It took a long moment before I could even ask the question. I leaned against Truby and ran my hand along her neck, underneath her mane. "At what point.." I paused again, unable to continue. I rubbed Truby's forehead and tried again. "At what point...do we need to talk about euthanasia?" I stared at the barn aisle and stroked Truby's neck again.
After another long moment, Dr E responded. I don't really remember what she said, but it was kind and it was direct, as Dr E always spoke.
Apparently, that point was today. Right now, in fact. Tuesday afternoon, December 14, 2021, was the point at which I would make the decision to put Truby, my unicorn, my Prettiest Princess, my best friend, to her final rest.
If you're in shock and wondering how the fuck did you just read that, I assure you, I too am also in shock and wondering how the fuck I just typed that. There's not a good answer to that, so let's back up a bit.
My last post ended with Truby, bright eyed and begging for cookies, having recovered from her fever, but possibly having a bowed tendon. I remember thinking that if she had bowed a tendon, I would lose my freakin' mind. But I put her ice boot inserts in the freezer, and took her to the wash rack to cold hose her leg.
And for the next week, Truby got twice a day icing, along with standing bandages, bute, lots of cookies, and the rest of her antibiotics. She was pretty happy, and not terribly sore on that leg. Maybe it wasn't a bow, maybe she whacked it on the stall fencing? Who knows? Our farrier had come right to check for an abscess, but nothing but a bruise on her frog, oddly enough. Maybe she had whacked it. It would all be treated the same.
The following week, I dropped down to once a day care. I was exhausted and needed a little bit of a break. Her leg wasn't worse. We weren't training or competing, or anything like that. Healing could be slow.
I enjoyed the time spent icing her leg. Mostly we just hung out in her stall. Sometimes I would talk to barn friends, sometimes idly scroll facebook. I would give Truby the delicious Equine Senior grain, and sit in her stall and just be with her.
But soon afterwards, the swelling seemed to increase. And change shape? And when it changed to that classic 'stovepipe' shape of cellulitis I called the vet. The day before the vet was to visit, our farrier was out. She said it was 'weird AF', and it was. The worst was there was swelling on the front of the pastern, and it formed a ridge along the cornet band. It kinda looked like a modular plastic toy, and you could just pop the hoof off. The farrier swore I wouldn't be able to pop her hoof wall off. Tru wasn't even really painful on that leg, and was able to have her feet trimmed easily. We shrugged at each other and I told her I'd text her after the vet left.
The following day, Truby was bright eyed and cheerful as usual. Dr E came out, and frowned at her leg a lot, agreeing it was "weird AF". It wasn't a bowed tendon. It wasn't cellulitis. It wasn't really anything? She had started her physical examination quite gently, but eventually increased pressure on the leg. She asked if there had been any blood or discharge? I told her no, and she responded, well, there is now!
Sure enough, a small area of skin broke open, and thick, very dark blood oozed out. Clipping the area and a careful wash revealed a small abraded area. But that was it. Still unhappy, we decided to take a few x-rays, looking for more information. They were clean. Truby thought the fuss was boring. I enjoyed wearing a lead apron, because I always do.
Normally I'd be a bit embarrassed that my horse was fidgety during a vet exam, but that day I didn't mind. I loved seeing her active, and proud when she walked and trotted with the tech, like the perfect princess she is. She was mildly lame, but not bad.
Exasperated, Dr E thought it could have been a small injury, like a bug bite or cactus spine, the original wound gone, but leaving an infection behind. It happens a lot out here. She didn't think it was a good reason, and maybe not the correct one, but the best she could figure. Truby would get a 48 hour sweat wrap, bute twice a day, and some slow release antibiotics. She would need her second dose in 4 days, and that would be good timing to recheck the injury.
The vet warned me that when I took the sweat off, I might find pus, blood, or that the skin had opened up in more places. I should call them and let them know, but not to be worried, that's what we wanted. Made sense to me. With Truby wrapped and medicated, I put her away for the night, relieved to get a little break from icing and wrapping.
The next few days I visited Truby twice a day. She felt great! She was happy, she was bouncy. She whinnied at anyone and everyone she saw. We were able to go for walks, and she happily went with me around Cloudbase.
Removing the sweat was anti climatic. There was some more blood, but no pus. No discharge, maybe a a new tiny opening bleeding gently. I didn't even bother calling the vet. It was boring!
Monday Truby was as happy as I've ever seen her. After some cuddles and cookies, I took her out for a walk. She came out eagerly, really swinging out there. Actually...a little alarming. She was swinging her front legs so they formed a single track. That was weird. I put it down to her enthusiasm, and that she hadn't been quite so perky for awhile. She settled into a normal walk, but did seem to want to drift off to the right. Whatever, she was happy, not lame, and probably just too busy looking at stuff to walk straight.
Tuesday was chilly and dark. Tucson had some rain overnight and everything felt damp. I made it through my work day, hoping the threatening storm would hold off until after the vet appointment. I was happy and light hearted heading to Cloudbase. It was dark and exciting, but dry. Truby was clearly on the mend, and I might even get to ride her a little bit soon!
She whinnied at me when I got out of my car. I hadn't been out that morning, since she didn't get bute that morning, and maybe she was a touch less bouncy than the day before. Her infected leg wrap had more blood, but that was okay. Letting the infection out and all that. Her other wrap was bloody though, and I saw that the little hock sore she sometimes gets because Tucson sand is rough, had bled. Quite a bit, yuck.
