An impaction colic, in this case, means that his large intestine has a mass of partially digested matter that has stopped moving through his gut.
Horses have extremely fragile digestive systems, and colic (which refers to just about any kind of horse bellyache) is the number one natural killer of horses. It can strike any time, despite all best efforts at minimizing risk. Every colic case is different and most resolve with minimal intervention. When it gets serious, though, it is scary. Colic can suddenly and dramatically escalate until the entire animal is in crisis with organs failing, systems shutting down, fluids backing up into the stomach, bloodflow and heartrate changing, and the animal's pain can become unmanageable. I've seen it happen before, and it's awful.
Junior started with a mild bellyache last Tuesday. Because we are very conservative with our horses' health, we immediately called a vet. He treated Junior with meds, checked his vitals, and passed a nasogatric tube to his stomach to deliver a large dose of oil. Often, that grease will help move things along and shake loose any blockages. Not always, though. And not in this case.
Since Wednesday, Junior has been at a vet clinic in the ICU.
Sometimes, surgery can fix a colic. My horse, Sam, had colic surgery several years ago and has been healthy ever since. A few nights ago, Cabbage and I talked about Junior's situation for hours... Depending on the circumstances, colic surgeries don't always have good results; it's not uncommon for the horse to not recover, or recover poorly and recolic within a year. Add to that the high cost ($7,000 was our estimate for Junior), and we felt our best option- and hopefully Junior's, too- was to stay away from surgery and pursue medical treatment.
It's the worst feeling, to decide to say "No. No surgery, even if he needs it to try to save his life."
I keep telling myself it's the right thing to do. But that doesn't mean it's easy, and sometimes it makes me tear up.
Junior has been battling his illness like a warrior. His days are spent in confinement, with a catheter stitched into an incision in his neck. He is not allowed food, and he has a muzzle on his mouth so he doesn't try to eat the shavings in his stall. He is desperately hungry. Allowing him to eat would worsen the impaction, though, so he must stay hungry... Several times per day, he endures having a tube run up his nose and down his throat to his stomach so the vets can deliver meds. Oil. Solutions to help break up the blockage.
None of it has worked. But he is still alive.
We visit Junior at least once daily to rub him with towels and try to help him feel better. I watch him and swallow the lump in my throat. I will not yet give up on him. Junior, with his gleaming, lithe brown body and the elegant legs that days ago galloped over a racetrack. His trademark long black forelock hanging over intelligent, expressive eyes. The distinctive, tornado-shaped white strip running down his face. I close my eyes and breathe, and will his gut into peristaltic contractions to move that goddamn mass.
We visit him to soothe him, but also to soothe our aching hearts. This young, strong, breathtakingly beautiful horse whom we have known since his birth... his life hangs in the balance right now. It's the flip of a coin at best.
Junior has been relatively comfortable, needing far less pain meds than most horses in his condition. If he improves, we will know it because his impaction will break up and he will poop it out. If that happens, he will live. If it doesn't, he won't.
We want to see poop. Diarrhea. Anything. We would throw a party.
These cases rarely last this long, as most take a dramatic turn of some type within a day or two. If Junior makes it through tonight, he will have acupuncture tomorrow. If he makes it through tonight, we will have another day of tension and hope, frustration and despair. If he makes it through tonight, he will have another chance to pass that impaction.
I pray to St. Francis, patron saint of animals.
*****Today, I chopped down a bush in front of our house. I mindlessly removed limb after limb. In a numb stupor, all I knew was I just wanted it gone. I wanted our horse to be ok, I wanted him to poop, I wanted to get the call from the vet saying "He's passing feces! We're making progress!" Instead, I went out to the front walk in 100 degree weather while my daughter napped, and I cut that goddamn bush down. I did not feel better.
While I carted off the sacrificial bush, the sky rumbled and threatened to rain. In the middle of an extreme drought, we have barely seen moisture in months. I yelled and swore at the sky, calling its bluff and hurling a challenge at its impassive face.
Go ahead! Do it!
We need an effing break. We need rain.
What we need is a break in our goddamn luck! We need our horses to stop getting sick and dying!
And it did. The clouds built, the thunder deepened, and finally the skies opened.
*****We love this horse. We want him to have a chance at a good, long life. We want our baby to ride him again as she did a few weeks ago.
I hope Junior will remain comfortable through whatever trials await him still. I pray for the impaction to break up so he can heal and once again be vibrant, glowing, and vital.
We need a break in the weather.