I went to Kariega today convinced that I was going to have to put Themba to sleep. The first report for the day, was not good, as he didn’t start today off very alert. Yesterdays situation combined with this news added up to only one thing. So with much trepidation I approached the reserve knowing that unless his circumstances changed my mind, euthanasia was not going to be avoided. By the time I had got there he had perked up and seemed no different to what he had been for the past 4 days. He passed more loose dung overnight which is not good but he did do a bit of grazing during the two hours of deliberation I spent with him.
The lab finally received the blood samples from 4 days back and they ran them onto their analysers immediately and let me know straight away, which was such a help. I consulted with Prof Reyers who has been assisting with the interpretation of the blood tests and of so much benefit when there are elements of doubt creeping into this case.
Clinically he has deteriorated since these samples were taken so any sign of a marked deterioration in the major indicators, compared to the week before that, would have confirmed the worst for me. Surprisingly, although many indicators are still very worrying, there were signs of some improvement in his liver circumstances, his kidneys showed a very mild deterioration but these were only fractionally over normal limits before. His indicators of inflammation do show a shift some up and some down but there was still regeneration of these cells indicating that his bone marrow was still functioning. The most concerning indicators were that his protein levels have been dropping and there are indicators of dehydration although mild. The conclusion was that there are not indicators of major system collapse or organ failure. Four days old, but positive.
I then approached Themba on foot to guage his levels of alertness and went in very close on purpose to force him to use his leg. His temperament is still encouraging in that he is responsive and while I was close to him he took a few mouthfuls of food. The use of his leg remains the same as he can hardly take any weight on it. The discharge from his leg has improved mildly over the past 2 days and is more bloody than before.
With this information I decided to immobilised him with a very low dose of anaesthetic. The final barrier for me was to do a quick evaluation of his leg which, to my great relief, hadn’t got any worse since I was last in there. The decision to delay his euthanasia was made. We kept him down just long enough to give him a full spectrum of injections before waking him up. He recovered well and has taken a few mouthfuls of food since.
This is such a tough call to make and I am sure that many will question my judgement given 23 days of struggle for him. I am comfortable that full consideration to all circumstances have taken us this far and consultation with other veterinary experts has given some guidance from outside of his case. Should I have to go back on this decision and put him down tomorrow or later, we will all look back and know that I have made the wrong call. For now, without the benefit of that hindsight, he lives to fight another day.