Not with a Bang, But a Whimper

T.S Elliot wrote in the poem “The Hollow Men”, ‘This is the way the world ends/ Not with a bang but a whimper.“ I am not sure if Elliot was right when it comes to how the World will end as a whole. But I can attest that my own personal world ends in a whimper,  and I was the one that would choose how quickly it end. 

The choice was laid out in simple terms 1) take him to the Animal Hospital and confirm the diagnosis or 2) euthanize my best friend. If I went for option one it very well might end in euthanizing him, but it would mean confirming the Vet’s diagnosis and the added cost of taking him to the Equine Hospital. There was also the concern about trailering him in his current state. Between the sedation as well as the Banamine we had a tiny time frame in which we could transport him. But when I had moved him to this facility, he had fallen in the trailer and couldn’t get up for a time. That was on a day he wasn’t sedated, how would he trailer feeling like he was? But option two meant saying goodbye, when I hadn’t even processed what the vet had told me. 

So I did the only thing I could think of, I called my mom. Maybe I was hoping she’d have some new perspective, maybe I just didn’t want to make this choice alone or at all. She listened as I haltingly told her what had happened and what our options were, I tried not to cry as I told her. She was comforting and supportive, but did say what the deepest part of me knew “you know honey, I think it’s just his time.” 

You know that feeling, when you’re about to cry your eyes out? But you’re fighting that urge? The pressure that you feel behind your eyes, the tightness in your throat, the gathering wetness, and yet you just don’t want to cry at least for now. So you fight to get the words passed your tight throat, fight against the tears. My mom seemed to know, and waited patiently for my response. Then she offered to make the choice for me, and it would be so simple to hand over the phone to the Vet and let them come to a decision, difficult choice out of my hands. 

But even as I considered it, it felt wrong. Like leaving him before they put him down and not being there, alone around strangers more or less. Easy for me, I get in the car and go. I could pretend it was my own Schrodinger’s Cat, a paradox in my mind where he could be both alive and dead as long as I never opened the ‘box’. Welcome to stage one of grief: Denial. 

But how could I leave him? He’d always been there for me, now when he needed me the most I was considering not being there. It felt wrong, so with everything I had I told my mom no I needed to make the choice, and I needed to be there for him. Hanging up I walked over to the Vet and the Barn’s owner with a weird calmness I gave my answer and asked what would happen after. There were many options for burial, we could bury but since it was out in the hill country it wasn’t always ideal since the ground was hard. There were companies that could come pick up the remains and dispose of them, but I remember reading an article about rendering and parts used in some make up products. That was a hard no for me. The final option I was given was cremation, the crematorium would pick him up and deliver the ashes to me. I didn’t even pause, that’s what I wanted. The vet nodded in sympathy and let me know her and the owner would figure out the best place to do it and set everything up. They would give me a moment alone with him. They would come get me when they were ready. 

“He might be feeling ok, because of the meds if he wants to graze let him.” The Vet said as she held open the gate to the covered arena. I nodded shallowly and led him to a patch of grass under the trees that he always like to graze at. I was feeling numb, and to be honest don’t remember much of the time when we were waiting. I remember hugging his neck, and calling the BFF to let her know. I had started teaching her to ride a few years before, and Peps had been the best teacher. She already knew he’d been sick as I was keeping her updated. I thought she should know too, that I had made my decision. She cried over the phone, excused herself from the winery tour she was doing on her vacation. But told me to call her if I needed anything. I didn’t right now, the numbness was making me slow to respond. I was in survival mode, but as I typed this I wish I could have been more present. After all these were my final moments with him, I wish I could remember if I even spoke to him. 

Before too long the vet tech came over to get us to  lead us to the spot. Way from the barn and paddocks but still accessible to the road for the pick up when it was all said and done. I walked him over and the vet handed me some treats to feed him, as she talked me through it. 

“What I am essentially doing is overdosing him. He’ll be gone before he hits the ground, but I will warn while I’ll try and guide him down sometimes they do fall hard. But he’ll already be gone.” She kept telling me, not sure if it was true or if she was just trying to make me feel better about the whole thing. I kept mechanically feeding him treats while trying to keep my eyes on him for one last memory. Don’t let him falling down be my last memory, I prayed. Instead I noted how he stopped eating the treats and looked around at the unfamiliar area. How he held the treats in his mouth, eyes alert, ears pointed and the tension in his neck. But beyond his obvious stress, I also noted how the sun shined on his coat, highlighting the red in his bay coloring. The richness of the black in his mane, even with mud caked into it. I remember thinking that I never did get to clean him up, like I told him I would. I wondered if they’d let me get a brush for him. But by then the vet was taking the lead rope from me and directing him a little bit away but still close. The barn’s owner came over and wrapped her arms around me as I did the same and I noticed that she had tears in her eyes too. I was grateful for her support at this moment. 

The Vet’s attention was on Peps, quietly talking to him as she prepared to inject the fatal dose. A quick puncture of a needle, I watched as my world ended. Eyes rolled back, jaw went lax, and legs gave way to the sound of the vet whispering “shh good boy, easy boy”. The world should end with a bang, the sound of my best friend leaving this world should have been loud, but my world ended in a small whimper let out involuntarily by myself. A small “oh” was all that marked his passing.

