Our poor boy, Nick, is in prison.  Actually, it’s a very fancy, well-built, draft-horse-proof, extra sterile stall, complete with rubber mats, center drain, fan, auto-waterer…..and floor to ceiling welded wire gate, which makes it look like a prison cell.

Nick's prison cell…I mean, specialized hospital stall.

Nick’s prison cell…I mean, specialized hospital stall.

After Nick’s severe leg injury early last week, he became our focus for the next 7 days.  We arranged for him to be able to nuzzle with his buddy, Bud, over the stall wall at night.  In the day, when we forced Bud outside to graze, we checked Nick’s swelling, felt his lower leg to make sure blood was flowing sufficiently through the bandages, walked him twice a day, medicated him twice a day, visited him multiple times a day to keep him from being lonely, turned on his fan when it was too warm in there (a 2000 lb horse can produce a LOT of body heat in a confined space!), cleaned his stall several times a day to reduce chance of infection, and pampered him as much as we possibly could.  Every two days, we changed the bandage.  Things seemed to be healing nicely.  We took pictures of the injury with each bandage change, and we e-mailed photos to the vet mid-week so he could check things over.  Nick ‘s swelling gradually subsided, his walking improved, and the injury seemed to be on the road to recovery.  

WARNING:  GRAPHIC and disgusting photos below!  

Seriously….only scroll down if you desire to see the INSIDE of a live horse’s leg.  

OK, don’t say I didn’t warn you…..

Day 2, post-injury

Day 2, post-injury

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Day 4….lookin’ good; sutures holding up well, and swelling going down

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Day 5….a little weepy and top suture ruptured, but nothing major. Walking improved significantly.

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Day 6….bandage slipped, and top of drain disappeared. Not sure if it slipped inside or got bitten off. I see some yellow, but there is no sign of swelling, off smells, and amount of seepage about the same.

We made it through the first week fairly unscathed, and things were looking good.  The sutured laceration seemed to be healing nicely.  We had high hopes for an easy, if somewhat lengthy recovery.  After the Sunday night check, we carefully re-bandaged the same way as usual–carefully wiping away excess moisture, coating the wound with antibiotic cream, then layering with sterile gauze, gauze rolls, cotton, more gauze, vet wrap, and some tape to hold it up–just as the vet had shown us.  Everything seemed fine Monday, his daily walk was the first without me having to help him step properly with a foot rope.  I made note that the turkeys in my barn (in a neighboring stall) were smelling a little funky, but didn’t have time to deal with it right then.  Tuesday morning, the turkey stall smell really caught my attention when I entered the barn.  The kids and I tended to the horses, then turned our attention to cleaning and rebedding the turkeys and baby chicks.  I didn’t see anything unusual, but boy, did the barn smell ripe!  That afternoon, we loaded Nick into the trailer to head to the vet and get his drain removed and sutures checked.  When we arrived, I was surprised to find he smelled just like the turkeys that morning.  I brushed it off.  Never once did it occur to me that the smell was not turkey, but infected flesh!

After the last bandage change, you can imagine the shock S and I felt when the vet took off the wrap to expose the wound, and we saw something TOTALLY opposite what we expected!  Infection had set in, and blown over half the sutures out. A vet told us this is a common thing that happens about a week into a severe injury like this. It didn’t really make us feel better. In fact, I think we were fighting back tears the whole time. I didn’t get a photo of that day, but suffice it to say, there was lots of goo, pus, bloody fluid, and stink!  We discussed our options with the vet, and the decision was made to hit the infection intensively.  Nick would stay at the clinic in a hospital stall, where the vet and techs could tend him multiple times per day.  The plan involved complete stall rest, as the wound could not be re-wrapped and supported to allow him to walk.  It had to be able to breathe and drain.  The drain and remaining sutures would be left a few days longer, to attempt to hold any healed tissue together.  Antibiotics would be injected directly into the wound every day.  Because of his new-found fear of needles and the increased tenderness of the wound, this involved daily sedation to get the job done.  The vet would clean the wound several times a day, while the techs kept his stall cleaned out.  In addition to the direct antibiotics, they were also going to hit him with systemic antibiotics, both injected and oral to circulate through his system.  We hoped 3-4 days of this intensive treatment would show improvement.   The next day, AFTER the wound was cleaned up, this is what it looked like: 

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Day 10…the white squiggly line is the rubber drain tube.

