You aren't going to believe this any more than I am able to. My buddy Lyle is gone.
The last 48 hours are still pretty much a blur, so I'm going to try to recap the events chronologically, for those of you who want to know what happened, and for me, so that maybe I might finally believe it by the time I get to the present.
Went out to feed. Watched Lyle lay down instead of follow me to the feed room. Uh-oh. Moved him to a pen and fed everybody else.
Lyle was laying down, then getting back up, laying down, getting back up. Got a shot of banamine in him and moved him to the round pen where he would have more room.
Banamine having no effect. Got through to on-call vet. She said to give him another dose. If there was no improvement by 8:30, he would need to be examined.
Hooked up horse trailer just in case. Watched Lyle still laying down/getting back up. Gave thanks to weather gods that sun was out and road to highway was passable.
Lyle poops! A good sign.
Called vet and said we were coming in and should be there by 11. But how do I trailer a horse who wants to keep laying down? "Don't tie him...if he needs to go down, he will," she said.
Lyle's loaded and we're on our way.
Made it out to the highway in record time. Gave thanks to county road crew for grading road a few days earlier. Stop to check on Lyle - he's still standing.
Arrive at Albuquerque Equine Clinic. Lyle's still standing. Unload him and he immediately tries to go down. The vet and her techs move into action.
Initial exam report: sizable impaction, dehydrated, heart rate normal, temp normal. Since impaction is preventing ingested feed from passing out the back end, Lyle's stomach is full and causing him great discomfort. Vet places 10-foot-long tube up his nose and down into his stomach to suction out the contents. Since horses can't vomit, the tubing process allows the vet to "vomit for him." Not the prettiest explanation but one I understood. Vet pumps out three pail's worth of Lyle's stomach contents and tech takes them outside to fertilize tree in parking lot. We all agree that the tree will grow great this spring. Levity is very important in times like these.
Blood is drawn for a CBC. Tech beautifully braids Lyle's mane to keep it out of the way. Vet places a cathether in his neck. Countless liters of fluids are administered into his vein to rehydrate him, get his gut moving again, and try to soften the impaction. Vet shaves off some strategic spots of Lyle's winter coat to get clearer pictures during the ultrasound exam. I watch the monitor over her shoulder as she looks inside Lyle's abdomen and explains to me what she's seeing. I've not had the chance to work with this vet before and keep saying to myself, "damn, she's good." She's thorough, understanding, and really really smart. Lyle's in good hands.
I walk Lyle to an outside pen; he doesn't seem to be in pain. Blood work comes back and the vet explains that the numbers look pretty good. The plan is to pump his stomach out and give him more fluids at 2:30. Lyle stands quietly in the pen. He's not interested in drinking any water, but at least he's not restless and trying to lay down.
More stomach pumping and more IV fluids.
I take Lyle for a 15-minute walk around the parking lot to see if we can help get his gut moving. He seems to be alert and not in any pain.
Vet explains the plan for the next 16 hours – she will repeat the stomach pumping/IV fluid treatment again at 6:30, then throughout the night as necessary. I'll go home and take care of the rest of the herd, then come back Saturday morning. She'll call me if anything changes, but if I don't hear from her, no news is good news.
I arrive home. Hank meets me at the gate, calling for Lyle. He doesn't seem to understand my explanation of why I didn't bring Lyle home. There's a message on the answering machine. The vet thinks Lyle's impaction might be softening up, based on the latest rectal exam. She also said he got really mad when she did it, which she took as a good sign.
I lay in bed hearing Hank call out to Lyle every 5 minutes or so. I hear him gallop to the corner of the ranch nearest the road, then gallop back to the barn. It's going to be a long night for all of us.
I leave for Albuquerque - the clinic will open at 8:30.
Arrive at the clinic. Lyle is inside being worked on by our regular vet. He tells me that things have changed. Lyle's colon is moving and working and doing what it's supposed to do - the impaction has cleared. But something else is going on because Lyle's stomach isn't working - the vet is still pumping out pails of foul-smelling stuff. And the protein levels in his blood are sky high. Yesterday's colic was caused by the impaction, but the impaction was caused by something else. Now we've got to find the "something else." He shaves more of Lyle's left side. The ultrasound exam shows the large and small intestines working, but the stomach is very distended. He shaves more of Lyle's right side. We can see Lyle's stomach from this side, too ... but that's not normal. As he moves the ultrasound further up toward Lyle's head, he sees something that doesn't belong there, something at the front of Lyle's stomach. The something is pressing down on the stomach, preventing it from functioning normally.
The vet fires up a program on his computer called "The Glass Horse" - it shows sort of an animated view of what we've been looking at on the ultrasound. Even if I'm powerless to do anything to help Lyle, I understand what's going on and say a prayer of thanks for having the best vet on the planet.
We talk about what the something could be: an abcess, a mass of some kind, an enterolith, a tumor. We review Lyle's recent history again, the grumpy attitude that came on so suddenly in November that we've been trying to get to the bottom of. We talk about options.
The vet does an abdominal tap, drawing out fluid that he can examine under his microscope. The results are inconclusive.
We talk about what we could try next: if the mass is an abcess, antibiotics might shrink it...over time. But we don't have time – Lyle's stomach isn't working. We could do an endoscopy, sending a camera down in to his stomach to see if we can find anything abnormal, but the mass appears to be on the outside of his stomach. We talk about Lyle's chances.
I take a walk to think things over, but I already know what has to be done – I just have to come to grips with it.
I tell the vet that we're going to stop treatment. I take Lyle for a long walk, then let the vet know we're ready. The vet asks if I want to be with Lyle when he gives the injection and I say yes. I did not stay with Lyle's mom when she was euthanized, a selfish decision I've always regretted.
Lyle's heart stops beating.
The vet asks my permission to examine Lyle's body - he would like to see what the mass was. I tell him of course.
I pull up to the gate with the empty horse trailer in tow, and Hank is certain I've brought Lyle home. I didn't think I had any tears left. Wrong.
Chores are done and I sit down to go through this blog, reading every story I've posted about Lyle and smiling at the pictures. I've never been so grateful for being a blogger.
Hank keeps looking out toward the road; I wonder how long it will be before he stops waiting for Lyle to come home.
The vet calls. "If you had any doubt, you did the right thing." The mass was about the size of a softball, attached to the exterior of Lyle's stomach - a lympho sarcoma. He told me that the body - human or animal - throws off cancer cells all the time and the normal immune system – the t cell function – kills them off. For whatever reason, Lyle's immune system allowed them to grow.
Hank, George and Alan are huddled together next to the tree in the corral. I've gone out to join them many times today and will head back out there now. We'll get through this together.