Valentines Day Surgery

Not many people would opt to have surgery on Valentines Day but I did! I had one on my 18th wedding anniversary and had cake when i woke up. So maybe tomorrow some sweet confection will arrive at my bedside providing I can keep it down.

Tomorrow I will have another surgery to attempt to improve the pain I have been having for five years as a result of my breast cancer treatments. This one is actually removing my scar which is damaged by radiation and keeps getting stuck on my chest wall which we think is causing some of my nerve pain.  Part of my back fat(I have plenty of that!) and skin and blood supply will become part of my armpit. Its amazing to read about -Tdap flap -as it is called. Usually it is done on the breast as part of reconstruction -but these flaps are now used all over the body to relieve pain from scars and improve range of motion where applicable.

My new plastic surgeon for this surgery-  Dr. DC – is not new to me really. I have been seeing him for cosmetic things for a few years. And he is aware of my vanity and my pain issue. He just happens to work on a continuous basis with cancer patients. He firsthand has seen the damage radiation can do- he’s seen a lot.

Most of us with breast cancer even early stage like me are given the warnings about side effects from treatments  – but still have the treatments bc it gives you some sense of control during a time when you feel very out of control.  And most of us don’t have too many issues after radiation – some of it is short lived and some shows up years later. We don’t know who will end up in severe pain as I have. But my pain issues have a trajectory and I am beginning to piece things together but It is really of no matter because I can’t go back and change things. Hindsight is 20/20!

Anyway Dr. DC is a great person and a top doc. I will miss Dr. Williams my nerve surgeon as he has been the lead or assist in my last three surgeries.  I am just used to seeing his face in the OR and I trust him. He doesn’t work out of the surgical center I am going to. But he has given his blessing on the approach Dr. DC has in mind – so here we go.

Nobody on this journey wants to have multiple surgeries. I don’t crave going under the knife or the 4-6 weeks recovery.  It is when you live in chronic pain that you realize how much life can be taken away just by a bit of pain – like say in the armpit – and you search for some relief.  Thats what I have been doing.  I don’t write about it all the time anymore because that just gets morose.   When someone starts the cancer fight people tell you or  post – “you got this” , “be a fighter” etc. But after a while people have to go back to their own lives and you are out of focus – and this is how it should be. Now I am sure people think – “Anne is having another surgery?”, “Oh poor thing”.  LOL I get it. I wouldn’t understand either- and I am so glad most people don’t get it because  that probably means they aren’t in terrible pain day on day.

I have been cancer free for five years! That is a huge milestone. And praise God for that. My oncologist pointedly told me not to get too comfortable with this milestone reached – because the cancer can come back..Yes gee thanks Dr. HH – I don’t have a false sense of security but I certainly am trying not to wake each day with a sense of panic – I did that for long enough- so let me have some serenity- stop trying to burst my bubble. I live with freaking chronic pain. Isn’t that enough! Reminder is there daily- thanks!

I can say that I am much better than I was almost 3 years ago when the pain was so bad i was bedridden. For that I am thankful. Dr Williams got me this far. This time around I think I would like to be able to lower my dosage of the nerve pain medication I take.  Which I can only do if I have less pain. The meds leave me with low energy and some other side effects that get tiresome- esp weight gain. My doctors would like to see my arm work better and my range of motion improve. So we will see. Sometimes you just got to do what you just got to do!

I am off to eat some cheesecake. We had an early Valentines Day lunch today and we took the dessert to go. I will also be eating again around 11:30pm because I don’t do well fasting at all- and I especially don’t do well when the surgery is late afternoon as mine is tomorrow afternoon. Thankfully I can have some water 4 hours before surgery. I am sure this is so they won’t tear my veins apart trying to get an IV in! Been there! I am bound to become somewhat hangry by 3pm- maybe they will drug me up prior – or drug themselves! Hangry on me isn’t pretty! Bless those nurses. They will be probably be shoving some food into me when I am in recovery!

Happy VD Day ❤ (Send some good vibes out for me tomorrow if you think of it!)

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In January I went to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, MD. It is a spectacular place. They had the Jelly Fish Exhibit and it was really cool. Don’t these look as if they are lighting up from inside?

 

Clearing my mind

The last few days I’ve felt a growing sense of anxiety. So much to do. Worrying about things I can’t control. And worrying about things I can.

Will I be able to physically do the things I need to get done? I am hoping so. A visit to my surgeon a few weeks ago ended with him draining another couple cyst like things from my axilla and giving me a nice big steroid injection and so far I have had some relief. Still I can’t do many things I once could. And still I push to do as many things as I can. So much I leave in others hands. That’s hard for me too.

