September 10th marks two weeks to the date, I watched my beautiful Arabian left eye go blind. The flies were relentless this year; even strong fly repellant could not deter these pests. Two weeks ago in the early afternoon, at first glance, I knew KlassicAmir was in poor condition as he placed his elegant rounded neck to rest on my shoulder.
KlassicAmir is a very proud graceful Arabian, and for him to succumb to lowering and resting his head, meant he was severely suffering. He was indeed in grave pain with a swollen left eye. I never used fly masks on my horses in the years past, there was never a need, for they did not live here in New Mexico rather Colorado where they had freedom to run acreage.
I felt a gut wrenching terror creeping deep inside while washing his swollen eye with cool water. My neighboring stall mate had an old fly mask in her tact box which she immediately gave to Klassic.
As I gazed into my beautiful Arabians’ eye, I could see a clouded film begin to cover most of the eye; the eye was tearful with seepage and obviously extremely tender. Having some Calendula on hand, I cover the exterior part of his eye with hopes this would soothe the irritation from the flies. Another friend who has Arabians came by, took a peek and said she would bring some herbs to wash the eye and that he did not look good.
For KlassicAmir to allow me to put a fly mask over his ears, latch around his jaw line, with his head sunk deep into my arms, fluid streaming from the now blinded eye - broke my heart. Nonetheless, this was not time for me to crumple; I had a collapsing Arabian in my arms. My beloved horse of over thirteen years who saved my life long ago; there would be no time for tears from my eyes, and what I was to learn shook me to my core.
I called Doctor Stewart McCall’s’ office about dawn the next morning (on Tuesday), not knowing how urgent the next twenty four hours would be. Mike, Dr. Stewarts’ assistant urged me to make an appointment immediately. I made the appointment knowing my horse was going blind, nevertheless ignorant of the immediacy and volatile condition of a little known bacteria called Pseudomonas.
Dr. Stewart arrived in the later morning, took one look and said what no horse owner wanted to hear. “This particular bacterium will destroy a horse’s eye within twenty-four to forty-eight hours, resulting in a rupturing of the eye, requiring surgical removal of the entire eye.” The doctor suggested an immediate prescription of antibiotic drops that could only be purchased at a human pharmacy (“if they have a problem filling this prescription, have them call me directly on my cell).” These words drained all the blood out of my face: then Dr. Stewart added “if there is any day to loose sleep, it would be today. This is a very fast devouring bacterium and the next twenty four hours may end in KlassicAmir eye rupturing, surgery would be required and he will lose his eye.” There was no time for diplomacy, only direct words validating the exigency of this moment.
The sheer thought, that my horses’ eye would rupture, the pain this would cause him to undergo was heart pounding. I immediately asked “what kind of dosage, how often?” I fired off questions as rapidly as Dr. Stewart could reply with urgency; “the frequency that you get the antibiotic into his eye is crucial in the next twenty-four hours, at least every hour.” I stated back to him, “I am a person who tends to overdo everything in life, are you saying at least every hour, and is frequency of the drops the key to saving his eye from exploding?” Blindness was not even a thought; it was the word “rupture, exploding” that eviscerated my mind.
How many thoughts and questions could I ask, and try to understand what my vet was telling me. Change my schedule, as I thought, do anything to save my horse from heinous pain and suffering; all these and more thoughts fired through my brain at warp speed.
Dr. Stewart’s words were stern and grave, he wrote out the prescription and I drove (breaking all speed limits) to the pharmacy. Asking Tabitha, the pharmacy manager, “my vet just told me if I do not get these drops into my horses eye immediately it will explode.” Within fifteen minutes I was back at my Arabians paddock, tearing off the protective film to one of three bottles of antibiotics; holding his head gently, squeezing drops into the corner of his pain ridden eye.
At first he jerked backwards, knocking me in the head with his powerful motion, after all he is now blind in the eye I am attempting to treat. Again, as I gently held his muzzle resting on my shoulder, adding a gentle hand to cover his eye, balancing the small white plastic bottle, whispering to my Arabian to stay calm; “we have to do this Klassic, it means saving your eye.” The drops went into his eye promoting more tears to pour down his somber jaw line.
Thinking to myself, if these few drops are causing Klassic to tear up, how much of the antibiotic is working? What is left of the medicine in the eye to fight the gorging bacteria? I reflected upon Dr. Stewarts words of frequency and decided to repeat the treatment every fifteen minutes: Comforting Klassic’s head with a cool wash cloth over his swollen eye, treating the fly bitten flesh sores, fighting the flies off of his body and mine; then repeating the drop treatment every fifteen minutes was my decision.
Four hours pasted as if it were only two hours, I had to save his eye even if it meant that his left eye would remain blind for a lifetime. The only time I left his side was to get some grain, adding some apples left on the stables’ community bench table. Knowing with each treatment, maybe the bacterium was abated, but the further irritation to his eye by way of a plastic drop bottle was evident. I kept clean cool water in a bucket with fresh towels to gently cleanse his eye before each treatment. KlassicAmir was miserable, his head stayed cradled over my shoulder - in my arms for the better part of the day.
