Monday, February 11, 2013

MY FIRST YEAR WITH TIPPY

MY FIRST YEAR WITH TIPPY

This Wednesday, February 13th, will be the one year anniversary of my partnership with Tippy.  As I look back over the year, I remember the emotion with which I faced our adventures. 
 
From the moment I met Tip, he has blessed me with the eye contact that assures me that all will be okay, that he’s “in it” with me, no matter what we may encounter.  And, that has definitely been the case.  I wasn’t sure how I would handle a new partner.  Would I be able to love him as I did my first partner?  Would he be able to “read” me the same?  Would he be able to fit into my life as seamlessly?  Within the first hour of our meeting, all my concerns were put to rest.  I felt like I had been partnered with him for years.  The love I felt for him, and he for me was nearly palpable.  It still amazes me that this can happen almost instantaneously.  It felt as though he could sense my confidence that lay just below the surface, and allowed it to rise to the occasion until it felt natural once again.  The fact that he was so laid back, and prefers to wait for direction was just what I needed at that time.

Training was actually exciting, as I watched Tippy look to me for guidance, and then carry out exactly what I asked.  Both Tippy and Richie, my classmate Andy’s pup, were amazing.  I often look back and feel that they led us through the training.  Brian was a great teacher for us.  As the 2 dogs were products of the same prison program, Concord “Farm” (NECC), they had trained together, with Brian as their trainer and so our class was a great adventure.  I feel that Andy and I were blessed with these 2 absolutely amazing dogs.

Service Dogs, that is, and that is exactly what Tippy has been for me this last year….among so many other “titles”!  Service Dog, Life Coach, Travel Companion, Cheer Master, Confidence Builder, Confidant, Snuggle Buddy, Heating Pad, Physical Support, Life Saver….both literally and figuratively…., and perhaps, most of all, Best Friend.  Tippy has slept through church services, attended dinners, kept me calm during flights, and been by my side, as I continue my work with the US Pain Foundation, while I speak and testify in support of the rights of people living with chronic pain.  I have to mention here that the latter would not be possible without Tippy, and my classmate from my first NEADS class who introduced me to this new me….the one that is not terrified of speaking in public. 
 
Tippy has accompanied me as I testified in New Jersey, Rhode Island, before the FDA in DC, and as we traveled to St. Louis to speak to a group of employees from a major pharmaceutical company about what it is like being a person living with chronic pain.  He has been by my side when I was interviewed for both television and print.  He has entertained children and adults alike with demonstrations of his amazing skills, along with some “fun” behaviors. 
 
We just returned from DC, where once again he proved to be my distraction from self imposed stress.  I actually don’t get stressed any more before speaking, but looking at him lets me know that everything will work out just fine.  This time, when I walked up to the table to testify, Tippy automatically went under the table, turned around and lay there waiting for me to finish and begin to rise when he, too, rose and stood at my side so I could brace myself to stand.  No commands were necessary.  This is what is meant by seamlessly fitting into my life.  He delighted the hotel staff with his behaviors and personality, and made a long 4 days more like a vacation than work….

The bottom line is….would I have rather not gotten ill?  Absolutley!  But, had I not, I would not have received Tippy, and found out what I am truly capable of….a whole new life, truly enhanced by the blessing of my Service Dog, Tippy, and my new family at NEADS…..


 


Sunday, December 30, 2012

It's Been Too Long......

I wanted to begin with this photo of my 28 months old granddaughter, Maddy.  I believe that the holiday season is about innocence at it's core.  We never gave many gifts at home when the children were small.  Not only was it kinder on the finances of a young family, moreover, we felt it was important that they understood what Christmas truly is. A birthday.  The birthday.  I used to tell Bethany, Aaron, and Emily, that we were fortunate that Jesus chose to share such a special day with each of us.  May we all enjoy the innocence of a child....... 

It has been 2 1/2 months since my last post.  I had a very difficult late summer and fall with my health.  The 2 previous summers I found myself in the ICU at the end of August due to breathing issues.  Since all of my issues stem from my ever weakening proximal muscles, the stress of dealing with heavy(humid) summer air leads to my being unable to take in adequate breaths.....thus, I find myself in a panic situation.  This year, I refused to be admitted, agreed to breathing treatments and IV fluids in the ER, and came home when I felt I was out of the woods.  I was able to continue the breathing treatments round the clock at home, in a much calmer atmosphere.  Unfortunately, this also meant that I wasn't able to rest enough and the exacerbation hung on well into autumn.  After several courses of antibiotics, and much prednisone, my breathing was less labored and I could begin to enjoy life again.  Thank God that I had Tippy by my side all the while.  I struggle with severe depression due to my health issues, and without him it would have been extremely easy for me to sink into a "funk".  There is most definitely something to be said for the look of a Lab, that unconditional love and approval that only a dog can provide.  The warmth of his eyes, and of his snuggle close beside you.

