The surgery went very smoothly. It was all much calmer than I expected, and Drifter seems to be recovering well.
Unfortunately our usual vet was unable to be there due to personal reasons and possibly a car break-down into the mix. He’s been having a really rough time lately. Another vet from his practice was there instead, and she managed the anaesthetics, the specialist carried out the surgery, and there was an assistant as well.
Initially they gave Drifter a drug “to protect his heart,” which made him rather dopey, and I signed the paperwork. 20 minutes later I slowly led him to the school where the operation was to be carried out. Perhaps because of the drug, he didn’t like it when they brought the clippers to get better access to the veins in his neck, so they used scissors. (I can only assume his reaction was to do with the drug and possibly the number of strangers because he’s usually completely indifferent to clippers, to the extent that anyone learning to clip for the first time asks if they can have a go clipping him!)
We walked him to a particularly soft looking part of the school and then he got the hard drugs. I know he had ketamine, although I don’t know if that was the only drug used. He quickly went very wobbly, but was reluctant to lie down. He was “topped up” a few times, as he continued to stand and wobble. Eventually the vet managing the anaesthetic gently pushed and pulled him down to his chest, and from there onto his side, quickly pulling the legs straight from underneath him. They put a jumper over his eyes to protect them, and padded out the headcollar with cotton wool. This padding, they had explained, is needed to reduce the risk of nerve damage from the pressure of the weight of the head pressing into the metal rings of the head collar. Then they got to work. The surgeon was wearing scrubs over his warm clothes, but the other two were wearing ordinary yard clothes and I was surprised how ordinary everything seemed, except that there were lots of people rushing around an unconscious horse in the middle of the indoor school with his eyes covered and a syringe sticking out of his neck.
They quickly shaved and scrubbed the area, and the operating vet brought over two machines which he set up on chairs. One was the laser machine, the other I’m not sure what to call it – a little air-vacuum-cleaner for sucking away the smoke and smell from the lasering. He also had lots of clamps and swabs. He asked for help operating the laser which turns off and on from a foot pedal. As all the vets were kneeling on the ground around Drifter a staff member, who had asked to be involved if possible, operated the pedal.
I sort of wanted to watch but wasn’t sure how I’d feel, so initially I put my chair near the head end, but ended up going round to watch as well and eventually moved my chair to watch all the gory detail.
It was fairly gory, but also fairly dull and slow at the same time. Very neat though. The surgery took 1hr 15 min, counting from once Drifter was unconscious, and by the time he was done, the surgeon had removed a disc of flesh about 8-10 cm across. He had to go a little deeper than he initially expected to get it all, but the finished job was very tidy.
Because it was laser surgery, the wound was not covered afterwards. Apart from giving antibiotics and bute, he also has Acyclovir cream – an antiviral humans use on coldsores – to try to eliminate any viral sarcoid cells that could be still in the area. The surgeon thinks there will be an over 90% chance that the growth will not return, but that the cream adds an extra few percent, just in case.
As the anaesthetic wore off, Drifter’s head was quite twitchy, and the anaesthetist had everyone but her leave the school in case he got up hallucinating, as can happen sometimes. However his ascent to his legs was quite sedate and he clearly had no bigger concerns than working out how to balance and which order his legs should move in. It took him quite a while to sort himself out, but after a lap around the school in hand we all walked him back to the stable as a herd, with the anaesthetist at the front end, the surgeon holding his tail, presumably so he could help stabilise the back end if it was getting away from Drifter. It was a very long walk, and not without hairy moments, but eventually we had him back in his stable safe and sound. He looked pretty awful, sweating out the anaesthetic, head down, still not walking well, and with school surface ground into his hair from head to tail on one side of him.
We got him rugged up and the vets left to do their third field surgery of the day! I knew they’d done one in the morning before us, but I had no idea they were heading off to a third afterwards. Wow.
Then it was just a case of waiting until he seemed well enough to eat. It was now after 4 and he’d not been allowed any food since 9 that morning. Even through his druggy haze he could tell other horses were getting fed and he wasn’t, and he wasn’t happy. He just wanted to stand at the door and wait for food, and shake but we keep forcing him to walk around the stable to see if he was capable yet. I wasn’t sure how much to rug him – some of the shaking was drug-induced, but was some of it shivering too? He’s not clipped and has grown the thickest, longest coat you can imagine, and I didn’t want to overheat him, but on the other hand he was unfed, drugged, and had spent over an hour lying on his side in a cold school. There was much layering of thin rugs! At just after 6.00 we gave in and offered a handful of hay. As he managed that without choking he got the whole net, which being a very small holed net meant he couldn’t scoff it, but had to eat slowly, and once he was allowed to eat he started to look a lot better, and was better able to regulate his temperature. It was all pretty awkward for me as everyone agreed because of the pregnancy I shouldn’t be in the stable with him until he could manage himself, but that meant I couldn’t get him to walk round or change rugs myself. Mr S was being the best assistant he could be, but having extremely limited experience with horses, his skills for safely persuading a sedated and very hungry horse to step around were somewhat limited. He did a good job with rugs though. Actually he was incredibly helpful all day – spending 6 hours stood around in the cold was not his idea of how best to spend a day of his annual leave, but he was always there when I needed him, fetching things, checking things, moving my folding chair, listening to vets (to give my hormone-riddled brain a back-up), taking photos, etc.
While he did take some very interesting photos, I’m not posting them here because I know some of my readers would find them objectionable.
In terms of the growth that was removed, the surgeon thinks it is probably a sarcoid over a granuloma, but is sending it for lab testing to be sure.
Two days later and, apart from walking a little carefully behind, he seems back to his usual self, despite the crater-like piece missing from his underneath and the expected swelling of the area. He’ll be taking it easy for a while and I’ll get him a checkup next week, but things are looking pretty good from here. And contrary to our own vet’s concerns, at no point did I feel that there was any risk of it bringing on premature labour – the only ill effect I had was backache from too much standing and from the cold.