This was a far cry from my last call.
I’d pulled up five minutes early only
to see my patient, a big Paint gelding
far away with his buddies in a 20-acre
pasture with no owner in sight.
Twenty-five minutes later, a woman
pulled up with a cell phone pressed
against her ear, and she handed me
a halter and pointed several times at
the horse, never pausing her conversation. I hung the halter on the gate
and waited for her to put the phone
down, which she did, many minutes
later. Then I handed her a bill for my
time and left. I never heard from her
again, which was just fine with me.
So I was enjoying being treated
well, and it was satisfying to work
down the long row of horses. Karyn,
the manager, would have a complete
list of everything we’d done at the
end of the visit. Later that night, I’d
write up the bill and email it to the
office, and a check would show up
promptly in my mailbox. I’d never
met the owners or even spoken to
them. Karyn handled everything.
/ A Last-Minute Mystery /
It was getting late, and Karyn smiled
at me kindly.
“Can you handle one more,
I nodded benevolently, feeling like
veterinary royalty, and she led me to
an end stall with a large roan gelding
looming in the corner.
“This is General. He’s got a weird
swelling on his back.”
General’s vitals were normal, and
I palpated the small mass on the
horse’s spine, noticing that it was full
of fluid. I clipped away some hair,
scrubbed it carefully with surgical
soap, and stuck a large needle into
the swelling. Yellowish fluid bubbled
out into my syringe and I drained as
much as I could, then studied the
syringe with interest.
“It looks like infection, but I’m not
It was just one of those weird
sure what’s causing it.” I said. The
swelling had collapsed, and the
wet marks from my scrub were
the only sign that anything had
been amiss. To be safe, I injected
the area with an antibiotic and
covered it with a steroid cream.
things, perhaps a cyst that had
gotten infected somehow. I
wasn’t terribly concerned.
/ It’s Back /
I’d completely forgotten about
General and the mass on his
back until the farm called almost
four weeks later.
“Dr. Diehl, I’m afraid the swelling is back on General, and it’s much bigger,”
said Karyn. “Could you come back out?”
I drove straight to the farm, where General was waiting for me on cross-ties, a
young man expertly grooming him. Sure enough, the swelling had almost dou-
bled in size, and when I palpated it, it was full of fluid again.
I shook my head. “This isn’t adding up. I’m going to make an incision and
explore it with some hemostats.” I sedated General and injected a local anesthetic
around the mass. When it was numb, I made a bold incision into the swelling and
the same yellow fluid poured from the mass and down General’s flank. Cautiously I probed the now-empty pouch of skin with my hemostats and they clicked
against something metallic. I tried to grasp the object, but my instrument slipped
off of it repeatedly.
/ Dodging a Bullet /
This was no good. I returned to the vet truck and found a large pair of forceps
with wider jaws. This time I was able to grab the metal object, but I had to
enlarge the incision before I could pull it free. It was covered with blood and
strands of fibrin. I wiped it clean with a gauze sponge.
It was a .357 caliber bullet.
The groom chattered excitedly and Karyn studied it, her mouth wide open.
“Dr. Diehl, we’ve had this horse for his whole life. You‘d think I would have
noticed if someone had shot him!” she said indignantly.
I was shamefaced. “You’d think I would have noticed a .357 bullet in his back
the first time I treated him for this problem.”
She grinned, holding the bullet up. “Well, I won’t tell if you won’t.”
I laughed. “I’m sure the owners will read my records when I send them into
Karyn shrugged. “Doubtful. The accountants handle all that.”
The swelling never returned, and General never missed a beat. And if anyone
read the record and noticed that I’d removed a .357 bullet from their horse’s
back, I never heard about it.
COURTNEY S. DIEHL, DVM, has been an equine veterinarian since 2000. She resides in Steamboat
Springs, Colo., where she is in private practice. Her first book, Horse Vet, Chronicles of a Mobile
Veterinarian, was published in 2014, and she is currently at work on her second book.
I returned to the vet truck
and found a large pair of
forceps with wider jaws.
This time I was able to
grab the metal object.
I wiped it clean with a