Three weeks ago we received a frantic call from Javier, our caretaker, who feeds the horses in the mornings. He said that Ulysses was lying down and was having difficulty getting up. He said that Ulysses looked very weak in his back end, and from his description over the phone, we were concerned that Ulysses was having a neurological episode (due to the abuse he endured before we rescued him, he is neurological) and that we would have to immediately help him cross the rainbow bridge. We immediately called the vet to come see Ulysses.
Our treasurer Lori was free that morning so she was able to go down to the ranch. She called Elizabeth, and said that Ulysses was standing, but seemed uncertain on his feet and was wobbly. She said his front leg was very swollen as well. It sounded like we were going to lose him.
When Elizabeth got to the ranch, she realized that Ulysses had a severe case of cellulitis. Because it had swollen up so quickly, it is possible that he was bitten by something poisonous, like a Black Widow spider or a scorpion. His right front leg was about three times as large as it should have been (it was so swollen he couldn’t put any weight on it and he couldn’t even straighten his leg out), and he was clearly in pain.
A short time later the vet arrived, and, upon seeing the leg, decided to give him a number of different medications. While she was preparing the multiple medications, however, Ulysses suddenly began shaking uncontrollably, and we were concerned that he was going to have a heart attack. We called to the vet to hurry, and she tried to put a catheter in, but he was just in too much pain and shaking too much, so she gave him a number of different pain medications in an IV. It took about 10 minutes for him to completely calm down, but the pain medication finally kicked in and he was relaxed enough for the vet to put in a catheter so we could give him fluids laced with antibiotics.
Ulysses is difficult to work with on a good day because of his neurological issues, but with his bum leg and on so many different pain medications, it was difficult to keep him in one spot in the stall to give him his fluids, so the vet used the same type of fluid delivery system that they use in the hospital. He kept slowly inching his way around his stall, but we were able to keep the fluids running. The vet had two large bags of fluids, but she was concerned about how poorly Ulysses was looking, and called her office to have another bag of fluids delivered to the ranch. Although Ulysses’ leg was the issue, the pain, infection and dehydration could easily have led to a colic from which he could not recover. The tension was palpable while we were still doing everything we could to remain positive and hope for the best, while still realizing that the worst was very possible, if not imminent..
While we were trying to put fluids and medication into Ulysses, we still had to deal with the swollen leg. We did our best to keep Ulysses from moving and the vet put on a pressure wrap in order to try to reduce the swelling. He was pretty good for the wrapping part, even though he moved a little bit.
After several hours, it seemed that it was possible that we would be able to save Ulysses, at least for that night. The vet left us with instructions to give medication that evening and following morning, and said she would be out the next day.
At that point, we realized that Ulysses was not going to be able to pick up his foot enough to get over the step underneath his shelter. Concerned that he might try to walk up there and trip and fall, we decided to block off that part of his stall with a pipe corral in order to keep him safe. We put out a bucket of water as his automatic waterer is underneath the shelter, and put out a large bucket for his food. Satisfied that we did all that we could, we finally went home and hoped for the best.
The next morning we came out and gave him some pain meds, and the vet came out later that day. Elizabeth wasn’t able to come out because she was working, so Lori and Eric, one of our board members, met the vet that morning. Ulysses was very naughty and did not want to stand still for his medication, which was good in a way because that meant at least that he was feeling better. They were finally able to give him his IV medications, and rewrapped his leg with another pressure bandage.
This routine went on for over a week, but the next few times Elizabeth was able to meet the vet and so Ulysses was a little better for his IV- and, eventually he just kind of got used to getting the medication. The vet continued to come out every single day in order to give him his IV and IM meds as well as to put on a new pressure wrap everyday. We gave him additional pain medication every morning and evening to keep him comfortable, and we were heartened to see the swelling go down considerably.
After about a week and a half, the vet decided to switch from IV medications to an oral medication. He was still spiking a fever in the afternoon, and his bloodwork was showing that he was having difficulty fighting off the infection. The swelling in Ulysses’ leg had gone down considerably, but it was still very swollen and we were still having to wrap it everyday. Ulysses did like it when we took the bandage off and scratched his leg, however!
Ulysses seemed to respond well to the antibiotics and steroid combination, and we started to give him pain medication twice a day again to help keep his fever down and to help with the swelling. We were able to get him out and let him walk around a little; although it was obviously very painful for him at first, after a few days he was walking so much better!
The vet came out a week later to check on Ulysses and to run more tests. Unfortunately, his numbers that indicated infection were very high again, so the vet decided to change his antibiotic again, and he would finally help his body fight off the last of the infection. We stopped wrapping the leg, as it had lost a lot of hair from the swelling, and the wrap no longer seemed to help reduce the swelling.
When the vet came out again on Friday, she ran another test, and thankfully the test showed that the antibiotics had worked, and he was finally able to fight off the infection. We are keeping him on the antibiotics for another week, possibly two, depending upon how he looks. When the vet came out again she said that she did not think that his leg would go back to normal- sometimes in these severe cases the lymph nodes actually are scarred, and there is no way to reduce the swelling in the leg. Thankfully he puts weight on it and runs around in the arena without any obvious lameness, so at least he is feeling better! Ulysses is still on pain medication, so at least he is comfortable as we try to slog through this process.
We are cautiously optimistic about Ulysses’ prognosis- although he is still on antibiotics and pain medication, he is feeling better, and we are so happy to see him run around again. Our caution, however, is in the knowledge that the cellulitis can come back and create a rebound reaction that can make his leg swell up again, and we may not be successful a second time. That being said, we are continuing to do everything we can, and with the help of our tireless veterinarians, Ulysses is comfortable and is able to run around normally. For that gift we are incredibly grateful.
PS: Ulysses’ vet bill is currently more than $7,000(!). Would you please consider a donation (no amount is too small) to help us with the costs of his care? Click this link HERE to donate.