I think the issue is also mental. I forget so many things. I get overwhelmed and I get mad that I forget things. I forget to check my calendar and my notes app where I write so many things.

Today the cell phone repair guy showed up around 1pm. I had completely forgotten he was coming. I hadn’t even checked the calendar and I had put something else as a priority. Thankfully we were home. He came for my sons broken phone screen but if we hadn’t been home he likely wouldn’t have heard the door. Well anyway that worked out.

Other days I don’t get so lucky and one thing or another is forgotten or lost or a new fire shows up that needs to be put out ASAP.

My mind needs a break.

Yesterday wasn’t rainy – as so many days here seem to be. It was breezy and cold but sunny so I took off to walk on the lane to clear my mind.

It takes me half the walk to stop thinking about all the crap that I need to get done. I stop along the way and take photos. I listen to the shifting breeze. I listen to the quiet. I play some Coldplay on my phone for a bit.

I brought my dog Rudy and I watch him Focusing himself on the walk at hand. The smells and eating gross things. He just is in the moment.

And finally so am I. I feel the angst leave even if for just a while. My spirit lifted.

I have more energy for the day. And more patience. I feel happiness. I get a lot done.

Why -I think to myself – don’t I just get out and get into the natural world every morning. I need so habit. Something that centers me. Otherwise the day gets away from me.

My thoughts are not like they once were. They used to be in order – do this and then this and then that. Now they can start anywhere. It’s the difference between a straight line drawn on a board with a few blips, and squiggles drawn all over the board. My mind is squiggles. Maybe this is the meds I take , aging , a result of all the surgeries I’ve had to have over the last few years – who knows.

Anyway Clearing my mind helps get the line straighter.

It’s just a matter of making that a priority.

Filling in the cracks.

img_5583It’s as if I’m living in the middle or my own story. I don’t know how it will end yet.  But it is like that for everyone…they might not think of life in such terms as an unfolding story is all. I feel this is yet another chapter of my life that is still being written. I want it to come to  some good end but I know I have really no control over the outcome. There are too many hands at play. And maybe the outcome isn’t even the point . Maybe it is what we learn in the middle of that chapter that matters.

I feel like I am trying to put the broken pieces of a pot together again except some little fragments are gone. So the pot can never be the same. It is small seams that may not appear to the eye but they are there. It may seem the same if you aren’t looking too hard -but in fact it is not the same at all. Even if the pot looks whole, there is a before the break and the after. 

This is how it has been with my life – my family. Some choice, some event and the trajectory of life how it once was is changed. We have had our little world rocked a time or two lately and from the outside it might seem the same but from the inside I can see the fissures and the leaking holes. And I keep trying to fill them up. There are the befores and the afters. The what was and what is. The need to forgive and grow and move on. Its tiring really – but again ….life.

This last five years has had my life trajectory pinging to and fro. There are so many before and afters. I have not been able to really get on an even keel. But I’m trying. I think if the old Weeble commercials from when I was a kid or did they come later? “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down”. I thinks that’s me.  A Weeble trying to just get upright for a little while.

There is also the life before cancer and the after. I define a lot of time by that. Before the pain went crazy and after. And on and on. It’s what happens. And now I’m trying to put it all back together yet again. To make a pretty pot. But won’t their always be the cracks? 

I used to feel more resilient. More get up and get on with it. More able. But time does wear on a person. Sometimes I feel too darn tired to try to fill those cracks- but you have to or more will come and then you will be over your head  and what then? 

What then? I don’t know because I keep filling the darn things.

This Christmas season I haven’t been feeling much into it. I don’t feel bah humbug or anything. But I haven’t felt merry. I am just doing what I do. Arranging for gifts. Planning a menu. I am looking forward to seeing extended family and friends on Christmas Day. So thats a plus. Kevin insisted we do lights outside (his way of healing too I think )and he got the tree out and my mom and I decorated it- and it looks quite pretty.

We have a dear friend coming to stay with us. I am very glad for that. Not only to see him but in a way he will be part of the after. Maybe a new tradition of having him in our home on the holiday. Something we need. And maybe too he would be the buffer for any awkwardness that might ensue between family members as we confront this new territory- this new after.

I think when I got cancer it was the fear that everything would seem so different that I wanted so much to make things seem the same when it came to holiday time. I worried for my kids but also for me.  The cancer had shaken me up. Fear loomed over my shoulder constantly and I felt if I tried hard enough to make things seem all good and the holidays bright nothing would be different. But its just a show. 

