It's funny how you remember weird facts like that in the middle of an emergency.
*Warning: graphic photos*
We were going to go camping with the horses. Little Bennett Regional Park opened up an equestrian campgrounds only 15 minutes from the new barn. We were pretty excited about the idea of camping with the girls and had been planning on staying over from Friday July 3 to Saturday July 4. It would be Gracie's first experience camping. And they have a fire pit for bonfires: we were especially excited about that, as most endurance rides don't allow bonfires.
At the back of my mind, I was mildly troubled by the fact that I was having a hard time imagining us arriving at the campgrounds with the girls. You would think it's something easy, right? But my brain kept defaulting to imaging it in the way you imagine a story in the third person...I can't really clearly explain the difference. I shrugged it off because the same thing happened when we were going to go to the OD ride last year: I had never been to an endurance ride with the intention of riding it myself, especially not at the 50-mile distance, so I was having a hard time imagining it because it was something completely new. Unfathomable. But it happened and we completed successfully and had a really awesome time to boot. So I figured this would be like that: it was the first time Charles and I would be camping completely by ourselves, and it would be the first time camping with the horses outside of the scope of an endurance ride and this is why I was having a hard time visualizing it - because it was a new experience.
We woke up on Friday to finish packing and getting our stuff in the truck, then swung by the campgrounds to check in: at Little Bennett you check in at the main campgrounds which is about a 5 minute drive from the equestrian campgrounds, but we figured it would be best to do without the trailer in tow. They don't allow campers to bring outside wood but they do sell it at the registration office so we bought two cords of it (we had great plans for making real s'mores!) and then went to the barn to load up the trailer and pick up the girls.
We had brought Lily and Gracie out of the field and tied them at the hitching post as usual so they could eat some hay while we finished putting our tack and their food in the trailer. There was only one other boarder around and she was tacking up her draft mare in the barn. The barn was quiet. In fact, the entire property was quiet.
So we clearly heard the light "thunk" over by where the girls were. "What was that?" I asked Charles. We were just stepping off the trailer.
He looked in that direction. "The top post of the hitching post came off," he said. "And there goes Lily..."
"What?!" I leaped out of the trailer to find a confused Gracie in the parking lot, lead rope trailing on the ground as Lily tore off up the hill towards the bridle path, wooden post dragging on the ground behind her, "chasing" her.
You can't do anything when a horse runs away with something trailing behind them like that. You have to hope that eventually the horse will stop, will realize that the thing "chasing" it is not in fact a living thing, or that the halter or lead rope will break, the knot will come undone, or the attached thing at the end of the lead rope will slide out.
None of those things happened. I had a simple quick release knot that had not been snugged up tight on the lead rope but it did not come undone.
I watched as Lily galloped down the far side of the bridle path on the other side of the mare field, heading towards the driveway and that's when I started running. Charles had caught Gracie and was trying to calm her down, as she wanted to run after Lily too.
The post chasing Lily got stuck on a fence post, yanking her to a stop and I saw her throw herself backwards, fighting to get away. After two tugs she succeeded in breaking free and galloped off, away, in the general direction of BO's house and the airstrip.
I ran over to the post, hoping that she had broken the lead rope and not the halter.
All of my halters have military dog tags with "I belong to" and my name and phone number on them. ALL OF THEM. Even the spare halter in the trailer. The one Lily was wearing was no exception.
I confirmed that indeed Lily had broken the lead rope and took off after her.
I saw her slow to a canter but she continued on and on and on, and disappeared behind the hill beyond BO's house.
I ran until I couldn't breathe and then continued walking. Once at the top of the hill, I figured I'd be able to see Lily. I thought she'd turn around eventually and head back towards the barn and her herd. Or she'd stop to graze, since there were beautiful hay fields and lush grass all around.
But she had done neither. She was nowhere to be seen. Of course neither BO nor her husband were at the house: no vehicles, so there was no one to ask if they had seen where Lily had gone.
Charles pulled up in the truck behind me: he had unhitched the trailer and come to find me. He followed the road around the end of the airstrip and went down the back entrance of the property. We had never ridden down there and I saw no reason why Lily would head that way, as it was not familiar and the back entrance led to a pretty busy road.
I couldn't see her though. From the top of that hill I could see both neighboring properties: one had a soybean field and the other cattle and Lily was nowhere to be found.
I got in the truck and was about to tell Charles to go back to the barn in case she had returned when I got a phone call from a Maryland number I didn't know. I answered.
"I found a horse!" said a concerned man's voice with a heavy Southern drawl.
