Adventures as a Recent College Grad Living with Chronic Illness and Training a Service Dog

Saturday, November 8, 2014

We've been Working!!!

Miss Polly has been flying through her training. She will pick up anything I might happen to drop- and I mean anything. Car keys, pencil, cell phone, hair brush, food wrapper, receipt- I've realized in the last week or so I'm quite the klutz with how much stuff she has been picking up. She also will jump up and hit the automatic door buttons! Seriously- she is one very smart puppy!!!

With having our basic skills that help to mitigate my disability, we have started to venture out to more training on public access. We have spent over 30 hours at Petsmart over the last two months, and between that and going in to work on Fridays- we made the big jump. 

Polly went to class with me.

We started with my shortest class, that normally only lasts 30 minutes. Well, she sure did get to experience a lot in those 30 minutes! The whole class applauded at least twice, she was stepped over multiple times, and was taunted with a few offers of being pet. Despite all of this, her reaction stayed the same... 
I told her to stay laying down, and she did- for the entire class.

SHE'S JUST SO GOOD!!!!! So, she went with me to class on Wednesday evening also. The class was taking a field trip to another part of the building, in the middle of class. (I had not been aware of this because I had missed class the previous week...) It included a rather daunting exhibit by the Office of Multicultural Affairs that included being in the campus movie theater and then moving from room to room down a hallway- all of which was pretty much in the dark. Goodness- I certainly have a special dog to have not lost it. She's not perfect by any means, she still has a long way to go- no Service Dog is perfect. However, she handled herself better than I could have ever fathomed. If I had known more of what it was going to be like, I would have waited and chosen to not take her, but she sure did put her big girl attitude on and we got through it. And what's a better reward than getting to come out to lunch with me?!

So the next day, we had our first restaurant experience!

I chose to get out of my wheelchair and sit in a booth, so that way people wouldn't even see her or be tempted to come up. Shout out to all the employees at Newk's- they all acted completely professionally, just as they should with all service dogs. She laid under the booth silently the entire meal, and even picked up my phone after I dropped it under the table. 

I am so lucky to have her in my life, 
and am even more so looking forward to what 
the end of this year has in store for us!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

A More Formal Introduction- Polly!

If you happened to miss my Facebook announcement... everybody- Meet Polly!

Polly, Polly Pocket, Ms. P, Ms. Piggy, Peanut, Polly-wolly- All names that this smart little girl will respond to :)

If you didn't guess from the picture, she's a Black Labrador Retriever. She's now 10 months old. Her paws are still huge, but she's going to be on the very small side for a Labrador as she's only about 20" tall, and currently 60 lbs. 

As some of you may know- I haven't had the best luck in the past 2 years when it comes to being a dog owner. The first dog that I adopted all "on my own" was an Australian Shepherd (Blue Heeler). Despite doing what I thought at the time was enough research, and going with the thought of him needing exercise would make me get out and exercise (I wasn't using a wheelchair at this point). Needless to say, we weren't a good match. Through a friend I was able to connect with a great rescue group and he found the absolute best home with a young guy and they go hiking and spend days at the lake swimming. 

After Charlie found his home for life- a far better one than I could give him- I got Kety. Not going to write a lot, because it still hurts badly and am even tearing up writing this. Shortly after I got her she was diagnosed with Progressive Retinal Atrophy and within months was 80% blind. I had to return her to the agency that I had gotten her from- I didn't have a choice despite crying for days. I'll still always love my Kety-Choo. <3

After Kety came Max. I'm glad to report that he's doing really well and loves his family as much as they love him. Picture's from an update from just the other day. Forgive the zombie eyes :) I don't think he's missed a meal since he joined their family either ;)

After all of that heartbreak- I could just go on and on about how great Polly has been. I can't believe that I have only had her 2 months. She's such a part of my life, it's as if she's been here forever. We've been focusing on lots and lots of socialization- other people, all sizes of dogs, little kids, and been going on lots of "field trips" to Petsmart, PetSense, and even to work on Fridays. Next post we'll wow you all with just how smart she really is and all of the stuff she's already learned! But for now- Enjoy the pictures :)

^ At the Office                                                 ^ Soccer Games!

