Ketamine and thoroughbreds

Most people see New Year's Eve as a night of celebration, I shutter everytime I hear it mentioned. Since the beginning of my veterinary career, New Year's Eve has been a night of crazy emergencies and none have been more wild than my first New Year's as a veterinarian. 

It started simple enough, Colics, lame horses, mental medicine cases: I  was a first year graduate, living in Charleston, South Carolina, working in an exclusively equine practice.

Tonight was New Year's Eve, and would be my first holiday on call. After work that day , I restocked my truck and prepared, for what I hoped would be an easy night at home..... Boy did I have that wrong!

The evening was quiet until about eleven pm; I received a frantic call from an owner whose thoroughbred had sliced her back leg open in a stall. I asked if they could meet me at the clinic and I called in my technician; the owner said the cut was bad, so I figured I would need help.  

It was a cold and dreary night, with dense clouds of fog hanging over the low country. When I arrived at the clinic, they had unloaded the mare and were hanging on to the end of her lead rope as she jerked them all over the parking lot.  I knew this stitching would be an adventure.

During the physical, they told me the mare had been a race horse and may be resistant to drugs. I gave a shot for sedation, and pulled up the ketamine to put her to sleep for the surgical repair. 

Now normally,  ketamine is a relaxant, a "dissociative" to be exact; which means that the animal's mind is no longer in control of the animal'a body. Ketamine is a great pain killer, and is great for short procedures where a horse needs to be laid down. 

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There is just one side affect my rookie mind had forgotten, pure ketamine without other drugs has an excitement phase; the otherwise sleepy, 1200 pound horse becomes an off balance -killing machine, not in control of it's own legs or mind. It's kind of like secretariat, the great race horse, being possessed by some evil, wild rodeo bronc. Its speed without brains or inhibition. 
 

So we laid the horse down in the clinic's front yard, gave a dose of ketamine mixed with other drugs, and went to work.

A cold rain began to fall halfway through fixing the wound, and we worked quickly by the light of our headlamps. The old mare must have been resistant to drugs, and as we neared completion of the wound , she began to move. I alerted the technician that our patient was waking up, and asked her to give more ketamine. As the ketamine trickled into the horse's vein, she began to stir with more violence. I forgot to mix in the other drugs! The mare lept up from the ground and stumbled into our water pump, clipping the pipe off below the ground's surface and sending a six foot geyser of water into the air! The water gush hit the stumbling horse in the rear, spooking her forward, in full stumble toward our barn doors. she hit the barn doors with enough velocity to blow them off the hinges and stumbled backwards off the door  into the yard . Bewildered and wet she sat like a dog. I tried to sneak up to give her another shot, and as I approached, she knocked my feet out from under me with her neck. I landed, spraying sedation everywhere, on her head, but only stayed a moment as she thrust forward again, sending me in a spiraling front flip through the air. She stumbled through the barn with my tech and both owners hanging onto her lead rope for dear life, as I laid on my back, where I landed, with rain and spicket water falling from the sky.

I looked at my watch to see the time; it was two minutes after midnight. I swear I heard taps playing in the background, because I knew I would be dead when my boss saw the deep divots in his turf grass yard, his splintered barn doors, and his irrigated (flooded) water spicket fiasco. We finished suturing the horse, saved the day, and retired for the evening. When my boss called me in his office after the holiday and asked me what happen, the only thing I could mutter was, " thoroughbred and ketamine."

Happy  new year everyone !  We look forward to seeing each of you and your animals  in 2015. Thank you all for being such a special part of the Todd County Animal Clinic family. 

See you soon, 

john