Coming Up for Air; What a Precious Thing Breathing Is

woman and horse

“In mythic symbolism world-wide, both horses and ponies represent the following things: Physical strength, inner strength, vitality, appetite for life, the driving force that carries you forward, the driving force that overcomes obstacles, passion, movement, flow, self-expression, and that which makes you thrive. They are also symbols of vital life forces held in perfect, exquisite balance: love and devotion paired with freedom and mobility; the wild and instinctive supported by the disciplined and domestic; strength balanced with vulnerability, mastery with modesty, power with compassion.” ~ Teri Windling, “Mist, Wild Ponies and the Animate Earth” 

Horses and all they represent have lifted and carried me at times in my life when I felt powerless, weak and afraid. They have provided me moments of grounding and peace when I most needed them.

However, like all beings, horses age and as they do so, that strength and vitality begins to wane.

horse being nebulized

Luke’s life force is definitely not in perfect, exquisite balance. He had another heaves episode last Friday. I nebulized him with albuterol (a bronchial dilator), but there was no improvement in his breathing, which was audibly tight, wheezy and accompanied by coughing. I called the vet to see if I could pick up another medication to try, but with how Luke’s breathing sounded, I ended up having the vet come to the barn instead. It’s a good thing I did.

The vet nebulized Luke with dexamethasone (a steroid). Still no relief. Then she did an intravenous shot of dexamethasone. He was still coughing and wheezing. That was followed by a shot of Banamine to ease his distress. But he was still having trouble. Then another vet showed up to drop off “Heaves Relief,” which is a pretty pink liquid expectorant and antihistamine. That finally seemed to do the trick.

During the two hours we worked on Luke, I wanted to ask the vet at what point do people just put their horse down. But just thinking the question choked me up too much to voice it. I don’t think either of us are ready to give up yet.


Luke is now on a regimen of dexamethasone pills that will be slowly tapered off. Plus I’m nebulizing him with albuterol twice a day and dexamethasone once a day.

For four days Luke’s breathing was more relaxed and even-flowing than I’d seen or heard for a long time. But on Wednesday, I had to stop his nebulization three times to remove the mask and allow him to cough. He seemed better after I was done but I gave him a dose of Heaves Relief before heading back to work. When I returned in the evening, his breathing was normal again and there was no coughing during the nebulization. He’s now on a powdered antihistamine twice a day and that seems to be helping – no coughing during nebulization today.

But it’s a crazy dance from day-to-day, trying to figure out the right level of medication.

As I try to fit in writing this post before I fall into bed, only to repeat the whole thing again tomorrow, the question seems to be, how long can I keep this up? I figured out today how many miles I’m driving and how much time it takes – 50 to 85 miles a day and 2 to 4 hours of time for driving and treating – depending on which building location I’m working at. Unfortunately, my normal office location is the farther distance.

Oh, and my car is broken and sitting in the garage until cash gets less tight and I can either fix it or trade it in for another car. For now, I’m driving the diesel guzzling truck that I’m afraid will be the next vehicle to start feeling its age.  At least I have a backup vehicle…

For now, I don’t think beyond what I’m doing today. To just take each day as it comes, a moment at a time. I hardly have the energy to live any other way right now. Maybe this is one of those teaching moments.

Steve and I did take some time between Luke’s nebulization sessions last Saturday to go to the Owen H. Wangensteen Historical Library of Biology and Medicine.

What?! That doesn’t sound like fun to you? Silly people… it was so dang interesting!

The library visit was an event put on by the North Country Herbalist Guild. They arranged to have the library curators pull together their collection of old and rare books and manuscripts by herbalists and botanists such as Leonhart Fuchs, Nicholas Culpepper, Constantine Rafinesque and Samuel Thomson.

Plant book at Owen H. Wangensteen Historical Library of Biology and Medicine

Plant book at Owen H. Wangensteen Historical Library of Biology and Medicine

You were actually able to carefully page through and read the documents. Some of them were absolutely stunning with their illustrations. There was also some rather entertaining  herbal recipes. The text under this picture seemed to be prescribing that you should find moss growing on a dead man’s skull, preferably one who’d been hanged or otherwise executed to mix into the “cure.”

Plant book at Owen H. Wangensteen Historical Library of Biology and Medicine

I discovered that it was a practice to replace the letter “s” with “f” to save on page space and ink. Good to know if you try to read pages like this…

Herbal medicine book at Owen H. Wangensteen Historical Library of Biology and Medicine

There was also a display of Chinese medicine books.

Chinese medicine book

The pictures, the old style of speech, the poetry, the text that took my imagination back to days and places of sheep shearing, and descriptions of wildlife and plants found during walks in the woods, was a fine diversion.

Plant book at Owen H. Wangensteen Historical Library of Biology and Medicine

After a couple hours spent traveling mentally off to other times and lands, it was back to reality and another nebulization session with Luke. From Luke’s standpoint, he hates the nebulization, but loves the apples and carrots and the grooming he gets after each session.

Me and my raggedy pony, who certainly is nothing much to look at anymore, but then neither am I, we’ll both be grateful for whatever good moments we get this year.


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One Comment

  1. You sure are dedicated, doing everything in your power to help Luke get better. I know the bond that you have with him so I’m not surprised by how often you visit the barn to care for him (and all the miles you drive). I hope with all my heart that he starts to feel better soon. Perhaps spring air will help him. Hugs to you.

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