Thank God for the name tag.
We got directions but the man was having a hard time describing where he was and I was having a hard time understanding him: I can understand thick accents just fine in person but it's a different story over the phone. I don't know why, and I'm sure people have the same issue with me: I hate giving addresses over the phone because of that. I got that the man was near the back road to the property, across the road from the airstrip. We drove to the property directly across from said back road but there was no Lily. As we were coming back up the driveway we saw a woman walking up to the road, looking in both directions. We stopped and she asked if we were looking for a horse: she was my BO's neighbor. She had seen a horse galloping towards the road and had called Animal Control immediately to notify it; they had sent a first responder team to help look for the horse.
Have I told you guys that Marylanders are amazing?
Right then, a police car came up towards us and slowed down. We pulled up even with the patrol car and the officer said, "The horse is on the other side of the hill." Animal Control had responded immediately indeed. So we drove off up the hill and on the other side of it off in the distance, I saw a man standing next to a white truck holding a dark bay horse with a star, stripe and a snip.
I leaped out of the car before Charles had completely come to a stop and thanked the man profusely. I didn't get to ask how he had caught Lily; he offered up the story and it was pretty incredible.
Lily had been galloping on the road and the man had pulled up in his truck next to her, reached out and grabbed her lead rope mid-flight...and Lily had slowed down as the man brought his truck to a stop. He said she was a very good horse: she had been quite willing to stop and had stayed with him after that with no issue.
Lily was quiet. Trembling, dripping sweat and panting, but quiet. No dangling legs, no giant bleeding wounds that I could see other than a spot of blood on her left hind leg near her coronet band. I didn't take a closer look just then, I figured I'd get her hosed off and cleaned up at the barn and then we'd really assess.
After thanking the wonderful, kind, heroe of a man close to 8 billion times more, I started walking with Lily back to the barn. Charles drove on ahead.
It was a long walk. She galloped somewhere between 2-3 miles.
About a quarter of a mile in, I realized that she was limping pretty badly on her right front. I glanced at her left hind, wondering if the diagonal lameness was actually a reflection of left hind limb pain or if she truly was lame on the right front. Once we were off the road, I stopped to take a closer look at her front leg. It was completely unscathed, top and bottom. The underside of her hoof had no trauma either.
I told the side of my brain that was screaming, "What if her coffin bone is fractured from running on asphalt????!!" to shove it. I looked at my watch. 2:30 pm. My vet closes at 3:00 pm and it was a weekday, so I called, hoping that maybe I'd get lucky and Dr. L would be in the area.
I didn't realize their emergency answering service had picked up until I found myself talking to an unfamiliar voice. A young woman named Katie mans my vet's office and we're on a first name basis. This was not her.
Dr. L was not on duty today; it was her associate Dr. E on call. On call. They were closed. I explained what had happened and they offered to send Dr. E out but I didn't think it was necessary. I told the operator I'd monitor over the weekend and call Dr. L on Monday. The operator was very kind and said that if I needed anything at all that the emergency service was available 24 hours a day over the weekend.
I still had not really looked at the left hind.
We marched on and I moved her onto the grass as soon as I could. She walked better then. Charles pulled up again in the truck. He had released Gracie into the field. I was confused: I thought that was what he had originally done. He had originally tied her to the trailer with a pile of hay to munch on while driving off to meet me the first time; she had been very good both times. I nodded and tried not to think of everything that could have gone wrong with that scenario. He had done the best he could at the moment and Gracie had stayed calm when we needed her to. That was all that mattered.
After what felt like 5 million years but was actually more like 20 minutes, we walked back into the barnyard.
And that was when I finally looked at her left hind.
Big scrape near her coronet band. She had neatly sliced the top layer of skin and hair off. Most of the blood was coming from that. Painful yes, but not serious.
But it didn't explain the blood on her white sock above the scrape.
It was coming from a 1.5" hole near the back of her leg, a few inches above her fetlock. I could see tendons.
|The culprit. See red circle. It had to be. There was no other poking object on that entire board.|
Well, that's what Lily did. The second my eyes landed on that puncture wound, she lifted the leg and then refused to put weight on it.
She was not lame in the right front. She was lame in the left hind.
I immediately started hosing it and called my vet's emergency service again. Now this, this here was an emergency.
The emergency service said they would get ahold of Dr. E and have her call me back.
In the meantime, I moved Lily to the shade of the wash stall and hosed her off entirely. Her respiratory rate had dropped but she was still hot. I mixed Betadine and water in a bucket (saline is better but I didn't have saline at the barn) and spent the next 10 minutes squirting the injury with the dilute iodine with a 60 ml syringe to flush it out as best as possible.
