Colic Surgery For The Girl

Jun 3, 2011 - 7:58 AM
Back where they belong: Elizabeth (left) and Samantha (mounted) Howell. Photo by John Oren.

I’ve been missing. There’s a story behind it. Here it is.

When you are responsible for the care of someone else, be they canine, equine or human, there are times when you inevitably fail them. If you are critical in your self-assessment of this care, you no doubt can find fault frequently. 

I pulled a doozy recently when I misdiagnosed Samantha’s virus. Umm, it was appendicitis. She had an emergency appendectomy on Thursday, April 21. In my defense, when she seemed to be suffering from her second bout of the fever/upset stomach bug that was making its rounds, I did call the pediatrician’s office.  The nurse told me that the current virus running through the area was particularly virulent and was striking quite a few kids more than once. She did say that I was more than welcome to bring Samantha in to be checked out. Alas, not wanting to be that mom (again) who dragged her kid to the pediatrician only to be told, “It’s a virus,” I decided to just wait it out.

Samantha spent the first two days of her school vacation week on the couch, which should have been my first clue that something was truly amiss. As we know, when this kid doesn’t go to the barn, there is something not right in the world.

On Wednesday she rallied and did ride, but she was incredibly pale. Thursday I was home with her and after a very short period of morning activity she laid in a chair and cried, saying that she had a sharp pain in her belly. That did it. Light finally dawned on marble-mom head. Off to the doctor we went, with the boy in tow.

Samantha’s doctor is a wonderful woman, kind and reassuring. So much so that when she shared her suspicion it took me a minute to catch up. In her friendly, sing-songy voice she stated, “Yeah, I think what I’m going to do is have you run her up to the hospital and have an ultrasound so that we can rule out appendicitis.”

Come again? Excuse me? Say what? I was finally able to say, “Oh, OK, would you please call ahead to let them know that we’re coming? Thank you, so very much.” What I was thinking was: “&^%%*^%@!” “Doh!” “Of course it’s appendicitis.” “&*^^&%”

Luckily, Samantha really didn’t have much of a clue what that meant. My next challenge was retrieving the boy from the waiting room and telling him. Why would this be a concern? Here’s why:

Me: “OK, Ethan, Samantha needs a test, and they don’t have the special machine to do the test here, so we’re going to have it done up at the hospital.”


Yes, now everyone in the waiting room is staring at us. Oh, joy. As I gritted out, “No, Ethan your sister is not going to die,” we left the doctor’s office.

Let’s just say that the day got worse. Luckily, a friend was able to come get the boy, who spent the rest of the afternoon practicing with the St. Michael’s College lacrosse team. It doesn’t matter to him that he’s only 10; clearly they need him.

Poor Samantha. Through the tears, the painful waiting, two days in the hospital and a week on the couch her only concern was getting better in time for her first horse show. I did not go on a business trip to Chicago and Grand Rapids, Mich. I also spent a week near the couch, getting my little pumpkin (who is now officially taller than me) whatever she wanted.

Our first horse show was at GMHA in Woodstock, Vt., on May 21, and this was also supposed to be Samantha’s first three-foot horse show. No pressure! We talked about it, and I told her that if she did nothing but hack around the show grounds that would be great, and I would be happy and proud of her. Do the warm-ups if you feel up to it. Try one round of hunters. Don’t put any pressure on yourself. You had surgery one month ago.

In theory, she was with me. But once we got to the show, it was game on. She had a good warm-up day on Friday and decided to “try” the 12-14 equitation division on Saturday. Her flat class was, OK, it was a disaster. Mondavi thought it was a race, not a class, and while Samantha did a great job controlling him, there was no ribbon for that achievement. She made up for it by winning her first over fences class with a beautiful trip and placing third in the second over fences class, becoming reserve champion in the division.  Her first-ever attempt in the NEHC medal was flawless (mom’s opinion), and she placed fourth out of 15 very competitive riders.

Sunday wasn’t quite as stellar—she was tired, and it showed. There were a few threes in the two-stride that made Samantha’s blood boil. I giggled—but only when she couldn’t see me. She had already accomplished so much there was no way to disappoint. We had a two-hour ride home for me to convince her of that, regardless of how she felt about her trips on Sunday.

I remained, as always, grateful that she talked the whole way home. She accomplished what she set out to do—she did not miss the first horse show of the season—the one we waited so long for. And now, we have a whole season in front of us.

Wishing you all a healthy and happy show season. Here we go!

Elizabeth Howell grew up riding on the hunter/jumper circuit in Massachusetts. Now she is a horse show mom. She holds a day job at The Emily Post Institute and slings horse manure on the weekends. Her website is


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