Giving an anesthetic to a stallion can be a bit risky. If horses could read my mind it would be downright dangerous. Stallions have been known to kick and bite when confronted by a gas passer, an anaesthetist like me. It might be doubly dangerous if a horse knew what castration entailed.
Tuesday afternoons were my afternoons off duty at the War Memorial Hospital and my office. Sometimes, I took a busmans holiday. As general practitioner/anesthetist, I usually gave two or three anesthetics at the hospital in the morning. My afternoons were free to put horses, cows or dogs to sleep. The surgeon was my friend Dr. John Robb, the local veterinarian.
To perform an animal anesthetic, a horse and non-abrasive strong cotton ropes are essential. A bucket of oats and many apples in your pocket take the place of preoperative medication. A snubbing post or hobbles should be available just in case to control the animal.
One sunny August afternoon, John picked me up at home in his Land Rover. We bumped along the gravel road and paddock where Sams stallion, Lightening, was pastured. We travelled about 30 miles to the paddock. Sam owned the Chimney Lake Lodge and horses were kept for the guests to ride. This stallion was his pride and joy but Sam wanted him castrated to gentle him down, so he said and he wanted the horses umbilical hernia repaired at the same time.
John and I chose a site in the field where wed do the two operations. We raked it clean of firewood, cow pies and horse buns. Then we place a clean tarpaulin by the sturdy subbing post. We had a sterile field, sort of. John mixed up a bucket of a solution of chloride of lime and soap to wash his hands and arms. I mixed, in a different pail, a solution of chloral hydrate: the first part of Mickey Finn. The pail had a spout at the bottom. Attached to the spout tightly was a rubber tube, which was clamped to it.
Kenny, Sams strong looking 17-year-old son, went with a halter and oats to get the horse, Lightening. Sam wasnt there, he preferred not to watch. Kenny led the animal to the center of the tarp. John tied the soft cotton ropes to the horses neck and legs. Our plan was that as the stallion gradually lost consciousness from the anesthetic agent, we would gently ease him onto the canvas.
I readied my equipment: a laryngoscope, fashioned in a local machine shop with a notch for my right foot, the curved blade resembling the curve of a McIntosh human laryngoscope. I also had a large piece of one-inch garden hose to be used as an endotracheal tube, if necessary. I moved the pail of chloral hydrate solution close to the animals neck.
Waaap, I hit the animals jugular vein with a number 12 needle. Blood spurted. I was in the vein. The rubber tubing was attached to the needle and I began adjusting the flow of chloral hydrate into the vein. Slowly the horse became wobbly and with the ropes attached to his neck and limbs we slowly eased the stallion down on his side. Then I extended the horses neck, grabbed the tongue with a clamp and pulled it forward. His respirations were even; the airway was secure. The surgeon could begin. John clamped the spermatic cord and vessels in a flash. The testicles were like two oysters and soon lay on the ground oozing in the sun.
John started on the vest over pants umbilical hernia repair. This is when one layer of muscle and tissue is layered over the next thick sinew. It was hard to tell the vest from the pants but eventually things all came together with the silk sutures. There seemed to be an extra bit of pants left over but John said the hernia was repaired. Within five minutes the horse woke up and regained its feet. A whack on the butt and he fled the recovery space in a gallop. This gray two year old had a distinctive black mane and tail.
Years later I could always tell that same gray gelding. If he saw me he would whiny, his eyes would flash and hed run to the end of the field. When I looked at his belly button I could see a bit of pants like a miniature second penis extending from a flat belly.
At home that night I completed the second part of the Mickey Finn. The first part was a big dose of chloral hydrate for Lightening. The second part was a dram of Irish whisky for me – to celebrate my success.