I realized as we sailed into that holiday that I would not be able to do like I thought I would. We got a tree up as I recall. I think I may have decorated it with some help. But apart from the decor and gifts – thank God for online shopping- things weren’t the same. I stopped radiation Christmas Eve. There would be no cooking for me – I was bone tired. Family had decided to gather at my in-laws home and they were very adamant I bring nothing.  I think I managed to bake an easy pie. I can’t recall. If I did it was pride I guess. But the point was – as hard as I tried there was no way I could keep anything from being different. It just was.

So maybe it is not necessary to try to make things seem shiny. I believe we still have to fill the cracks. Its part of moving forward. Its the healing.  It helps keep the foundation strong. Its how we keep life from rolling us over. But time can also help healing and in time the after will be normal – or there will be an entirely new after yet again – more likely this.

My family- we will be ok. We are a an assembly of different parts. We make a pretty good whole. And while I may notice the cracks in my pot- I probably don’t notice them in yours- but they are likley there. And each crack that is mended holds a story – one that may be sad or filled with remorse, one that may contain grief and maybe even some laughs. But this is what makes up parts of the chapter of our own book.. A chapter in that chip here and a paragraph in that crack there. We all live this and we will all learn something from each before and after. We all break sometimes and I pray like hell that I will keep being a Weeble -that I will keep having the faith that I can keep trying to right myself long enough to fill in the cracks as they come. And I wish that for you too.

Sometimes things work out…

All I can say is we just never know where we are going to end up. We have no real control over anything. All we can do is make plans and have hope that things will be okay. For  the last two years  the one thing I had wanted so much to do was to ride my horse again. It wasn’t  a lofty goal really but one that seemed to be unattainable to me not long ago. I didn’t want to give up the hope that one day I would ride again…..but for a while it was iffy…

Two years ago I thought I would never be able to do many activities again let alone ride a horse. My only goal then was trying to find someone to fix the pain I was in. That was a battle unto itself but I did not want to give up- because to do so left me in a very dire situation. One that I could not accept.

June 2016 was a start of an intense pain drama that was caused by breast cancer treatments. The pain had been an issue since my surgery in October of 2013. I had sought help for it with no luck and then it really  reared its ugly head in May 2016 leaving me bedridden for much of the next year. It was hell trying to find the a doctor who would listen to me and not send me away with a shake of the head. They either had no idea what was wrong with me or they thought I was nuts. But finally I found a surgeon who listened.

Today, three surgeries later. I am not that woman stuck all day and night in bed anymore- but I still live in chronic pain. But the levels I am managing- and there may be more surgery in my future. I am left with a disabled arm that I cant use fully and overuse causes pain. Sometimes I don’t know what that overuse is. But I just try to dance with it- sometimes I am in the lead and sometimes the pain is.

I have been hell bent on doing more living- I have always been a physically active person and I missed the mental boost such activity gave me. So many things I could not do. Some because of the limits of my arm and some activities were contra-indicated by my surgeon- one being horse back riding. It was a total bummer to hear this but I temporarily shelved that disappointment and sought another activity .  I bought a kayak with pedals so I could go out in the bay near our beach house. The feeling of independence being on the water propelling myself was intense and important in my recovery. I bought a bike. I began to walk more. I can do limited exercises in the gym.  But I was really missing the one activity I was told not to do—ride my horse.

In the summer of 2017 I was still in enough pain that I was not sure I could ride and on enough drugs I was not sure I should ride. But one day that summer  on a whim Kevin and I tacked up my horse Harley . He accepted the saddle and bridle so well  that I decided to get on and have Kevin lead me around the dry lot. I knew the surgeon had not been keen on my riding but I wanted to be in the saddle. It was just a pony ride but it was the kick I needed – I set a firm goal – I would  ride my horse again. But there were still obstacles to overcome.

I didn’t think it would take another year before I was able to ride again. I had another surgery in November of 2017 to hopefully further reduce my pain. I would say the result have been pretty good. I am off opiates but still need nerve pain medications. . I have pain flares more often than I would like. But I am doing more. The surgery itself – which was fat grafting -had a longer than expected recovery time.

Every time I went to see my nerve surgeon – Dr. Williams- I would tell him that I wanted to ride my horse.  HIs concern was that my arm would be yanked forward if the horse pulled the reins forward suddenly- and this does happen. This can cause more damage to my arm. Also there is the risk of falling off but I think in my case the real concern was with the yanking of my arm. So I wanted to rectify that. How to keep that from happening. There had to be a way . Maybe I would ride one armed. I began to look into that as an option.

Then sometime this past spring my farrier came. I was telling her my plan to try ride again. I explained my concerns of riding with two arms and one getting yanked and I was also becoming nervous about not being strong enough to ride using only one arm (my horse is also neck reined) if my horse pulled suddenly. She told me to get a Daisy Rein. I had no idea what they were but it turns out they are used often for young riders. The rein hooks onto the saddle and also to the bridle and that keep the horse from pulling his head down. Maybe it would work for this old rider!

