Monday, January 26, 2009

With The Help of Friends and Some Benadryl, Life Goes On

When I left you last week, I shared story of The Big Meltdown between Argus and me. Since then, we've sailed along nicely using the blindfold method. All week, Argus has stood for the black sweatshirt, and I very carefully administered the medication.

I say "carefully," because most of my attempts were made with the homemade equivalent of a HazMat suit. Gloves. Goggles. Face-covering ski mask.

Saving Argus is not always fun.

Last Monday's antics were not without consequence. During my struggle with Argus, that lovely sulfa/rifampin mixture was splashed in my mouth and face. Despite a desperate rinse in the water bucket, those mucous membranes sure do work fast to absorb drugs! Yes, they do.

And so, on Thursday, itchy beyond belief and covered in welts, I found myself making another embarassing call to the advice nurse:

NURSE: "You called before about this same type of problem," came the voice of the perturbed advice nurse at the other end of the line.

ME: "Yeah, well, it's just that I have this horse who is really, really sick. Have you ever heard of pigeon fever? No? Well, he's got it and I've got to get these drugs into him orally for TWO MONTHS, and it's just...well...challenging at times. I protect myself as much as I can."

Secretly, I feel like such a fool.

NURSE: "Well, you know that each time you have a reaction, you are increasing your risk. The next reaction could be very serious."

ME: (Embarassed) "I know. I know. It won't happen again."

My husband Ken, who has suffered long, and patiently, in his life with his crazy horse-loving wife, recounted all the little injuries I've suffered over the years because of my involvement with horses. "This," he pronounced, inspecting my impressive welts with admiration, "beats everything."

So Thursday, Friday and Saturday had me popping Benadryl, with my trunk, armpits, breasts, and scalp covered in a flat red rash that seemed to change and move by the hour. Dazed by the benadryl, I felt like I had cotton stuffed in my head all weekend. Not even coffee made a difference. By Sunday evening, a few lonely patches of red were all that remained.

And, out of necessity, I had perfected "The New And Improved Method For Medicating Argus."

Since Argus is feeling better, he is eating better. I dissolved the TMS tablets in hot water, added lots of strawberry jello, mixed the rifampin in, and sprinkled this mixture into Argus' all-in-one. He ate it! A miracle! We are syringe free since Saturday night, and the risk to me of further reactions is greatly diminished.

That, and Argus stopped believing in "the powers of the great black blindfold" right around the same time. He is one smart horse.

This is my father. He pets Argus' nostrils very softly. Argus likes this very much.



And this is Argus and his good friend, Odie the Mule, out in pasture yesterday. Argus stays in the stall/paddock at night and goes out during the day now. He is happy to go out again, but equally happy to come back in at night. In fact, he stands in front of his paddock gates and weaves at dinnertime. That's new!

Argus is starting to feel so much better. Over the weekend, he cantered in the pasture. He tires easily, but he has a lot more energy than even a week ago.

It's only January, but already the yellow mustard is starting to bloom in the vineyards. February is a wonderful time in Sonoma County, as so many vineyards are full of mustard.




Here's rescue horse Caleb during a schooling ride last week. He's moving along well in his training, and he is looking for an adoptive home! Caleb is starting to do some really nice lateral work: shoulder in, haunches in, leg yields. He loves to learn and is fun to train. Caleb is located at my farm in Santa Rosa, CA.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"You $#%&*#@# Horse!"

ANGRY, covered in pink goo, and spitting nails, I hurled a few well-timed expletives at Argus on Monday, our first real falling out ever. This was in response to his sudden refusal to let me syringe Monday morning's medication down his throat. He threw his head back violently, reared and struck out at my chest, shooting backward across the paddock. I was astonished. This performance was repeated for the next 20 minutes (minus the chest striking part), Argus splattered, Jackson Pollack-style, with pink paste, me eventually covered with paste (and not caring one bit if it killed me), my gloves torn, and both of us totally hysterical. What I'd taken for granted, Argus' seemingly miraculous willingness to take oral medication, was suddenly gone. Poof.

I walked away.

