The good news in both cases is that I have absolutely no doubt in my mind, no second guesses, that we made the right decision at the right time for both of them. In Saga’s case there was literally nothing we could do, which we knew when we put him down but the true severity of the situation was revealed via necropsy. In Oberon’s case, colic surgery may have helped him. I say “may” because there are no guarantees. The reality of surgery is that while some horses do great, others take 6 months to a year to recover, or never fully recover. There are lots of second surgeries, complications, and plenty of deaths on the table. I’m not knocking anybody who chooses to do surgery, it’s an individual decision (and not an easy one), but it’s something that we are not prepared to do.
As for how I’m dealing with things, the answer is OK. Yesterday I was on-and-off sniffly and didn’t get much done at work. The outpouring of love from the people who knew Oberon has been incredible. My poor husband is, as you might imagine, very upset and raw. What makes it worse is that he’s on a ship in Alaska right now, and not even accessible by phone. Imagine sending your husband an email that goes something like, “Honey, there’s no easy way to say this, but your horse is colicking and has a displaced intestine. Surgery is the only option and we've already discussed not going that route. I’m so sorry. Let me know when you get this.” That’s probably the worst email I've written in my entire life. Luckily we did manage to chat for a bit via Gmail, and I sent him emails from my phone when we were at the vet in the final moments, so he knew what was going on. Still, not being able to say goodbye in person must be awful. I’m very glad I got to be with both Oberon and Saga at the end. I’m also glad that it was fast and painless. Thank goodness for small mercies.
I don’t think saying goodbye ever gets easier, but maybe it gets… I don’t know, more real? Many years ago I was faced with putting Cash down due to impaction colic. We drove out to the hospital where he’d been all night to put him down. I’d come to say goodbye to him, but when we got there he was more comfortable so we decided to wait. We stayed with him all day, hugging him, grooming him, just loving on him. Somehow, by some miracle, he pulled through. Since that day, I think I’ve accepted – really accepted - that our time with them is fleeting. You could literally, at any moment, have to make that decision. In that moment with Cash, it went from being a theoretical “this is what I’d do if I had to say goodbye” to a real, in-your-face understanding of what it’s like and what you have to do for your horse. I was on the edge of the cliff that day, and by the grace of whatever deity you believe in, I got to step back. But I've never, ever forgotten that we’re really always on the edge of that cliff, most of us just don’t realize it. You might have to step off it at any moment, and every day you don’t is one more to be thankful for.
Saturday night I hit that cliff when the vet said “gas colic with impaction and displacement”. I had to sit down. I knew what it meant, but we agreed to try fluids to see if the impaction would resolve and allow the gas behind it to escape and let the intestine move back into place. Oberon was kept comfortable the entire time, and was feeling good enough at the end (due to the drugs) that he had some carrots, acted like his usual annoying self, and gave me a "hug" when I gave him a last hug from his dad. Sadly, medical treatments weren't enough – the displacement included a twist that we didn't know about until the necropsy was performed. But in the end, it wasn't a hard decision to make - it was the only one to make, because we’d already made it. There was a certain peace in knowing that we knew what we were going to do, because we’d discussed it before.
So I guess… be as prepared as you can. Really think about it and plan for it… it’s not fun, but it’s easier to make decisions ahead of time than try to make them when emotions are high. Know what you’re going to do, and know what your limits are. Try not to second guess yourself. Listen to your vet and your horse, even though your heart is breaking.
And give them one last hug. Every damn day.