There are bad times and than there are the terrible, horrible, awful, no-good times. Not much else can be said for the times on the departure of a beloved. Thursday May 30 began as just another normal day but ended in unexpected grief.
At noon on that Thursday I turned Big Mac - Mack for short, my 17'2 hand off the track 19 year old thoroughbred, and Dolly, his companion, into the barn as usual to give them relieve from the sun and the heat. All appeared normal. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. I went about the rest of the day just like most other days.
When I returned in the evening around five o’clock for feeding, I could see before even entering the barn that this was not going to be just another routine time. A portion of Mack’s stall wall was knocked down, a sight I’d never seen and a feat requiring enormous force. My first thought was, “Something out of the ordinary had terrified Mack.” When I entered the barn, what I found was far worse than a terrified horse.
Mack was lying down in the midst of disheveled stall mats and bedding with eyes full of agony. As I entered the barn he pulled himself up on very shaky and unstable legs and supported himself by leaning his hind-end against the back wall, looking back at me in utter despair. With an enormous knot arising in the belly I was flooded with rage, despair, fear, and helplessness.
A friend and neighbor just happened to be following some distance behind me. As she entered the barn, being unaware of anything out of the ordinary but seeing my obvious state she asked in a very calm voice, “Is everything alright?”
In disbelieve at the question with all that was so obviously terribly wrong, I just shook my head and mumble, “no.”
She said, “What?”
I yelled, “No, everything is NOT alright. Something is terribly wrong with Mack.”
Why people do and say what they do at such times can’t be logically explained. After a pause and apparently still not grasping the gravity of the situation she said, “Can I give you a hug?”
I yelled back, “NO! I don’t need a hug. I need at VET!”
She replied, “Is there anything I can do?”
I said, “No! Please just leave!”
As she turned in dismay and left, I pulled out my cell phone and dialed Mary Coker, Mack’s vet. The after-hours voice mail picked-up. I left my urgent message.
I called my very knowledgeable and experienced equine friend, Nory, who lives only about a mile up the road. Her voice mailed answered. I left my desperate message.
I assumed the problem was colic. Colic is a catchall phrase for any kind of equine intestinal trouble, which is always a very big deal. A horses’ small intestine by itself measures about 70 feet. Mack’s vet estimated that given his size, that his small intestine was more likely around 80 feet in length.
As was technically and finally diagnosed, it was indeed an extremely unusual case of colic. The University of Tennesse surgeon who has been practicing over 30 years said he’d never seen a similar case. There is a ligament that connects the stomach to the spleen. Somehow a hole developed in the ligament and Mack’s small intestine had become entangled in the hole, thus blocking the passage.
I had been thinking with gratitude just a few days earlier how fortunate the horses and I had been, in that we had never had to deal with any sort of colic. From everything I’d ever read or heard about colic there isn’t much that can be done except call the vet and keep the horse walking until the vet arrives.
After gaining his feet and standing a moment Mack appeared able to stand on his own. Having only a vague notion that the problem was probably the dreaded colic, I haltered him and led him out of his stall. We made a few circles in the yard, then he lay back down in the grass.
About an hour later my friend, Nory, returned the call and hurried down to assist. Shortly after she arrived, the vet’s assistant returned my call. The vet was out on another emergency but would come as soon as possible. About three hours later she arrived and immediately sedated Mack providing minimal relief.
Thus began an ordeal that ended five days later at the veterinary hospital at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. After a three-hour transport, surgery, and several days of post-op recovery without improvement, the inevitable had to be accepted.
Through sobs and tears I whispered into Mack’s ear telling him that I understood his pain and suffering. I explained that I was letting him go. Somehow with the wisdom of horse sense he seemed to understand and accept with relief.
The vets unhooked the IVs; I dried my eyes, halter Mack, and took him outside for our last walk. He was sedated and not in terrible pain. As we walked out into the sunshine he lifted his beautiful proud head, looked around taking in the sunshine and everything in view as if the world could not possibly be a more wonderful place. We walked to the grass and he grazed a bit, enjoying for the first time in five days the pleasure of eating.
Several passers by, obviously horse persons themselves and with no ideas as to what was coming, stopped to admire and commented, “He is an exceptionally fine and beautiful horse.”
I simply nodded and said, “Thank you.”
I can’t count the times I’d heard similar comments. Whoever came in contact with Mack knew they were in the presence of an unusual and dynamic horse.
He looked like the perfect picture of health and with every ounce in my body I wished that he were.
A mother and her infant observed from a short distance.
The mother asked, “Can we come closer?”
I shook my head and said, “Yes.”
The infant transfixed, observed in pleased fascination.
His mother said, “This is the first horse he has ever seen.”
I just smiled and thought, “The circle of life.”
I wanted the moment to last forever.
We went back into the clinic. I gave him water, which he drank with relish. The vets came and we led him to the room where we were going to say goodbye.
Through sobs I held his head and whispered into his ear, “This is the end of the trail. You are the greatest. I will always remember you and the terrific times we shared.”
Within seconds after the injection he was down. There wasn't a hint of shock in his eyes. He had been ready to go.
I dropped to my knees and buried my face in his silky-soft, warm, and powerful neck. The river of tears burst forth as I wept uncontrollably. Out of respect and with tears in their eyes the vets and techs quitely departed the room to leave us together.
Through the tears and the pain, all I could say was, “Oh Mack. Ooh Mack, Mack, I’ll forever remember you, my big, beautiful, beloved, gallant bay.”