I pretty much went from being sick and "down for the count" to up and going with responsibilities for US Pain(which I truly had missed during my "hiatus"), NEADS graduation, Thanksgiving, being present for the Essex(CT) Rotary "table" at the "Ivoryton Illuminations, then of course events leading up to....and including Christmas!

I have to say that the highlight of the fall season was most definitely NEADS graduation.  It's always an event I look forward to, but this one was extra special....perhaps even including my own graduations with Alli and then Tippy.  Not only was Tip's WPR(Weekend Puppy Raiser) Anne-Marie in attendance, but the couple who named him was also present!  Tippy was named by Andrea, whose father had had a dog named Tippy as a young man.  This is why I think it's so special that people donate to NEADS to name a puppy. The names come from a variety of origins, but I personally like it when a name is chosen to honor a loved one who has passed.  That way, the name continues to "live on".  As in Tippy's case, Andrea's father has passed away, but the name of his beloved pet as a child is once again making it's way in the world.  How special is that?  Now that I know the reason for his name, "Tippy" is perfect.....just as perfect as he is.  

I had 3 trips this fall for US Pain.  The first was in Connecticut, supporting open access to all pain medications shown to be effective to be on the Medicaid Formulary.  I testified for "Neuro-pathic pain" medications.  The committee approved the proposed meds.  Next, Mark and I traveled to Washington, D.C. to testify before the FDA committee regarding a "New Drug Application" for a pain med.  It was actually a bit more controversial than I expected....and the committee did not approve the application.  The FDA does not always take the committee's decision, but I believe this time they will.  The pharmaceutical company was told to create a safer means of dispensing, i.e. more difficult to abuse.  We were in D.C. for 3 days, Thursday to Saturday I then went to RI, accompanied by Emily, the following Tuesday to make a statement on Wednesday for US Pain before a committee similar to the one in Connecticut.  While it was a whirlwind few weeks, I do love to get away, and it's quite fulfilling knowing that I am hopefully able to make a positive difference in the lives of chronic pain sufferers.

Being with the Rotary for the lighting of the Christmas lights in our very small town felt right on so many levels.  I will always help the Rotary when asked, both because they are a great service organization, and because they donated $8,500 toward the partnership between Tippy and me.  Bishop's Orchard donated 1,000 cider doughnuts  to the Rotary to give out at the event.  They had a table in the Ivoryton Inn, and as it turned out, "Guiding Eyes of Southeastern Ct" happened to be right next to us at a right angle.  The twist is that Tippy is a product of the Guiding Eyes breeding program.  He was never "in" the training program.  When puppies in their litters are not the desired temperament, "GE's" offers them to other Service Dog organizations for a fee.  Alli was actually a GE's dog too.  Tippy would not have been a good guide for the blind because he prefers to wait for direction, he doesn't like to make mistakes.  A guide dog for the blind, needs to be a dog who can lead, take charge, waiting for direction could be dangerous for his/her partner.  We were graced by the presence of 3 puppies that GE's puppy raisers brought for their organization, 2 yellow Labs, and 1 black Lab.  SO CUTE!!!  

 
 Finally, let me finish with the absolute joy I shared with Tippy in the fresh snowfall yesterday and today.  I'm sure there will be a lot more happy days shared in the snow, but I want to share a picture and a video that I took today....10 1/2" of pure white bliss lends itself to the best medicine there is....laughter!!!

This first one has Tippy doing the "Snow Dog Shimmy"

video




Next, this photo shows the caring, loving, face of my best friend, my partner...... 

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! 


 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Sometimes You Have To Decide If Pushing Ahead Is Worth The Illness At The End.....

