That moment when you’re really glad you did…

Having never performed field castrations completely on my own, I served as the anesthetist while my boss performed the routine surgeries in barn pastures and backyards. Although her castration tool-of-choice is the Henderson drill, she took to demonstrating the different surgical techniques (open vs. closed) and cycled through the different types of emasculators with each castration. After watching five or six castrations, the opportunity for me to perform my first castration presented itself in the form of a laid-back, confident client and healthy six month old Thoroughbred colt. My boss kept a watchful eye from her position at the neck of the horse, while I talked my way through each and every step of the procedure. For the entire 20 minutes that it took me to perform the castration, my heart felt like it would pound right out of the chest. My hands trembled the entire time, and it wasn’t until I was done that the client said I did a thorough job. She said she knew I did a thorough job because apparently I narrated step-by-step the entire surgery. I was so focused, I wasn’t even aware that I’d done that. My first castration went well, and was without complication. Now, it was just a matter of getting a few more castrations under my belt before I’d be performing them solo in the field.

Unfortunately, starting out as a young doctor and being new to ambulatory practice, I ran into some difficulty getting consent from owners. On multiple occasions we hit this roadblock, when clients were not on board for allowing a “fledging doc” cut their colt…regardless of the well-seasoned and experienced veterinarian watching my every move over my shoulder. Each time the plan changed, the itch for experience got stronger and stronger. After 3 months, and having watched over 15 castreations, I was chomping at the bit.
When we showed up on the small mom-and-pop farm, the plan was for me to make another notch in my castration belt. The horse was a 5 year old Arabian stallion, recently purchased and barely halter-broke. He was so high strung and wire, that just the act of sedating him alone, was quite the feat for my boss and I. This ordeal was enough to change the minds of the clients, who recanted their original offer for me to perform the castration. I settled into my role as assistant and anesthetist, and tried to push the itch out of my mind.

Several rounds of sedation later, the colt was sedated enough to anesthetized with my boss’s ketamine protocol. He dropped quickly to his side, and we got to work positioning and scrubbing the incision site. Within a few minutes, he was starting to wake up from the anesthetic. My boss is one fast lady, and it takes her less than 5 minutes to castrate a horse. She placed the Henderson drill and spun each testicle off, she checked from hemorrhage and then gave him a rinse. About the time he was getting his antibiotic injection, the gelding was strong enough to push me off his neck and stand to his wobbly feet. My boss took his halter, and I helped balance his staggering hind end as we made our way toward the barn.
As he took several steps, a normal amount of blood slowly dripped onto the gravel..leaving a breadcrumb trail of red droplets. By the time we’d gone 150 feet, the slow drip became a fast drip…which then became a weak trickle of blood. In the stall, I called my boss’s attention to the steady stream of bright red blood coming from the incision site. I rounded up some gauze and fed it along as she packed it into the incision and simultaneously dodged his attempts to kick her. As she packed more gauze, the amount of bleeding increased. The gauze was drenched, and after packing three rolls in there, the bleeding was not improved. He was more awake at this point, and took to slamming us against the stall wall.
After several minutes, it was apparent the packing wasn’t going to be enough to stop the bleeding. A large blood of blood had accumulated, and the rate of hemorrhage was even greater. We made the decision to anesthetize him again in order to explore the incision and locate the source of the hemorrhage. The boss drew up the drugs, and we didn’t waste any time laying him down again. The amount of blood and the fact that he was only lightly anesthetized made identifying the bleeding structure difficult. Without good visualization, we worked somewhat blindly. The boss clamped some hemostats down on the part of the cord she could find and left them while she packed around the instruments with gauze. No sooner had she gotten the gauze mostly into the incision, did the gelding try to jump up onto his feet. I struggled to hold him down while the boss unclaimed the hemostats and packed the rest of the gauze. He nearly launched me over his shoulder as he made several attempts to stand. When he finally stood, the bleeding appeared to have ceased. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief, and the owners, my boss and I guided the horse to his stall for a second time.

