I am a woman who possesses an interesting range of enviable skills. Getting surgery is not on the list. One month ago, I broke my wrist. Later, an old friend said she thought with all I did, my bones would be strong. I told her they were. I had to use my full body weight and fifty pounds of horse supplement to do it.
A week later, I was getting seen by an Ortho and I got the “surgery candidate” question. Yes, I’m that old. I’ve told clients to think about it for their older horses. It’s how old dogs get out of more teeth cleanings. It’s that question about diminishing returns. The Ortho says my wrist can heal fine; I’ll lose some strength. But after 65, fewer folks get surgery. She looks at me and adds unless you’re active. I just listen. Like if you do yoga. I said, just the last fourteen years. Or if you are active. I tell her I’m a horse trainer. She asks if I lift heavy things and I don’t mention the supplements. I’ve already broken the rule about not saying what I do.
Stick with me. I’ll get to the horse part.
So there I am, getting prepped for surgery. I repeat my name and birthday a dozen times. The Ortho stops by long enough to sign my arm with a Sharpie. I try to be sociable, another skill I lack, because I’m nervous and want them to like me. I’m under a space blanket that is inflated with warm air, and I’m trying to hallucinate myself into believing I’m at a spa. One more skill I do not have, but it’s easier than the alternative.
People in blue scrubs filled the room. My hospital gown was seductively off my shoulders to make room for sensors and wires hooked to machines. A man’s voice asked if I’d like a nerve block as if he was offering chocolate. Yes. As he began the process of turning my arm into a boneless lump of tepid meat, we watched the injection on an ultrasound. He explained and I told him I understood. My vet uses one. Then he said his wife was a vet. Large animal? I ask. He said yes, she was valedictorian of her class at Cornell. Even in this delicate position, I had to say it. I told him he married up. Now we’re best friends and I’m lucky.
He tells me she retired. She does some small animal stuff a few days a month, but no more horses. It’s my first moan of the procedure. I’m two months away from losing my favorite horse in the ugliest, most violent death throes I’ve ever seen. It took an hour of calls until the fourth vet said they could come… in about 45 minutes. There are fewer large animal vets than ever, both in practice and in college. It’s a lousy job with brutal hours, but at least the college bills are astronomical. And now there is one less.
As if this was strange news, he said I won’t believe her reason, but I already know. I tilted my head; he was still injecting my shoulder. He says the ranchers were difficult to work with, with so much disrespect and general arguing. I said I knew. He talked about how rude they were, this man who was so kind to all the techs and nurses working on me. He didn’t need to convince me, but he works in a different universe. I was thinking of friends of mine who have quit vet work or training or teaching. They are fabulous with horses, but the human aspect wore them down. We lose a few each year. I try to encourage them, but sometimes I work hard to convince myself. Aspects of the horse world are pretty divisive these days.
But I was distracted by my blanket being unplugged and they wheeled me to a stop under huge banks of circular white lights. Everyone wore green scrubs now and when the mask came to my face, I took deep breaths. Finally, something I’m good at.
I was sitting on the ground. My body felt soft, and the ground was warm. I was in a field with tall prairie grass that was pale tan and nearly waist-high on a blue-sky-white-cloud day. There was a light breeze, the kind that touches your skin barely enough to notice. It was not my prairie farm. I was not alone. Sometimes when the breeze would part leaves of the grass, I could see a flash of a horse. Just a knee or part of a hock, or a slip of brassy bay coloring, and then the breeze moved the grass back.
A longer gust came, and I saw the face of a horse I knew. It was that rusty old Appaloosa who got a one-way trip from a rescue I worked with to my farm because their elder pen was overfull. He made a soft landing and was euthanized a few months later, but he was moving well now. I knew the field was filled with many horses; they didn’t need to come to me and I didn’t need to go to them. We were all fine.
Then there were beeping noises and glaring lights. A nurse tried to wake me up, but I was paralyzed. I fought my eyes to stay shut. I was crying, I was gasping as if I had drowned.
You know the rest. I went home with a list of instructions and threats of infection. I couldn’t do chores, but if I covered my arm, I could go to the barn. Naturally, I had some rectal exam gloves, so I shuffled around my herd and did some non-dominant-hand training with Bhim. Years ago, I taught myself to not remember my dreams, but this surgery dream stuck with me, as clear as the conversation about the vet.
But why did that horse come? Why not the one I lost? I was almost angry about it. This decrepit gelding had been used hard, with blown knees and a swayback. He was shy and didn’t like people, so I let him be. After a few weeks of mucking, he blocked the gate one day and let me lay a quiet hand on his neck. It gets worse. His name was Cupid.
By late fall, his knees failed him; he stumbled too often and could barely get back up. Winter would be even harder, so I offered to be his predator. I gave him a good death. He was one of many who traveled through my farm, but he was never mine. It was years ago, I nearly forgot him. I wanted my beautiful Iberian who didn’t come.
Do you look for signs, for guidance in life? I do, but never from horses. The thing about horses is that no matter what, it’s never about us. It’s always about them. They are like bad boyfriends. It’s not what I need, but what the horse needs. So, I guess Cupid needed to stand guard while I slept. Maybe he owed me a rest.
To my professional friends, yes, we do exhausting work in a competitive field. We’re doubted, heckled, and disrespected. We don’t get paid for our experience; we work for longer hours than we charge. Some of us are half-lame and past retirement age. The dream gets rusty and beat up. It helps to be reminded it was never about us.
I was able to regain my identity on my Facebook business pages, but I’m not willing to give them that kind of power again. If you appreciate what I do, please Subscribe to the blog or come join us at The Barn School.
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Anna Blake, Relaxed & Forward
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