This has been a tough month physically, but it has also been a month of growing.  I started with the usual sinus infection.  I knew, just like I did the thousand other times, that I needed my antibiotics.  I actually had to convince the ER doc that this is the way it always starts, and that I have to begin the meds right away, or the infection turns into a major event.  My problem, when I get ill, is that if it attacks my respiratory system I'm screwed.  I have both asthma, and due to my proximal myopathy, I also have restrictive lung disease.  That means I can't breath in and I can't breath out.  Obviously, that can pose a bit of a problem.  Several days later, I finally thought I was turning the corner towards getting well.  Wrong!  One day after that I began feeling worse than I did to begin with.  I tried to stay down, home, away from stray germs thinking that I could beat it.  I ended up at my doctor's office on a Saturday morning.  He put me on a much stronger antibiotic.  Once again I tried to stay down, aside from a couple of medical appointments, and a couple plans I had made dealing with NEADS and/or Tippy.  

On Wednesday, the 3rd, Tippy and I along with my good friend Cindy went to Boston to volunteer at WBUR, 90.9, their public radio station.  It was their annual pledge event to help support their programming.  I had never done anything like this, but actually enjoyed the day.  I'm always game to do something for NEADS as a way of helping to pay forward what they have meant to me.  As I said, I enjoyed speaking with those calling in to pledge who told me how they donate every year.  I enjoyed the tour of the station, and spending time speaking with the staff about our dogs.  We were there in shifts, so the picture below doesn't show all who participated.









Well, as it turns out, while I felt good emotionally helping the radio station and NEADS.....for every 3 people NEADS had at the event, the station would mention the organization on air.....it was probably the worst thing I could have done for my health.  It was a damp, drizzly day, and we had needed to rise early for the 2 hour drive.  Even though we left almost on time, we still had fast-food for breakfast, and I felt rushed until we arrived.  I had not felt well from the time I got up, and was certain that I'd be "ill" sometime during the day.  I hate that feeling.  It's that feeling that if I could just get sick, I might feel better, but I never found out and just felt lousy all day.  We had a 2 hour drive home but stopped on the Mass Pike for a bite to eat at a Boston Market.  I was going to have something substantial hoping that it may make me feel better but, after thinking of the long drive home stuck in the car, I settled on a bowl of chicken soup....YAY!!!  Oh my gosh did that hit the spot!  I promised myself that I would stay down all day Thursday, Tippy's 2nd birthday, because he and I had a big day on Friday.

Of course I did not stay down on Thursday.  I had already planned on baking for Friday.  I had requested, and been approved, to take Tippy to the prison where he was trained for his birthday.  While I wasn't allowed to bring a cake to the prison, I did decide that I would bake something to take to NEADS on the way home.  As I said, I wanted to take Tippy to the prison for his birthday.  The way I look at it, they actually knew him longer than I have so far, and I really wanted to let them know what it means to me to receive a dog that they put so much time and love into.  Tippy also spent his 1st birthday with them, and I really wanted to celebrate his 2nd with someone.  I spent Thursday running around picking up the ingredients I needed for my baking.  I settled on a Pumpkin Spice bread for the "humans" at NEADS, and Pumpkin-Peanut Butter dog treats for their dogs.  For once, I actually baked enough to leave a loaf at home.  The recipe made 2 loaves and I left the smaller one at home.  The dog treats came out great!  I bent a cookie cutter that was shaped like a flower into the shape of a dog bone.  I love to bake!  When I had to stop teaching, I had planned on doing baking on the side.  I have been baking for years and actually got pretty good at using fondant.  Unfortunately, by the time I stopped teaching I wasn't strong enough to knead, whether it was bread dough or fondant.  I've been baking pies since I was six thanks to my grandmother.  Always from scratch, and using knives and forks to mix....."just like grandma used to make".  I rarely stray from the back to basics way of baking.  Anyway, I now use the bread machine to knead my doughs....or my daughter....and try to bake more often, but am usually up to it when asked.

Back to Friday, the 5th.  I've tried to post this since Saturday or Sunday the 6th/7th but between being sick and sick of a laptop which doesn't choose to work half the time now it's been near impossible.  