I saw my surgeon again in July and explained how much I wanted to ride and told him about the rein. He never did give me his blessing but he told me if I did ride I needed to send him photos after I was safely off.  So that to me was an ok to go ahead.

My plan was to move slowly into riding my horse Harley beginning in early August- but life threw us a loop as we suddenly  lost Harleys companion a- our beloved Arab mare -Airy to colic. It was a tough loss on all of us and I again shelved trying to ride. This time more for Harley than for me. I knew it was a stressful time for a horse when there are changes like that adding me riding him after such a long time off might add to the stress – and we wanted another companion for Harley so the focus shifted on that. It took some time but we now have Hank and Yukon here. Hank belongs to our neighbor and Yukon is our Guardian horse form a local rescue.

One  day a few weeks ago  I went out to the barn to feed the horses and our neighbor was bringing Hank back from a ride. I began to feel that envy. That yearning to ride my horse. I really felt it was now or never so I began to get Harley tacked up. It is a bit of a chore for me to get it on while trying to limit the use of my arm but I was able to do it with Kevins help.

Before long I told Kevin I wanted another pony ride. I have to use a step to mount now to get on- it allows me to not use my arm too much.  I got up and settled – feet in stirrups and I was holding both reins because we put the daisy rein on to give that a try too. He tolerated it well and best of all it worked! He couldn’t pull very far so no yanking of my arm.  After a bit, I asked Kevin to let me go and and I took a deep breathe in and let it out and off I went.  I maneuvered Harley around the dry lot for a while..at a walk.. nothing fast. He did very well – and we then called it a day. Best to end on a good note when working with a horse. And I was not ready to ride in the fields yet. But it didn’t take much time for me to be ready! So much for slow starts.

Since that day I have ridden twice out in the fields. The last time – this past Saturday- I was able to tack up on my own. I have learned to yank the saddle out of my locker with one arm and I can toss it up on his back with one arm too.  It was very freeing to be able to do this on my own.

I also can ride with one arm so I switch from using two hands on the reins to one. It turns out my arms are in a “safe” position so I don’t think I will get a pain flare if I am careful – but again it is that dance i mentioned above. That day I was in the lead. Dismounting is a bit of a challenge. I now lower the stirrup iron and dismount on the  right which is the opposite side we proper English riders are taught to do.

Obstacles aside I can’t begin to explain the mental effect being able to ride again gives me. It is something I have needed. It didn’t feel like it had been two years since I had ridden solo. It was as if no time went by at all. I felt right at home in the saddle. I am so lucky to have the horse that I have. Some horses may have been too much for me after not being ridden for so long. Harley is a true champ. We have a bond.

My goal is to ride twice a week for now. I will have to be flexible on this as well as I live my life around things we have planned – social visits, traveling, and doctors visits. So I often curb any physical exercise for a couple days prior to doing these things because I don’t want to have a flare up of pain which may require me to cancel the plans.

But that is life as I live it now. I accept it. You just never know where you will end up…right now for me I ended up back in the saddle. How lucky I am….

….And Dr Williams has been sent a photo..with more to come…

When the kids left…

Kevin and Zach in front of his dorm on move-in day.

When the kids left for other places…boys to college..daughter to Ohio…I thought I would be fine. I didn’t think I would have tears or that empty nest feeling. I was sooooooo wanting the boys out of the house. I cannot lie. I was so done with the mess, the not helping with chores, the living like mole people only emerging for food and then taking food that was earmarked for others in the house. Be gone – be gone!

I will be honest I was not prepared to parent teens. It was harder than I thought it was going to be. Maybe because of the health issues I encountered just as they were entering their teens. One thing parenting will do is teach you a lot about yourself. Many times I felt like i was in over my head. I think we realize as parents that we really don’t know what we are doing. At least thats how I felt much of the time. With three very special kids who were adopted perhaps we did have some more challenges than some and I am very sure less than others. As my teens approached teendom (new word) I realized I wasn’t the cool mom I hoped I would be. But I was always championing for their success. I may not have been their best friend and perhaps sometimes I was their worst enemy but I never stopped trying my best help them succeed.

Motherhood will bring out the very best in us and sometimes the very worst. Over the years I was challenged with learning how to best deal with kids who had their own challenges. I didn’t always like how I behaved and I feel now like I was in a never-ending cycle of trying to improve who I was. I never really got where I wanted to be but I am always a work in progress.  And I loved my kids so much- I wanted to help them as best as I could. Thank God they have the dad they do as we balance each other out well and he picked up the pieces when I wasn’t able to.