^ Howl-oween Costume Contest!

Sunday, October 12, 2014


So, I kind of explained what chronic illness I had in my last post. 
So here's to my witty attempt to break down that really big word!

Nope- not quite.

DYS- loosely meaning something's screwed up. Or, as Google so eloquently put it when I looked it up- "bad; difficult"

AUTO- short for Autonomic- the part of everybody's nervous system that is supposed to automatically control stuff like your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, and digestion. Sorry Volkswagen, it's got nothing to do with a car. 

NOM- another part of Autonomic, I could have put them together- but if I hadn't separated them, how would I have gotten to use a video of Cookie Monster in a blog post?! 

IA- who knew these two little vowels put together at the end of some big fancy word means abnormal condition/disease?!

And there you have it folks- Dysautonomia. As far as how the heck to pronounce it- I have heard even doctors say it two different ways:

(the more common way to say it)

(the way I was told by my first specialist)

Chances are, if you can pronounce either one, or just have the faintest (haha) grasp of what it is if you ever hear someone else talk about it- Be Warned- that person is likely to get very excited that someone they know actually has heard of what they're going through.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Living with an Invisible Friend

Little kids get patted on the back and called creative when they have invisible friends. Mine is not so creative, but rather destructive. It's been reeking havoc on my nervous system since I was 14. Sometimes it will seem like it's on a vacation and I'm free of its cruel tricks, but it has only proven a matter of time before it comes back. 

My invisible friend is a form of Dysautonomia called Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, or POTS. In the last 15 months it has been more visible due to it now causing me to be wheelchair bound, but it's been around for a while. 

Researchers are still trying to find out why some people develop POTS, but they have had recent success in proving what it is.  

They have found that people who have POTS have a specific antibody that's abnormal, and the more antibodies a person has, the more severe their symptoms. This leads them to the belief that this is something called an autoimmune condition.

Enough fancy medical talk- the plain of it is that I have this disease that causes my nervous system to royally stink at its job. It can make my heart rate go sky high, my blood pressure go lower than a machine can read, my stomach to decide to boycott food, and for my head to feeling like it's spinning on a turntable. On the rare occasion- just everything seemingly stops and I faint due to not enough blood getting to my brain.

Why am I writing all of that? Because a certain friend (cough JUSTIN cough) just wrote an amazing piece about Living 'sick'. 

I'm plenty familiar with the feelings that he talks about. The people that are amazed at seeing me in the grocery store... The people who watch me get in and out of my wheelchair to the car as if it was a heroic act...The people that say "I don't think I could ever overcome what you have"

You don't know. Until you are in the situation- you just don't know. Just three years ago, I was Circuit Champion at HITS in the Jumpers. Today, I'm in a wheelchair and can't stand up for more than 2-3 minutes without fainting. I'm also going to call out another friend on here that has been through a life situation recently, Ashley. 

My favorite quote from Ashley is from a conversation about a situation in a grocery store where someone saw her shopping and came up and called her an inspiration. Why? Because she was bald. Her thought process afterwards that she shared- Don't call her an inspiration!

I think it's really common to look at someone that is facing a different struggle than yourself, and to think that they need help, or seeing them spurs you to think how fortunate you are. While those are both completely valid thoughts- it's the comments that come out of peoples' mouths that can make someone living with any disability- invisible or not- feel like they are less of a person.

I think the take home point is that I OWN my illness. It does NOT own me. I HAVE Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome. It might change the way I get around and the way I have to plan my day, but I still get to do what I want to do, and I AM STILL ME.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Max's Retirement

There are dozens of criteria that separate a good dog and those capable of being a service dog. Max had shown nearly every single one of those character traits. Together we always struggled with encountering other dogs. Well, about 2 weeks ago now, unfortunately Max crossed a line of unacceptable behavior. He went to go bark at another dog and ended up pulling me out of my wheelchair, and then drug me about 10' before he stopped. I have worked with him on this with a trainer for months- it's his nature to be protective of me. As absolutely heartbreaking as it was in the moment, I feel that it's my responsibility as a pet owner to make sure that he is happy, and he wasn't anymore because I didn't feel that I could safely take care of him.

