Hoof Beats

There is a saying “If you hear hoof beats, think horses, not zebras.”

We hear it most often when someone is referring to a medical diagnosis, meaning, “if there are two competing diagnosis, one being simple and logical and the other being exotic and rare….think simple (think horses).

I have a difficult time knowing when to apply this theory.

I think horses when surrounded by zebra’s and vice versa.

Thankfully Dr. Google was not invented when my kids were growing up because I would have been at the family doctor regularly stating things like, “My daughter has a rash, do you think it might be Chikungunya? (a nasty viral infection transmitted by mosquito’s, most often found in Africa and Asia)”. I would see Zebra’s EVERYWHERE!

Even doctors make this mistake. Once I visited an E.R. with an extremely damaged hand from a fall during roller derby practice (yes….roller derby). My fingers were twisted in all sorts of directions and I was giddy with shock. The doctor took a look and declared, “Dislocation” and I happily walked out the E.R. reassured that all he heard were hoof beats. Days later, when the hand was swollen to twice its size and the slightest touch to a finger-tip would render me incapacitated in pain, I went to see my regular physician. The diagnosis following x-ray? Not just broken fingers, but a couple so badly shattered that the only way to heal them would be to set them as best we could and hope for a successful outcome. Obviously the original Doc should have been thinking Zebra’s….not horses.

Here is another example. When I was about 18 years of age, I approached my parents with a medical mystery. My hands up to my wrists had become blue and I was concerned that I was suffering from heart failure (because…..I was 18 and that would be the logical thinking). My parents were worried, especially my father because he had suffered from heart issues and it was always top of mind for him. We were all seeing a thundering herd of Zebra’s pounding the dry, scorched earth of the Serengeti. Thankfully, and before I could grab my car keys and race to the emergency room for what surely would become open heart surgery, my uncle, who happened to be visiting, asked, “Are those new jeans?”.

Of course they were new, unwashed jeans.

He then asked, “Have you placed your hands in the pockets today?”

Of course I had.

Here Horsey, Horsey!

Crisis averted.

So it is fairly obvious that I have difficulty distinguishing between the sounds of hoof beats. When I was younger I would incorrectly hear Zebra’s and now that I am older, I incorrectly hear horses.

Case in point.

My eyes are getting worse with age. In fact, if my body was deteriorating as quickly as my vision, I would be getting one of those, “I have fallen, and I can’t get up” buttons to wear.

The other day, I was getting ready to leave for work and I dug into my purse to grab my $5.00 sunglasses. I put them on and immediately noticed something strange with my vision. One eye was darker and clouded, while the other eye could see clearly. There was an obvious problem. Amidst the din of the Zebra hoof beats I tried to concentrate enough to create a bit of a list:

Had a suffered a stroke? (I smile to make sure one side of my face has not lost the ability to function). No…..thankfully I did not exhibit any of the stroke symptoms. My vision must be deteriorating at a rapid rate! How can one eye get so bad so quickly?

Sadness overwhelmed me and I left the office, resigned to the fact that my vision was on a slip and slide and careening quickly out of control.

I slipped into my vehicle, started my car and pressed on the brake while I placed my hand on centre console shifter, readying myself to place it into reverse. (Side Note: Even though I have convinced myself that I was going blind in one eye, I still felt that I was able to drive?). At this same moment I looked in the review mirror and began to laugh hysterically at my reflection.


My vision was not failing!!!! I had simply lost one lens out of my $5.00 pair of sunglasses that I have a habit of tossing (sans case) into my purse. No wonder one eye was clear and the other cloudy and gray. The remaining lens was not only shading me from the bright sun, but it was also so filthy dirty that it was difficult to see through.

Tears sprung to my eyes (although with the broken sunglasses, I could only see tears in one eye). Relief washed over me as the sound of hoof beats faded away.

I thought to myself, “I am not going blind! Thankfully, I am just an idiot”

Originally published in the Alaska Highway News April 8, 2015

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