I had my health challenges that basically covered  the span of my kids high school years and that effected all of us.  I didn’t want that to happen but it did. I often missed events and I didn’t feel well enough to become too involved in my kids school. I spent over six months mostly in bed. That is hard on your kids – and my were teens by then and not really able to process it all.

Where did the time go?  I was dealing with so much and I feel like I never got anything quite right. I sort of feel I got ripped off. What would it have been like had I not been sick? I will never know and maybe thats some of what I am feeling now. Sadness over what I wanted the years to be and what they really were.

And I miss the kids. As we dropped off kid 1 last week then kid 2 the next day I had this growing heavy feeling in my heart. Why I thought I would not feel this is beyond me. I guess it is because i prided myself on always having my own interests separate from being a mom.. I figured that these interests would still be part of me when the kids left home so I would not be sad because I had my own life. I am realizing this other stuff doesn’t protect your heart from the sadness of this new transition of your kids beginning to navigate on their own and you feeling that loss.

We aren’t a perfect family. We laughed, we cried and we yelled. But this is my family—warts and all  ..and now its changed. I will adjust.

But for now I am in transition. And I am a little lost.

I don’t hear from the boys much so far from college- and I laugh at myself for feeling sad about that bc we hardly ever had real communication when they lived here like moles. But the thing is they were here. And now its empty – and darn it – I have that dreaded empty nest sadness.

Kevin and I have things planned and intend on enjoying our new freedom- and I am excited about that. Thats one good part about the kids leaving. This empty sad feeling is just another part of it. And sadly I have to go through it.

So one in Ohio, two in college – my family has spread it’s wings. I know how blessed I am to have these transitions.

Pretty soon we will have the boys rooms cleaned up, their bathroom neater, and I will learn to cook for three (kevin, mom, and myself)instead of 8 (teen boys eat ALOT.). Soon we will fall into a routine and things will feel normal again. For now I am a little off kilter. My tears are a closer to the surface.

It’s all part of life…and I’ll be ok….

Harley alone- maybe not for long…

Airy has been gone four days now. Things are quieter. Things still feel off.

Though he has quieted down a lot since Monday, Harley my Tennessee Walker was very upset the day we put Airy down. We had the vet img_5705give him a sedative and he saw Airy’s body. It didn’t settle him down too much. He pranced around the paddock calling to her. He got no answer. He was pushing up against the fencing trying to get to where he last saw her. I feared for his safety – I feared the fencing might give. So we opened the pasture gate- the one furthest away from her body and hoped he would graze.

He would run in and out of the pasture calling to her. Not gonna lie – my heart was breaking for Harley too. He was confused and stressed and I had no way to take it away. The first night was hard on everyone. My initial shock wore off and the dam of tears came flooding out. I could not stop crying. I cried for the loss and the trauma my horse went through leading to her death and I cried for my living horse who was calling periodically throughout the night for a friend who would never answer.

I could not sleep in my bed that first night. I took to the family room couch – it faces the front and side of the property and is furthest from our paddock. I couldn’t bare to hear Harley calling to her. I put earphones in and listened to the oceans waves and read my book and must have dozed for a few hours.  I woke at six and it was quiet. I hoped it would be a better day for Harley.

The truck came to take Airy’s body away. I could not stand to go out so my ever strong husband went.  Sadly Harley became very upset when he saw the truck. I could hear him from inside. There was no way to block his view and I am not sure he knew what was happening or if he just knew someone was near where he last saw his friend. When the truck pulled away Harley went on calling her.

I knew he was under duress and I wanted badly to help him. I had little I could do though. I went to the feed store and got some natural calming paste and I got some probiotics. In times of stress Probiotics are helpful to help alleviate ulcers. Thankfully Harley has been eating and drinking just fine.  I gave him half the paste in the tube and hoped it might help a little. I brushed him and pet him and talked to him.

Wednesday he was much more quiet. He called a couple times and was much more vocal at my approach to the barn. I have been watching him. And he mostly sticks to his stall. Thursday we opened the pasture gate closest to my neighbors horses and I was hoping he would feel some comfort in seeing them- if they venture out in this heat. I normally do night turn out in summer but now I will do whatever I can to make Harley less stressed.

We had six horses and two donkeys between four small farms on my side of the road. All of our pastures close together. Now only three of those horses remain as one of my neighbors lost two of her horses suddenly on the same day a few weeks ago. So it is a quieter place these days. I miss my neighbors horses too as I was “friends” with her equine boys.