It felt like 3 hours but Dr. E called me about 15 minutes after I had called the office. That's some sort of record by the way: if an on-call vet is busy, as they can often be right before a holiday, you will very likely be waiting longer. I went into greater detail about what was going on with Lily and she said she would head on out immediately; she was about 30-40 minutes away. (Charles had to google the barn address for me to give her...I was drawing a blank on the address and could not find a single form in the tack room office with the barn address on it. Another one of those random things that only happens during emergencies.) I was given the okay to give Lily a gram of bute, which I ultimately had to syringe her. I tried feeding it to her in a pan but she was very nervous and spilling the food everywhere and when I unhooked one side of the cross ties so she could eat from the floor, she tried to walk out of the barn on 3 legs and I just about lost it. I yelled at her, "WHY DO YOU HAVE TO TRY TO RUN AWAY??!" and then of course she was upset (I don't blame her. Not my finest moment by far) and she refused to eat. Hence the syringing. I cross tied her again and walked away to take a deep breath or 30, but staying within sight because she really is calmer if she can see me.
Dr. E arrived on schedule, took a quick look and said, "Is going to a referral hospital an option for you?"
Not something you want to hear straight off the bat.
Dr. E is young and not as experienced as Dr. L, but I had met her before, back when Lily had her barbed wire injury in November, and I had instantly liked her.
Lily was sedated with a cocktail containing butorphanol, which would help control her pain. She was trembling from the pain. As her head went lower and lower, the trembling decreased. I was holding the lead rope and standing a couple of feet from Lily's face and she suddenly turned her head in towards me and pressed her forehead against my stomach. I stroked her forehead and she kept her head there. And I had a hard time not crying.
Dr. E boosted Lily's tetanus vaccine, clipped and cleaned the wound, flushed it in a similar fashion to what I had done already, probed and palpated the leg, and then turned to me and said, "She needs surgery. At a specialty hospital in a sterile environment. I don't think it should be done in a barn and I'm honestly not comfortable attempting it myself." I love honest vets.
She was feeling crepitus in the ligaments and flush was flowing upwards so it would need a drain at least. She was worried about there being damage to the tendon sheath, which could be more serious.
So then came the discussion of where to take Lily. The first option was Virginia Tech's Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center located in Leesburg, VA, which is only a 30 minute drive from the current barn. Dr. E called them first and we discussed finances. And I'm going to talk about money because no one ever does and I don't see why it has to be some taboo thing. Some people genuinely want to know how much advanced care for their horse costs. So I'm going to tell you.
The problem in our situation: everything was closed. Everything veterinary was working on holiday hours, so any care Lily received was going to be on an emergency basis aka even more expensive than if this had all happened during regular business hours. Leesburg hospital wanted $4,000 as a deposit for walking in the door and looking at Lily, with the rest due at discharge. They did not take CareCredit. What. the. fuck.
Every hospital I've ever worked at takes CareCredit. Most people don't have $10,000 sitting in their bank account ready to go to pay for their Great Dane's bloat surgery (I'm not exaggerating: that's what a bloat surgery + hospitalization for a week will cost in MD and South FL on a large breed dog that is unstable at presentation). I can tell you that right now. Charles and I don't have magikal credit cards with limits that high and we don't want to have them. Lily is insured up to $7,500 for major medical and surgical. The next problem: insurance reimburses you. The Hartford, which is the insurance I have for her through Broadstone Equine, reimburses you within a couple of days if you fax your paid invoice, but you have to be able to pay upfront. This is how all pet insurance works.
This is where CareCredit comes in. CareCredit is a credit card specifically for medical situations and can be used for both animals and people. We had a card with a pretty high limit that we've never used and I figured we could get it bumped up to cover as much as what Lily is insured for. But we needed to be able to take her to a place that would accept CareCredit.
BO knows the director of the Marion duPont Center and she called him on his personal cell phone to see what could be done. He was a very kind man but he explained that there was nothing he could do about the CareCredit situation: as it turns out, Virginia is one of only two states in the entire country that for whatever reason will not take this special credit card. (That really sucks for VA pet owners, btw.)
Next option: the New Bolton Center of the University of Pennsylvania. As it turns out, they do take CareCredit. And are about half the price of Leesburg anyway: all they required for the deposit was $1,500. Except it is a 2-hour drive. Dr. E said Lily should be fine for that long of a drive; she just wanted her seen today.