Today, the news wasn’t much better, much to our dismay.  The vet said he’s had a low-grade fever all week, and just can’t shake it.  The antibiotics are keeping it under control, but it just won’t go away.  This means there is definitely a festering infection going on.  He wound up pulling the drain and remaining sutures on Day 11, as he felt they weren’t doing any good anyway, and may possibly contribute to irritation and infection.  Otherwise, the heavy antibiotics and multiple-times a day treatments are the only thing that can be done.  Since the wound can’t be sutured to heal from the outside, in, the vet is attempting to help the wound heal from the inside, out by treating the wound in such a way as to encourage granulation tissue to form.  So, now Nick is imprisoned for at least another 4 days or so.  The vet doesn’t want him to leave (nor do we) until the fever is gone and stays gone for several days.  He also has to be finished with all injectables, as his new hypersensitivity to needles, combined with his massive size, means there is no possible way we can inject anything at home.  Everything will have to be oral or topical.  At that point, he will re-suture the wound, and we will start all over with bandages and home treatments.  The good news is that the vet is very hopeful, and still feels Nick will make a good recovery.  He told us today that the mystery infection/fever could possibly be internal–such as in the joint capsule, where it can’t be seen.  That may mean arthritis will set in later, and only time will tell how severe.  The other good news is that, since Nick seems to be walking almost normally again, we can be relatively assured that there is no permanent tendon, ligament, or nerve damage in the leg.  That is a huge relief!  

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Yes, it’s ugly. It’s wide open, and opens deep into the abyss with each step he takes or movement he makes. The light pink color, however, is granulation tissue–a good sign.

So, that’s our life right now.  Poor Nick is bored out of his mind, hardly eating what’s offered, and seems totally confused.  Bud, here on the home front, is equally confused, and stands in Nick’s stall at the slightest opportunity, with his head hanging down, and almost seeming depressed.  He seems to be accepting that Nick isn’t here, but definitely seems lost without him.  He has stopped nickering for him, and his spunk is not quite what it was.  I surely wish I could explain to them what’s going on, and that this is only temporary–Lord willing.  

I do have to admit that real-to-life financial thoughts hit me on occasion.  Since the horses were a substantial part of our farm income, and we have lost that for now, I confess, I am NOT looking forward to the upcoming vet bill.  We have already paid for the first treatment, and that was painful enough.  I fear it will be no comparison to the next one, though.  As long as we have been involved in animals, S and I have always had a pre-agreed upon $$ amount we could spend on emergency vet care to heal an animal.  We have always believed that we are called to be stewards of ALL our blessings–children, each other, animals, possessions, AND finances.  This is the first time we have encountered a situation where an animal was more than just a pet, but a valuable asset, a way of life, power for our little farm, and an income source.  We aren’t really sure how to put a cap on that.  

 We are praying, though, a LOT.  We are praying that the finances can handle it, that Nick can heal quickly and get back home to Bud, that all our emotions hold through this ordeal, and that everything will just be OK soon.  In fact, I have never really prayed over an animal the way we are praying for Nick.  I feel so helpless, it’s really all we can do.  Nick is an amazing horse, and we have committed to do what we can for him, as long as God gives us peace with continuing this direction.  If you have a moment, perhaps you could say a little prayer for him as well?  I hate seeing my big boys going through all this, and long to see them romping and rearing and galloping through our pasture once again!  I won’t even yell at them next time I see them biting each other mane hairs off, or pawing at the stall wall!

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