Horses are natural herd animals and I feel they need companionship. That is not to say they can’t be alone – I have seen it before and even the vet said Harley may settle in and do fine as a lone horse. But would he miss having a buddy? I am not sure I should put the human term lonely onto an equine- do they get lonely? Is he grieving? I am not sure what it is but herd animals depend on each other for safety, companionship, and even to help keep the flies at bay (horse will stand near each other and swish their tails to keep the flies off each other!). There is a need there.

Since I can’t know what he feels because I am not a horse I can only go by my observations. I think Harley was confused and stressed that his companion was gone. If we had a third horse maybe I would not have seen the same level of stress. Horses do bond and I think when they are separated whether by one horse being moved to another farm, or herd, or through death it can cause stress. But something in Harley’s behavior leading up to Airy’s passing and after leads me to believe he knew it was a permanent parting. Horses may not understand death fully but I believe they feel something that lets them know that something more serious is up.

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Harley and Airy in the pasture

So I am sure Harley is confused- he’s always been in a herd. Maybe he is lonely or whatever a herd animal feels when it is now a herd of one. As the days move forward he will settle down and perhaps he could be ok as a lone horse but I am not sure it would be the best thing for him- and lets face it if I feel this way then it causes me stress so its not the best thing for me. Looking outside and seeing just one horse seems off to me.

So right after Airy died my concern shifted to Harley being alone. What were we going to do?  If Harley were being boarded with other horses or if we had a third i would not get another horse. Part of me doesn’t want another horse. There is the expense and there is the fact that physically I am not the same person I was when I bought my horses years ago. I have limited use of my one arm and at this point I can’t ride.  So I don’t want a horse that requires being ridden – if I can ride Harley again that would be so great but two needing to be ridden would be too much for me. We also considered having a boarder here. We could get some help maybe in exchange for board – but there is liability in this and I wasn’t sure I wanted to take that on.

I know there are tons and tons of horses out there in need of homes and I know there are plenty of horses just looking to be companions to other horses. Ones that can’t be ridden due to health issues or age. But I still don’t want to own one. The other day soon after Airy died I began my search to see if my needs for a horse could be met so I could meet Harley’s need for a companion. There are a vast number of horse rescues in Maryland but there is one in particular that I was pretty familiar with. I looked on their website – Days End Farm Horse Rescue  – and I saw what I was looking for – a guardian program! Ingenious really.

With the Guardian program a person take possession of the horse – typically these horses are not ridable but can be great companions “pasture pals” to other horses-  and Days End retains ownership of the horse. As guardian we would provide for all the horses needs but these expenses can be written off on the our taxes.  We could return the horse to the rescue if the need arose. This sounds like it could be a good fit for us.

Saturday we will go out to visit a prospective Guardian Program horse named Yukon. A quarter horse Gelding about 18 years old. Chestnut in color (coincidentally the same as Airy was). He is said to have a great temperament and gets along well with his current pasture mates.  We have to have a couple visits with him and one of the trainers at the rescue. If we all think he could be a fit for our farm then he will come here soon after.

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Harley and me- selfie

We need to restore some balance here. I am still grieving the sudden loss of my horse and that will ebb in time but life has to move on and the focus must be on the needs of the creatures that are still living here.

Maybe Yukon will be one of those creatures.  I will let you know how our meeting goes!

 

 

 

 

On the loss of a horse

 

 

Airy 2012

Arizon – or Airy – Arab – she was 26 years old. This is one of my favorite photos of her.

There is a time for everything

    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance…..

Ecclesiastes 3:1-4

Authors Note- I want to thank every person who messaged me, commented on my Facebook post about Airy- your support and care means so much….. and thank you Kirsten W. for the muffins ❤

 

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This past Monday  I had plans to go out to Tractor Supply with my son Luke to grab some needed feed and bedding for the animals.  I was ready to go – purse on the counter- I was filling up my water cup..one of the ones that keep your water cool all day. It was a regular day. Then it wasn’t

We had returned from the beach the evening before. -we had been gone for almost a week. When we went down to the barn to check the horses  we found some things that were not done the way we would have wanted them. It seemed like our caretaker cut some corners. We fixed the mistakes. I put the horses out on pasture. They seemed fine- no worse for wear. We headed back to the house.

So back to Monday. Earlier in the morning Kevin brought the horses in and grained them and set out hay for them .  Later as I was readying to go to Tractor Supply and I was filling up that water cup  Kevin was looking out of the back slider at the barn. I asked him what he was looking at. I thought the cats. We have one elusive kitty we only see from a distance. Kevin said , “Airy was just rolling, then she got up and pooped but now she is down rolling again.”  For some reason my internal alarm went off. I just had a bad feeling. You just know your horses and mine will roll but they never roll get up and then go down right away to roll again. We needed to get down to the barn.

Our day just went from normal to super stressful in 30 seconds.