He has found a wonderful family with a police officer, his wife and two kids about an hour away from where I am in Texas. I dropped him off this morning, and through all the tears, it was very evident how much he will be loved and spoiled. He has land to run and play on and his favorite type of humans- kids to play with!

So, this is the last post of Max and Me. With the help of a few local breeders, I was actually able to already find another dog. I'll share more details in the coming month, but want to be more sure of it working out before sharing.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Seven Days of Hospital Beige

Last Monday I headed to the ER for the third time in three weeks. My blood pressure was low, and I was overwhelmed with fatigue and muscle soreness. Well, my Potassium level turned out to be low- high cardiac risk low!

I asked the ER physician why this would keep happening. My potassium kept dropping and no one could give me an explanation. He said he didn't know, but would give me some through my IV and could either send me home or admit me. He suggested that I see a gastroeneterologist because he thought it might have been a malabsorption issue. I said that it could take a month to get in to see someone, and this was just going to keep happening- so up to the floor I went. I didn't know what I was in for... seven days of looking at the beige walls of my hospital room.

First- My new primary care doc is awesome! I've had specialists in the past say how I needed a primary care, but never really had one. I now understand the value- he's the hub of the wheel and was great in making sure that I saw the right doctors to figure out why my levels kept dropping. This was so refreshing since I have become used to always go back and forth from specialist to specialist, now I don't have to!

Second- Max was more than pampered in his week of vacation from work and stayed with my co-workers who really are some of the most amazing people I have ever met. I am so incredibly lucky to have them in my life right now.

Third- After a couple days of testing, including having blood drawn from an artery (OWW!!!), a nephrologist (Kidney Specialist) concluded that I am very likely to have a recessive genetic disease known as Gitelman's Syndrome . All of the blood work and other lab tests show that I am a textbook diagnosis. Being someone that has never been called textbook in my life- hallelujah! So I started new medications, and after a couple of days to get used to them, and for my levels to get back to normal- I got to go home! :)

Happy Side Note:
I got an appointment with an autonomic specialist in Dallas for later this month! It first looked like it was going to be a really, reallly long wait to get in to see one of his colleagues, but he took an interest in my case, so now it'll only be a couple of weeks!
Hospital Beige... :(

Friday, July 25, 2014

One Week, One Month, and One Year

One Week

Well, it's been one week since I've been in a hospital. Unfortunately that seems like a record. I am still really struggling with very low potassium levels. I started with a new primary care physician today who was very optimistic about working with insurance to pay for it IV, but was also very helpful and referred me to go to a super autonomic specialist in Dallas. Time frame to get in to see him? Who knows... but at least it's a start!

One Month

I've lived in Texas for a month! What I've learned so far:

1. It goes without saying that it's hot here. However, the level of humidity is just unreal. After living in Knoxville and Northern Virginia and those very hot weekends of horse showing at Culpeper, I thought I knew heat and humidity. Turns out I was dead wrong. It's pretty much opening the door and being wrapped in a wet blanket each morning. Also, people keep repeating how mild this summer has been so far- as if I didn't already dread August...

2. Texas DMV must hand out handicap parking placards like candy at a pediatrician's office. Seriously! It isn't that the spaces are few and far between- they are ALL just always full. Extremely aggravating when you need a van accessibe spot...

3. Nacogdoches Medical Center >>> Nacogdoches Memorial Hospital. and that's all I have to say about that.

4. People are genuinely friendly. This is something I had missed after moving to Northern Virginia. People smile and say hello to each other in the grocery store. For the majority, people have manners and yes sir, yes ma'am, no sir, no ma'am is back to being a part of my vocabulary because it is of nearly all of the students who go here.

5. I 100% made the right choice coming to SFA. My co-workers are the some of the best and most caring people that I have ever met. In the office, outside of the office- they are all great people and I feel so lucky to be able to be here to learn from all of them.

