Vet Adventures: Coffee Ruined

A quiet morning turns upside down at the vet’s front door.

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A horse tied to a trailer. In this edition of Vet Adventures, an unexpected client ruins her morning coffee.
Photo by Acceptphoto/Shutterstock

My 5 a.m. alarm blaring in my ear startled me out of whatever half state of sleep I’d been in. I clumsily shut off alarms two and three, which I don’t know why I ever bother setting, because the odds of me falling back to sleep after an alarm goes off were about the same as Rich Strike’s odds of winning the Kentucky Derby.

I don’t know if others can relate, but my busy brain usually starts in on me somewhere between 3:30 and 4:00 a.m. There are many days when I would love to give the workaholic inside my head some horse sedative.

I especially wished this when I looked at my calendar and realized it was Sunday, and there was nothing on the schedule. What demon in my head had possessed me to set my usual three alarms?

The Perfect Coffee

I had just finished frothing the milk for my coffee, preparing to hit the couch with the morning news, when my phone bleeped with some non-urgent messages. If you know me, you know that I am a snob about the perfect flat white. I was not going to get hijacked by texts—I was going to enjoy my coffee.

I made it through a third of my perfect flat white before giving up and seizing my phone to reply to the messages. My autocorrect interfered more than it helped, and the narration feature predictably mangled the medical terms, so I spent more time correcting the texts than I did writing them.

When I finally returned to my coffee, it had morphed into a dreary latte, and my brain had sprung to life and was demanding some sort of excitement. Flat whites don’t do well when they sit for any length of time, and neither do horse vets.

Crisis Comes Knocking

Suddenly there was a loud pounding on my front door and a frantic blond woman stood on my porch.

“I think my horse is choking!”

I was in slippers and pajamas and my hair was an uncombed mess, but I hurried over to her trailer. I was expecting to see a horse with the typical green discharge from the nostrils known as “choke.” Horses with this condition are unhappy, but they’re usually able to breathe, and the condition is very treatable.

I peered into the trailer and was horrified to see a Thoroughbred lurching in circles and making a horrible gasping sound, his foam-covered tongue protruding from his mouth. This was no choke. This horse had an obstructed airway and I had to do something fast, or he was going to die.

“Let’s get him out,” I yelled, and the woman quickly unloaded her horse.

I raced for my nearby vet truck, losing a slipper in the process, and seized the emergency kit. The horse was swaying dangerously, sweat dripping from his body and I injected a large dose of epinephrine into his vein, then snapped on some gloves and began swabbing his neck with disinfectant. He needed a tracheostomy immediately—there was no time to clip or do a local anesthetic.

I made a vertical incision over the trachea and grasped it firmly with a pair of forceps. I’d learned the hard way never to let go of the trachea until the tube was in. The horse staggered forward blindly, and I had to jog backwards to keep up with him. I kicked off my remaining slipper and made a bold slice between the cartilage rings. Soon I was inserting the tube and the locking piece, snapping them into place.

Once Bitten

I watched with satisfaction as the horse came to a stop and took a few deep, shuddering breaths through the tube. He was shaking violently. I pulled out my stethoscope and examined him. His gum color was a horrible purple with dilated blood vessels, and his heart was racing from the epi injection, but his breathing was slowly improving. I quickly inserted an IV catheter into the horse’s jugular vein and started running fluids as fast as they would go.

As the fluids ran, I took hold of the horse’s head and gently wiped the foam from his lips and tongue. His muzzle and face were badly swollen, and there was a symmetrical set of deep puncture wounds just below his left nostril. He looked miserably at me, then closed his eyes in pain.

The blond woman clutched my arm. “Is that a snakebite?”

I nodded, and she wailed loudly.

“Is my horse going to die?”

“This has to be a rattlesnake,” I said. “We need to get him to a hospital as soon as he’s stable.”

As the fluids finished, I injected strong pain medications, an anti-inflammatory, and some antibiotics. When I was sure the horse was able to safely travel, we hustled him back onto the trailer. The woman gave me a fierce hug, leapt into her truck and they roared away.

As I watched her drive away, I realized that I had absolutely no idea who she was or how to reach her for payment.

All Quiet on the Coffee Front

Suddenly it was quiet, and I took a quick look around. Blood stained my T-shirt, pajama pants and bare feet, and there was a dried smear on my cheek where I’d pushed my loose hair from my face. Paper wrappers, IV lines, gauze and syringes were everywhere. One slipper was upside down in the driveway, the other lay in the grass, and every drawer in the vet truck gaped open.

I retrieved my slippers and decided to grab my coffee, which was still a dreary, not-flat-white latte. It was also cold, so on a whim I threw some ice cubes into the cup, tossed it into the blender, and added a spray of whipped cream.

I returned to the porch with my perfect frappuccino and eased myself into a comfy chair. I muted my phone, told my brain to stuff it, put my feet up, ignored the mess in my front yard, and did my darndest to finish my coffee and enjoy the remainder of the morning.

This edition of Vet Adventures about a ruined coffee appeared in the September 2022 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!

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