At an idyllic horse farm in the hills outside Pittsburgh, I stayed with the Mullin family. It feels like a second home because I grab food from the cupboards, tease the sisters like my own and get yelled at for screwing up just like anyone else in the family. I helped feed and water the horses, brought them in from the pasture and watched young riders receive lessons from the middle sister Margaret. I rode bareback around the ring. Margaret and her younger sister Elizabeth giggled in delight when I almost fall off. I loved watching Elizabeth ride around the ring. She just won a gold at the PA state competition for the fourth year in a row and she rides with an easy grace. She also got tossed off her horse so we all had a good laugh.
Late on my last night, Margaret came in and asked, “Do you want to help us babysit a dying horse?” As we got down to the barnyard, Elizabeth was leading a painted mare named Beanie around the yard. Colic is the leading cause of death in horses, characterized by abdominal pain and usually resulting from a twist or blockage in the intestines. Fighting another bout of colic, Beanie already fell several times and could barely keep her open eyes from exhaustion. You never know what will happen with colic. Sometimes it goes away by itself in a few hours but one of Margaret’s horses last year died by morning.
About forty minutes later, Dr. Tom arrived. A likeable guy, this precise elfin man. Margaret and I both said we would marry him if he wasn’t already taken for the last twenty years. The only vet left at his practice, he works full time and remains on call all nights and weekends. He brought a small efficient black box with the tools of his trade: syringes, scissors, small vials of liquids and cotton. Of course, by the time he arrived, Beanie appeared to be doing fine. Dr. Tom started by inserting a rectal thermometer which he later wiped clean on her tail. After listening to her sides with a stethoscope, he reported normal gut sounds so she should be OK. After taking her to the hospital the next day, they find she has a large number of stomach ulcers and will have to rest out the winter. Dr. Tom left medicine and instructions before going home to catch a few hours of sleep before work the next day.