station might be, cause you REALLY should have topped off before crossing into the Idaho (aka land of nothing) border.

Thank god for friends. I know I talked to MANY of you that day - friends from back home, LJ friends, international LJ friends, and just all sorts. I didn't even have any caffeine in me, I was running on 100% adrenaline.

I know I ate food and such but I couldn't tell you what. I think power bars and something I got at the Butt Fuck Nowhere gas station I found (thankGOD).

Ally was feverish again, so without removing him from the trailer, I removed a blanket (sure, YOU climb under your horse in a trailer and pray you don't die….) so he wouldn't overheat and said another prayer or twenty (btw, I just don't pray but these days I was). I was afraid if I got him off the trailer, he'd never get back on. In the middle of a snow storm and high winds. GREAT combination, not.

Sometime after dark, I got there:

Idaho Eq sign

I found Dr. Knight, unloaded Ally into an ice covered parking lot (oh joys!), and we staggered (both) into the clinic. With a short detour to find he was 300 lbs underweight (from his weight at age 5, he had probably had even more), we stuck him into the stocks and they got to work while I tried to not faceplant.

rental truck & Judy's rig

The key to this place was the cardio ultrasound, which Dr. Knight was a specialist in. She took a look, tapped the cavity around his heart and voila! FIRST bloodtest with a sign of infection. Actually, MEGA signs of infection. Tons of fluid, white blood cell counts through the roof. There was in fact so much fluid, she couldn't get a good look at his heart. But the fluid meant he did have pneumonia, probably caught from the trip from CA to UT that summer and it had been slowly simmering under everything else. So we drained….

pic cut for squeamish )

And then we tapped the other side and drained and drained and… you get the idea.

17 liters in all by the end. Which allowed us to take a good look at his heart and do an EKG:

This was only a part of the print out. His heart was *literally* skipping beats at times along with being terrifyingly erratic. However, he was perking up a bit without all that fluid compressing around his heart.

A lot more happened, I journalled in it more detail if more sleep deprived back then. The key was the HOPE I finally felt. We were finding answers, finding causes, finding problems. Not just symptoms. What did it mean yet? I really did not know. We knew if we could find the specific bacterial strain for his pneumonia, the right antibiotics could be used to target that strain (rather than a general course that won't have as much effect). Add in heart drugs and so many others I was giving him on top of pain killers and lasix and everything else … this was hope, right?

Really, it was the beginning of the end. Oh, they took me to the offices (heated!) and we talked for an hour or more about prognosis and everything else. I'd already accepted (begrudgingly) that at most I'd only have a glorified pasture pet with the amount of damage Ally's heart already had. I still secretly believed I could hop on bareback at the walk and if he stumbled, I could jump free before being injured. But this was reality. It was also the first time I'd really SEEN Ally without his blankets off (we were in the middle of a horrid cold snap) in a week. And this (compared to the last photos a week earlier) is what I had:

cut again )

So I had answers, I had hope I was clinging too, but I had RELIEF that we KNEW for once what was going on, or at least enough of it to treat him properly. We decided to keep him there an extra day to let him recover (and I think me as much as anything else…. I slept like the DEAD that night, oh lord I've never been so exhausted). I spent the next day hanging out with Ally, visiting the feed/tack store next door and not much else. It was the day before xmas, not really the time to be out and about town without insane traffic. Oh, and I did find a liquor store to stock up on stuff we couldn't get in Utah :) apparently PART of my brain was still functioning.

hanging out with him in the stall that night with my Outback takout food

eating! carrot at least

Christmas Eve day we headed back to Utah. I was elated - HOPE! ANSWERS! - and terrified. I don't think I talked about the terror so much back then. The honest fact was that Ally could simply DIE at any point. I couldn't see him in the trailer, so the stops were always a fear charged event until I opened the trailer door or heard him move around.

Alive, and eating at a rest stop

munch munch munch

The backseat of the truck: Ultium grain, 2 bags of pelleted rice bran (no one ever sells this stuff!!!), beer cases, a hastily packed overnight bag and some gifts from the tack & feed store located right next to the clinic....

