Treasures

Jan. 6th, 2009 07:43 pm
foalstory: (Ally headshot)
A year later, for Christmas I got this box from Rhiannon. It holds two of my favorite photos that capture 'him' as well as the locks of hair:



it's a good comfort to have around :)
foalstory: (Ally - goodbyes)
January 3rd, 2007.

I couldn't get to the clinic soon enough or late enough. I didn't know what I wanted, but I knew I did want photos. Whatever semblance of mind I had left on this date, I had sense enough to grab the point & shoot and the mini tripod that I could strap onto a fence or some such. I'd done the same for Dot the day or two before I put her down and I knew how much those photos had helped.

What I didn't expect was that even now, two years later, the photos are like a kick in the gut and hurt like hell. But this is part of my healing and grief process, so I'm going to do the most difficult step:


tired and done

too thin


goodbye








last one ever:


I didn't know what else to do, but I waited until I was almost impatient, but in a dread-filled way. I wanted to let him go, let him be free. But goddamned it hurt.

Dr. Hammer finished up his morning rounds and came to find me. He handled everything very well -- I let him know that I'd done this before and wanted to be there. He was a bit surprised at that, but accepting. I just asked him what he needed from me (holding the head, etc) and to tell me when he put the final drugs in so that I'd Know.

cut for explicit details )

I stood. We removed his halter. Dr. Hammer asked if I wanted any hair or such -- I'd already taken some, because I wanted to snip while he was alive, not dead. I turned and walked away.

Ally was now my angel.
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.
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 crest)
The Search

WHAT was wrong with Ally we still did not know, but the search was on. I started researching all his symptoms …. and found out that nearly all the major equine illnesses presented with the same batch of symptoms (midline edema, anorexia, weight loss, lethargy, etc).

weight
That Ally was losing weight now was without question. What seemed like regular weight loss from a new climate/cold was obviously something MUCH more as he lost muscle tone, fat layers, and most everything else. And all VERY quickly.

I searched the internet, I got into veterinary databases of articles, I asked CoTH and a dozen other sites (a few lucky guesses, but of the possibilities, it was statistically going to happen).



edema
Within a few days the edema got rapidly worse. First it went away for a day (oh ye devilish false hope…) then came back with a VENGANCE, filling up his entire midline from sheath to chest, then including his chest. Then it started down into his legs, first just the hind legs.

His fever was spiking by this point, 103, 104, whatever it felt like. Drugs of all types were being used and it finally got to the point where he was eating so little we HAD to get him into the hospital (which fortunately charged $17 a day for a stall vs. UC Davis' $275 a day). One of my first goals was to bring him home. Obviously way ahead of myself.

Midline edema and weight loss before the last hospital trip, you can see the pronounced hollows over his eyes even at this point:


lethargy
At liberty with Denali, Ally would run but only just barely. This was a horse locked up in a 12x12 stall nearly 24 hours a day (no more pasture, he was being picked on -- they knew he was sick) and by all rights should have been extremely insane with energy. THIS was ALLY, for crying aloud. The horse I HAD to ride 6 days a week just to barely keep him sane.

Early lethargy and an oddly weak hind end:


The Suspect
We started to think it was the heart, such as an infection in one of the valves, but the only way was to try to test him some more, ultrasound and get him into the clinic. So off Ally went:

At the clinic, catheter in place and obvious weight loss in his neck but perkier because of the fluids and grain we were giving him (Ultium):


I lived at this clinic. They didn't mind if I stopped by at 1am or not. As the only major large animal clinic in the entire state, most folks had to ship their horses there from far away and keep updated through phone calls. I stayed, I hung his xmas stocking on his stall, I bought and left treats there, we kept up with his bicarb doses, we bought Ultium and Succeed and anything else to stimulate appetite and let him eat whatever he wanted (bags of carrots and Mrs. Pasture cookies galore!).



Dr. Hammer let me raid their veterinary text book collection and I read up in the warm office, alternating between that and wool and down layers to hang out with Ally in the 12 F weather and take him for short-short walks where there was no ice on the ground (tricky to do!).

three down…
By this point the Edema worsened. It finally hit one of his front legs (but not the other, no idea why the delay) and we had stack wraps on all three. I did furazone wraps and stacks and vetwrap galore on top of hydro therapy and anything else that I could do between work and sleep (all there WAS for me) that they might not have time for or time to get to yet. Without the wraps, his legs would have split open. We had to wrap down to the coronary band, swearing off any damage we might be doing with pressure that tight in order to ensure as much pressure as possible to keep the edema down and keep him mobile (as mobile as you ARE with wraps like that …).

I didn't take photos of this. I didn't WANT photos of his legs with absolutely NO definition between the bones and joints. They weren't even legs anymore.

Yet, we still felt we had hope, these were just SYMPTOMS. We had to find the problem.

