Thursday, January 24, 2013

Faced with mortality

I know it seems like I deal with death often on the mini-farm. And as sad as it is, the death of some animals is something I've gotten used to, even though it makes me sad. But when faced with the mortality of a parent, I'm struggling.

Last night as I sat on the couch snuggling with my son while reading one of the Narnia books out loud, I receive a call from my dad. Now something you need to understand about my relationship with my is basically a relationship via my mom. We talk when we see each other but not usually about anything very deep. The closest we got was when I lived with them for a month during my divorce and he made me feel safe. I call him on his birthday and Father's Day, but he NEVER calls me. I can only remember one other time he called me and that was once to discuss birthday or xmas presents for my mom. Oh wait, I think he was returning my call to him.

Anyhow, I tell G to hang on a second and answer with a feeling of dread, thinking "something happened to mom." The reason this was my first thought is that my siblings and I had a lot of discussion over xmas about mom's health because her back has been really hurting her and we are worried. Much to my shock, my dad was calling to give me news about himself. All I could hear at first was the dreaded word - CANCER. Breathe. Try not to start bawling. Listen to my dad calmly explaining the details: tonsil cancer, caught early, 85% success rate, surgery in 7-10 days to take out tonsil and affected lymph nodes, PET scan shows it has not spread, radiation for 6 weeks.

I manage to keep it together and ask him a few questions around the painful lump in my throat. I tell him I love him and we hang up. Then the tears burn their way down my face, releasing the pressure from that painful lump in my throat. G asks me from the couch what is wrong. He can't see me but he heard my half of the conversation. I didn't want to have to talk to an 8 year old about something like this, but I can't keep it from him. I did tell him that I needed a minute so I could tell him without crying. And amazingly, once I started telling him, the urge to sob began to pass, for the moment. The act of assuring him everything was going to be ok, helped me feel it was going to be ok, but I will admit to shedding more tears once he was in bed and I was alone. Tears not so much of fear that this cancer was going to kill my daddy, but tears for the fact that my parents are aging and our roles will soon be reversing. Mourning that brief time we had where we were all ok and I didn't need their emotional support (other than loving me for who I am) and they didn't need mine.

Today I am looking at my role as the eldest of 4 children. I feel I have the responsibility to keep all of us focused on the positive rather than what "could" happen. Many years of therapy taught me to focus on NOW and not live in the FUTURE. But I also have to learn how to deal with the hard emotional stuff without turning into a blubbering idiot. I cry when I am emotional - happy, sad, confused, frustrated, relieved - it all manifests as tears. I see someone else crying and it makes me cry. And unfortunately, I am not pretty when I cry. I get that horrible blotchy, swollen face. P can always tell when I've been crying even when I try to hide it.

I know billions of people have been in my shoes over the course of history, but this is my first time wearing these shoes.  I may not know the right way to walk in them, but walk in them I will, even if it makes me look ugly.


Monday, January 14, 2013

Experiences to learn from

Well the weak goat kid died cuddled up on the couch with me on Thursday night. I got home that evening and he had been out in the barn for the day, had eaten well from the bottle a couple of times. But when I went out he was all fluffed up and standing all alone not moving. I tried to get him to take a bottle but he couldn't latch on. I learned that if they are cold they often have trouble latching. So I brought him into the house and got him warmed up. Fed him a little from a syringe but he just didn't want to swallow it. I had to go out for a bit so I gave him to sis-in-law to warm up. Got home and he was floppy. Couldn't stand up and was super lethargic. Gave him some nutri-drench, which is a concentrated electrolyte, and a b-complex shot. About 10 minutes later he perked up a bit. Was able to stand on his own but still wouldn't take a bottle. Kept syringe feeding him but shortly after he became floppy and lethargic again. His mouth was cold inside, which is another thing I learned - you can tell if they are cold by sticking a finger in their mouth. So I heated up some flax seed bags in the microwave and put them under him and around him while I had him in a blanket on my lap. His temp went up and his mouth was warm, but he was still super floppy. I rubbed him vigorously but still got no real response. I had tried all my tricks and the only thing left was to try tube feeding, which I had never done before. I was thinking of waiting until P got home but it seemed urgent. So I watched a couple of youtube videos and went for it. Last year I bought the tube online from the goat supply place, so at least I had the tools. But I needed a large syringe which would fit on the end of the tube. After 3 trips out to the barn in the freezing cold, I found one that would work. The instructions said to give the kid 1-2 oz. I opted for 1 oz since he was so small and that was the only syringe I had. To tube feed a kid, you measure from where you think their stomach is to their mouth and make a mark on the tube. Then you insert it into the side of their mouth and feed it down into their stomach. It seems like a really horrible, difficult thing to do, but it was actually really easy. It slipped in without any problems or fighting. Once it is in place, you have to listen at the end of the tube to make sure you hear stomach sounds and not breathing sounds. If there are breathing sounds, it is in the lungs so you have to remove and reinsert it. The first time I wasn't sure. Didn't hear gurggling but didn't hear breathing. To be on the safe side, I removed and reinserted it. Heard definite gurrgling. I gave him the syringe full of milk. When removing the tube, it is important to crimp it so any remaining liquid doesn't drain into the lungs on the way out.