I was in the middle of cleaning instruments when I heard a commotion from the barn. The owners went running past me towards the barn, and I could hear someone yelling help. “We’ll just euthanize him” the owners was saying as we all ran towards the barn. I had obviously missed something, and didn’t know who or what was being euthanized. “He’s going down!” The owners sounded panicked, and I arrived at the stall to see the gelding buckling his knees. “Just euthanize him on the lawn.” The husband said decidedly. My boss was helping to hold the horse against the wall of the stall. She looked mostly confused but there was a hint of some other emotion I couldn’t recognize. From between the gelding’s legs, blood was gushing down and into the shavings between his feet.

“What option do we have? We can’t put any more money into this.” The clients kept saying. My boss was now looking concerned, a look I haven’t seen too often. She usually exudes confidence, but definitely didn’t exude that when she was studying the profuse amount of blood coming from the incision site. The hemorrhage was significant enough that now I felt the real weight of the situations urgency.

“Your options? The referral hospital for surgery. Or we can euthanize him. Or we lay him down again?” The owners quickly shot down the hospital option due to finances and said to just euthanize him…and quickly before he collapsed in the stall and further complicated the situation. “Euthanize him?” There was no hiding the surprise in my voice. “We’ll just lay him down again.” I said. “I’ll draw up the drugs.”

“A third time?” The wife asked me.

“I’d lay him down 5 more times before going the euthanasia route. After I give him the drugs, he’s going to be out for awhile. He’ll be in a very deep sleep so we’ll have time to really get in there and find the bleed.” A Drew up my anesthetic protocol, a combination of ketamine and diazepam that put the gelding on the ground again, this time in a very deep slumber. After performing over 200 anesthesia at the internship, I developed a dependable anesthetic protocol and I have complete confidence in both my drugs and their dosages. My go to IV pre-mads are butorphanol and xylazine, and my induction drugs are a combination of diazepam and ketamine. A small bump of ketamine extended the anesthesia time, and kept the gelding out for the entire time that was necessary. My boss explored the incision site, welding handfuls of clotted blood and searching for the source of the hemorrhage. At one point, the gelding was so still my boss asked if he was still alive. As if right on cue, the gelding took a slow deep breath. I rinsed the area as my boss explored the cavity, feeling around blindly. When her gloved hand emerged, it was holding the end of a large bleeding vessel and shredded wisps of soft tissue. The testicular cord had been torn, which had resulted in the hemorrhage. My boss placed three transfixating ligatures, and afterwards we both studied it for bleeding. When no bleeding occured, she let the cord recede back into the incision.

“In 20 years, I’ve never had this happen.” My boss admitted. You bet we high-fived right then and there, bloody gloves and all. I was mostly just relieved. Hemorrhage is a real potential complication of castration, and it was the first real “bleeder” I had seen. While he slept off the drugs, we placed an IV catheter and started him on fluids. As the gelding recovered from his third round of anesthesia, we walked him back to his stall.

“Well, that’s one way to get to know the new vet.” One of the clients said as we packed up. “We were ready to euthanize him right here.”

“Well, not with Dr. Morgan here you weren’t.” My boss said as she gave me an appreciative look. Both clients gave us hugs, followed by a series of thank yous.

“Can tell you’ve done the whole anesthesia thing once or twice.”
I had to laugh when the client said this. All the hours spent running anesthesia during my internship, wishing I was doing anything but anesthesia. Counting down the days til I could turn in my anesthesia badge and never set foot in the anesthesia room again. And here I am, 5 months later, having one of those moments when despite all the weaknesses, hardships and trials that surrounded the internship experience, I’m really glad I did it.

#veterianrian #vet #vetmed #vetlife #equine #horse #equinevet #ambulatory #mobilevet #veterinarypractice #dayinthelife #doctor #profession #equineveterinarian

They all go differently.

Euthanasia, and the process of euthanizing, is not a new concept or experience for me. My first euthanasia experiences were assisting with the euthanasia of research animals while working for the USDA and veterinary micropath department of the vet school. Horses, sheep, goats and cattle were the species involved in various research studies. There was a set protocol in place that made the process fast and efficient, which while it sounds cold, was also very humane. Some animals appeared healthy on the outside, and these were the more difficult ones to euthanize at the conclusion of a research study. Other animals were deeply affected by disease, and it was a deep relief to see them at rest and at peace.