Radical Steps
Thursday evening, Dr. Hammer calls me and suggests that we get a cardio ultrasound. He tried with the probes they had at the clinic, but they didn't have any specific for the heart. The only way to do that was to take him to Idaho Equine Hospital (about same distance as UC Davis and Colorado State, but those two involved extreme up/downs in elevation that would stress his heart too much).

Oh, and let's do this TOMORROW and by the time I got there it would be emergency hours but their Cardio specialist Dr. Knight had already promised to stay around and take care of us.

Somehow, I got a trailer - Judy's, and then a truck (rental, Judy needed hers although I would have rented her a SUV to use and used her truck if needed) first thing Friday morning, loaded up Ally and hit the road.

In a white out snow storm.

To Idaho.

On nearly no sleep.

And an 8 hour drive.

THAT'S how bad I needed answers.

last rides

Jan. 4th, 2009 04:20 pm
foalstory: (Ally bridle)
But Doctor, SOMETHING is wrong, I swear it

Ever had a sixth sense about your horses? With Ally's RTA (renal tubular acidosis) and multiple relapses (and hospital ICU visits) over the years, I really did have that level of sense. I could hang out with him and just 'tell' what sort of mood he was in. Oh, sure I'm certain I was picking up on body language and other indicators but it wasn't anything I could clearly articulate (beyond the one day I walked into his stall and he didn't even turn to look at me, I knew FAST he was bad off).

That's how all of this started. YOU try going to a vet with a "I know I sound paranoid, but I swear upon anything there is something NOT RIGHT with this horse".

I knew something wasn't right on some level for two to three months. NOTHING in his bloodwork showed anything abnormal. We ran tests for EVA, for Lyme's disease and a whole slew of additional tests through a laboratory down in Texas.

Then I did the one thing that was almost guaranteed to make him sick. I LEFT. I flew home to California for a week's vacation a few weeks before Christmas. In the past, he would have an RTA relapse almost the moment I left town, it really was quite the stress inducer (in both of us, it seemed). A few days into California and I'm getting phone calls about explosive diarrhea (retroactively: fluid from around his heart trying to escape through his digestive system) so so so bad that they were getting him to the vets asap and could I possibly help from 700 miles away? Um. Not really although I WAS ready and willing to fly back if I was needed. But Judy got him trailed over to the vets and they treated him with fluids (ironic) until his system settled down and such. Might have had a fever, but it went away. Sent him back home a day before I got home.

Then, it happened again. And went away. More visits from the vets. Dr. Hammer and I were on a first name basis although I still called him Dr. Hammer out of habit/respect. At LEAST by this time they agreed with me that something was wrong, but what WAS it?

Then the Edema showed up. I girthed him up one day and while lunging, noticed the 'dent' made by the girth in his belly. I stopped immediately and realized he had midline pitting edema. I pulled the tack off and rode him around bareback while I waited for Dr. Hammer to arrive (good thing the clinic was only 2 miles away…), trying to get circulation going, thinking perhaps the edema was from all his stall rest time from the diarrhea episodes.

I had no idea that was my last ride on Ally, ever.
foalstory: (Ally & me)
I wrote the beginning and the post-end, so I might as well go straight to the end. Yes, I'm writing these out of order.

Past the End

the heart
I didn't see Dr. Hammer for a few months at least, not until he came out to do the spring vaccinations at the barn. While there I finally asked him -- and he said he hadn't called because he knew when I was ready, I would ask him. About what? About what he found Read more... )

The earlier cardio ultrasound had shown weakness, the jugular backflow indicated weakness but this …. this was a surprise to both Dr. Hammer and myself. It also explained so so much about the constant struggles and ups and downs Ally went through prior to this. The irregular heartbeat heard that summer before leaving California? Logical . The three years of summertime weight loss while I rode him more and more and more that his body couldn't quite keep up with? Ah-ha. The staggering on our trail ride while a gallop nearly put him into a heartattack (or probably DID, but we had no idea)? Bingo. Talk about a major muscle cramp.

Interesting, his kidneys were fine. Nov 99 to Jan 07 on bicarbonate for his renal tubular acidosis, and the kidneys were a-okay. THAT's what I figured would be the part of his body to fail and kill him off someday. Just, not so soon. And not some other part of his body.

talking
Even now I turn into an idiot when it comes to Ally. I can start to mention my 'horses' to someone and suddenly I just HAVE to tell them that I had another, that I lost him, then how I lost him and how horrible it was. Dear gods, I've turned into one of THOSE people. The ones that corner you and talk and talk and talk and you nod politely and try to escape. Apparently grief takes bizarre twists and turns.

tattoo
I knew from almost the day after he died that I wanted a tattoo of Ally. I contacted Kate about it -- and she'd already wanted to do some sort of artwork for me for Ally so our intentions merged very well. However, it was going to take time for me to decide, time to know, time to do it all ….