When I got to the barn Airy was down.  Sweating, covered in dust and mud. Her eyes were far away. We tried to get her up but couldn’t. I could see she was very bloated. Oh crap…

I said or maybe yelled “Call the vet – she has colic – hurry”. Kevin ran to get my phone in the house – neither of us grabbed ours as we went out the door. When Kevin went in Airy got up walked a ways. I could not get to her fast enough before she went down again. Rolling….

I should explain what it means when horse colics. I have heard colic as being called  a horse stomach ache – and I guess it is that because there is pain – but it can turn to a deadly situation when the intestines twist causing a blockage that can only be fixed through surgery. It is very painful even in a less serious case. Horses cant vomit- they have a one way in and out system.

Wikipedia describes colic as” abdominal pain, but it is a clinical sign rather than a diagnosis. The term colic can encompass all forms of gastrointestinal conditions which cause pain as well as other causes of abdominal pain not involving the gastrointestinal tract. The most common forms of colic are gastrointestinal in nature and are most often related to colonic disturbance. There are a variety of different causes of colic, some of which can prove fatal without surgical intervention.”

During signs of colic, I have been taught try to get a horse up and walk them around and not let the horse roll. As it can make the gut twist up (but I was told differently after the vet got there.). So we had to try to get her up. At one point -when Kevin ran in to grab the phone- I was holding the lead rope that connected to her halter and i was pulling on her with all my might (with my one good arm)as she lay on the ground trying to writhe from my grasp. I screamed “Stop you are going to kill yourself…stop stop! ” But somewhere inside I wondered if it was already too late. But I couldn’t go there. She had gotten colic maybe five years before this episode and we had the vet out and she was good as gold after they put a tube up her nose and put oil into her stomach. Oh and they gave her pain meds too. Surely they could get her straight again. But this time she seemed so much worse than before.

I was in utter panic inside but I was trying to keep my mind straight. I called the vet and tried to talk as Kevin and I worked on getting her up. If anything we wanted to move her from the hot sun. But if we could get her up we could get her walking.

Thankfully they said the vet was able to come right away but it would take time. We were able to get Airy up but she was not happy about it. We kept her walking in the shade and put wet towels on her. Kevin leading me following behind with a crop. I texted my neighbors to see if they had any pain meds. My neighbor, Nora, gave us oral Banamine- an NSAID.  I gave it to her as best I could and we kept walking and walking. My son Luke helped by bringing us water and watching for the vet. Airy is normally somewhat feisty and there was none of her spirit there as we walked on and on.

Walking and walking

We thought the banamine was working because she pooped and passed gas. Later we came to find out thats not a sign of improvement. She seemed to pick up her gait. But soon she was slow and hoping to be able to get down and roll.

It seemed like hours that we walked her around. It was likely only 30-40 minutes. The vet – Dr. Engle – pulled in and immediately he told us to stop making her walk.  Thats when I learned that we didnt need to make her walk and later I googled about it and found this.  Walking can be good but in other situations you are just tiring everyone out. How do you know when then to walk? In our case we all were exhausted. Now I know in her case it wasnt making a difference and now I know to stop walking a horse that is so tired.  I now feel very regretful that in her last minutes of life I was making her maybe more stressed. It hurts my heart.

After Dr. Engle gave Airy pain medicine by injection he then examined her and listened to her stomach sounds he said it was” quiet in there”. So he did a rectal exam and that is when he gave us the news I had not wanted to hear..maybe somewhere I knew what he was going to say but I had packed it away in some far reached area of my brain. He said her intestine was turned some. Not all the way. He didn’t look hopeful. I asked him the question. “Does that mean we have to put her down?”

“It looks that way…but we aren’t there quite yet” He said.  What options did we have? There was surgery  10k.  It doesn’t make sense on a 26 year old horse and he wasn’t recommending it.They also said they could find tumors during surgery and still she might not make it. I knew that wasn’t an option for us – for her.  I began to cry. I tried to hold i together but it wasn’t working.

Tubing Airy – I was in the stall with Harley.

We went on to talk a bit further about trying to stick a tube up her nose and send some mineral oil through her to see if that might help. This is what they did when she had colic before and it worked. So we decided to try this as a last ditch effort on saving her life. I stepped away to try to compose myself.  I went into the gym  which is attached to the barn and  our young friend Kirsten was there  – she was so sweet trying to comfort this very sad lady.  I grabbed kleenex. I headed back out.

