Twice in ten years, two young Haflinger geldings on our farm have suffered injuries so severe that if a skilled veterinarian had not been available, neither would have survived. In both cases, the injury was severing of the lower lip and we really have no idea how the injury occurred.
The first time was a yearling who was out in the field with his buddies, and when we went to fetch him in that evening, half of his lower lip was dangling completely loose, full of bloody grass and dirt. I couldn’t imagine it could be successfully repaired, and feared he was doomed. I called our horse vet, who came out to the farm, silently surveyed the damage, moving the loose piece this way and that to gauge how it could come together. He looked at me then and said “this would be something I’d ordinarily do in the operating room at the clinic”. But given the time of night, the willingness of the patient and the owner, we set up surgery right in the barn aisle under bright lights, with calm music playing on the radio, and that lip was pieced together again. It took many stitches and several weeks but it healed. It always had a little droop to it but this young horse survived thanks to the skilled needle and suture of a forgiving vet willing to work in less than ideal circumstances.
Lightening is not supposed to hit the same place twice, but it did this week. The rainy weather kept the Haflingers in their stalls. Out of boredom our two year old gelding had killed several water buckets by twisting them off their hooks, throwing them around and then playing them like bongos with this feet.
We walked in to find his stall was a bloody mess, from the walls, to the shavings, to his legs. His lower lip was a mangle of pieces of loose flesh on one side, extending up to the corner of his mouth. We searched that stall high and low for signs of anything sharp that may have caused such a horrific injury, but there was nothing. There was only an innocent appearing water bucket, still 1/3 full, hanging as usual on a blunt metal J hook that swivels on an O ring. And an incriminating huge swath of blood extending on the wall down from that hook. I suspect he was twisting the full bucket on its hook, trying to dislodge it in order to play with it and caught his lip between the bucket handle and the O ring, and the tightness of the pinch caused him to panic, pull back and his lower lip shredded as he did. The bucket had its revenge at last.
There was no other explanation to be found. I called our vet, again at night, and on the phone reminded him of the great feat of plastic surgery he had performed years ago in our barn. He didn’t sound really nostalgic about the memory, as he suspected what was coming next. He arrived with a full surgical suite packed in his truck and got to work setting up the lights, equipment, sterile fields and suture. The greatest challenge was keeping the barn cats from hopping up on the table with sterile surgical instruments.
Our Haflinger patient was very cooperative once again, hanging his head low under sedation. The vet sat on a vitamin bucket, cleaning the wound thoroughly so all the pieces could be sorted out and put back in place like a jigsaw puzzle. He was able to pull together the deeper tissue with dissolvable sutures, and then started approximating the external lip edges. By the time he was done, the shreds looked very much like a mouth again.
Two days later, my gelding is eating and drinking normally, just a bit puffy and droopy on one side of this mouth, but he is just fine thanks to a superb vet willing to work in a barn late on a cold and rainy night instead of a surgical suite with assistants and a more appropriate environment (no barn cats strolling around underfoot).
Even in less than perfectly controlled circumstances, miracles can occur. I am filled with unbounded gratitude.
Over the last four days, Haiti has seen many miracles take place in the rubble thanks to people who are willing to do what they can to help even in the most dire circumstances. There are times when the only way to preserve life and put things back together is to do what we can when we can, even if it is messy and imperfect.
Bless those individuals who are making the on-site effort to help the Haitians, even if that help feels inadequate at the time, and surely insufficient. The willingness to try to restore what once was–it is what will make all the difference in the midst of suffering and sorrow.