Oh, Andy! Or: Trying to Treat a Goose with a Broken Leg

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My Pilgrim gander, Andy, has had a grievous accident. I am not sure he will survive it.

Yesterday it was so bitter and windy with blowing snow — we have 18″ of snow so far — I left all the animals indoors after breakfast. Normally in these cases I put a bale of hay in front of Moxie’s stall, to prevent Andy from going under the gate and harassing her. Yesterday, to my sorrow, I forgot.

Cut goose bars has been on my list for weeks, and was in fact on my list yesterday. The plank I’d planned to cut into goose-blocking bars for Moxie’s and Elsa’s gates was lying ready on the barn aisle floor. The Skilsaw, screws, and screw gun were in my truck. I simply hadn’t gotten to the job yet.

I was intent on driving some necessary T-posts before the ground froze. I had been wading through the deep snow in the stinging wind, pulling a guide line and stamping out a path, when it occurred to me to duck into the barn and pass out more hay if needed. The first thing I saw when my eyes adjusted to the gloom was my gander, Andy, sitting placidly in Moxie’s stall, while she ate hay beside him. Andy is never placid, and particularly would not be when his girls were fleeing honking down the aisle.

I knew immediately it was bad.

I also knew that whatever had happened, Andy had provoked it. I was quite sure he had slipped under Moxie’s gate and pinched at her udder, flapping and shrieking with delight when she couldn’t get away. The manure on his breast testified to her panicky kicks. I have seen this scenario dozens of times. Andy is an inveterate fool who loves to bully cows and horses and to feel powerful and victorious when they bolt in fright. How many times have I swooped to pin his wings against my chest and carry him away, lecturing him on the foolishness of a 14-pound goose taking on a half-ton horse or even a 700-pound cow? He has been stepped on by terrified large animals on a dozen occasions. Each time Andy has been bruised and limping but not seriously hurt.

Not this time. He could not move. His left leg hung useless.

My heart plummeted. He may be a fool, but Andy and I have greeted each other every morning for five and a half years. We know each other’s ways. We’re old pals.

I picked him up, wrapped him in a towel, and tied the towel with baling twine to keep him quiet in my truck. The twine, however, appeared to me to be unnecessary. Andy was completely docile with shock.

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I had planned to take him to the vet, but when I called from my truck, the doctor was out skiing and the receptionist advised me that they did not deal with birds, anyway. I drove home and while Andy waited in the warm, running truck, I googled “how to set goose broken leg.”

goose-skeletonThe news was not good. In such a big, heavy bird, surgery and surgical pins are recommended. Even if I could afford it, there is no avian vet in the North Country. Moreover, my cursory examination revealed that the big bone was broken in at least one place and maybe two. I have circled the broken bone on the photo of a goose skeleton, right (isn’t the internet wonderful? This is a goose from the U.K.).

At first I thought the bone was the femur, because it reached thigh-high, half buried in the feathers, but in a goose, I learned from inspecting diagrams, the femur is higher still, and shorter. This is Andy’s tibiotarsus. Still not good. While it’s not the femur, in a goose the tibiotarsus is in fact the long weight-bearing bone.

“He broke the bone that’s sort of like the femur,” I said to DH.

“The femur!” DH was once an EMT. He has taught anatomy and First Aid. “You have to put him down.”

“No,” I said stubbornly. “I have to try.”

I’m not an idiot and I’m not heartless. If Andy had been tormented by pain, I’d have ended his life immediately. However, while he was clearly in pain and shock, he was not in agony. I still thought there might be a chance, and when there is a chance, I cannot give up.

sam-finger-splint-12-pkg-40415825-1200_1200I waded with Andy in my arms through thigh-deep drifts to the farm apartment. All my animal medical supplies are in the garage. There I sat with Andy in my lap and fashioned a simple splint out of orange and blue SAMsplint — soft bendable metal covered with a material resembling moleskin, meant for broken fingers. Andy was strangely calm in my lap while I worked. Though he was not restrained in any way, he sat quietly.

I cut a small splint, trying to fit it to his leg. The thick feathers and down on his leg, belly, and side made any taping difficult. One site recommended “plucking errant feathers” but I wasn’t about to do that. I trimmed a few awkwardly with scissors and told myself I’d deal with it later. I got the splint on, padded with gauze, and secured everything with Vet Wrap. To keep the splinted leg stable, I tried binding it in position against his body with a Vet Wrap belly band.

Then I drove Andy back to the barn. I divided the goose stall in half with wire panels to keep him safe from curious beaks. (Though they often don’t intend any harm, “nibbled to death by ducks” is a real thing.)

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Andy’s daughters murmured and peered at him in worry while Kay, his wife, heartlessly turned her back and took a drink.

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When I left last night, Andy had taken a few sips of water and was already tugging at the Vet Wrap, trying to pull it off. He seemed a little brighter, but there was still that strange calm. I steeled myself to find him dead this morning.

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However, when I peered into the stall today, Andy lifted his head and hissed at me. Excellent!  He had successfully pulled off the belly band; his leg lay crooked in the hay, the foot crumpled and twisted. Oh, dear.

This afternoon I shoveled a path to the apartment and assembled my tools. Then I scooped up Andy and carried him to the garage. He definitely had more energy, whapping me a couple of times in the nose with his wings before settling down calmly in my lap once more. He nibbled gently at my jacket sleeve.

With clippers, I shaved off a lot of the down and feathers on the leg and on the breast surrounding the leg. Powdered down filled the air and covered the floor.

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By now there was a lot of swelling — so much that even without the feathers it was difficult to gauge the exact point of the break. I decided to use two splints, one long and one short, to support both sides of the bone. I padded the trimmed edges of the Samsplints with moleskin for softness, and fixed them in place with paper tape, “for sensitive skin,” before wrapping the whole once more in Vet Wrap.

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To keep Andy from removing the Vet Wrap, I wound electrical tape on top. (It’s hard to dream up a splint that’s simultaneously breathable and goose-proof.)

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Tonight I put Andy back in the stall. The prognosis is terrible for this kind of break, but I will keep trying as long as he’s not suffering. I have not seen him eat, and when he evacuated his stool was clear. This worries me. I can only watch and wait.

Oh, Andy! I’m so sorry this happened to you.

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