The visit to the prison was amazing!  It was so good to be around those who know Tippy's personality.....really know it.  When I give Tip a command, he just about always does it....rarely does he look at me and decide, "I think not".  But, what he does do is analyze the command and decide how to do it the best way possible.  This often results in the appearance of being lazy or slow.  He's not.  He just is very deliberate in everything he does.  I loved the chuckles I heard as I "put him through his paces!"  I loved hearing the memories the inmates have of Tippy's time with them.  I had a couple of questions, one of them about a behavior I'm trying to get him to do and Tippy's "back up trainer", who happens to still be in the program offered solutions.  I explained what exactly Tippy does for me, how that has fit into my activities, and how he has enhanced my life.  The gentlemen were interested in Tip's experiences when testifying with me.  They especially got a kick out of how he picks up his leash when he's ready to go and looks at me with "that look!"  He doesn't get up, he just lets it be know...albeit very quietly and subtly....that he is ready to go at any time.  I enjoyed hearing the stories about the puppies the men have now, their personalities, etc.  One of the times when I dropped something and asked Tip to "fetch", he very deliberately followed the command.  One of the inmates, with a good sized pup said that his dog would have attacked the item to be fetched, not gone slowly as Tippy does.  It was wonderful to see the love the men have for their charges, how proud they are of the dog's abilities, and obvious that they were, in turn, getting that unconditional love that only a dog can provide.  I really wish that I had remembered to ask to have our picture taken with the inmates.  I had put my phone in Tippy's vest just for that reason.  I'm not sure whether they would have approved the pic, but I really had wanted to include one here.  The service these men provide really can't be measured, at least not until one sees the before and after of the client upon receiving their partner.  I spoke to the men about my desire to get involved in "Rally-O" with Tippy.  Rally-O(I can't remember if I've explained it in an earlier post..)is an activity where the handler and their dog maneuver through a course which has commands/direction posted along the way.  I explained that Tippy is so great at following his directions that although I don't believe we'd do well "times wise", I do believe we'd be amazing at performing the tasks.  At this point I actually got up....the men got to see how Tippy helps me up from a chair....and gave him a series of commands....which he followed perfectly!  They seemed happy and quite proud at his abilities and his unbelievable eye contact as he performed whatever was asked.

I apologize if this has come out disjointed, but between writing it on 3 different occasions, and currently being on 30mg of codeine sulfate every 4 hours 'round the clock, along with my reg meds and inhalers, I'm feeling a bit disjointed myself.  I ended up at the ER once again at the end of this busy day, and eventually had to put a call into my pulmonologist's office as my muscles were just getting way too tired to continue breathing.....I know, but it seems that breathing is kind of important..... so that my diaphragm can get a bit of a rest.  **(Despite my breathing difficulties, I have never needed to be intubated, and really, really, don't plan on it!!!!  Also, when I enter the ER, I do so with the announcement that I will not go to the hospital.  This hasn't always turned out to be true, but most of the time I end up going home!)   Thank God that's what my doc did. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Amazing Grace


Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.

'Twas Grace that taught my heart to fear,
And Grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear,
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come.
'Twas Grace that brought me safe thus far,
And Grace will lead me home.

When we've been here ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We've no less days to sing God's praise,
Than when we first begun.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me,
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see......


Every morning when I get into the shower, I automatically sing Amazing Grace.  I don't think about it, I just do it.  I find that on days that I'm not doing well, I realize I didn't sing.  I'm not sure when I started doing it, but I know that it was the song that I sung when rocking my youngest child.  The odd thing is that when she was just 2 years old, my muscular disorder kicked in.  When I had Alli, I would get into the shower close the door, and begin to sing.  EVERY DAY she would get up, move to the bathmat just outside the shower, curl up and snooze.  As soon as I shut off the shower, she would get up, move back onto the rug, and lay down.  And, EVERY DAY I would say, "Do you honestly think I don't know you move?"  With Tippy, the same thing happens with the exception of the final move.  He moves to the mat when I begin singing, but doesn't bother moving when I'm done.  In fact, I have to talk him into moving out of the way so I can step out.  However, in both cases, if I don't sing, neither of the dogs would move.  I'm not sure if it means they like it or not.  I'm pretty sure Tip finds it calming.  I know it settles me, comforts me with warmth though I don't think about it until after....interesting......

On Friday, my friend Cindy and I are taking Tippy back to the prison in which he was trained.  His birthday is Thursday and I thought it would be nice to share with the inmates, the gentlemen, what he has been doing these last 7 months.  I am so looking forward to it.  They are responsible for this amazing creature being the Godsend that he is, so I really think its apropos.

Until later, feel the Grace that fills us all........

Sunday, September 23, 2012

What Would I Do Without Tippy.......?

