After spending two weeks in critical care at Tryon Equine hospital, Earl is home. The day before going to pick him up was so stressful. I kept fretting. Did I have everything I needed? Was I really ready to take on the responsibility of something so fragile and precious? Would he even survive the ride home? What if my trailer got a flat? Needless to say, I had a hard time sleeping. I took a couple Tylenol PM and woke with a start at 2:00 a.m, Instead of trying to go back to sleep, I got up and read through the 150 emails I’d left unread from the day before. Lately, I’ve lacked the concentration required to read and respond to my clients, colleagues and friends.
Andy’s alarm went off at 4:30 a.m. and we made ourselves ready for the journey. As we dressed, I said to Andy, “All this stuff with Earl has me thinking a lot about my neck, my pain and my recovery. I remember the pain being so intense and wishing it would stop. I was crushed when the doctor told me, ‘it won’t spontaneously get better,’ and that I’d, ‘just have to learn to live with it.'”
“What are you saying,” he asked. “Do we need to put Earl down?”
“No, that’s not it,” I explained. “Back then, the pain was all I could focus on. But over time, I adapted my life, my mind to it to concentrating on other things. The pain is never, not there. I just do what I have to do to live and it falls to the background.”
If someone held my fate in their hands, and they would’ve asked me back then if I’d prefer to end my life, I might’ve said yes. Overwhelming pain can blind you from seeing the future. I didn’t know what my future held and all the experiences I’d yet to live.
Our conversation wended its way around dark, delicate subjects like humane euthanasia, quality of life, financial burden and emotional toll. We’ve been through this before with our dogs’ Porter, Penny and Lilly. Making the decision to transition a living, breathing being whom you love as a family member is immensely hard, but so too is watching them suffer. That’s something we’d never do.
“I’ve asked the doctors over and over again if he’s in too much pain,” I carried on venting, “And they’ve all said, ‘yes he’s in pain, but that I would be too if I’d had been in the same kind of accident. He just needs time to heal. Give him time’.”
That’s the hard question isn’t it? How long is enough? The doctors say Earl will need to be on antibiotics to clear the bone and wound infection for at least six to eight weeks. Okay, we for sure give him eight weeks and then we’ll see. The doctors think Earl will need four to six months to develop enough scar tissue to support the subluxation. Okay, we give him six months and then we’ll see. The doctors believe Earl may romp too hard at any point and drop down dead. Okay, we’ll let the chips fall where they may.
Finally, it was time to hit the road. Andy drove the three hours up, while I plugged away on my laptop catching up on work. After no time at all, we were there.
We pulled to the backside of the hospital and Earl was there looking alert and thrilled to see us. When I approached, he immediately nestled into my chest, sniffed deeply and nibbled my jacket playfully. Through all of the horrendous injuries, the insurmountable traumas, he was still himself – sweet, loving, bold, brave and alive. The will to live apparent.
Dr. Emelie walked me through Earl’s wound care, meds and follow-up vet care plan. Earl was already excited having already seen the trailer pull up outside his hospital stall. The moment the halter went on, he was ready to go.
After hugging Dr. Emelie and bidding farewell to Tryon Equine Hospital, we hit the road for home. I white-knucked the steering wheel, agonizing over every bump and crack in the road. I stayed a steady 60 mph, stopping every so often to check on him. About 10 minutes from home, we felt a giant lurch in the trailer. Earl had stumbled, fell, something. When we pulled up alongside the barn at LowCountry Acres, I hurried out to open the trailer ramp. There he was, standing backwards in his slant stall.
“What did you do?!” I exclaimed
He just looked at me slyly as if to say, “I didn’t do anything mom.”
He was friskier then I’d seen him be since the trauma. He stepped off the trailer and stood there unblinking, taking in the vista of the pastures and his friends on the horizon. His pal Sir Prize perked up and nickered out to him. Earl hollered back happily. His eyes were shining with elation. He was happy to be home.
After getting Earl settled in, his meds lined up and his wound cleaned, Andy and I headed back to the house. I scrolled through messages of support and encouragement, and much-needed prayers for Earl. Everyone has been so overwhelmingly generous and I’m truly thankful. Before hitting the sack, we drove up to check on Earl, who was contently eating hay and resting. Andy and I could finally rest too.
I tucked our dogs into bed, then laid down myself. I scrolled through my messages one last time, stopping short on one that read….
“I pray for you daily.. Earl has to be in incredible amounts of pain. I don’t know how you have the courage to continue to accept that his quality of life is so compromised and he will suffer for the Remainder of his life. I am actually surprised you would put him through this. I wish the best for all of you.”
My heart pounded. My eyes welled with tears. Was this a compliment or an admonishment? I couldn’t tell. Every minute or every hour of every day since Earl’s trauma I have questioned my decisions. And every minute of every hour of every day, Earl has demonstrated that he wants to live; he wants a chance.
So to the individual who sent the message, I am not courageous. I am a human who is grappling with unimaginable choices. I am doing it through doubt, fear and anxiety. I am doing my best to do what’s right for Earl. In many respects, I have lived through what Earl is living through right now. I have felt the fear, pain and depression. All I can do is give him the love and support he needs at this moment. I can care for him, lift him up and when the time comes, whenever that may be, for him to transition then I will be there holding him tightly as he lets go.
Until then, he’s home again thanks only to all the people who help make that possible and Earl’s perseverance.