One Year

It's been one year in a wheelchair. 365+ days. I truly thought that this was going to be a relapse like I'd had in the past and I'd be back walking by last Christmas. Then it was Spring Break. Then it was Graduation. While my health has been crappy lately, over the past year it has been relatively stable. The number of concussions has decreased due to being sitting and closer to the ground. I've been able to get out and be more social since I haven't had to worry about how far it was going to be to the next place to sit down. That's about it for the positives. Otherwise, I absolutely despise it. Accessible housing, having to trade my Rav4 for a Mazda5, trying to find housing, van accessible handicap parking, and just general inaccessibility of the world we live in. 

Here's to the hope of there not being a two year anniversary.

Oh and MAX!!!

Poor guy cut his paw on broken glass on a sidewalk this week :( He has been very sad being on limited duty and has been moping a lot in his crate. He despises the bandage that he was having to wear, but good news! When I took it off this evening, it looked much better and he even played around in the living room and it stayed closed. Fingers crossed he can come back to work on Monday!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Church with a side of Hospital, Please

That is my initial impression of Nacogdoches Memorial Hospital...

I'm not a religious person. I have the greatest respect for religious institutions and all people who choose to practice their desired beliefs, whatever those may be. Where my respect ends is when someone feels the need to impose those beliefs on me, and further insisting on trying to "fix" my lack of religious beliefs.

This past Wednesday, the seemingly inevitible happened- I fainted at work. Since I'd already had an abbreviated conversation regarding my health with my immediate co-workers, it was hopefully not quite as traumatic for them. I came to after about 3 minutes, tried to sit up with the help of 2 athletic trainers (perks of working in an athletic department!), and then fainted again. 911 was called, EMTs arrived, and off I went to the hospital since my blood pressure was being slow to rise back up.

Initial thoughts on the ER were decent- they drew blood off my port instead of sticking me (yay!), ran an EKG, and all the normal routine. Then the doctor came in. He asked me if this had happened before, I of course explain yes and that I have Autoimmune Autonomic Ganglionopathy. He had never heard of it before, and couldn't even repeat it back and instead of looking it up, said to the nurse that I had Superventricular Tachycardia and Hypotension. Um... no. Yes, I might have had a moment of SVT and of course I had hypotension (low blood pressure)- I had just fainted! If only my health was that simple, I would have said so.

He then asked about all of my meds, and then asked if I would ever like to be off all of those medicines. I couldn't decide between stopping his line of thought with a rude and sarcastic comment or just being a nice agreeable patient in the moment. In the presence of co-workers, I decided to be agreeable- why yes, of course I'd love to not have any of this anymore. He then asked me if I believed in miracles- I didn't really give an answer. He then asked the million dollar question that I had seen coming from a mile away- Don't you believe in God?! 

Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner! I'll take how to lose my patient's respect for me in 2 seconds for the win! Good grief......

I answered politely and to the point, to which he responded- Do you mind if we talk further on this? Yes, yes I did. I would like just to get the results of my bloodwork, make sure there's nothing wrong, and then go home. To his great offense, he then proceeds to talk defensively about a book that he thinks that I should read and how I shouldn't find too 'offensive'. For the record- I wasn't offended by any of this; I was more just wanting to get off the subject and focus on the medical crisis I was currently having. Anywho- it's about a mind over matter and what you want can be reality if you just stay focused. He wrote down the title and author on a prescription pad and handed it to the athletic trainer that came with me. 

Are you freaking kidding me? Hey dum-dum! If wishing made it so, I would be out of this wheelchair, horseback riding, and able to find housing without having to jump through 17 hoops to make sure everything's accessible!

Ok, apologies on the mini-rant. The nurses were, for the majority, great, and I couldn't speak more highly of my co-workers. My boss and one of them, and an athletic trainer went to the ER with me, while another took Max to her place and took the best care of him for the night. I'm told this is a perk of a small school and that nearly every person knew the same night and was sending texts of well wishes. It definitely wasn't something I had expected coming from a larger university, but it was a very welcomed surprise and benefit. 