While respectful and maintaining dignity of each research animal, the emotional element that is embedded in the relationship between owner and pet was missing. It wasn’t until I was working at a small animal hospital before veterinary school that I was exposed to the emotional elements that follow with the decision of an owner to say goodbye to a beloved pet. These cases, I will admit, tear me up. I have always linked with people’s emotions, and have an unwavering empathy for people. When an owner is sobbing or tearfully talking to their pet for the last time, I cannot help but shed tears. I’ve faced some unkind remarks from colleagues for this visceral reaction I have, but the truth is…I’m okay with it. It’s my most candid display of truely caring, both for the animal and the person attached. There is no shame in it.

Throughout veterinary school, I never had a patient that was euthanized. But I experienced my own loss in veterinary school when my 18 year old lifelong companion, my childhood cat, was euthanized after secuming to alimentary lymphoma. It was the single most significant and profound loss I’ve had in my life so far. It was traumatic, painful and was compounded by the fact that I probably waited a little to long to come to the decision. I didn’t realize this until after he was gone, and it remains a haunting realization.

Then, my internship brought forth many euthanasia experiences. I performed my first solo euthanasias in my final six months. For the most part, the process went quickly and well. The nature of euthanizing a horse appears sudden and abrupt. One minute the are standing, then they collapse. Sometimes, it is violent. There are many factors that contribute to how a horse goes down, and how quickly they are gone. Of the euthanasias that appear more difficult, or prolonged, I have noticed that these horses tended to have underlying cardiac or neurological diseases. There is individual variation, even without underlying disease (that we are aware of). On a rare occasion, there has been human error…but this is a deceiving statement. When it comes to injecting the solution, the most important part is that the entire solution enters the vein. In horses, this is the jugular vein. The Drug acts to stop the heart. The appropriate amount must enter the bloodstream, for a partial dose can render a situation fraught with danger, stress and possibly chaos. There are plenty of stories of euthanasia gone ary. It’s a haunting experience for everyone involved…and certainly the very last thing a veterinarian would ever want an owner to witness.


My first bad euthanasia experience happened on the second to last day of my internship. It was a middle-aged gelding that presented for severe colic, and Surgery was not an option. Despite medical management attempts, he became progressively uncomfortable and the decision was made to euthanize. It was the resident and I on the case, and owners were a younger couple struggling to keep their composure as they made the difficult decision. They had also decided to not bare witness, and were about to leave after final goodbyes. As they were stepping out, they changed their minds. They wanted to be present. We had to load the horse up on Pain killers and sedatives to buy me a couple minutes to grab the euthanasia supplies. Because of the horrible weather, we chose to euthanize in the work-up stall. At this point, he was being restrained in a shoot (a mobile door that swings, and keeps horses against the wall.
I injected the euthanasia solution into the catheter I had placed an hour before. All was still, while I held the door and the resident held his head. It was 30 seconds later that he started buckling and then launched forward. He took a nose dive, and his hind end almost came over his head. He started kicking within the chute, and the resident was doing everything in her power to hold him back for fear if he broke lose, he could crash into anyone or anything. Then, he had what appeared to be a seizure…rhythmic banging within the chute. The only other thing I could hear aside from his grunting and kicking was the owners gasping and running out of the room. Then, he sighed and passed away.

We don’t know this happened this way, with an adequate dose and a patent catheter into the jugular vein. There are many theories, I’m sure. But unfortunately, we’ll never know and worse yet, is that these were the last moments the owners will remember forever. I cried as soon as I got in the truck, cried all the way home, and then cried as I told my roommates what happened. It was one of those moments that brings up a barrage of negative feelings and the sense of ultimate failure. Guilt, shame, disappointment, fear, regret, remorse, confusion and shock…all in the face of failure. And I definitely started asking myself if I should even be a vet if I cannot be a good one.

#veterianrian #vet #vetmed #vetlife #equine #horse #equinevet #ambulatory #mobilevet #veterinarypractice #dayinthelife #doctor #profession