I called Lily's insurance at their after hours phone number and spoke to an awesome gentleman who looked at her policy and told me we were good to go, to just call back and let them know if Lily did ultimately end up needing surgery. He would let their overnight person know what was going on in case I called back. Not 5 minutes later, he called me back to let me know he had spoken to the overnight person, who said I didn't need to call back after all: I should just take Lily in and not worry about it. My deductible is $300; they cover the rest. They will call on Monday and get paperwork sent to my vet.
Charles called CareCredit and had our limit bumped up without issue while Dr. E wrapped Lily's leg with a Telfa pad, 2 no bows and a polo wrap. We hooked the trailer up again, loaded Lily up (I'm still not sure how the hell she jumped up on the trailer as lame as she was) and were on our way. Dr. E was on the phone with New Bolton as we left the barnyard. Once on the road, we also called them to let them know we were on our way.
It was the longest two hours of my life. I had been texting Liz and Karen through all of this and then called my mom to tell her about the situation. All the candles were lit.
Charles was still able to get me to laugh on the way up. The only thing I love about him is everything.
Lily got to be driven over an enormous bridge.
|That's a train in the distance.|
About 5 miles into the 21 total miles of Conowingo Road to the hospital, I decided I absolutely hated the road. It was a very pretty road taking us through PA countryside, past a Sleepy Hollow Farm and Amish farmland. But I couldn't process the scenery. I watched as the GPS counted down the miles and the minutes and sighed impatiently. Those 21 miles felt longer than an endurance 50.
Finally we were off of Conowingo and onto little back streets...and finally pulled up into the New Bolton parking lot at 7:30 pm.
I checked on Lily first: she was fine and looking perky in the trailer. We followed the signs to the Admissions office and told the receptionist that we had Tiger Lily. One of the techs followed us to the trailer.
Lily whinnied when she saw me coming. She unloaded uneventfully. Her wrap had slid a bit down her leg but was still covering her wound. The tech, a man with an awesome Australian accent, took her from me and had us follow them over to the hospital area. I was very surprised to see Lily actually putting weight on the leg, barely lame now. Surprised but relieved!
He weighed Lily (950 lbs) while the doctors introduced themselves. The doctor overseeing Lily's case was Dr. S, a boarded veterinary surgeon, and she also had with her a veterinary intern and a surgical resident. I want to add here: I work at a teaching hospital. We have had veterinary interns that graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. Veterinarians that come from there are taught the gold standard of veterinary medicine.
They stood Lily in the middle of the hospital area, unwrapped her leg and took an initial look, palpating the ligaments around the wound. They drew blood and decided to take her to x-ray. Dr. S explained the thought process behind everything. I didn't think the x-rays were necessary but I didn't mention it at the time. These are specialists in the equine field that know far more about horses than I can ever dream of knowing. If they felt the x-rays should happen, I would allow it.
As it would turn out, I was really glad they did take those films.
But first things first. Dr. S explained that they were going to sedate Lily, give her a local block, and probe the wound. They would take a sample of the tendon sheath to see if there was damage (they take a small sample so they can then do a cell count that tells them if there is damage or not. I don't understand how this works as it is not a procedure I'm familiar with at all, but I thought it was so, so cool that they can do that!) They were also going to see how bad the damage inside the wound was. Like Dr. E, they were concerned about how the wound seemed to extend up the inside of the leg.
I was taken to the lobby while they got to work; Dr. S walked me over. We walked in silence and then I finally blurted, "I know you just looked at her and just touched the wound, so you probably don't know, but I just have to ask...do you think she will be rideable again?"
"Oh yes!!" she said, "You brought her in right away. We like to see this type of injury within 12 hours of it happening." She described horses she had seen with similar but much more involved wounds who were now sound and back in work. Of course, the only complicating factor was if the wound became infected, but given the prompt action on our part, there was a good chance we might avoid this altogether.
I finally felt like I could breathe again. Not only was this not life-threatening: she would most likely be more than pasture sound!
I got comfortable in the lobby. Charles had gone to the trailer to put away Lily's wraps and bandages and grab some food and drinks (we still had all of our camping supplies in the back of the truck), and joined me in there, where I brought him up to speed.
|The hospital lobby.|
My veterinary side wasn't surprised that it took them two hours to get back to us, but my client/owner side was getting impatient.