My son Luke was running all over the place trying to help. Moving Harley out of the way, grabbing me more water. I can imagine how stressed he was. I could see it on his face. He felt for me and for the horse. Part of the time I didn’t even register he was there but then I would need him and he would be nearby. I am so thankful for him. And there is my husband – Kevin- who is always ready and willing to take on the hardest tasks form cleaning up the grossest of messes to leading a dying horse around in circles hoping she might recover so his wife wouldn’t be heartbroken. He is always amazing but in these situations he is stellar.

Time was standing still or it was my brain – I didn’t want to know what was going to happen next.

I stood with Harley in the stall hugging on his neck. I knew if Airy didn’t pull out of this colic and we put her down he would suffer too. Horses are herd animals and Airy and Harley were very bonded. I hurt for him.

After the vets (there were two of them here now- another showed up while I was somewhere in the barn) finished giving Airy her intubation of mineral oil I walked out and waited with them to see if she perked up. Kevin walked her around the paddock and I asked the vets what were we looking for with her. They said just any change in demeanor. Which mean she needed to perk way up. Her eyes were listless, her demeanor was not good.

I then began to ask the tougher questions because I knew we were at the end of a rope. I wasnt going to let her suffer any longer. What do we do with her body? How do you euthanize a horse? I got the answers as I watched this lovely beautiful animal struggle. She had been such a good horse. A companion to Harley and friend to us. It was my duty to not let her suffer any longer.

Kevin with Airy some years back.

…I had tried to ride Airy years ago. She was all Arab- proud and sleek.  She had a wonderful gait. Nice trot you could sit easily to. But we would get only so far in her training and she would spook or be “on her toes” too much and I became nervous to ride her- I feel off her once but I got back on but it scared me – I didn’t feel experienced enough to handle her –  and then I got Harley.   Airy’s training was put on the back burner. At that time the horses were boarded at Windsong Arabians not far from where we lived back then.  So sometimes I’d tack her up and ride but most often I rode Harley. Then in 2010 we moved them here to our farm and she became the pasture pal that we needed for Harley. I worked with her some while she was here but I never rode her – and I think she was just fine with that. She was the beauty in the field.

I think you know how the story ends here…once we saw no improvement in her demeanor and Dr. Engle did a rectal exam and found that he no longer could get  in as far as he had when he arrived which means things were not getting better and I could see that she continued to be in pain…I called time. It was her time. We took her out of the paddock to a place where she could lay down on grass – out of Harley’s site – and so the person who would pick up her remains could get to her easily.  She did lay down on her own which was better I think. She took a bite of grass- how fitting- she loved her grass. They gave her more sedative and I said my goodbyes. But there are no words that seem enough. I told her it was ok to go. She was a good girl. But the words are flat… but the hearts… they connect. She knew what I felt.

I left Kevin with her and I went into the gym. I wasn’t sure I could see her slip away. I didn’t want to see her if she was afraid…I didn’t want to convey any of my distress to her in what should be a peaceful passing for her. After she was gone I went to her. I knew her spirit was gone – I could feel that-but I pet and kissed her a final time.  She still had some grass in her mouth.We covered her with a sheet and towels and Kevin snipped some of her tail hair for me to keep. She had the most beautiful mane and tail.

The vet checked out Harley as he was distressed even though he couldn’t see Airy. They gave him a sedative. They led him over to see her.  They hoped it might help him to see her. He sniffed her body and then began eating grass. They led him back. Later he began to call for her….that has been hard.

In the end it is a blessing that we can be merciful to our animals. We can hasten their deaths- we can keep them from suffering. We have to make hard choices. In this case the choice was clear…but it was hard.  As my friend Jon Katz writes often- we have to be stewards to our animals.

A farm has a heartbeat of its own made up of all the beings that live here and for the moment the heartbeat is off.  Airy’s death doesn’t just make me sad it effects my other horse as well – which I will write about later. Everything just feels off. One less horse to feed. One less soul to connect with. There is an emptiness- I feel it..Kevin does too.

I am crying my tears now- many of them. My heart hurts but it will heal. I have my regrets. Why did I let her out into the pasture that night when we got back?  Did anything that was off from when the caretakers were here effect this? Should I have been on the lookout for more signs she wasn’t right? She seemed good Sunday night.  Did she just eat too much grass? But hindsight won’t help. She is gone. I just have to process this and grieve. The vet said this is just a case of bad luck. Her age- 26- the fact she had colic before- all were things against her. Dr. Engle did not want me to beat myself up.

After Airy died, Kevin came into the gym and he told me she was gone. We both cried a bit but then he showed me a picture. It was of a beautiful butterfly on Airy’s leg. He told me the butterfly was there through the entire process of her being euthanized. The vet said he had seen spirits leave before but never through a butterfly.

Well Miss Airy you flew away on butterfly wings….Fly free girl … and thank you….it was wonderful knowing you….