Not caring if my face turned orange, not caring if Argus imploded into a giant mass of pigeon fever pus and goo and died right on the spot, I marched into the house, where I bent over the kitchen sink and had a good long cry as I washed my face and tried to make sense of it all. How would I be able to do this for weeks longer? How would I pull this off? How could Argus go from totally cooperative to totally uncooperative?

I called Dr. Miller, at home on his day off. Whining into the phone, I heard myself saying "I don't know if I can keep doing this," to which he listened quietly and replied simply: "You have no choice. You MUST keep medicating him."

I thought about all my other horses, who would greedily eat powdered medication in grain. Argus will not. He's picky about feed the way a child raised on McDonald's food and soda pop looks sideways at broccoli. He's just not that normal when it comes to feed. He loves hay. He could take grain or leave it. And often does. So no matter how much I dress up that pile of yummy grain, Argus KNOWS there is an evil medication lurking inside, and won't eat it.

Which brings us back to syringing paste into him twice a day.

Dr. Miller, who seemed to sense my growing desperation, got in his truck and came to see me, hoping he could help me figure out how to get Argus to willingly accept his medication once more.

In the end, I figured it out myself, Dr. Miller standing peacefully at the paddock fence in his day-off clothes.

I blindfolded Argus.

A child's black sweatshirt makes the perfect horse blindfold, and Argus, who could not manage to LOOK at that syringe coming toward his mouth, calmly and trustingly allowed me to cover his eyes, tie the sweatshirt around his head, and deftly slip the syringe in the corner of his mouth. No drama. No cuss words. In in an instant.

So that's how we do it now. I mix up the meds, Argus gives me a long glance, and I blindfold him. I honestly can't believe he's so accepting of it.

Otherwise, Argus is gaining strength (enough to rear, anyway!) every day. The high-energy feeds I gave him during the bleak days of his illness have caught up with him and made him hyper, so I'm cutting back high energy feeds. Past the danger of having an internal abscess rupture, he's been cleared for turnout into the small pasture, where he's gone out the last few days with Odie the Mule and Half Pint the draft horse, both of whom too lazy to run much. They keep Argus grounded. He's thrilled to be able to go out and roll in the soft dirt and nibble blades of grass with his friends. Freedom and companionship are like medicine to him.

I'm truly believing that Argus is going to make it. I've allowed myself to have that hope. He's stronger now, and every day more and more of the sparkle returns to his eyes. The other day, I caught him playing over the fence with Ridge, something I haven't seen him do for about two months. Today, he and Odie lay down side by side for a nap under gathering storm clouds. This evening, after I congratulated him after he "blindly" took his medication, he stood in the stall and looked quizzically at me, as if to say "Well, I was good for that part, so where's my dinner?"

I have missed the real Argus. It's good to have him back again.

Friday, January 16, 2009

No News....Is Good News

This is a quick update that will be modified later. Argus is doing well! He's feeling good enough to give me a hard time when I syringe 60 cc's of sweet pink goo (the red Rifampin mixed with white SMZs mixed with strawberry jello powder) down his throat twice a day. I never thought I'd be so happy to have a horse toss his head and sashay backward across the paddock. Argus' smiling brown eyes betray him: He secretly likes the sweet stuff!

On Wednesday, Argus' friend Dr. Miller came to visit and draw blood. I'm eagerly awaiting the results of this blood panel, as it will confirm that we are on the right track. Argus' white blood cell count was 25,000 at the height of his illness. A reduction in white blood cells indicates a reduction in the infection.

I should hear from Dr. Miller any time now.

Dr. Miller thought things were looking good with Argus. He thinks the unseasonably warm weather (it was 83 degrees here on Monday; it's been in the 70s all week) is making things easier on Argus. He could not find any odd swellings, and Argus has gone nearly 7 days now without a fever. I got the OK for limited light turnout into a small paddock. We are not out of the woods, but we're approaching the edge! Argus will be on antibiotics for the next 10 weeks as we continue to beat back this awful bacteria. The good news is that if he survives this, he will have such a strong immunity that he will likely never have pigeon fever again. We are making progress. Your prayers are working! He's surviving! More later.

UPDATE: 5PM CALIFORNIA TIME: Dr. Miller called. The results of the bloodwork are not back yet. Argus had a quiet afternoon in his small turnout and nibbled some grass. He was happy to go out, but he looks longingly at Half Pint, Odie and Caleb in the pasture. They stood near the fence and kept him company. They all seem to know he is fragile right now.

UPDATE: 7PM....Dr. Miller called! Argus' white blood cell count is 11,592 down from 25,000 two weeks ago. This is GREAT news. All aspects of the bloodwork are pointing in a positive direction!!

This from Dr. Miller: "He is not out of the woods yet, but he is going to live."

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Weather Gods Are Kind To Argus

"It's creepy warm" I thought as I stepped outside early this morning. Our drought-dry winter continues, with temperatures expected to top 72 degrees today. The pastures are dry and beautiful. Rain seems nowhere in sight.

Secretly, I am relieved. This warm weather feels like a blessing from Heaven because it makes life Argus easier and more pleasant. He basks under the sun all day with a (finally) relieved look on his face.

Today, Argus continues his fight, and he continues to make small strides every day. I had to discontinue the injectable antibiotic, Naxcel, over the weekend because Argus was having more and more local reactions to it. When I walked out to the barn early Sunday morning and saw large swollen patches all over his neck and shoulders, I knew it was time to stop. So he's on Rifampin and TMS (a sulfa drug) now, which was the plan all along. Horses can only tolerate Naxcel for a certain period of time; Argus got 11 days of it. Success!

Argus is perkier and eats more. He's spooky when I walk him, and alert. The other day, I saw him playing with Half Pint over the fence. These are all very good signs. Still, I must be vigilant, because all the on-again, off-again swelling is a possible sign, according to the vet, that an internal abscess may be somehow inpinging on the lymph system. Dr. Miller suspects Argus' internal abscess is inside his chest. The potential abscesses on Argus' chest faded away into nothing --- phantom abscesses that got our hopes up. Now, one on the side of his neck taunts me...

On Wednesday, Dr. Miller will come to draw blood. This blood panel will tell us how well his body is fighting the internal pigeon fever. For those Dr. Miller fans out there, I will try to take lots of pictures of this fascinating procedure.... ;)

Thursday, January 8, 2009

My Bid For The Darwin Award

Life with pigeon fever is never dull, especially for a careless caretaker. During my first few misguided attempts to dose Argus orally with the "horrible red stuff," the antibiotic Rifampin, I was christened with a face-ful of red goo, some of which ran into my eyes and mouth. I wore gloves, but ignored the red that escaped past my hands and ran down the sleeves of my jacket.

Knowing that I am especially sensitive to antibiotics, I always administer them carefully when I have to handle them with my horses. This time, I was not careful enough. Still, it was a surprise to me when I woke up Sunday morning with swollen eyes and a puffy face. By Sunday evening, my face, neck and scalp were itchy. By Monday, I had aged a few years, the swelling around my eyes creating strange wrinkles that were giving me a preview of myself at 50.

On Tuesday morning, I peered into the mirror. Either I'd gotten a really great tan over the weekend, or I was turning into an Ooompa Loompa! My face was a strange shade of orange, and my skin felt like fine sandpaper. Finally, I sought medical advice, and learned that one of the most common side-effects in the human use of this drug is --- you guessed it --- orange-tinted skin. I felt like a fool as I looked back on all of my accidental exposure.

Needles, syringes, more needles, mixing up paste to give orally. It's a dance of attaching needles to syringes, filling them, and holding needle covers in your mouth while you carefully push the needle into the horse, trying all the while to keep these powerful drugs away from your body. I have a new appreciation for veterinarians and the care in which they must handle these substances in their jobs, every day.

We've gotten the routine down pat now, me in gloves, long sleeves held tightly closed, and protective goggles, taking care to keep my mouth closed while I shoot red stuff down Argus' throat. I look like some sort of mad scientist. Argus is an angel about it, at times even seems to enjoy the sweet liquid, and he stands quietly while I gently slip the syringe into the left side of mouth, rub his forehead, then tilt his head back, and plunge it down his throat. I hold his nose up high so that he is forced to swallow it instead of spitting it out all over me. Afterward, he gratefully accepts a cookie or an apple slice. My attempt to make it all up to him.

This morning, when I handwalked Argus, my normally lethargic friend surprised me by spooking at a worker in the nearby vineyard. I felt joyous as I held on tight to the leadrope. Having enough energy and awareness to be scared of things is good!

Argus continues to have swelling at the injections sites on his neck, and the subcutaneous (under the skin) injection sites along his shoulder. We are going to try to get through a few more days of the injectable Naxcel ("liquid gold" as one reader put it), and then reconsider if he can continue to tolerate this drug. He has loud rumbling sounds coming from his colon, and he grunts painfully when he poops, all signs of GI disturbance (I'm giving lots of probiotics, which helps). Dr. Miller, bless his heart, calls me daily to discuss Argus and counsel me on what to do next.

Yesterday, Argus had a new and very promising swelling on the left side of his chest. It looked like an external abscess trying to form. This morning, it was still there; by the lunchtime feeding, it was half gone. I felt let down.

Overall, I think we're making slow progress. Argus is still alive, after all, which is success itself. We have a long, long road ahead, but I am hopeful.

Here is a slide show that one of Argus' fans and supporters made and sent to me. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. Thank you again for all your support. I tell Argus everyday that the world is pulling for him, and he looks at me with his brown eyes, and I know that he understands. Odie, Half Pint, and Caleb stand patiently in the pasture next to Argus' paddock, helping Argus while away the time with playful nips and tales of wild gelding parties under the full moon. They make me smile, and I know they make Argus smile, too. The love of the herd for their ailing mate is a healing thing, too.


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Comforted By Friends

Interesting things are happening with Argus; I'm constantly on the edge of my seat. Yesterday, the right side of his chest swelled up, looking much like a pigeon fever abscess. At noon, his pectoral muscle was swollen; by 5pm, it was bigger. This morning, edema had settled below it, and the swelling was more firm. By 4pm today, the swelling was nearly gone. When I groomed him today, I noticed that the left side of his neck is now swollen. Keep in mind that an area behind his left scapula swelled, shrank, and swelled again 10 days ago. This bacteria seems to surf its way through the body with a vengeance.

Argus was lethargic today and not that excited about eating. He ate methodically. He enjoyed a small bucket of alfalfa meal laced with herbs. I reported our progress to the vet, who was hopeful that perhaps Argus' body is attempting to push the bacteria to the outside, where an abscess can rupture safely. These outward signs could be related to abscesses inside the body, too. No one really understands this "mutated" form of Pigeon Fever. I remain hopeful, but fearful, too.

For now, Argus is on stall/paddock rest. He is not allowed turnout of any kind because an internal abscess could rupture, which would be fatal. I'm handwalking Argus several times each day. He wishes he could go out, and stands forlornly at his closed gate at times. I tell him this will not be for long. He seems to understand.

Here are some photos taken today:

Wishing he could go out...

Odie The Mule paws the gate in frustration. He'd like to let Argus out so that he can go in and finish all of Argus' various yummy foods.

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The swollen left side of Argus' neck:

Argus and Ridge, my two "horsepital" patients, are very happy to be side-by-side. Ridge thinks it's very convenient that he can reach over the fence and eat out of Argus' feeder. Argus is eating from a raised feeder because it's painful for him to stretch down to the ground.

**Please light a candle for Argus**

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Ripple Effect

Dear Katie:

I was a pediatric oncologist for almost 20 years and have seen too many things and people who beat "the odds." For Argus - they are 100% or none....

...When I took care of the children, I used to think about things and the effect of their lives as the unknown ripple where a certain life can touch and sometimes completely change others – and it is often unknown. Some of the children I cared for went into “caring professions” and that was the obvious effect - but I also know many in medicine (and horse rescue of late) who went into what they did because of one individual. My guess is you will never know all those whom Argus has affected – and the horses who will have good lives because reading about Argus inspired some humans to do what they wanted to but had not had a palpable reason to commit.

There is the science of medicine – but too many times I saw caring make the difference in how things turn out. So the medicine and Dr. Miller will do what medicine can – but only you and Ridge and Odie can give the medicine of the soul and heart. Argus knows.

A reader

Overhead in the smoky gray dawn, a noisy flock of Canada geese drift through the airspace over the farm, circling for a moment before crashing comically to the ground in the front pasture. They "honk honk" impatiently, as if dismayed to find the whole farm still asleep. I stir in my bed, trapped between a gray tabby cat and a heavy brown dog, trying to decide between settling back down to sleep and greeting the day early. I opt to rise, tempted by the thought of hot coffee, and, wearing my new black Christmas slippers, quietly shuffle my way down the hall of the old farmhouse.

I'm careful to move quietly, not wanting to wake either sleeping children or alert Odie the Mule, who studies the kitchen window with his large, sad brown eyes for signs of life at the break of day. Once Odie realizes we're up, he alerts the other horses, and soon, from the barn, a chorous of impatient bangs and throaty whickers cuts short my warm, slow start. For now, I crouch down whenever I cross the kitchen window, feeling smug in my deception of the early-rising Odie. His breakfast can wait for now.

The laptop groans to life, flashing blue light at me as I blink away my sleepiness and cradle my mug. I click here, click there, and soon am faced with an unusually high volume of emails. About Argus. Warm wishes, hope, message board vigils. I sit, blinking through tears as I click on the PayPal link. Sleepy still, I enter numbers, letters, passwords. I'm still new to this online stuff.

What I see makes me lose balance, to almost fall off my chair in total surprise. People have sent money for Argus! I can hardly believe what I see: a balance of $1,057.23. I am grateful that it is dawn, that the house is asleep, that my privacy is ensured. I lay my head on my own lap and weep, big tears running down my face, into my hands, across the flannel of my red plaid pajamas.

(Note from Katie: This money will go directly toward the purchase of Argus' medications. I feel embarrassed accepting anything more. I ask that you do not send anything more except your continued prayers, support and good wishes. I don't want to divert important help from other animals in greater need than Argus. This has taken the pressure off us to the point where I can handle the remaining medical expenses as they come up, over time. It lifts a tremendous burden. Thank you!)

As if sensing my emotion, the geese start up again. "Honk! Honk! Honk!" I peer outside to see a small flock of about 12 geese nibbling the tender green blades of grass in my closed-off pasture. I go back to reading e-mails, dabbing at my eyes with a now-soggy section of toilet paper. Each message is like a jewel that I look at and admire before hesitantly closing it. Each message contains warmth, and wisdom, and hope.

The geese alight suddenly, frightened off by the lumbering Half Pint, who's broken into the off-limits summer pasture and is now eating the forbidden grass with greed. He pauses for a moment as he looks toward the house, spotting me through the living room window. We make eye contact for a moment, and then both look away.

My cover blown, I dab my eyes again and prepare to head outside and start the feeding process. Six horses, one pony, and one goat wait for me to appear, half-dressed in pajamas, tall mud boots, and the old orange down jacket. A chorus of whinnies greets my appearance on the back porch. It's the best feeling. Even Argus manages to lift his head and look my way.

Out in the barn, I am delighted to see that Argus has finished his grain from the night before; the first time in two weeks. It's chock-full of herbs, probiotics, and other things that will help support his immune system through all of this. His eyes sparkle for a moment before he settles back down into the dullness of illness. I wrap my arms around his neck, talking softly to him, telling him about all the wonderful people out in the world who wish most desperately for his recovery.

I go through my checklist, preparing a armload of things to put into Argus: A rectal thermometer; 20ccs of Naxcel to inject into his measly muscles (it's painful for him at times); a 60cc syringe full of liquidy "red stuff" (also known as Rifampin) mixed with a half gram of bute. Argus stands patiently while I gently peel back the left corner of his lip and shoot this syringe-full of red liquid down his throat. He begins to shake as I remove the cover of the needle, readying his "shot." I scrub down the injection site, this time his chest, and the shaking increases. I feel like a terrible mother. Still, he stands still, his mouth pressed tightly closed, his eyes elsewhere. A couple of quick smacks with my fist on his pectoral muscle, and the third time I plunge the needle in. Argus stands still. The Naxcel goes in. Liquid gold.

A week ago, Dr. Miller and I wondered if I could pull any of this off, and for how long. Getting a needle and oral medications into Argus was a rodeo event. Now, it's like he's been doing it all of his life.

I think about the pediatric oncologist's letter as I stand with Argus. How the threads of life take us here and there; how a seemingly random, and meaningless act might leave a legacy of benevolence that lasts for years, although we may never know it. How we go through life, never fully knowing the reaches of our actions and words. How a white horse, forgotten in a lonely paddock for most of his life, has the ability to touch hearts all over the world.

Love is medicine, too. It goes both ways, sent to Argus to encourage and heal, and sent back out into the world with the hope of peace for all creatures.

Light a "candle" for Argus --- this is fun!...

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Bittersweet New Year

"Prepare yourself," came the apologetic voice of Dr. Miller at the other end of the phone line, "Argus has Internal Pigeon Fever."

Suddenly numb, I sat down at the kitchen table, the vet's words tumbling through my brain, half comprehended, like a rude splash of ice water. Around me, the cheerful trappings of a happy Christmas on the farm seemed to float through the air. I hunkered down quietly in a chair, listening. This phone call, this news, was the culmination of an unsettling few weeks with Argus in which he never seemed to fully recover from a brutal autumn of illness. I'd watched him trot listlessly around the pasture and was troubled. A vet appointment was scheduled. Something was not right.

But then, on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, a series of frantic phone calls to summon Dr. Miller. Argus was no longer able to lower his head to the ground. He was running a fever. He had a strange swelling behind his scapula. He was very sick. Dr. Miller looked sympathetic as he collected some blood, gently airing his suspicion of every California horse owner's nightmare: a rogue form of Pigeon Fever that sets up inside the body, lurking dangerously alongside internal organs. Internal Pigeon Fever.

Here in California, Pigeon Fever, or "Dryland Distemper," is a common occurrence in summer and fall; this year, it's everywhere. Horse owners share sympathetic moans of complaint as they swap their Pigeon Fever stories, subtly one-upping each other. Vets scratch their heads, proclaiming it "the worst year I've seen in 30 years of practice." A bacteria that's a kissing cousin to that which causes Tuberculosis invades the body, traveling along the lymph system and setting up shop in muscles, the result being fist-sized abscesses surrounded by a thick fortress of fat, the body's way of walling off and expelling the unwelcome visitor. What follows is days or weeks of fever, swelling, a really sick horse, and a giant abscess that breaks open into a spectacular eruption of pus and blood. But it's not generally considered life threatening.

Less than 10% of horses go on to develop the internal form of Pigeon Fever, and of those, I'm told only about half will survive. Those with a compromised immune system receive a guarded prognosis. Argus is a horse with a compromised immune system. Heck, just about everything with Argus is compromised.

And so, Argus is in the fight of his life. He is very sick, and only time and love and months of an arsenal of powerful (and ghastly expensive) antibiotics might save him.

I took this picture today, an effort to be humorous. Argus is enduring injections of Naxcel twice daily. He's also receiving a drug called Rifampin, which is famous among Those Who've Treated Internal Pigeon Fever. The veterans, and the vet, describe Rifampin as "that horrible red stuff that gets on everything and stains your clothes." I was baptized last night, just shy of the stroke of midnight. And again today (see my face). A mouth syringe, a polite-yet-struggling white horse, red goo in my face, eyes, and mouth.

It's easy to be sad about it all; the odds are not that great. It pains me to think that I might lose him. But I'm choosing to be as positive. I'm choosing to believe that Argus will make it. This horse is a survivor, and if anyone can beat Internal Pigeon Fever, it's Argus.


In this, the first day of the new year, I am choosing to believe in hope, and miracles, and rainbows that appear on the darkest of days. God willing, Argus will see every sunset of 2009. I will do just about anything to give him that chance.


Please keep Argus in your thoughts and prayers. He needs all the good wishes he can get.

Added January 2, 2009:

A few have asked me about helping with the cost of Argus' medication. Normally, I would not accept such help, but in the face of costs of $3,000 for antibiotics alone over the next 2-3 months, any assistance would be humbly accepted.


Directly to vet:

Katie Moore's account for "Argus"
Sonoma-Marin Veterinary Service
1120 Industrial Avenue, Suites 13-14
Petaluma, CA 94952

Added January 4, 2009:

Thank you to everyone who donated to help offset the cost of Argus' medication. In just 48 hours $1050 was raised, and it will go a long way toward purchasing medication. At this time, I ask that you do not donate further. Thank you so much for relieving a tremendous financial burden on my family.

Katie Moore