September is National Assistance Dog month.  It has caused me to sit back, and take stock of my life.  I tried to think about where I might be had Alli, my first Service Dog, not come to me when she did.  I truly believe in Fate....I think everything happens for a reason.  There is a saying that the best days of your life are yet to come.  Well, the best days of my life have been, with the exception of the birth of my 3 children and 1 grandchild, since the onset of my illness in 1992.  I'm excited knowing that with all the good that has come to me....the best is yet to come!  It has been difficult, even at the best of times, to function with an unknown illness attacking my muscles progressively.  However, the experiences I've had and the lessons I've learned because of this illness have been invaluable.  Do I wish I didn't have this illness, of course, but I honestly don't think I'd change anything in my life.  I think I'm a far "better" person with it than without, and believe that I will accomplish more now than I ever could have.  But, back to Tippy....and of course, Alli.  When I went for training with Alli in Nov. of '09, I met 3 classmates that will forever be a part of my life, a part of who I am.  I have never been a "woe is me" gal, and have actually functioned as though I have no disability as much as I can.  It takes a toll not only on your body, but your mind and soul as well when you try to deny it's existence.  But my classmates taught me that while I am a person with a disability, a chronic pain survivor, it doesn't have to define me as an individual.  Before Alli, I had taught Pre-K and at times 4 yrs. olds for 26 years.  I have always been able to speak with and interact with children, but nearly always shied away from adults.....a definite result from lack of self-confidence, and not the greatest self-esteem.  Since receiving Alli, however, I love being out in public.  I have so much more self-confidence/esteem than I ever thought I would.  I am so proud to have the company and unconditional love of my Service Dog. (I always say that we've got a mutual unconditional love thing going on!!!)  I have found my voice, and a great way to share it.  What began with Alli, now continues with Tippy.  I volunteer with the US Pain Foundation helping to make a difference in the lives of chronic pain survivors.  We, Tippy and I, have testified before House and Senate committees on patients' rights.  Particularly, the insurance practice of "Step Therapy/Fail First", and "Specialty Tiers".  In Connecticut, in 2010, Alli and I, along with other advocates,  spoke with legislators .  We were successful, and in late Summer of that year Governor Malloy signed the bill, creating a new law prohibiting insurance companies from requiring patients to try and fail on other pain medications before approving the initial medication that the physician prescribed.  It was the first such law in the nation.  I never in a million years would have imagined myself in this position.  It was the furthest thing from my mind before being partnered with my first Service Dog.  I also love to volunteer at NEADS events.  I have a whole new life thanks to NEADS, one which is so enhanced by the addition of a partner, Tippy.  I love.....and I have to add here that Tippy also loves and thrives on, sharing the NEADS story with others.  Not only do I love telling everyone, anyone, about this wonderful organization, I also love showing them what a Service Dog is capable of providing for their partner.  Tippy is so focused on me when he's working,(and when he's not) that it's almost always remarked by onlookers.  He loves practicing his skills and behaviors, and for the most part he never balks.  Since he takes his obedience so seriously, I think we're going to try "Rally-O".  Rally Obedience is an activity whereby an individual with their dog navigates a course with obedience skills tested throughout.  There are signs, every few yards, with specific behaviors written on them.  The handler is encouraged to speak to the dog often, encouraging them to follow the given directions as well as praising the dog for a job well done.  Tippy looks at me so intently, not wanting to make a mistake, that you can almost see the wheels turning as he processes the commands.  Again, another activity I would not be doing were it not for my Service Dog.  I didn't know this existed when I had my "pet" dogs, but again, it's part of the new world that has opened up before me.  The added, and totally unexpected, benefit is Tippy's ability to alert me to the onset of a migraine before I'm even aware it's coming.  I have chronic severe a-typical migraines, which in at least 3 cases proved to be mild strokes.  Alli began alerting me to this after we were together for a year.  When I was matched with Tippy in February I hoped that he would do it within the first year as well.  He actually began doing it after just 3 months.  He doesn't get them all, but we've only been partners for seven months, so I guess he's ahead of the game already.  As did Alli, Tippy wears my med container on his collar which I'm sure helps him to sense the correlation.

So, where would I be without a Service Dog for my partner?  I would be merely existing...not living my life to the fullest!  I know I would not be enjoying these years, as I now do, always looking to the future and what it might hold....

A future....that's what NEADS has provided, when matchng me with a Service Dog.... not only a future, but a future filled with endless possibilities....

Peace,
Wendy and Tippy!


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Thinking of Jane...............