The original design was gorgeous, but it wasn't right for my skin, my body. I had to figure that out and finally a year and a half later I DID. I found the odd combination of celtic and tribal work that I liked with a horse head figure and the gaelic word for 'my angel'. And so Kate worked her magic.



It's placed over my left hip where I can touch and feel and see him every day. The tattoo artist did wonders with some of the curves, melding it with my own body shape so very little distortion occurs when I move. The ink looks like it's supposed to be there -- and it is.

the end of grief?
Getting the tattoo was a HUGE step and writing all of this out now is definitely an even larger step. The grief doesn't end or disappear but this will let me process through it all. It's been like a fire too hot to touch. I dance around it, I sometimes skip near it before leaving it alone. But this time I'm going to sit with the fire and accept it, remembering *everything* (good and bad!) until the fire is purged and I am left with the best of memories.

Why I'm writing this
I've held back a LOT about his death because I couldn't write about it -- part of this process is letting go, which includes writing it out. For me, when I write something out, I'm no longer carrying it around with me. The burden is lessened.
foalstory: (Allagash)
The Start of this tale

How do I start?

Two years ago I lost the love of my life?

I'm writing this in pieces, not in order although I'll link them together later. But the start is proving to be the most difficult part. This . . .

This is a tale of an amazing, strong, brave, athletic, studly, gorgeous, talented, smart, and lovable horse known as 'Ally'.

This tale is of his death. I firmly believe a sudden death, even violent, is preferred to what he ended up going through in the end. Easier for him, easier for me (perhaps). But mostly for him, because he deserved better than the early end he received.

January 3rd 2007, Ally was humanely put to sleep. That he hadn't died on his own was a daily miracle to me and the entire vet staff. That day he became my angel and remains so forever. But that final day is not where to start. Where to start is ... at the beginning.

foalstory: (Ally - goodbyes)
The Day After and beyond

Two years ago I woke up and could not believe it was real. I, who a year and a half ago had 5 horses, only owned one. ONE. One that still took me a week to get to the barn to go see again.

the flowers
The shock and total NUMBNESS was unlike anything else in my experience, including the overmedication of drugs this summer. But it was real. The flowers staring at me on the kitchen bar and the table were evidence of that. NO ONE sends me flowers. Not quite like …. this.

That day only showed with more flowers and more until I didn't know what to do with them all except clip some buds and let them float in glasses and dishes. The cats knew respect and stayed away from them (thank you darlings).







the blanket
The polar fleece blanket liner he'd worn until a few minutes before the end sat in one of the kitchen chairs, haphazardly folded. The day before I could barely put it down. I had even gone so far as to debate sleeping with it, but the buckles and rings weren't exactly the most comfortable. Yet, I could stand within a foot or to of it and still smell HIM.

In the following days, when I felt TOO numb, I'd pick it up, hug it and bury my face into the fleece, breathing in until I was bawling again. The numbness, was gone. I could feel again.

The plan was to keep the blanket around until it no longer made me cry -- that would be my test on when my grief was gone. But in this case, my grief outlasted nature. If I had it now, I'd still cry. But my the middle of summer, the blanket only smelled like a blanket -- not like Ally, not anymore. So I finally washed it.

And then proceeded to wait a year and a half before I could even consider SELLING it, although I never wanted to use it on Denali or any other horse.

Now, I hate that blanket. That pattern, that design, the colors. It's something I cannot avoid because of the associations. Rarely did we unblanket Ally entirely, so the fleece was what he wore when you could see the changes in him -- how much LESS there was of him, how it draped, how it hollowed out, how his edema still hung below, how the belly strap had to be lengthened to not tighten against the edema, how the body that was fit, masculine, strong, powerful, gorgeous and HEALTHY used to fill out the blanket and how that was so completely ... gone.

grief
Beyond the flowers and blanket, I couldn't deal with the grief. I curled up into a ball on the sofa, on the floor, in my bed. I slept as much as I could, I tried to go online, but even that had it's pain as I shared the news and received so much love and condolences from friends near and afar. I have no words to express the appreciation, but it did well to overwhelm me, until I was bawling again.

cards
Then the CARDS started to arrive. People did this? I suppose that they DO after all else. Two stand out in my mind - one from Alison with her good luck braclet from showing all summer long (which I still have on the gear shift in my car). The other from Sam, a braid of embroidery thread including one strand of General's hair. my gods, what gifts.

All Else
When we still believed he'd live, I'd had my first 'wishlist' but it was for Ally 100%. In the end it was for Denali although I got as many Mrs. Pasture's cookies into Ally as possible. It was hard to spoil Denali and I received so much … I think the ones I grabbed from the tack trunk on Friday were the last of those same cookies (I'm serious, I had close to 50 lbs in the end… Ally ate 15 lbs of them). I should have - realized now - done thank you cards because the offers, the gifts, the support, was *amazing*, but I was in no shape to do more than babble the most heartfelt thank you possible through emails, LJ posts and the phone.

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