A Simple Surgery… and a Brush with Death

Last Wednesday, June 23, I took off early in the morning to meet a friend for a day of errand running and a little shopping. I had been up to my eyeballs in work on the ranch with spring mowing, garden planting, and a little early vegetable harvesting. And of course, with Ruthie deer’s snake bite wound, both Forrest and I had been working long hours caring for her and making sure she had everything she might need to heal. It is rare for me to take a day for myself with so much going on, but I felt I needed it.

Ruthie continued to rest in the barn during her healing process. Much of the time, she was still comfortable eating while lying down. We checked her belly often to make sure those babies were still kicking.
Most days, Ruthie’s sisters could be found resting nearby the deer pen. Penelope (on the left) often kept watch in the evening hours. Ruthie liked to lay in her shade huts when the weather wasn’t too hot.
This photo shows the enlarged abscess behind Ruthie’s right eye, and the size of her belly. We felt all along that she was likely carrying twins. It is also evident in this photo how emaciated Ruthie had become.

Following up on the recommendation of WildCare’s staff veterinarian, Forrest had arranged for our local vet to come that same morning and drain and lance an abscess that had formed just above Ruthie’s right eye. Ruthie managed to drain other abscesses that had ruptured externally, by repeatedly smashing the right side of her face against the right side of her rib cage, thereby putting pressure on the puss pockets, which forced them to drain. She would follow up each smashing action with licking to clean the drained puss from her hair. But, this particular abscess was not rupturing or draining with added pressure. Instead, it increased in size daily.

With the puss pocket so close to Ruthie’s eye, neither Forrest nor I felt confident to lance the abscess ourselves. So, we were more than happy to have the local vet, who had been kind to help us with deer injuries and wounds in the past, come and take care of Ruthie. He arrived about the time I headed out of town, but I felt certain Forrest could handle the after-care following the procedure.

Ruthie managed to eat all sorts of grasses growing in the pen and tree leaves from the branches I brought her. Her wounds were healing nicely, and she was learning to manipulate her tongue in order to get good nourishment.
The lump above Ruthie’s right eye grew more prominent every day.
The size of the abscess just above Ruthie’s right eye was concerning.

When the vet arrived, he instructed Forrest on how to administer the injection of anesthesia, since Ruthie would likely not have allowed the vet to get close enough to administer it himself. Ruthies hip, though nothing like it was a month ago, provided the largest muscle in which to sink the needle and inject the anesthesia. However, the burning sensation created as the solution was injected, sent Ruthie running before the full dose was administered. Forrest managed to catch up to her, calm her, and give her another quick jab to the hip area, but she again took off as the plunger on the syringe was pressed and before the remaining anesthesia could be injected. Fortunately, by this time, Ruthie began to show signs of slowing down and eventually took shelter hiding in her leaf hut.

After giving a few minutes for the partial dose to kick in, Forrest climbed into the shade of the leaf hut and finished the injection. Then, once the full dose of anesthesia had taken effect, the vet and his assistant moved in quickly. The procedure itself took a very short time. The vet first released the pressure by inserting a needle into the abscess. Then he lanced the abscess with a scalpel and drained a lot of thick, yellow puss with pressure from his fingers. After the puss was squeezed out, the area was irrigated with saline solution and iodine. To complete the procedure, the vet cleaned the incision and area around it with Betadine solution, and followed that with a quick shot of penicillin and instruction to put Ruthie back on the oral antibiotic for 3-4 days. Before leaving, the vet also advised Forrest to stay with and monitor Ruthie while she recovered from the anesthesia, suggesting it would likely take anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes.

Ruthie made an attempt at getting up fairly quickly, but only managed to turn halfway around before slumping awkwardly against the deer pen’s mesh fencing. There, she had difficulty holding her head up and her neck seemed to have a mind of its own. With this, Forrest climbed in the shade hut to sit by Ruthie and help her keep her head and neck in a more normal position. After a time, Ruthie seemed better and Forrest relaxed enough to start texting me about how the procedure went. But suddenly, he noticed that Ruthie had gone limp and quit breathing. Her eyes were glazed over, and there was no response when Forrest tried lifting her head and loudly calling her name. Forrest then began jostling Ruthie around as best he could, while continuing to speak loudly, move her limbs, and vigorously pat her hips, neck, and rib cage, hoping to jar her back to life.