On Sunday, August 12, 2012 we lost a wonderful woman, a truly gentle soul, a giving person whom I adored and who I think is one of the main reasons I have found my church and church family so comforting.  She is also one of the people responsible for me having a Service Dog.  I used to joke with Jane that I wasn't sure who was more excited about the prospect of me receiving one, me or her!  Jane went to the interview at NEADS with me way back in June of 2009.  She helped to keep me excited and positive about the future.  Through Jane I met Barbara Lincoln, a Weekend Puppy Raiser at NEADS.  They had attended private school together.  A whole new life was before me which, in part, I owe to Jane.  I always say I believe in FATE, and the fact that a friend of hers from school was associated with NEADS.....obviously it was meant to be.  I am pretty sure that when I think of Alli and Tippy, baking pies for church, sitting on a beach, looking to the future, Jane will not be far off..............

I realize it's been more than a month since our last post, but time seems to fly whether you're having fun or not.  It's been a busy summer and along with that it's been particularly humid as well.  I have the hardest time with the humidity as it makes the air so heavy and my muscles are not strong enough to expand my rib cage sufficiently.

Despite being busy and dealing with health issues, we have managed to have a pretty good summer.  The picture above was taken on August 11th, at Indian Ranch in Webster, MA.  Indian Ranch is an outdoor venue with an emphasis on Country music, as well as having a camping area.  In the summer months NEADS holds a fundraiser for Canines for Disabled Vets each Saturday and/or Sunday.  Puppy Raisers and their pups, and clients with their canine partners are present to answer questions, allow the dogs to demonstrate some of their skills, and to allow the public some good old fashioned "dog time"....complete with wet kisses and belly rubs!  It's a wonderful opportunity to show the possibilities for a future life for our wounded soldiers, and the chance for people to donate to an extremely worthy organization.  Raffle tickets are sold and in between the opening and featured band the winner is drawn with a prize of $500 cash.  So many people say they  have heard of NEADS and are happy to have the opportunity to help.  On the 11th, Emily went with me to see Little Feat.  I always say that Tippy takes his job very seriously, and this particular day was no exception.  All day long, people asked to have him demonstrate a few skills.  NOT ONCE did he bawk!  He usually loves to show off....and also loves his carrots as if they were steak!  I answered questions, offered to have him "practice"....... including  bowing and he just kept delivering!!!!  Of course being told how handsome he is was so hard to hear!!!  NEADS client Erin and her Service Dog, Freedom(a very pretty female black lab) did the same, and puppy in training Simian stepped up to the plate too.  All 3 dogs were great, though I think Simian got pretty pooped.  I think he's 9 months, and I've got a feeling he's going to be a big boy like Tippy as his paws are BIG!!!  Emily decide to buy 1 ticket, just one.  Janice called out the $500 ticket, and their was a lot of cheering and clapping.  Then she called the 2nd place number....Indian Ranch had donated two seats up front. Emily began jumping up and down yelling, "I won, it's me!  I won!!!"  I told her to stop it because someone would think she really did....but, SHE REALLY DID WIN!!  We were given seats in front, just off to the side, as you can see from the pic.   Erin offered to watch Tippy while we were close to the stage.  She thought that the volume would not be good for his hearing.  I know that Tip has gone to concerts at Mohegan Sun with me, where we sit on the floor fairly close, and has done just fine.  But, I didn't realize that the speakers would be on the ground right in front of us.  It was definitely too loud.  The box in front of the young man with the red shirt is actually a bank of speakers.  I moved my seat toward the back side of the stage, but eventually felt that it was still too loud for Tippy.  I took him swimming, and we walked up on the hillside to listen and watch.  All in all a great day!

