Monday, February 2, 2015

G-Unit's Operation: and it's just a Box of Rain...

And it's just a box of rain, I don't know who put it there..Believe it if you need it, or leave it if you dare!

As I begin this post, Grateful Dead lyrics are running through my mind while I anxiously await a call to let me know the outcome of surgery on my horse Gryphon. Dr. Trostle at Blue Ridge Equine was removing a mysterious anal protuberance that changed from being a concern to being a full-blown problem at last weekend's FEI ride at Broxton Bridge plantation in South Carolina.

The backstory: In December 2013, a year after I'd first begun competing my rescue horse in endurance and a few weeks after he finished his first 100-miler to cap an amazing season, G was exerting himself during a hilly foxhunt when an ugly red bubble-shaped hemorrhoid-looking thing popped from his anus.  

One of my hunt friends, a veterinarian, called it to my attention (since I couldn't see that area while mounted), and we headed back to our trailers right away. I phoned my longtime vet, Doug Daniels with Virginia Equine, then gave G several weeks off as he advised.

In the months that followed, this squishy sack would occasionally  pop out even when G was just hanging out in the pasture. For some reason during the six months (April-September 2014) when he was out of my daily care, staying at Lisa's in Northern Virginia and to California and back for the Western States 100-mile ride, this issue never emerged - even during our amazing 22 hours together on the Tevis trail. On that day, August 9, my little "G-unit" showed the depth of his stamina and willingness to go eagerly down sometimes treacherous trail hour after hour, earning him a unique status among all the wonderful horses I've competed and owned.

Safely back in Virginia and after a month off, G felt great as I trained him several weeks in a row to prepare for a 2-day 100 in late October. Then, when I unloaded him from the 600 mile trailer trip to central Tennessee for the Skymont ride, the red skinned bubble was back in all its glory. With a little poking on my part, the darn thing went back in by time for the vet-in, but I explained it my friend Otis the head vet and the other ride staff in case it re-emerged during the ride. Although it popped out several times on trail and got a bit bloody the second day, it was back inside by the time I reach each vet check and G's vet scores were as great as always.

However, I knew something had to be done and contacted Doug again, this time to do a full exam with sedation. With surprise, nearly his whole arm inside my horsie's hiney, Doug described it as a foot-long tube-sock shaped "pedunculated polyp" attached 18-20 inches up the rectum, almost at the border of the peritoneal cavity. Since Doug didn't have surgical facilities, I scheduled a December trip three hours north to Dr. Harrison in Northern Virginia (who several endurance friends use and who I later found out had been one of Doug's teachers at Auburn).

As instructed, we withheld G's food for the 12 hours before arriving at the Berryville, Va. facility. Imagine my surprise and disappointment when, after sedating my horse and examining him just as Doug had done, Dr. Harrison could find nothing large enough to remove. He showed us ultrasound images and described the growth feeling like a small deflated balloon stem and expressed the opinion that it shouldn't be an issue in the future.

He was wrong. The damn thing reappeared less than a week later. I'd been planning to use G to sponsor Calla Orino riding my mare Siena on her first FEI ride on January 31 Broxton, and decided to go ahead and take him, figuring at least I'd have lots of wonderful experienced vets around if there was a problem.

G reached a record weight of 790 lbs just before this ride
While the red bubble/polyp or whatever it was didn't exhibit itself during the vet in Friday, I still asked the ride staff to note it on his vet card. He was fine at the first vet check on Saturday, but at the 2nd vet check, he was examined by U.S. team vet Dwight Hooten, who pointed out the ugly red bubble - now fairly bloody (G had pulsed so quickly down to the 40s that I'd forgotten to look while removing his tack!)

Calla Orino's first FEI ride on Siena,
another great photo by Becky Pearman!
Sprinkling it with hydroponic sugar then sponging to clean the crusty blood away helped things get back to normal so I was able to represent him before the end of the hold. Dr Hooten, in consultation with Dr. Ken Marcella who I've known for 15 years and who patiently listened to my story and assessment of how the horse was behaving on trail, agreed to let us continue. Calla and I ended up finishing in 5th and 6th place (5:05 ride time) and even stood for best condition an hour later to take advantage of the extra veterinary inspection before leaving Broxton for our halfway stop on the trip home.

After a smooth trip to my friend Jonie's in NC, where we overnighted, I began making phone calls the next morning to line up G's treatment as we continued north. The ride vets had advised I get him to a clinic while it was inflamed, plus the red bubble seemed to have re-emerged for good and was now twice as large as the day before, making me quite concerned.

Although Dr. Harrison was out of town, the staff at Blue Ridge Equine just west of Charlottesville were able to accept my horse (Doug had previously shared with Dr. Trostle what he'd found during his exam.) Detouring west to drop G off at 2 pm, we made it back to my place by 5.

Dr. Trostle and I spoke before beginning surgery on Monday morning, warning me that he wasn't sure how much would be required and how good the prognosis would be if a large blood ruptured.

Waiting was tough. The post-surgery call came at 1:30 pm. Dr. Trostle said had managed to remove the polyp, tumor or whatever it was but G was still bleeding significantly and he wanted to keep him one more night for observation. Since the process had required an epidural and colonoscopy (being so close to the peritoneal cavity Dr. Trostle wanted to make sure he didn't damage an intestine during the surgery), he said the bill will over $2,000, more than twice what I'd hoped and not great timing since I also have a big tax bill to pay by April 15.

When he was first rescued, Gryphon would get vacant eyes, rear and thrash when he felt threatened. Even after he grew to trust me for the most part, being examined by a vet (usually male) who didn't first take a minute or so to "introduce" himself could set off this scary behavior Those days are long gone, replaced with an affectionate little guy who has eagerly responded to all I've asked for him, truly earned his much-needed surgery.

As for the reference to the Grateful Dead song in this post's title, I've obviously cried buckets over this experience, but also see the cycle of life. Until Tevis this past summer (Estimated Prophet and Terrapin Station were my two theme songs I hummed much of the ride), I hadn't listened to the Dead songs for two decades, ever since starting my career. This experience brought me back to the feeling of scraping along financially that I had in my early 20s, and the song gives me hope that this event, as have other traumatic experiences I've survived, will eventually be paid off and in the rear view mirror of life.

A box of rain will ease the pain and love will see you through!