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Equine January/February 2009 (Vol 4, No 1)

The Final Diagnosis — Just Another Unusual Day

by Ronald Gill

    I've been fortunate to spend my entire career in rural mixed animal practice. Even after 33 years, I still enjoy this type of practice setting and will never forget some cases, such as the following.

    The call came at about 5:00 am one spring morning. (A ringing phone still immediately wakes me no matter how deeply I am sleeping.) The caller said, rather matter-of-factly, "We have a mare with a rod through her head."

    I quickly got dressed and began to consider the possible causes of the injury and what equipment and medications I should take with me. I went to the clinic, grabbing everything from surgery packs and tranquilizer to euthanasia solution and syringes.

    After the 20-mile trip, I found the mare with an approximately 1-week-old foal standing in the back of a dark lean-to shed with no lights or electricity. The owner had fashioned a gate using oilfield pipe and sucker rods, which are commonly used for making gates in my area. As it became light, I could see a 10-ft piece of sucker rod stuck completely through the mare's head. I suspected that the mare had been trying to reach the green spring grass by pushing on the homemade gate, eventually breaking one end of the rod loose and suddenly impaling herself with the free end of the rod. Imagining how the mare was able to break the entire piece loose still makes me shudder. The welding bead was still on each end of the rod.

    I immediately sedated the mare and removed one end of the rod from the fence panel, which had temporarily trapped her in the back of the stall. The owner asked what we were going to do, and I said that we needed to cut the rod. Having no electricity there, the owner brought a portable generator to the pen. We hooked up his brand-new saw and, after a few attempts, were able to cut the rod. I instructed the owner to take my position and steady the mare's head while I retracted the piece of metal from the mare.

    It appeared that the rod had entered the back left side of the head, behind the mandible and below the left ear, and exited about halfway between the eye and the nose on the right side of the head. I imagined significant damage to the pharyngeal area or the esophagus as well as the frontal sinuses. After cutting the rod, I carefully pulled the piece out from below the ear. The mare began to bleed profusely, prompting the owner to expect her to bleed to death. Fortunately, the bleeding soon subsided and then stopped.

    I gave the owners instructions regarding the mare's treatment. Amazingly, they reported complete healing, and the mare continues to be in the herd and is doing well.

    This story illustrates how even patients in serious condition can often do well and completely recover. One of the things I enjoy about mixed animal practice is that there's never an average day!

    NEXT: Therapeutics in Practice — Managing Foal Diarrhea

    didyouknow

    Did you know... A horse’s demeanor can be a good indicator of its pain level because painful animals are likely to become withdrawn and dull and may appear irritable. Read More

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