My friend, Cindy, and I went out to our home on Prudence Island from the 14th-21st of August..  I mentioned above that my friend Jane passed away on the 12th.  There were calling hours on the 14th, and a service on the 15th.  I have to say, and please don't think badly of me, that I am thankful that I had already planned to be away.  I don't handle it well when anyone passes, and I find it difficult to attend hours and services even for family members.  I think the way I have felt health wise, it would have been extremely tough. I think it was appropriate to be away, at the beach, in solitude.  Also, Jane would have been thrilled to know that Tippy would provide Cindy and I with 8 days of sheer escape!  We went to the beach every day except 2...or maybe 3???  Tip swam every time, retrieving nearly an hour each time in.  Even when I would tire from standing and would head in, he continued to swim around looking at the float wanting still more tosses.  I posted a video on FB, and I think I will try to post the same one below.  Aside from my constant words of encouragement, I think it's a great film. Tippy also got the hand of me holding his tail and "towing" me into shore.  I can't be in the water much above my waist for more than a minute or so due to the pressure.  I can't breathe and, obviously, that's a problem.  I don't think I've had that much fun on the beach since the children were small.  Tippy was good about staying nearby but if he began to wander a "closer" was all that was needed.  After the first 2 beach days I had to put a 30' leash on periodically, when I wanted to sit, since he decided that it was okay to eat the crab SHELLS that were left as the tide went out.  Who eats the shells!?!  A couple little bites would cause the worse "flatulence" problem for an entire evening and through the night.  Oh, well, he is a Lab!  Another highlight of the week was the Fireman's Fair.  Every year we make sure to be on PI for the fair.  I go primarily for the chowder, clam fritters(which they call cakes), and books.  I like knowing that it helps out the Volunteer Firemen.  They didn't have any chowder when we got there.  Too bad since it was raining just about all day!  The fritters were delicious and I got a bunch of books.  I also met the wife of a gentleman I had met a couple days earlier.  Here comes "Fate" again.......  I met Gil when I was "pottying" Tippy across the road from our house.  He was driving by and stopped to ask me about Tippy.  He explained that he and his wife had 2 Labs, and had decided that they wanted to raise a puppy for a Service Dog.  He said that one organization that he spoke to said that the dogs while in training were required to be on a lead at all times, even when in the yard.   He didn't like the idea at all.....I certainly agreed!  We discussed it further, and I explained quite a bit about NEADS, and exchanged information.  He seems like a very nice gentleman, retired, and upon meeting his wife, found her equally personable.  I'm obviously not "in the know", but they really seemed like they'd be great puppy raisers.  I hope it works out.  He said several times, what a coincidence that we met when they're so interested in doing this.  Then, it turns out that some very good friends of his used to go to our church, and I think I had their son in one of my church school classes....yup, quite a "coincidence"......  Well, it has taken me since Tuesday night to write this.  I kept saying I didn't know what to say....it seems that cleared right up!!!


Yesterday I gave a workshop for a daycare/preschool that I'm going to be the Early Childhood Consultant for.  Really enjoyed it, and the staff, and I felt useful again.  Tomorrow we have our church service at the town "swimming hole" and there will be two "full emersion(?)" baptisms.  Looking forward to it!  Then, Indian Ranch again.....

But first, we're heading out now to take Tip to that "swimming hole"....which happens to be in the same area as the dog park....LOVE to watch how happy he gets when he knows he's going swimming!!!

Peace,
Wendy & Tippy       
 
video

Friday, July 6, 2012

St. Louis Proves Cathartic!

On Wednesday, June 20th, Mark, Tippy and I headed to St. Louis with the US Pain Foundation.  The Cares Alliance and Covidean provided a grant for us to come to speak with the Covidean employees.  They asked for us to share our "story".  Paul Gileno, President/Founder US Pain, Ellen, her husband Stu and Ellen's service dog, Maggie, Nicole Hemminway and her son and mother were all in attendance as well.  I have to say it was one of the best experiences of my entire life.  Isn't it funny that you find out the most about yourself when your not expecting it?!?  It's the first time since our children were born that Mark and I went away without them other than when we went for consultations at various medical centers through the years.  I think it was important for Mark to be there.  He hasn't traveled with me since my muscles and balance have worsened.  It's also the first time he has traveled with me with my service dog along.

I'll get to the cathartic part in a bit....actually, I really think that the entire trip was cathartic....it seemed there were revelations around every corner.  But, let me start with the traveling.  Once again, Tippy was AMAZING!!!!!  I thought that it might be tough in the airport since he likes to wait for direction, but I was so wrong!  The fact that he's constantly watching me made it seem almost seamless as any time we were turning or waiting, he was ready for the next step.  He was so calm, too, that once again my fear of flying was almost nonexistent.  He was wonderful along side my wheelchair as the attendant rolled me where we needed to go.  Trotting along he looked happy, rather pleased with himself.  I loved it!  

Now, the hotel was amazing.  It was the Marriott @ Union Station.  It was, as it sounds, once a train station!  In it's hey day, '30's and '40's,  several thousand people passed through the station daily. How cool is that?!?  The picture above shows Tippy sitting on an original station bench, and plaques commemorating the space on the original bricks.  The space has been turned into the hotel, and a mini mall where the trains once entered and exited.  The architecture is amazing with the original ceiling work in the Grand Hall/Lobby area.  It's really neat.  It has the original iron gates separating the hotel from the mall, and across from the lobby to get to the elevators for the hotel rooms.  The difference is you now use your "card" room key to get through.