I decided to unwrap her, go for a little walk, and then wash her legs before the vet arrived. I wasn't thrilled that her leg had opened up even more along the hoof, but that was where the swelling had put so much pressure on, I guess that was to be expected.
Truby wasn't as game for a stroll, and stopped a couple times. I decided not to push her, and went to the wash rack to get her cleaned up and wait for the vet. I started with the hock. The blood was thick and hard. It didn't want to wash off. It was like thick paint. After applying shampoo, rubbing, rinsing, more shampoo, more rubbing, more rinsing, and then some more, it finally washed off. I'd never seen blood like that before.
I was deciding if I wanted to wash the infected leg, or leave it for the vet, when I caught her cock her foot out of the corner of my eye. It looked like her freakin' hoof wall was pulling off. My stomach absolutely heaved, and I freaked out, texting our farrier that omg, Truby's foot is coming off!!!
After looking at it longer, I decided it was an optical illusion, the swelling, the opened skin, etc. Farrier said to keep her updated, and she was close by if I needed her.
Not long afterward, Dr E arrived, and I told her about my freak out, but that I thought I was wrong. She laughed and started her exam. I feed Truby cookies and told her about the last few days. Dr E was glad to hear that Truby was doing well, but didn't like the lack of pus. And as she started poking at her foot, we discovered that there was actually some separation going on.
Truby didn't care at all while she was poked and prodded. She didn't mind the betadine wash...or when Dr E got a probe out. At her lateral quarter, the hoof wall began to separate, but it was fairly shallow. But as she followed it toward the heel, it deepened, and at the heel it was completely separated, to the point she could put the entire length of the probe all the way in.
It was super gross and fascinating. Truby didn't mind at all. Dr E was flummoxed. There was no pus, no discharge, no nothing to explain what the fuck had happened. No clues, no reason her foot should have started to detach. She checked the x-rays again. Nothing.
She told me that while she didn't know why, she had treated horses with similar separations (caused by abscesses) and they had healed. If the separation continued, and her entire hoof detached, there was nothing that could be done, horses can't come back from their entire hoof falling off. But we could treat this and hopefully it would stop being weird AF and heal. She took out the hoof testers and squeezed her six ways from Sunday, but Truby didn't care the least little bit.
Then Dr E realized she hadn't even seen her move yet, so let's walk her down and back. I mentioned that she had been happy and prance-y the day before, but today she wasn't really into it. Truby walked off though, and we walked down the breezeway. We got to the end, and as we started to turn and walk back, I glanced down and saw Truby's hoof wall peel away to the fucking middle of her foot. I saw laminae. I thought I would puke. We stopped, and I called shakily, "did you see that?!"
Dr E had been watching her, and noticing some disconnected movement. Like she didn't quite know where her feet where. I told her what I had seen, and she walked right up and told me to continue the turn. And we got an up close view of the hoof wall pull away from the foot all the way to the midline of her hoof.
It was horrifying. It was obscene and disturbing in a way I cannot describe. I had seen something I should never, ever, ever see in a living horse. Ever.
And that brings us to the start of this post. I knew in my heart that this was it. But in vain I hoped there was something, anything, else.
Dr E told me the concerning movement she saw, and I admitted to the oddness of the day before. And while today's movement could have been due to the fact that Truby was literally walking out of her foot, Dr E wondered if maybe she had had another seizure overnight.
And in her kind but forthright manner, she told me that she didn't know why this had happened, and she wished she could. She was so frustrated she couldn't. But she didn't think it would improve. She feared the hoof would continue to detach. She didn't know why Truby didn't have any pain or discomfort, it made no sense.
I wasn't ready, just couldn't wrap my head around euthanizing Truby right then and there. But I knew, I knew, that was our only option. Was there any way to buy more time? There was. Because Truby wasn't in pain, or wild, she could have her foot and leg wrapped very securely. It would give us until the morning. I was in shock. Devastated. I didn't know how to send the texts to my husband, to the barn owner. What words were there? This was too shocking, too sudden. Totally unexpected. No one thought this was going to happen. Not the vet, not the tech, not the farrier, not me, not EB, not one person thought this was anywhere near happening. Especially not that day.
I still can't wrap my head around it.
Dr E wrapped Truby up tight. I feed her cookies. We all hugged her, and then each other. Dr E set up arrangements for the following day. I took Truby back to her stall. I gave her more cookies. We talked about what a great horse Truby was. Always happy, so agreeable to work with. Everyone at the vet clinic loved her. I signed some papers. I wrote a check far too small to cover the enormity of what it would pay for. My husband arrived. There was crying and more cookies and more hugs. And through it all, a slightly confused Truby. She didn't know what was going on, but she liked hanging out, as she had always liked hanging out. She had no indications of pain or fear, or even any discomfort. The only blessing there was.
Soon I will post about Truby's last day (it was great!) and a tribute to Truby (she was great!) But this post was hard and I'm exhausted. Know that I would have put Truby to sleep on the spot if she had any pain. Either she had nerve damage or something shut down in her brain, because she never once showed any reaction to what was happening to her hoof. Dr E believed she had a "sinister process" happening inside her. She didn't know what, we will never know, but she believed something had started to go very, very wrong inside Truby. That weird injuries and illnesses would continue, until we weren't lucky and she had something go wrong in the middle of the night, and suffer until found. Maybe melanoma tumors in her brain and/or other organs. Maybe something else. But she did believe, as I do, that something irreversible was taking place. It wasn't right or fair that this should happen to such a great horse. But it did, and we were all powerless to stop it happening, but we could end it before it made her suffer. And my promise to Truby is that she would never suffer. And it was time to live up to my promise.