At around 10:00 pm Dr. S came back out to talk to us. The good news: no tendon sheath involvement! No ligament damage either. (Lucky, lucky, LUCKY Lily, seriously.) The wound was deep: Dr. S could wrap her whole hand around Lily's cannon bone inside the wound. She would need a drain placed to allow all of that to heal from the inside out. The bad news: Lily had fractured and displaced her splint bone on that left hind. It needed to come out or it would cause all sorts of problems (I've googled that one before...splint bone fractures are often not an issue but when you have displacement, they can turn into a huge PITA that can cause ligament damage, tissue damage or even become a sequestrum with draining tracts...not something you want if you can avoid it!) Dr. S was afraid they might have to do general anesthesia. I really wanted to avoid that because #1: general anesthesia in horses is dangerous to the horses themselves when waking up. Horses can actually survive a surgery and then kill themselves during recovery while flailing in confusion during that twilight between awake and anesthetized. Flailing happens with cats and dogs post op too but we can manage them so much easier because of their smaller size. Horses get a padded room for recovery or you can pay extra to have them wake up in a pool, but the risk is still there. #2: expense. General anesthesia was going to drive the cost up and I would prefer to avoid it if at all possible. Dr. S said she would try her hardest to do Lily's surgery with her standing.
I was given an estimate for $3,000-$5,000 which included hospital stay for a couple of days, and asked for the $1500 deposit. The rest is due at discharge. I didn't get to say good-bye because they were going to prep Lily for surgery. They would place a bandage on her afterwards, start her on IV and topical antibiotics, and give me a call in the morning to tell me how everything had gone. No news is good news.
After all of that, we were told we could go home. Charles and I were exhausted to the bone. They let us park the trailer on property and then we started the long, long drive back home. Despite the darkness, if felt like it took so much less time than the drive up.
We had not really eaten anything all day and now that we were calmer, we were famished. We found an awesome pizza place a couple of blocks from our apartment that was open late, sold beer and was playing Puerto Rican reggaeton music.
|Milk stout is the best.|
- To not have planned the camping trip. As Charles pointed out, even if we had just been going to ride, this still would have happened. Packing for camping would not have changed anything...but maybe I would have been closer to the hitching post and could have stopped Lily from taking off? There's no way to know.
- To have had a breakaway halter on Lily. Lily has snapped so many breakaway crowns...she learned a long time ago to sit and break halters and this is precisely why I only use rope halters with her now. Her habit of leaning back when she freaks out has improved tremendously over the last 2 years, but it is still her default fear response. She just can't get away and will give up. Except for this time. The problem is that there is no way to know that she still wouldn't have run the same distance if she'd had a breakaway...so she would have galloped onto the street with nothing to catch her with. The man in the truck would not have been able to stop her...and then what? She would have gotten killed on the road? Or would have run herself into the ground? Or we wouldn't have been able to find her because she would have had no form of ID on her?
- We knew that hitching post wasn't 100% solid but we are not allowed to tie horses to the fence. Plus the fence has very hot wire at the top: not a good idea! The support cross beams of the hitching post were weak, which is why I'd tied Lily to the top bar, which had always appeared to be solid. As luck would have it, Charles had tied Gracie to one of the support cross beams. When Lily pulled the top bar down, Gracie was tied to a different part of the hitching post so she was unaffected. It was an insanely freak accident. We might have been able to prevent it if we'd reported the looseness. Or if I had tied Lily to the support beam that came up from the ground, nothing would have happened...or maybe she would have ripped out the entire hitching post from the ground and then we would have had Real Problems because Gracie would have been pulled with her too...I have no idea if the main support beams could have withstood that type of pull. I once saw a 1000 lb OTTB (not mine!) pull down a post he was tied to that was the size of a telephone pole that was rooted in cement: the wood at the bottom had been rotten and no one knew because of the cement. The horse ran backwards and the entire thing came easily with him. He did have a breakaway halter: the leather didn't break. That's how easy that post came down. What saved him was that it was a full barn and there were people in the parking lot where this happened: he didn't have a lot of room to run and there were plenty of individuals to catch him. So in our case, there is no reason why we couldn't have reported the weakness we had noticed: BO isn't often down at the barn but she is accessible via e-mail and phone and is approachable. But still..the cross beams would have been reinforced but there is no guarantee that the top beam wouldn't have come off anyway. So I refuse to point fingers: it's no one's fault. And it doesn't change what happened. Sometimes it's your turn no matter what. My final conclusion is that I think that no matter what, this would have happened on this day. I don't know why. I'm guessing we'll find out in the future. And given the circumstances, better this than so many of the other alternatives. Lily was still incredibly lucky.
And now we wait.
Please keep her in your thoughts and prayers.