The 140th running of the Kentucky Derby will sweep me & my imagination away to join the crazy-hatted ladies and mint julep drinkers at Churchill Downs.
I tried to accessorize my hat but it just didn’t pan out:
We aren’t really connected to the horse racing world but its fun to pretend.
I did a rotation in vet school where we spent a week working with the track horses and their very quirky caretakers.
And we have owned several former racehorses- Blaze, Willow, Daisy and Katie. Katie is the only one of the speedy gang left now but when we brought her home, she and Blaze raced each other up and down the fence line for weeks.
Those two loved to run.
But Derby Day is a different sort of anniversary here on the Fyfe Farm.
It has been two years since I experienced horror, shock, fear, grief and shame on this very day.
Fright I didn’t know I had in me.
Horror… which is saying something for a veterinarian.
Shock, because this sort of thing just doesn’t happen.
Shame. I carry it with me to this day.
I learned, two years ago, on Derby Day, that not all ferrets get along with all guinea pigs.
Some ferrets want to eat them.
Enter Calypso, who had just moved in with us a few months prior. He’s an adorable cinnamon ferret who came to end Phillipa’s heartbreak at losing her second boyfriend, Cousteau.
(Yes, these two and their predecessors were French, and, yes, they speak with French accents.)
Phillipa had been with us for two years already and had never made a move on the Guinea Pigs. Mind you, I generally always kept the door to the pigs’ room closed.
Until that particular Derby Day, when I was thinking of fast horses, sipping wine, missing Alistair, missing Blaze, having a shower to clean up for the run, and letting the ferrets out for a romp.
I didn’t remember to shut the door.
Guinea Pigs make six recognizable, distinct sounds. That day, I heard a seventh.
Shrieking like I had never heard. Screaming from the tops of their tiny lungs with absolute, unmistakable, blood-curdling fear.
As the ponies were running for the roses I ran into that bathroom to find cute, pleasant, petite Phillipa holding onto Marmalade, who had puncture wounds on her little orange head.
I grabbed Phillipa as quickly as I could, figuring she was trying to kill the little piggy and locked her back in the ferret den (aka “Quebec”).
I ran back to the bathroom to check on The Girls. That’s when my heart really sank and I started to freak out.
Our cute, chocolate, caramel and white piggy, Cadbury, was in her little ‘house’… the interior of which was covered in blood.
So was Cadbury. Shivering, quivering, shaking, burbling, bleeding Cadbury.
And her right eyeball was hanging out.
Yeah, its gross, but there you have it.
I started saying, “No, no, no” over and over. I was shaking, realizing I was unequipped to deal with the situation.
I’m a veterinarian but I am not an exotics specialist who knows how to deal with a Guinea Pig in shock with massive blood loss and a hanging-out-eyeball.
Guinea Pigs have a ‘venous plexus’ (lots of blood vessels) in their eye socket. I guess that’s where Calypso chomped down. He also chomped her in other areas, leading to a broken nose and many wounds all over her chubby little body.
So I did the only thing I knew how to do.
I held her. For a long time.
I told Cadbury that I loved her and that I would do whatever I needed to do. (Marmalade was moving around and not bleeding anywhere, much less injured than her sister.)
At some point during all of this, Calypso sheepishly sauntered into the bathroom, his chin, chest, abdomen and paws also covered in blood. Not his, of course.
“Oh, my,” he exclaimed, “I have no clue what happened in here.”
Yeah, right. Asshole.
(I will add now that I absolutely love ferrets and this blog is in no way suggesting that you shouldn’t own one because you should! You just shouldn’t let them out when you forget to shut the door to the piggies.)
As luck would have it, my new textbook on Exotic Animal medicine had arrived a few days prior. Talk about an upturn in my exotic animal learning curve.
Cadbury wouldn’t let me touch the, er… eyeball, which, to be honest, was fine. It creeped me out.
I cleaned their wounds and whipped into town to my clinic to grab some piggy-appropriate antibiotics (go, Baytril!) and anti-inflammatories (yay, Metacam!)
I called the emergency vets in Missoula who admitted to having as much knowledge as I had.
So I winged it.
I hand-fed Cadbury, making sure she was eating her veggies- lettuce, parsley, carrots, and cucumbers. Sitting in my lap she would reach for and eagerly take each piece, one by one, which gave me hope.
I drove home at lunch every day for a week, telling nobody other than Alistair and my staff what had happened.
Morning and night I syringed the medications into both of them (no small feat- those mouths are tiny!)
I hand fed. I told them I loved them.
I could never get a hold of that dangling black, dry, horrific-looking, deflated eyeball but the other wounds all began to heal.
Alistair made it back from ND the following week. He was upset to see our little girls so chewed up. He was amazed they were alive.
And then, one morning, Cadbury was chirping again. Whistling and scooting around their little pen, much more active than she’d been since the attack.
Her eyeball had fallen off!
And she was excited!
Not something I wanted to post on facebook, you understand, but I, too, was ecstatic!
Now my little one-eyed wonder is back to normal with her red-headed buddy. They whistle, they chirp, they say ‘booda booda’ and ‘voot voot’. They call to me when they hear me open the refrigerator if its around the time of day they get their fresh veggies. They call to me when I walk past their bathroom, differentiating my walk from everyone else’s.
I talk with them all of the time, just like I did this morning, sharing that I would be sharing their story and the significance of the Kentucky Derby.
Guinea Pigs aren’t the most interactive pets but our girls certainly have a relationship with me.
I’ve never blamed the ferrets. The whole thing was my fault.
I live with that better than I might have because Cadbury lived.
Calypso learned all about karma himself but that’s for another time.
Where there is life, there is hope.
Like with blind Loki, I wasn’t going to give up on Cadbury.
Even with the dangling eyeball.
For today, I will clean up for the run at Churchill Downs and hope for fast, healthy horses and solid ground.
And maybe tonight, my whistling, tweeting, one- and two-eyed Guinea Pigs will get an extra piece of celery and a few more sprigs of parsley.
And I will tell them I love them.
Which I think they know, but its always nice to hear.