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I know why the colicky horse rolls
My own frightening pain helped me understand how awful veterinary patients with colic must feel.
There are a lot of things about the holiday season that make us smile and congregate. But a few years back, I had some serious holiday pain. And when I say pain, I mean real pain. The kind that curls your toes and makes you long for simple normalcy.
It was Thanksgiving, and one of my favorite clients had a colicky horse. I hate leaving family to go do anything, but I sure didn't want anything bad to happen to this horse. So I went to the clinic prepared for the worst. I just didn't know how bad the worst could actually be.
Blow them up like a balloon, and you'll be in agony
Pain-think about that word. Stop reading for just a second and try to remember the most awful pain you can remember having. You can only kinda remember it because God is kind to us and doesn't really allow total recall of the sensation of excruciating pain. He just allows us to remember that it's terrible.
The horse was in bad shape. He was in terrible pain, rolling around and sweating. Your intestines have no nociceptors for touch, heat or blunt trauma, but they have the most acute receptors for stretching. That means you could take out your intestines and stomp on them, catch them on fire, punch them or chew on them … and no sensation registered. But blow them up like a balloon, and you'll be in agony. Every time I see a horse throw itself on the ground and roll around with that terrible “I'm suffering colic” look on their face, I feel so sorry for them.
‘Wow, Bo, you are sure sweating bad!'
We went to work as a team. We anesthetized the horse, put it on the table and started the long, complicated procedure. Colic surgery requires tremendous focus and attention to detail on the part of the person running the show-that was me.
At first, things were going great. We identified the problems and were correcting them when that old, familiar feeling began to creep into me. I had encountered this feeling only three times before in my life, but once you feel it, you never forget it.
Dr. Tweeten was helping me with the surgery. I remember her saying, “Wow, Bo, you are sure sweating bad!” It was a cold November night, so sweat should not have been an issue. I knew long before she said it that things were fixing to get terrible.
We were three quarters of the way through the surgery when the hint that pain was about to overtake me entered my mind. It started off as a quick, acute burst of pain in the back, just below the last rib. It went away almost as quickly as it came, but it was like a messenger letting me know that I was soon going to be on my knees in agony.
Dr. Tweeten noticed the sweat right before phase two of my painful process. This is the phase when the terrible pain doesn't go away. Men, if you've ever been kicked in the “boys,” you know how bad that hurts. It doesn't really hurt in the “boys” themselves, but somewhere in your abdomen that seems totally removed and uninvolved. Imagine that exact pain coming and not going away. That's the feeling that comes when a tiny stone in your kidney dislodges and heads for your bladder through the tiny tube called the ureter.
I don't know much about my own ureter thing except it has a very small opening called a “lumen” that does not like to be stretched. Oh, it hates to be stretched. And let me tell you, that stretch evokes the most ridiculous pain I've ever encountered.
I knew this horse's life depended on me finishing the surgery. I knew if I told people what was happening, they would have made me quit. So I sucked it up. A pain that made me want to lie down on the ground and roll around like I was on fire and trying to smother the flames.
Rolling around on the floor made me feel better
When I got to the point that I felt the guts of the horse were all OK, I told Dr. Tweeten to close without me. I took off my gloves and gown and headed out the door of the surgery room. No one yet knew what was wrong with me, only that I was sweating way too much.
I went down on the rubber padded floor of the equine clinic and started rolling around like a dog on a carcass. I don't know why, but that made me feel better. If you've ever passed one of these horrid stones, just imagine passing it for 45 minutes while standing up trying to fix a broken horse and not being able to bend over at all.
Eventually, the rest of the team involved in the surgery saw me rolling around and wanted to know what the heck I was doing. I told them I was headed home to get some pain pills as soon as I finished rolling around on the floor for a while and felt like I could drive.
Pain. It's the motivation in life we seldom speak of, but let me tell you-it's a real innovation in what we do. So when horses lie on the ground and roll around from colic pain, let me tell you: Dr. Bo Brock runs to get them some pain medicine. I know what that sweat and rolling around means without a single word being uttered.
Bo Brock, DVM, owns Brock Veterinary Clinic in Lamesa, Texas.