Tricounty News

The 'one' that got away

Sometimes things happen to us that, at the time, seem to be the furthest thing from funny. I had one such time last week: if you'd told me I'd ever have a chuckle over this particular memory or voluntarily share it with anyone I'd have called you crazy. Yet only a couple days after, there I was shaking my head and having a good laugh at the thought how the yearling colt I was called out to geld still has half of what I set out to remove.

First of all, gelding a horse is the surgical removal of their testicles. Quite a daunting task, actually, considering the basic premise is: "Here's a knife - go cut that stallion's testicles off." Right. But the part that makes or breaks this procedure is anesthesia, something which when performed properly, especially in horses, is more of an art than a science. Just like how someone blowing a kazoo, and a professional orchestra performing might both technically produce music, a whopping dose of one drug, and a carefully designed mixture of smaller doses of five drugs given in the right order both technically produce anesthesia. The difference in both scenarios, of course, is how pleasant, smooth, and controlled the orchestra is than the kazoo, and the combination of drugs is to the large dose of only one. Smaller doses of multiple drugs allows for fewer side effects of each, synergistic interactions, and proper levels of unconsciousness, muscle relaxation, and pain control. It's a beautiful thing when they all work together to facilitate a safe, pain-free procedure for both the patient and surgeon.

I knew before becoming a vet, there is a fine line between looking extremely smart and extremely incompetent in this occupation, and anesthetizing horses provides one of the best opportunities for both to occur. One of the drugs relied on for the unconsciousness section of the "orchestra" of anesthetics can actually be spooked out of by loud noises or other sudden stimuli, and its dose is adjusted based on the flightiness of the animal. A docile dairy cow only needs a couple drops, a beef cow needs a bit more, an average horse might get more than that, and a nervous stallion would get even more. If you read their temperament perfectly and their dose is right on, the horse lies down uneventfully, you perform the procedure, the horse shows no sign of discomfort and quietly stands up immediately afterward, and you look smart. Too much medication causes the horse to sleep longer than needed, giving the owner time to contemplate the notion they liked their conscious horse with testicles better than their comatose one without. Or the following can occur, which I'm sharing strictly for your amusement.

After administering the last of the anesthetic drugs and watching the young horse lay down, I proceeded to remove the first testicle in routine fashion. Just as I am going for the second, a mere minute or so from total completion, a van pulls up to the side of the pen and out pile 3 or 4 screaming kids, shrieking in excitement to see their first horse surgery! Did I mention horses can spook out of this drug? Up jumps my patient, surgical instruments dangling between his hind legs, ropes dragging, stumbling around, doing his drunken best to evade my attempts at catching him, all the while kids yelling questions at me about why the horse is walking so funny! This would inarguably put me square on the "looking incompetent" side of the fine line. The reason I don't know the actual number of kids in the group is because I was so frustrated I couldn't even look in their direction, not appreciating any of the humor in the situation that I now admit was there the whole time.

So the "one" that got away won the battle, but not the war. When it least expects it, when there aren't any kids around to alert it to what is about to happen, it will finally be removed from the horse it's attached to, and my longest running gelding procedure-to-date will be finished.

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