The front seat: water, ipod connection, cell charger, manilla envelope with a million print outs of medical articles, maps and maps:

This drive I used caffeine, I was wound down to nearly nothing. But we made it in MUCH better non-snow-storm time and with as nearly many phone conversations with people from all over. I don't even think I've talked to some of you since then, but I STILL remember them an acute haze. Yeah, brain functions were somewhat limited.

Almost home. SLC downtown

Hanging out back at the clinic

So we were home, we had a PLAN, we had MEDS (well, MORE specific meds and more meds overall), more grain, rice bran pellets, and the horse was EATING again! It was possible, right? And in truth, Ally hadn't given up either. The way he perked up after we removed the fluid really gave all of us hope. A lot of hope.

More hope than we should have had.
foalstory: (Ally grazing)
Almost ....

Back at the vet clinic in Utah, we worked to get the heart meds he needed (human meds but needed to be compounded in quantities for a horse). Wraps were changed daily (the 4th leg finally blew and filled up with edema while in Idaho, so all 4 were wrapped).

Christmas? I had the day off and was either sleeping, researching online, or visiting Ally. There was such hope from both the vets involved, although by now the entire clinic (and the other vets) all knew me and Ally and helped out whenever needed. Christmas had never been much of a 'day' for me but this officially .... changed it. I've never had a holiday mean so little to me other than the fact I needed kitty litter at 10pm the night before and couldn't park the dually at my apartment complex (too big!) so returned it at 11pm on Chistmas eve.

Religious? no. Else perhaps i'd have been in a chapel somewhere to go escape and pray and believe in something higher.

What DID I believe in? modern medicine and Ally's own will power. HE had not given up yet, how the hell was I to give up on him? No, I had no idea how $100 a week medication would affect me in the long run but I wasn't thinking that far in advance. I would find ways, I had before.

Mostly, I hung out with Ally, treasuring the time I had while feeling totally helpless and useless. It was too cold to unblanket him and brush him -- plus it was no longer a 'fun' thing to do with the way he looked. The Edema was taking on a life of its own, like a parasite sucking the marrow from his bones. I could hug him and say goodbye every time I left, since we didn't know if his heart would make it through the night, or the afternoon or ... whatever was next. I would visit at 10pm, at 4am, at 2pm, whenever I could stand it, emotionally. Sometimes the visits were short, as they would emotionally drain me to nothing before I had to go home and rest.

I went back to work (only took the day off for the drive to Idaho) although I could not tell you a single thing I did other than wait and take off early (and come in late) between visits to the vet clinic.

A few days after back from Idaho, Ally started going downhill again. We debated and then tapped him again. 15-17 liters of fluid AGAIN drained, so the infection was still ragging like crazy.

Ally needed time for the meds to do their job, I needed sanity (I'm really not sure what happened during this time, but I did what I had to do and I knew there was no other choice), and we did what we could to give it to him.

In the midst of this, the one grace was my parents. They actually understood why I was doing what I was doing -- although I had left out the details of the harrowing Idaho trip. A year earlier my elderly cat (who stayed with them) had to be put down and they had done what they could for her until she gave up and it was time. I was doing the same thing and with something that WAS treatable, why not give it a go?

okok, so the success rates weren't high, but this combination of heart failure and pneumonia typically showed up in racehorses where the owners were more focused on the bottom line and early euthanasia was common to save costs.

And in case anyone is wondering: no. the vets in no way pressured or influenced me or any of my decisions. I'm a smart ass around vets, questioning their statements, their assumptions, making them back up their assertions, etc. They quickly figure out to treat me closer to an equal (at least don't talk down to me) and lay out the facts, letting me decide on the path. I had full support and Dr. Hammer was almost gleeful to finally be able to TREAT one of these horses instead of having to euthanize them so early, too soon in his mind.

So we drained fluid again and Ally perked up - amazing! Eating again, more interest in life and all together refreshed.

This time though, it didn't last as long. By new year's eve I knew there wasn't much hope. By new years day I knew it was going to be soon - on January second we knew draining the fluid a third time was only risking a secondary infection and falling into a pattern from which there was no recovery. We both agreed and I went to bed that night knowing the next day I was going to kill my horse.


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