The Day it All Changed

If I am to be completely honest, I had planned this blog back in early 2016 because I was between jobs and bored. Keyboards & Hoofbeats, I planned to write about the adventures of my horse and I. Or rather that was the plan, it came to a halt when I couldn’t decide what to write about. I guess I could have blogged about what a pain trying to get rid of Scratches (aka Mud Fever) on my horse’s back legs were, about tack care, and even about taking care of a senior horse and the adjustment in expectations. I wondered about being 100% open and honest about my weight, did I want to be vulnerable to whoever may read about the shame I felt being a larger rider? How embarrassed I felt riding with my tall boots half way zipped because I couldn’t get them up all the way. I was unsure of how I would do that, how I would be that open because while the Internet can be wonderfully supportive, it can also be incredibly cruel. So I procrastinated, then I got a job, and then the excuses happened. I didn’t have time to blog, I wanted to but I had too much to do. In reality I did I was just scared and unsure to post anything. So time passed and suddenly it was 2018 and I was one month way from turning 32, and I made myself promise I would take this blog seriously. I would commit to it, no more excuses.

Then May 7th 2018 happened. It was a Monday and was like most Mondays I was at my work. I got the call when I was at lunch. It was the owner of the barn my horse was boarded at. I had excused myself from my coworkers and answered, its the worse news a horse owner can hear. Pepsi was laying down and they couldn’t get him up. She asked if I could come out and if I wanted them to call the vet. I said yes and I would be out there soon. There was a moment I wondered if I really needed to be out there. A tiny fraction of a moment where I didn’t want to leave my work, I would be going on vacation for my birthday and I didn’t have much PTO left. However the moment passed and I informed my manager and headed straight to the barn, convinced Pepsi would be fine. The owner thought that he was either Choking or he had Colic, but they weren’t sure.

Some background on Pepsi is that I have been extremely lucky with him. He’s never Colic and at 28 years old it was extremely lucky. I drove out thinking of all the possibilities. But I convinced myself he would be fine, I’d get out there and he would be his usual self. See the thing with Pepsi is that he never acted his age. People were always surprised when they found out, he was full of energy and life. My family and friends had always joked that he would be a round long after us, watch out Guinness world record Pepsi was coming for you. I think I believed it. I had believed Pepsi would be with me until he was in his 30s maybe even 40s. Instead he didn’t even make it to his 30th birthday.

I arrived at the barn and the owner met me, they had gotten him up and given him a shot of Banamine with permission of the vet. He seemed better,  he wasn’t trying to lay down. The Vet was on another emergency call and would come right out as soon as she finished. Pepsi was standing there every now and then try to walk forward. I took the lead rope from the groom and the owner let me know they would be right over in the main barn. To call if I needed anything and we were just going to wait for the Vet. Pepsi walked around a little before standing quietly and groaning every now and then. I would rub his forehead and noted all the little scratches he had gotten from when he was laying down. He was muddy from the ground and I thought after the vet I would give him a good brush and hang out with him, I would put wound dressing on all his little scratches and I would be with him for the rest of the afternoon. I definitely didn’t take into consideration the seriousness of what was happening. I took my cellphone out and texted my best friend who was on vacation and let her know what was going on. We were chatting via text and I was explaining the situation and outcomes to her when I felt him nudge my hand with his muzzle. I turned to him and apologized and told him we would get him all better.

If I only knew this wouldn’t happened. It was a little moment, that I have thought about over and over in the weeks that followed. I wonder if that little nudge was him telling me to pay attention to him because our time was running out. That our time was almost up and he knew it, so put the phone away and be with him. I take comfort in that I did turn to him, rubbed his white star on his forehead before running my fingers through is forelock but it wasn’t long after I responded back to another text. I was just waiting for the vet, convinced that she would make him better and we would get through this. When the vet got out she got right to work, after an exam she told me one of the things she was concerned about.

Strangulation Lipoma, something I had never heard about. Here is an excerpt about this:

Strangulating lipomas: One of the more common obstructions we see, especially in older horses, is something called a strangulating lipoma.  A “lipoma” is a benign fatty tumor that develops within the mesentery.  (We call it “benign” because it’s a tumor that does not metastasize to other parts of the body.  But that doesn’t make it less serious.)  Lipomas typically hang from a stalk, which makes them a ticking time bomb for colic – at some point in the horse’s life it can wrap itself around the small intestine, cutting off the blood supply and causing sudden, extreme signs of pain. 

Other sites talk more in detail, and my vet spoke in detail about her thoughts and concern with Pepsi.  This tumor is usually only found in older horses and could only be corrected with surgery. With him being 28, she did not foresee him surviving the surgery. But she wanted to tube him and go from there. This was just her suspicion. If you are unfamiliar with horses and colic, here’s a thing to remember Colic is a general term for abdominal pain in horses. The cause of that pain could be several different conditions. Tubing is where the vet will insert a long tube into the horse’s nostril and down the esophagus to the stomach, this will all the vet to administer fluids straight into the stomach. When my vet did this to Pepsi the amount of stomach contents that came out was startling, I could tell by her face that this was concerning. Honestly felt like it would never end and sure enough when if finally did quit there was a pool of what looked like half digest hay and grains. My vet smiled sadly and said told me that the average horse’s stomach could hold 12 liters, we had easily surpassed that.

I don’t remember much after that, the owner of the barn asked some questions on my behalf. What is the prognosis? What is our next steps? How long until he’ll be in pain again? Questions that I should have been asking but just couldn’t. The only thing I knew for sure is I had a choice, we could load him up take him to the hospital to perform an ultrasound to confirm the Vet’s diagnosis of Strangulation Lipomas or we say goodbye here at home during the small window where he wasn’t in pain.