Ok, job done. Goat kid was not coughing, spluttering, choking or foaming at the mouth and didn't die, so I knew I'd done it correctly. I hoped to see some improvement in 20 minutes, but there was not change. I took him back to the couch and waited. He breathing became more labored over the course of a couple hours. He had a couple of seizures where he went stiff and trashed about. I kept my hand on his side because his breaths were coming fewer and farther between. I kept waiting for the next breath until at last I waited and the next breath never came. So at midnight, after hours of trying, he went to goat heaven.

I cried a little. I tried so hard to take care of him, but he was just too weak to begin with. And without his mom caring for him, he just didn't have a good enough start. I learned a lot from the experience though. I am sad when I lose an animal but I am trying to remember that I care for them the best that I can and that I learn something in the process. Without the losses I've had this year, I wouldn't have learned the things that kept two of my other goats from dying. So with every death, I hope to save many more lives and be the best goat keeper that I can.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Just call me vet, goat midwife, crazy or anything else that fits

Yes I know, it has been ages since the last post. But between getting married in September and sick goats and work I have been swamped.

So here's what has been happening:
October - got back from honeymoon in Kauai (I wish I'd just stayed there) found one of my does, Jill, was looking skinny and stopped producing milk. Started upping her grain ration and treated her for coccidiosis (a parasite they get from grass) since she had diarrhea. After a while she would only stand fluffed up in the corner of the stall and went off her feed. Called the vet out who tube fed her, gave her antibiotics and b-complex injections and gave her a 25% chance of recovery. Knowing what I know now, I would have wormed the goat too. She died a couple weeks later.

November -  Bought a new (supposedly pregnant but didn't look like it) doe named Bella. Jill's 4 month old son Prince starts to show the same symptoms as his mom. I call the vet and talk to her and she said it sounds like he has a fatal gut disease. I followed the same regimen as I did his mom but with the addition of a chemical wormer. I thought he was a goner after the wormer. Just looked worse and worse. But a week and a half later, his poop returned to normal and the life returned to him. He is still super small for his age but he is recovering well. Bella seems to be losing weight and has diarrhea too. Treat her for coccidiosis and for tapeworms and give b-complex injections. Give her extra grain and hay daily.

December - Bella still looking skinny but slightly better. Decide to give her a different type of wormer for a different set of worms. She is still looking skinny and definitely anemic because the insides of her eyelids are very pale. Begin giving her an iron supplement as well as probiotics and continue b-complex a couple times a week.

January - Buy a buck to hopefully breed with Bella and Daisy. Watching Bella and Daisy for heat. See no signs but in Bella I see goo on her tail and that's usually a sign of heat, however the new buck is not interested in the slightest so I think I must be mistaken. Not sure what the goo is from though. A week later G and I go out to the barn to give all the goats copper supplements and give Bella an iron injection because the pelleted form is taking too long, although I am starting to see a little bit of improvement in the color inside her eyelids. We walk in the barn and I think I hear babies bleating. I ask G "what was that?" 8 year olds are not as attuned to things so he looked at me like I was crazy. "Did you hear that? Sounds like babies. Is it lambs?" I look in - no lambs. I check the goats. 2 kids!!!! Turns out Bella was pregnant which is why she had the goo. I told P a couple days earlier that I thought she might be a few months pregnant because she was starting to get a little round in the belly and her udder was very slightly developed. Glad that I paid close enough attention to see that something was going on, I just didn't realize what! If I weren't such a blonde, I would have put a reminder on my calendar that based on the date the previous owner told me she was bred, I should watch for kids around Jan 7. But I really really thought she was either not bred or only a few months along and just starting to show. So I send G in the house as fast as he can run to get towels, because it is SNOWING outside and Bella shows no interest in her kids - I try getting her to let them nurse but she kicks them away. One buckling is big and on his feet and ready to go. The other is about half the size and not very vibrant. I wrap one in a towel and hand it to G but it starts hollering and he panics and doesn't want to hold it. So I have him go get sis-in-law and we get the kids into the house and onto a blanket. Bella has no milk so I find some milk replacer from a couple of years ago that will have to do for the time being. We get the big one to take the bottle but the little one is struggling. I am running around like crazy trying to take care of Bella and kids and I haven't had dinner so am about to drop. Instead of eating I run out to the feed store in my goat afterbirth covered pink carhartt jacket and my grimy boots to get powdered colostrum because they need it ASAP. While I was out I got a pizza so we could have something for dinner since I obviously wasn't going to have time to cook. The mother in me wants to take care of everyone else first but sometimes I need to take care of me so I can take care of others. During my absence they got the little one to take some from a bottle and both kids were sleeping. But the smaller one's breathing sounds junky and labored and he's just not energetic. I sit with him on my lap and warm him up. Then I go to Bella and manage to get 12ml of colostrum from her that I fed to the little guy with a syringe. After a couple of hours he started perking up a bit. I finally went to bed at 12:30pm and P took over the 2am feeding and the little one took the bottle. Now the goal is to get Bella to start making milk so we have to put the kids on her every 1-2 hours and let them suck, even if they get nothing. Hopefully they will be so insistent that she finally gives in and accepts them. But at the very least I need MILK because I don't want to be raising kids on formula.

No more does are due to kid until late April and late May. This I am 100% sure of. But I don't know which sheep are pregnant or when they are due so I won't be surprised if I find more surprises in the barn in the coming months. Yes, this is my life.