It was close to sundown, I had used one of the three bottles of antibiotic, now opening the second bottle of antibiotic. My Arabian needed a break from me poking at the corner of his eye and time to eat some hay. The fact he was willing to eat was slightly comforting. Reluctantly I left, to take care of my dog that had been waiting for almost nine hours at the apartment with no potty break. When home, after giving Sadë multiple potty breaks, dinner, and short walk I emailed and phone several friends, other dog and horse lovers to please pray for my horse to save his eye.
The next morning I rushed down to the stable with my Sadë, carrying the antibiotic drops in one hand and apples in the other hand. My friend brought some herbs to make a compress tea for Klassic’s eye. His eye was closed and very swollen, obviously in grave pain and here I was to poke drops of antibiotic in the corner area. I gave him an apple first, gently spoke to him, apologized for what I had to do to save his eye.
As he opened his eye, I could see the cloudy film completely covering his eye, I knew he was blind, but there was a difference. Bathing his now raw face with cool water, holding a clean cool towel to his eye, I buried my face into his jaw-line and said I was sorry for not being a better mother, for not seeing the problem days before for I was in the middle of a relationship breakup; kicking myself for giving more attention to a wonderful man instead of my beloved Arabian. The relationship breakup was inevitable, but my Arabian losing his eye was not option. I began to repeat the every fifteen minute treatment till early afternoon. Leaving my KlassicAmir to return home and call Dr. Stewart to update him of the difference I noticed in my horses’ eye.
Mike, Dr. Stewarts’ assistant called me back stating “what you think you see is most likely some residue from the fluid in the eye; the eye healing it’s self over night would be impossible.” I insisted that he give the messages to Dr. Stewart and he assured me he had. Not long after that conversation Dr. Stewart called and I explained what I (ignorantly) saw of Klassic’s eye. I reiterated my findings “the entire eye is now covered with the film; there is no break in the skin covering the eye; what does this mean?” Dr. Stewart said “it sounds too good to be true. For the eye to heal over night, no longer to have a visible acorn tear in the center of the eye would be miraculous.” He continued, “I would like to come out tomorrow morning and see how Klassic is doing. Continue the drops and what you are doing, but this does sound too good to be true.” Still not understanding what possibly my “over doing behavior” could have resulted in saving Klassics’ eye. I continued to wash his face, treat his now raw flesh from where the fly mask had rubbed leaving bloody wounds; the flies were relentless.
Thursday morning Dr. Stewart arrived as I walked Klassic into the shaded area, removing the left side of the fly mask, he slowly opened his eye – flickering in pain while Dr. Stewart stood in somewhat disbelief. “Well I didn’t believe you, but you did it.” I asked, “you mean I did something good with my over-the-top behavior for once?”
The previous exposed “acorn” part of the eye was now covered; we had saved the eye from rupturing with repeating the antibiotics drops every fifteen minutes, the prayers and candles being lit by friends and strangers; however we were not out of harms way. Now to treat the pain, the swelling, any lingering bacteria, the additional bloody raw sores that riddle his once elegant face.
Another week of butte being shoved into his mouth via my hand – pleading, “please do not bite my hand;” constant cool water washing his face, treating the wounds abating infection; finding his fly mask on the ground from a night before was a gut wrenching set back. This meant repeating more antibiotic drops into an already irritated corner of the eye, which I switched placing the drops into the front corner of his eye. At this point, I knew my horse was coming along for he was getting a bit ornery. Klassic was scratching his good eye as it began to swell; I added drops to the right eye insuring no bacteria growth.
For another week I washed the scabs from around his blind eye and elegant face, rinsing his eye multiple times daily; treating him to extra carrots and apples, spraying herbal tea on his hay as we completed the second week of treatments.
Today, KlassicAmir has a new and softer fly mask on his healing face. This morning, Dr. Stewart said “you saved his eye.” He will remain blind for some time, but he will continue to heal, this could take months maybe up to a year, but most likely he will see again maybe with some distortion. No need for the antibiotic eye drops at this time, I recommend occasionally “Visine to get the red out” and continue smaller doses of the butte.” Dr. Stewart left the paddock smiling this time.
KlassicAmir has returned to his Arabian ornery and proud “Show Style” self, maybe a few pounds less, nonetheless his head is held high in the air, he is eating all his food and more; he expects more apples and carrots after going through such an ordeal and I think he deserves all treats anyone cares to offer him; he was a trooper.
This bacteria "Pseudomonas" is rare and not contagious, nonetheless it is ravenous and will destroy a horses eye in less than two days. The results are what you have read, painful and requiring surgery to remove the afflicted eye. Blindness is a result but with hope.
I once read a simple statement that continues to resonate in my heart; “I found my soul in a horse’s eye.” Horses’ eyes are important not only to them but also as a reminder to us: Appreciate the untainted beauty and free roaming spirit of our horses, for in one eye of a horse you may find your soul.