Thursday, April 17, 2008
I have a lot of friends in the US and in Europe who have horses and when they talk about the types of feed, the equipment, the clinics, and the veterinarians, sometimes I'm a little jealous. Our horses get by on much more meagre rations of all these things. On the other hand, our horses can have great grooms who care for them carefully and are a huge support to us. Today, I had a chance to think a lot about the things that we have and don't have while I had a month old colt undergo surgery for a nondisplaced fracture of his femur. As is so often the case with horses, we don't know exactly how the fracture happened, but a few days ago he was seen to be lame in a way that rang a lot of warning bells for me. Fortunately, there is an excellent orthopedic vet who visits Egypt regularly, mostly for the stud farms, so I was on the phone as quickly as possible to have him xray the colt's injured leg. His examination was frightening. The doctor was fairly sure that there was a fracture and he was very concerned that the fracture might affect the growth plate of the femur. The next day, he confirmed that there was a fracture, but was reassuring that it did not affect the growth plate. His advice was to put in a screw to stablilise the bone, and this could be done once his assistant had arrived from the US with the necessary equipment that she would be carrying along with some things that had been requested by the breeders.
Yesterday, he called to say that the equipment was in the country and that we could perform the surgery at one of the local stud farms where the owner has built a small clinic for surgery. This stud is Albadeia, owned by the Marei family, and I've had occasion to use it a couple of times before. About five years ago the same vet fixed a pair of subluxated patellas on a four month old colt for me, and then about two years ago he did check ligament surgery on that colt's mother, my favourite mare. So this morning I arranged to borrow a horse trailer (another item in very short supply in Egypt) from a neighbour along with her driver to transport two of my grooms, myself and Hilal (it means new moon) over to Albadeia, about 15 kilometres away.
Once the vets arrived, we had to shave the area in which they were planning to put the screw in the femur, not an easy task with a wiggly month old colt who would much rather be running around exploring than being held down so that a noisy machine can do funny things to his leg. That task accomplished, we had to do the initial sedation and then move him into the surgery room, a small tiled room equipped with a rolling bed that could be made larger or smaller in size with attachments that fit on the sides. Hilal didn't need to have it any larger than the basic bed.
His tiny size was a problem when it came time to suspend his leg from the loop hanging from the ceiling as well. Most of the surgery in this room is done on adult Arabian horses, so we had to improvise an extension of the loop with the horseman's friend, duct tape. This isn't the first time I've observed the surgery on my horses, since the vet knows that I don't faint or dissolve in tears and I can be relied upon to do such essential tasks as swatting flies in addition to photography. But seeing his fuzzy little body lying on his back on a surgery bed was pretty tough.
Even tougher was watching the doctor pick up the veterinary equivalent to a Black and Decker drill and search through bits looking for the right size for this tiny leg. He commented that in the US he would be able to use imaging to be sure that he had the location of the bit in the right place and that in our case we would have to use "dead reckoning"...a choice of words that I found most unfortunate. There were about 6 local vets in the room observing and assisting in the surgery, since these techniques are not usually taught in the university.
We watched the doctor line up the site of the incision and the line of the drill insertion with concern, concern that turned to real worry as the first attempt to insert the screw failed due to the softness of the foal's bones. He tried another screw which also failed to hold. This was not looking good at all. A second hole was drilled in a slightly different area of the femur (there not being a lot of choice) and a third attempt proved successful.
Faces lit up and smiles broke out throughout the room as the vet stitched up his little patient. Hilal's duct taped foot was cut down and he was rolled out into the garden to recover from the anaesthetic. This recovery room is probably one of the finest perks of the surgery at Albadeia. Imagine waking up from surgery on soft green grass under tall palms and rubber trees, surrounded by flowering bouganvilleia, roses and watched over by some of the most beautiful Arabian stallions in the world. Not too bad. Hilal is home now with his mother Stella. He's confined to a box for a while and not at all happy about it. He managed to escape yesterday to rip out of the box like a little racer, only to turn around and return to captivity when his mother called to him. Stella was a most unhappy camper while her son was away for surgery. She fussed and called out for him all afternoon, making the grooms walk her all over the farm so that she could search for him, dribbling her milk at every step. Their reunion when we got him back in the afternoon was lovely and within about five minutes Hilal was firmly attached to the lunch machine. Everything is looking good for a complete recovery and an interesting life for this young man.
copyright 2008 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani