Apr 05 2016
I usually give myself a few days after any event — happy or sad — to formulate my words and process. Usually, when I sit down to write immediately, the words that come out are much more suited for my journal, because what comes out are choppy sentences, irrational phrases, and often I don’t even find healing in that kind of writing. But, today, I just decided to write this blog post, without holding back, not caring who is going to read it, who might judge me for my words or decide that I am, in reality, a horrible writer. I don’t even care to edit this post, so forgive me if I misspell a word or forget a period.
So, that’s my disclaimer.
And now I want to yell out to the universe, FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU! FUCK FUCK YOU!
My last two blog posts were about losing horses. Why? Why am I writing another? There is a huge gigantic hole in my heart that I don’t even know how I am going to begin to fill.
Fifteen months ago, a young gal from my endurance family called me up. I still remember the first message she left me. I was in Orange County, visiting family. We were at Disneyland with the boys. I remember being really intrigued by her message — because while I knew her, I didn’t know her well, and wasn’t sure what it was she was calling about, but it was obviously for a very specific reason.
When we touched base, I discovered she had a little Arab mare she had grown up riding — the mare she completed Tevis on as a junior rider. She was looking for a new home for Ember and thought she’d be perfect for my students and my schooling program.
When Ember arrived on January 2, 2015, I thought she was just the sweetest, cutest pony ever. But after she bolted with my son on the trail — and ran all the way back home — I had my doubts. She head tossed too much, and she was quite possibly too forward for my young, beginner students. But I decided to give it some time…
I don’t know what happened, but Ember became one of my favorites around here. She was the least intimidating horse in my herd, she was so easy to groom, and to teach the kids how to pick hooves. She would just follow the horse in front of her on the trail. She rarely spooked. She tolerated all those who were still learning their balance, who maybe pulled on the reins at the wrong time, and those who didn’t quite know what to do around a horse. She was always healthy and sound, one of my easiest keepers. She never got herself in trouble, and she was just the sweetest. I never worried about anyone’s safety around her.
Ember wasn’t just an incredible asset to my business, she was also my friend and a fellow teacher, my partner. I trusted her, and was constantly in awe of how well she took care of my students. I loved having her around.
Last month, when a schooling horse I was trying out for my business didn’t work out, I remember thinking, I still have Ember. I thought that when Forest died. I still have Ember. When Lady died, I still have Ember. I always had Ember. Ember was mine. She wasn’t going anywhere. She wasn’t sick. She wasn’t as old as Lady. I always, always had Ember. Every time another free horse was offered to me for my business that didn’t work out, I still had Ember. She was the free horse that worked out. I still had Ember.
I don’t have Ember anymore.
I don’t have Ember anymore. And the hole in my heart is so big right now, I fear my heart might just stop. I am so broken. I am so lost.
I do not understand. I don’t understand Forest’s loss, I don’t understand Lady’s loss, I don’t understand Ember’s. Why all three? Why all three in less than a year? Why Lady and then 18 days later Ember. 18 days. 18 fucking days. FUCK YOU, universe. 18 fucking days.
It was a nightmare watching Ember suffer. It wasn’t a peaceful death like Forest’s, it wasn’t her time like Lady’s. I caught her colic early. I called the vet immediately. Between myself, my family, a few special students, and Haily, Ember’s beloved previous owner, she was never left alone. I was in constant contact with the vet — I had her out twice in a 24 hour period. I made the best use of my nursing skills, constantly monitoring her vital signs, administering oral, IM, and IV meds. I spiked fluid bag after fluid bag, bolusing her with LR just like I’ve done in the ICU with my human patients. For more than 37 hours, I tried to save her life. I didn’t sleep more than an hour at a time. Moments when she was too quiet, the silence woke me, and I’d check just to make sure she was still breathing. When she wanted to walk, I either walked with her, or stared up at the sky, listening to each hoof beat pass me. Every time she peed, or her behavior changed, or her vitals were different, or I treated her with medication, I wrote it down, recording every little note of her progress, or lack thereof.
The first night, Nyah and I lay under a star laden sky in the arena with Ember. We could hear the sound of the rushing Feather River behind us, down in the abyss of the canyon that called itself home across the street from my house. I tried hard to manage Ember’s pain with the best veterinary medications money can buy, though I don’t know how successful I was. Ember moaned, she sighed, she groaned, her lips and muzzle curled up tight. But I was hopeful. Five years ago, I had gone through an impaction colic with Forest, and after 4 days of fluids, Forest recovered and never colicked on me again. I didn’t believe that after Nyah just lost Lady, we could possibly lose another horse so soon. I’m a nurse. I have a great vet. We can figure this out.
Ember couldn’t take anymore after 38 hours. Her gums turned bright pink, her breathing was irregular, she had difficulty swallowing, she started drooling foamy white drool. Her abdomen was so distended it looked as though it would just pop like a balloon. It wasn’t until I ran my hand down her neck, trying to comfort her with every stroke, that I realized she was sweating. Haily was holding Ember, and when I looked at her, I knew. I knew. After 38 hours and 30 minutes, I knew I couldn’t save her. I couldn’t put her through anymore. I couldn’t let Haily see her childhood horse like this anymore. I frantically called the vet; she was already on her way up, but I wanted to see how far out she was.
When the vet arrived, I asked her to re-assess Ember, even though I knew. I knew. But still, I had to have one last assessment. I had to hear the vet say it. It’s time. This wasn’t a simple impaction colic — something else was going on. Ember was dying from the inside out. Every time she breathed out her nostrils, a rotten smell filled the air. I had smelled that smell the night before; it wasn’t quite so strong as this morning. Necrotic bowel. I knew. I knew. I can’t fucking save this horse. Just like I couldn’t save Forest.
Ember was given a lethal dose of medication to end her suffering. Haily and I were by her side, as she went down and gasped for air. She gasped and gasped, as I stroked her face, quietly telling her that it was okay to go. It was okay to let go. It was okay. She died under the great madrone tree in my beautiful field. Under that great fucking madrone tree.
Haily and I laid with her body for a long time. Haily cried and cried into her neck, finding it difficult to catch her breath. I bedded down next to her front legs, lying up against her heart girth, her beating heart no longer there. I stared blankly out into the field, watching the sunlight touch every blade of grass, and all I could think of was the first patient that had died on me when I was a brand new nurse. One minute she had been talking to me, sharing stories and smiling, the next she was bleeding out, a violent, terrifying death. We tried for hours to save her life. I hung fluid bag after fluid bag, I pumped blood transfusion after blood transfusion into her. Suddenly, her blood pressure dropped until it was no longer there. The doctor took off his gown and walked out of the room. Just like that. It was over. I was so overwhelmed with grief that I sobbed and sobbed as two other nurses helped me clean up her body before her husband arrived.
As I sat in that field, watching the sunlight touch every blade of grass, I thought about cutting down the great madrone tree. That great fucking madrone tree. I thought about violin and painting and dance and all the other things I could have chosen instead of horses. I thought about opening a shoe store or a music shop or a breakfast cafe, where losses would just be merchandise, not living, breathing, soulful beings.
I sat there, watching the sunlight touch every blade of grass, condemning myself for choosing horses. And the more I thought about selling all my horses, and closing my business, the more I realized I didn’t chose horses. They chose me.
Run Free, Sweet Ember. You will be remembered not just by me, not just by Haily, the first girl to love you, but by every student and child you taught along the way. You are missed so.