What seemed an eternity before Ruthie came back from the brink of death and started breathing again, was more like a few seconds or so, but it was terribly frightening. Forrest stayed with her the rest of the day, occasionally coaxing her to get up and move around, and to eat and drink. By evening, a little more puss had drained from the incision, but Ruthie was right as rain. The shot of penicillin had obviously helped, and likely draining the abscess relieved what had to be great pressure on her eye and that side of her head. The next morning, Ruthie was more active than we had seen her in weeks, and seemed restless and ready to be out of the deer pen.

Our immediate challenge now, would be to get Ruthie to take the oral antibiotic for a few days before releasing her from the deer pen so she could have and raise her baby(ies) in a more normal setting. But I was not sure how long we could hold her back. She was clearly feeling better and ready to rejoin her sisters in the wild.

The abscesses have completely healed, and the scars are disappearing. Now if we can just get some weight on Ruthie!

© 2021 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way


26 thoughts on “A Simple Surgery… and a Brush with Death

  1. On my gosh! My thoughts: I’m glad you got some time off. Thank you for all you and Forrest have done to help Ruthie. Thank goodness she came through the anesthesia and procedure. I look into those big grateful eyes and my heart melts. I’m grateful she has you wonderful friends.

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    1. Ruthie has been a special case since the time we took her in as a fawn. She’s a resilient and tough deer. I’m so thankful Forrest was able to spend the day with her. Her abscess is completely healed by now!

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  2. She looks so much better in that last picture! Her eyes are bright and full of life!

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    1. Ruthie is improving every day. She has taught us much about instinct in healing, and resilience in being patient. Thank you so much for your thoughts and prayers! It helps! I’m sure of it.

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  3. Oh wow the things you guys go through. I’m so happy the outcome was happy, and that you got a day out although I’d guess your mind was preoccupied with the happenings at home.

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    1. You have me pegged. I didn’t know about the trouble Forrest had until the afternoon, so I enjoyed shopping up until that point. After that, I was anxious to get home to help out. It was a long day in the heat for Forrest, and likely an even longer day for Ruthie to come out of the anesthesia.

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  4. Oh my goodness! What a scary event! So glad the meds kicked in and she seems to be on the way to recovery!

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    1. Thanks, Christine. That final shot of penicillin really gave Ruthie a boost! She was very active the next day and it was difficult to keep her penned another four days to get ample antibiotic. I’m so glad everything turned out well.

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  5. I’m certainly glad I read the post about Ruthie and her fawns first. While this post offered a hopeful conclusion, I never would have expected such a completely wonderful ‘next chapter’!

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    1. Ruthie sure has provided a lot of storytelling for us lately. As the Wildcare vet noted, this is unchartered territory all around. Ruthie is teaching us much about healing from wounds in nature, integrating modern medicine, and in being patient with healing. It feels like it’s been a long haul to recovery, but adding a pregnancy to the equation has made for an additional challenge. We still have some hurdles to climb, but I’m so thankful for the good that has happened thus far.

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  6. What an ordeal and as hard as it was for Forrest it must have been torment for you at a distance. The story and that last picture tells us all we need to know about Ruthie’s will to live. Here’s to a very healthy birth!

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    1. You’re right, Steve!! Ruthie is very resilient. Getting her as a fawn was a challenge. Forrest had to use some of his horse whispering skills to help her trust humans (the people who nabbed her from her mother had traumatized her trying to get her to take a bottle) and so, this was another opportunity for her to trust us to help her. We are very happy things turned out well with the surgery and that Ruthie has improved tremendously!

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  7. I must say that every time I read one of your postings- it is with a great deal of anxiety. I can only imagine the fright that Forrest felt when Ruthie began sagging and not breathing. Again I must say that there is much to be learned here in the care of wildlings. I hope you had a nice day shopping and yes, you do some breaks. Lori.

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    1. Hello Yvonne, yes this has been a great learning experience. Even the Wildcare and local veterinarians are pleased about how things turned out. We are so thankful for their help along the way, and we feel it made a difference that so many people were thinking of Ruthie during this time.

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