Yesterday I took Sunny, the little lamb of my heart, to the large animal clinic at the University of Illinois at Urbana. It was a big experience for both of us as we had never been to a vet that specializes in livestock animals. He had never been in a vehicle and I never drove a lamb anywhere. We took to the highway as an odd yet fitting couple under a cloudy morning. As we pulled out of the driveway I stopped shortly to put some grass in his basket to nibble on the way. I kept the music at a soft level and smiled when I looked over to see a long piece of grass being nibbled at the root and hanging out of the side of his mouth as we wheeled away. The cloudy light struck just enough in his eye to reveal their chocolate nature as they peered up at me.
Since taking him into my room in attempts to sustain and encourage his life to thrive we have formed a remarkable bond. He gets cozy on my chest and folds his legs underneath him, rests his chin upon my clavicle, and falls asleep making the slightest of breathy sounds. I have retired the notion that death is an option and have continued to love him deeply and nourish him whenever he cries in the night and day. I have been very pleased with his gradual improvements and caring for him is a practice in patience. I have never expected him to bounce up like a completely healthy lamb because that was not the start he was handed in life. He was handed a different set of obstacles from the beginning and so if I expected anything it was slow progress. I have been so happy to see him make improvements while continuing to research lambs, conditions they may be susceptible to, and illnesses that follow suit to the symptoms Sunny appears to hold. There were many markers of health which indicated positive growth; he had continued to gain weight, his eating had been more vigorous and steady on the bottle, and his lethargy improved bit by bit but in the most incremental of ways. The latter of which has been the prime point of my concern.
It worried me to see him gaining weight but remaining relatively still for most of the day. His joints appeared stiff and difficult to move. I began to wonder if he suffered from joint ill, polyarthritis, or a bacterial arthritis which would explain why he would get up, take a few steps, and lie back down. I have learned that some lambs suffer this condition, continue to gain weight, their joints become so stiff that it is painful and they remain lame while only getting larger. Sheep as such end up needing to be put down due to their illness. If caught early, however, a simple antibiotic treatment would prevent all of that. I felt the joints in the front of his legs which seemed to be slightly swollen and I wondered if he was in pain.
The veterinarian, students, and vet techs were all fantastic and knowledgeable. Upon entering the clinic everyone fell in love with Sunny immediately and fawned over him as they donned their baby animal cooing voices. I loved to show him to everyone as he shined so brightly and made everyone flourish with happiness. They would say, “Look at that little sprout of white hair! Little Sunny! Are you the sunshine?? You sure are!” and I would say, “I call him my little Sunshine Sprout!” and kiss him on the head. There was not one person that we passed who did not fawn over him and give him their special voice.
I brought a bottle and jar of extra milk for our road trip and brought it into the clinic with me as well in case the doctor wanted to see how he nurses. After bending his joints, feeling around, assessing his walk, watching him lie down after a tiring small walk, taking his vitals, and watching him nurse, an assessment was made. The doctor did not assess that Sunny suffered from joint ill, specifically because of the way he would lie down when tired as he would lay with pressure on the joints- whereas a lamb with polyarthritis or joint ill may lay to the side or completely abandon use of a limb. He did agree that Sunny’s joints did feel swollen, his gait was entirely stiff and guarded, and appeared to have more hampered movements of his front right leg. So, we ran some blood work to see what his vitamin levels are and how much colostrum he received from mom shortly after birth (I am still amazed that this can be assessed by blood work!), and to check for any other potential infections that may be occurring to cause his symptoms and developmental delays.
Sunny was given an anti-inflammatory for his joints and potential pain in the meantime while we wait for blood results. The veterinarian said that if he had inflammation and pain that was preventing him from walking, and contributing to his lethargy, that the medication would show immediate results within a day. I felt it imperative to write now to say that today has been Sunny’s first most healthy day which was filled with such remarkable vitality! Although he sleeps in a playpen in my room, I take him outside during the day to get fresh air and to give him the opportunity to be among his natural elements and walk around. Typically he will just lie in the grass, get up to take a few steps, plop back down, nibble around, and will not leave the area from where he was originally placed. It is as though you sat a turtle down, came back to check to see how far it had surfed 20 minutes later, only to find it moved a few feet. Today he followed me around the barn as I did chores! He would still stop to rest in little nooks as needed but he would get up and move around on his own and he would sometimes follow in a tiny gallop!
Just this weekend I said to a friend, “I hope to see the day where Sunny skips like a lamb in the pasture.” He said, “You will. Your love is keeping him alive!” That made my heart soar and buoyant with more hope as we fed him. Today was the day of Sunny’s great skip. He had a delightful little trot with momentum and gained speed. He rose energetically to follow me multiple times, wiggling his tail as he followed suit, and even braved the slippery tile of the living room to follow me entirely into the kitchen! I laughed because it delighted and surprised me to see him speeding behind me to catch up, moving with abandon of such lethargy I had been used to seeing in his movements. Simply nursing from the bottle used to tucker him out so much that he would lie flat on my thighs after suckling and immediately fall asleep. When the doctor mentioned immediate results should be seen if inflammation and pain was his issue, I thought to myself, “In Sunny-Time that means it will be at least 3-4 days to see any differences,” but after two doses of medication he is quickly becoming a spritely young fellow.
Today, Sunny turned an entirely new leaf. It warms my heart immensely to see him easing out of pain and growing into himself as a healthy lamb. The doctor said, “It seems to me that the persistent nursing and love has treated Sunny quite well, Mom,” which all felt so good to hear. I have cherished my moments with him in the rocking chair feeling in my heart that it was a special time for us, knowing that he would not always be so tiny, and knowing that in time he would be so big that he could no longer knee up on my chest, nor would he cry for me in the night to feed. He is sprouting before my very eyes and I savor exactly where we are, not wanting to miss a beat in his development. Sunny’s flowering hour is upon us.
Love wins. It always does. Sometimes, it even gives us new legs and new leaves.