The Magic Colic Remedy
Aug 19, 2011
How I Unintentionally Caused Horses to Suffer in Pain
Recently a horse presented to the hospital with symptoms of colic. Colic literally means abdominal pain. In the horse, colic can be simple transitory gas pain or fatal colon torsion. The job of the veterinarian attending the patient is to determine the cause of the colic so appropriate treatment can be administered.
This poor horse had been painful for several hours. I hate when people let their horse suffer for several hours in intense pain. This poor guy was covered with sweat. His heart was pounding like a piston. His nostrils flared as he tried to draw in enough oxygen to keep his organs from suffocating. There were abrasions all over his body where he had frantically thrown himself to the ground in a vain effort to relieve the pain. It breaks my heart to see a powerful horse reduced to a pathetic mass of quivering flesh.
I passed a tube into his nose and down the esophagus entering the stomach. The pungent scent of menthol and turpentine rushed up the tube and into my nose and mouth. My eyes watering I realized why the owners had waited so long to call. They were waiting for a miracle that would never come and it was my fault.
The gelding's stomach contracted sending another rush of pungent gas into my face. That awful smell brought back memories of another horse with colic. This horse was a mare and she was very close to foaling. She was in as much pain as I had ever seen a horse. Over and over again she threw herself to the ground and thrashed violently desperately trying to relieve the pain.
She must be trying to give birth and the foal must be stuck, it is the only thing that can cause this much pain! But when I examined her uterus and cervix it was quite clear that she was not giving birth she had severe abdominal pain; colic.
I performed a rectal examination on the mare. Horses are large enough that in most cases you can insert your arm into the rectum and feel the intestines. The rectal exam is a very important aid to help the veterinarian determine the cause of colic. The problem was that in this mare the unborn foal was so large that it blocked my path and I could not feel the intestines.
I looked at the owner and calmly said; "I do not know what is wrong with her but its bad." "You should take her to Purdue University." "She MIGHT need surgery." (This was before we had our surgery center more conveniently located) The owner replied with a matter of fact tone; "were not taking her all the way to Purdue." Then he looked at his son and instructed him; "get on your bike and ride to the neighbors for some of that magic colic remedy."
All the while the mare was in extreme pain. The tranquilizers and pain medications I kept giving her were just not strong enough to keep the intense pain at bay. I pleaded with the owner; "When the magic colic remedy does not work can we take her to Purdue?" "Oh it will work" I was assured. I knew the colic remedy would not work but I hoped after it failed the owner would see reason and take his mare to Purdue for evaluation. Some of the local farmers had faith in the colic remedy because when they gave it to a horse with mild gas colic, the horse go better. Of course the horse would have gotten better without the secret mixture.
This mare unfortunately did not have transitory gas colic. I asked how long it would take for his son to come back with the magic concoction. When the owner indicated; "no more than 30 or 45 minutes", I knew I could not watch this mare writhe in pain for another 45 minutes.
Some of my colleagues may not agree with what I did next, but I just could not stand to see her in slam her body into the walls and ground any longer. I put her under short term general anesthesia. She was finally comfortable lying in a medication induced sleep. As she slept, I waited. For what I was not sure, she would probably wake up in as much pain as before. I had no faith in the colic remedy that had yet to arrive. So I watched her sleep.
About 30 to 40 minutes later she started to recover from anesthesia. I noticed a funny thing; she was recovering like any normal horse. She did not seem to be in pain. I was just about to point this out to the owner, when the boy pulled up on his bike. Before I could say anything the owner started squirting foul smelling liquid into the mare's mouth.
That mare never got painful again. About two weeks later she foaled uneventfully. Soon the story circulated the community how a secret magic colic remedy cured a horse that Dr. Koontz said needed surgery (they didn't recall I said I did not know what was wrong and she MIGHT need surgery). The mare went on to have several foals. She also went on to be a symbol to the community, proving the colic remedy works.
To this day I do not know why she was so painful and why she was better after general anesthesia. I suspect her intestines were in perpetual spasm and the general anesthesia allowed her intestines to relax. I know that the magic colic remedy had nothing to do with her recovery. She was better before she received the first dose.
I turned my attention back to the sick gelding in front of me. He would need surgery but he would be ok. I felt the tinge of guilt I always feel when I smell the familiar menthol and turpentine. I know this horse suffered longer then he needed to. The owners just believed the stories and were waiting for a miracle that would not happen again.