These last couple weeks I’ve really struggled. P’s eye has taken an inordinate amount of time, money (insurance denied it…long story), and energy, and last week was the end of the road for me. I was exhausted, both physically and mentally, and it looked as if I were going to have to decide between removing the eye and putting P down.
Sounds dramatic, I know. But this last year has been hellish. I rehabbed his tendon strain oh-so-carefully every.single.day and right when he was healed, he decided to chop half his hoof off. So I oh-so-carefully went out to bandage and baby his foot every.single.day until *that* healed, then as soon as that was a non-issue, he punctures his eye. Typically eye things take a week or two to heal. But not P’s. Oh no, P’s eye has taken my soul hostage. This eye has cost me thousands of dollars and virtually all of my time, since it has required round-the-clock eye meds to be administered. So when I decided to have the surgery to remove the ulcer mid-May, I did so to give it the best possible shot at healing. And it looked promising until last Monday, the day after we got back from WHES, when suddenly it took a turn for the worse.
I noticed it Monday morning when I went out before work to shovel eye meds in. His eye just seemed droopier than usual. And when I went back out after work, it was MORE droopier still. We had our weekly vet visit scheduled for the next day, so I just cried all the way home and forced myself not to have the vet out on an emergency call. At the previous vet visit, which was Monday the 10th and 2 weeks post-keratectomy, the vet and surgeon concurred that it should be all healed within a week. So this obvious setback was devastating.
The next morning I was driving to the barn to do meds before work and I got a text from my BO, saying she had woken up to P running the fence line, so she brought him in to hose him off and took off his bug mask, only to find his eye completely closed. I called the vet to see if she could come out earlier, who said yes and that considering the length of time this has taken, it might be time to consider either taking him to NC State or having the eye removed.
While it might be a no-brainer for some to just have the eye removed, I was also factoring in the fact that, hello, it’s P, and with his recent track record there would obvi be some rare complication that would send me even more into financial and emotional oblivion, should that be the path that I chose. I don’t consider pets disposable. I do consider horses as pets. But I also have a family, and as such, financial obligations like food and shelter for them, and I was lost when it came to gauging how much more of our resources I should continue to throw at this horse. This may be unpopular, it sure as hell wasn’t fun to think about, but it’s honest.
So I talked to Trainer B, who has infinitely more experience with all sorts of crazy horse things than I do, who said to see what the vet found when she got there and not to make a single decision that day. That eased the pressure I was feeling quite significantly, so I calmed the F down (somewhat) and got to the barn.
The vet arrived shortly after, stained his eye, and found a piece of necrotic corneal tissue hanging from the eye. Why or how that happened is anyone’s guess, as both the she and the surgeon hadn’t seen that happen before (because only P would manage to come up with something no one’s seen before). She removed the piece of tissue, re-stained the eye, and the stain took to only the faintest, tiniest spot.
She sent the pictures she had taken to the surgeon, and he was very happy with how it looked (post-dead tissue removal) versus a week ago, and wanted to continue the meds as usual and re-check in 3 days.
I had already promised myself that no decision would be made that day, but I also knew that at some point, I had to draw the line. This thing has been stretched out way past the initial 1-2 week prognosis and was reaching into 2 months, with some weeks having 2x/week vet visits + a surgery. Enough was enough.
So my resolve was to give it to Friday, when the vet would come back out. If it wasn’t healed over, there would be no more “Let’s give it another week,” talk. This was it. I just had to figure out how to decide after that. Remove the eye? We’re talking a surgery + recovery + possible complications (remember…it’s P) + the whole uncertainty of whether P would be able to adapt. I’ve only ever known two horses who have had their eyes removed: one was insane and had to be put down for dangerous behavior and the other never skipped a beat. Obviously there’s a middle ground, but I had no way of knowing which camp P would lean towards, and wasn’t sure I wanted to even chance it. So I did another likely unpopular thing and assigned it a dollar amount. If on Friday it came down to making the decision and the surgery were over a set amount, that would be it and P would be put down.
So Friday came and I got to the barn before the vet. I pulled off his bug mask and the eye was open, then shut, then halfway open, then shut, then wide open, then shut. So I cried some more, put the bug mask back on, and gave him a bath and pulled his mane to kill time.
The vet finally got there (she was on time, life was just dragging at that point), asked me how he’s doing, and I think I choked out something like, “I don’t know, looks the same as before to me,” so she stained it, shined the light in his eye (which I resolutely didn’t watch), then turned and said, “I think you’re done.”
I was firmly deep in the rabbit hole of despair at that point, so I figured she meant I had to make my decision about surgery vs. euthanize. Which of course set off the water works again, but she grabbed my shoulder and said, “No, it’s good. You did it. There’s no sign of the wound anywhere. No stain uptake at all,” then she showed me his eye and sure enough….no sign of green anywhere.
So that sets off ANOTHER round of tears (and I’m not even a crier, good grief), but I managed to ask her why his eye would still be closed the way it is, and she said (duh) the Atropine that he’s been getting daily to dilate his pupils (duh..I’VE been the one giving it to him) makes the eye incredibly sensitive to light. Which…I know what Atropine does, and I know what it’s like to have your pupils dilated, but in my crumbling sanity, didn’t put those things together.
She said to take him off the Banamine + Atropine completely, and drop the antifungal ointment and antibiotic drops to 2x/day, because we’re both terrified of just completely stopping everything. We’ll continue those for the next 2 weeks, which is how long it takes for the Atropine to wear off.
I sent the pictures to the surgeon, along with her instructions, just to get his take on it and he said that the eye does indeed look healed and that I could opt to drop all the meds, but that of course it wouldn’t hurt to continue them.
Naturally P being P decided that the bug mask was no longer acceptable and rubbed his face raw right where the strap is (after being in this thing for 2 months without issue), so I had to switch him to a regular fly mask and put duct tape over the eye. I feel like the “x” I made with the duct tape is fitting (and yes, I did that on purpose). While he hates the nose of the fly mask (see video below), too bad, so sad.
If you made it through this novel, congrats and you’re a champ. I haven’t really talked about this with anyone besides Husband, BO, and Trainer B, and really needed to spill my guts. The last couple months haven’t been fun, but the last couple weeks have driven me to drink.
While I’m not exactly celebrating yet, I’m no longer in the depths of despair. As much as he frustrates me, I really can’t imagine not having the P-Bug.