I have already said that Tippy was "AMAZING", but you must remember that he is a dog, and he's just turned 21 months......  That being said, I'm sure you'll get a kick out of this little story.  Keep in mind that he did this on Thursday, just a couple of hours before we went to our speaking engagement in which I was including a demonstration by Tippy, showing behaviors and tasks service dogs are trained to do.  Okay, enough build up!  Ellen and I let Maggie and Tippy play in a grassy area just outside the fenced in pool area.  There was a type of "alleyway" that led from that area, and ran along the pool fence and one side of the hotel.  Tippy ran down there once, and came right back.  Ellen said that she thought the gate at the other end was locked.  Well, you know "Murphy's Law", "What can go wrong, will"?  The next time Tippy ran down there, he didn't come back right away.  Just as I was going to look down there a voice called out from the far end of the pool area....."Hey!", "Dog!", "Swimming!"  He was looking over the back of the pool area!  I "ran"(keep in mind...I can't run!) down the alley, and as I neared the end, I saw that the gate was open!!  OH, MY, GOD!!!  Tippy had gone through the open gate, and jumped into the Koi pond that surrounded the hotel on 2 sides!!!!  Definitely not a pool for swimming, ESPECIALLY A DOG!!!  I was mortified!  I called Tip, and he came right a way, but, when he started to climb out he looked at me, then looked back at the pond, and the pond won out!!!  I was aghast!  I called him again, this time "Level 1" recall, "Tippy, Come!"  Once again, he came right over only this time as he exited the pond he continued on.  He definitely knew he'd done something he shouldn't have.  He was drenched, he didn't shake, his ears were flat against his head, and his tale was tucked underneath.......he walked right past me and down the alleyway..... When he reached the grass, he shook himself off.  Thank, God, when a Lab gets wet then shakes, they're almost dry!  I used a towel from the pool area and buffed him, paying special attention to his chest and legs.  Then we headed to my room where I had him lay for a bit while I rested.  I then used the hair dryer to dry him most of the way before we left for Covidean. 

Now, we're coming to the "cathartic" experience.  I prepared my "presentation" starting with shortly before I became ill, and then followed with my pain "journey".  I decided to include a portion which I have not shared with many people.  It's part of my story, so it's about time I included it.  While Bethany has been aware since almost the time of the incident, Aaron and Emily had no clue.  I spoke to Em before I left for St. Louis, and we cried together.  I didn't have a chance to speak to Aaron before we left, but have since returning.  The incident I refer to took place on October 8th, 1996.  I attempted suicide.  I had spent the last four years suffering from and unknown progressive illness and had visited many doctors for second opinions.  In June of 1996, we were sent to The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.  I had convinced myself that the answer would be found there.  Well, after a week of appointments and tests, they came up with a "working" diagnosis that pretty much just describes my issues; "Bi-lateral restrictive lung disease secondary to a proximal myopathy".  It just wasn't enough for me.  Still no suggestions on how to treat it, or a prognosis.  When we returned, I started seeing a different psychiatrist for several months.  One day, upon returning home, I just flipped!  There was no forethought, no plan in place, I just flipped!  I walked into the house ahead of my husband locking the front door behind me.  I then walked into my room, picked up a just filled prescription for 60 Xanax, walked into the bathroom locking that door behind me as well, and,........took the entire bottle of medication.....ALL of it!!  I flushed the empty container down the toilet and sat on the floor of the bathroom with my back against the door.....  I don't need to go into any more detail, suffice it to say that I thank God that I was unsuccessful because the best days of my life have been the ones since.....  That is what I included in my talk, though not in that much detail.  As I was reading and looking out at the audience, I began to sob.  Not full out crying, but sobbing just the same.  The instant I read that part, I actually felt a weight lifted off my shoulders.  It was the first time I had spoken of it outside my "shrinks'" office, and the first time I had cried............  You know how people say that if they can make a difference in one person's life it's worth it?  Well, I sent a "Thank You" to the individual who was responsible for our trip and presentation.  I mentioned that I hoped I hadn't left a negative spin on things.  She said absolutely not!  She actually thanked me because shortly after our visit she attended a "meeting" and found the strength to share something about her health that she'd never shared before.  I guess it really was worth it.............  I have more to say about the trip, but I've gone on so long, I think I'll just leave you with a thought...........you never know how strong you are until you take that leap of faith.......