After having any kind of animal around for a while, you become familiar with what to do when they’re sick.
Sometimes you play barnvet and tend to the kinds of surface wounds you’ve seen a million times or you put the ointment in the globby eye during fly season or you watch that little swollen area to make sure it is indeed a bug bite… Sometimes, clearly, you realize that whatever is wrong is outside of your simple knowledge so you call the vet and he fixes it. But sometimes it is different. Sometimes you know immediately that you need to call the vet NOW and sometimes you don’t know how it will end.
This is the kind of sick that tries your soul. This is the kind of sick that grips your brain and makes you run logarithms as if you were preparing for a stint on Jeopardy!. Was it something I fed? Was it something I didn’t see in the pasture? Did I put the wrong horses together? Were there signs that I missed? Was that there yesterday? Did someone spray? Did I miss a dental exam? What are the signs of tetanus again?…
I AM RESPONSIBLE
Knowing that I am responsible for the well-being for my horses, in some twisted way, means that if they aren’t well, I must have created that unwellness or missed a way to secure their health.
And so, I stand before you today, utterly gut-twisted that I am not yet successful in curing Norma of her laminitis. The fact that she is still not better and not worse, eats away at my constant running thoughts — enough to where I have a dull, throbbing headache at all times. It is like CSI-Grass Valley… What did I miss? Why is the culprit still running loose?
And worst of all, “This is my fault.”
I’m fairly certain that her pain is my fault. I did let her out to eat green grass, like I always do on Fridays. Except this was a Saturday, which should make no difference… What did make a difference was that on this particular Saturday, the grass had been rained upon and nourished by the sun. The nights had been cooler. I let her out in the afternoon, when the grass sugars and starches are the most concentrated. She’s overweight and I fell for her big brown eyes instead of holding to her diet. I made all the mistakes. I absolutely knew better and it was my cascade of misses that came together in one, huge wallop. It is my fault that Norma is sick. I let her down. I failed her.
I sit here… clearing all the lines so my vet can call and running to the barn every few hours to study her. Has there been any change? How do I think she feels? I sit with her and tell her that I’m sorry. I read to her and stroke her soft face. She seems resolute. She doesn’t seem to be in severe pain but she certainly is not sound. She lets me tend to her feet and wrap them. She lets me sit with her when she is resting.
In a way, I feel that Norma is lapping up the extra attention. I feel that although this is bad, she kinda likes the spotlight on her. Here stands Norma, who brayed at me whenever she saw me, hasn’t uttered a peep. She knows I’m coming to the barn for her. She likes that. She had been missing me. My second fail…
All the queen’s horse and all the queen’s men have come together to put the donkey back together again.
We’ve decided to put her into a clinical study of a new ‘wonder’ drug that has helped many laminitic horses – but has never been tried on a donkey. The first go ’round, we gave her the same dose as a horse. It didn’t work. The clinicians were mystified until they discovered the inconsistencies between donkey blood and horse blood. So, tomorrow, we try again.
In the meantime, I’m making up for lost time. I’m spending as much time with her in her stall as I can. I want her to know that fighting this will be worth it. I want her to know that I do see her and I do value her. Mom has been hit with the Whoops Baseball Bat and hopes to have more time with this wonderful donkey…
Well, either Norma will be the first donkey to recover using the experimental drug, or she won’t. Right now, I’m taking one moment at a time. If I think about what could happen, I fall apart. So, I try to think about only this moment. And, in this moment, she is still here and stable. In this moment, she could be the first donkey to help prove this experimental drug. In this moment, she is standing in line to make history, we hope.
The really profound part of all this is that Norma doesn’t know that I did this to her. She has no idea that I was the one who put her in peril. To her, she simply is not feeling well and Mom is flitting about trying to make everything comfortable for her. That’s all. She isn’t angry with me and she doesn’t blame me.
She doesn’t blame me.
For some reason, every time I say that, I cry.
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