I've been in Nac for 3 weeks today, and I'm already feeling like a part of the little SFA community. This just helped to reaffirm that I definitely made the right choice.

Bonus- There are 2 hospitals in Nac with emergency rooms, I'll be trying the other should the need arise again.

Picture: I was unknowingly sent on the ambulance with an SFA blanket. We take school pride seriously here- even in the hospital! Lol :)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

A 24 Year Old Black Wolf

Yep, the title says it all. According to a few fine citizens of Nacogdoches, Texas- I am the owner of a 24 year old Black Wolf. If only you could hear the laughing and sarcasm that's accompanying these thoughts.

Let's start with 24. If you have seen my recent Facebook status, that starts to explain it.

My roommate's friend: "How old is he?! [Max] He's so big!!!" 
"Max is almost 4." 
"24? No wonder he's so big!"

Can we work out the fallacy in the logic of this.... (psst- Hi Ashley!) 
1. Dogs do NOT live to be 24. As much as we all really wish that they would be a part of our lives that long, it just isn't the case.
2. Dogs do NOT just keep on growing the longer they live. On what planet does Biology work like that? Max is big because he's a German Shepherd- it's genetics. If by some miracle a dog did live to be 24, they'd be roughly the same size they were when they became fully grown around 2 years old (depending on the breed).
3. Seriously?!?!?!!! 

So now that we've established that Max isn't 24 years old.... the next claim was that he's a Black Wolf. Admittedly, I do not know how I didn't laugh my ass off when I heard this.

It was about 2 weeks ago, my mom, dad, Max, and I were all at Walmart getting a few things for my apartment. Max was doing great with walking by people, ignoring food on the ground, and generally just doing his job. A little boy in a grocery cart then exclaimed as we passed by- "Mommy! Look! There's a wolf in the store!" If that wasn't enough, he then rather calmly and matter-of-factly stated, "See Mom, that is a wolf. It is a rare Black Wolf."

The giggles that consumed my mom and I were so very hard to keep concealed, but we did get a couple of aisles away before we lost it.

A friend asked me how on earth I deal with these situations- 
Just Keep Rolling ;)

Sunday, June 29, 2014

There's More than Cancer

Before you all start freaking out- NO, I do NOT have cancer.

Everyone now a days has been affected by cancer in some way- themselves, their family, or a friend. It's an invisible monster of abnormal cells that ruins lives. It's indiscriminate in choosing its victims and leaves a path of destruction in its wake. You all know this. 

What brings me to write this is a thought that's been brewing for a few weeks now. I read The Fault in Our Stars, and I plan on going to see the movie too. I succumbed to the entertainment industry capitalizing on "the cancer story" and watched ABCFamily's new show- Chasing Life, about a 24 year old young woman with leukemia. Why? I honestly don't know. But, I did. 

I kept watching, just like I kept reading (which was really via listening to the audiobook). I can't read for fun. I watched Chasing Life while being hooked up to an IV bag of fluids, in my bedroom, in hopes to be able to run errands tomorrow. I still rely entirely on a wheelchair to get around- July will be one year since being able to walk. Max sleeps at the foot of my bed. 

I can't read for fun because I struggle to read anything lengthy at all. Multiple concussions from riding and falls from fainting contribute to that. I'm on regular IV fluids because I can't ever seem to retain enough to maintain my blood pressure. Also, I struggle to keep my body temperature down and IV fluids help me from overheating on hot days. I can't walk because of the crappy blood pressure. I love Max more than life itself, he's my guardian angel. As much as I love him, and as great as he is at working as my Service Dog- I wish that he could stay home and sleep all day like other dogs. I wish he didn't need to be there always for the 'just in case'.

The reason I found myself so tied to TFIOS and Chasing Life, is because they are relatable. I understand the barriers of not wanting to tell your friends or parents things about your health. I understand the overwhelming feelings of trying to decide what's the priority- work or having a social life. I understand the rarity of finding that one person that you can share everything with, and knowing that they will always be there with a hug or funny quote to cheer you up. At the same time, I understand the need to just sit there and cry because the situation that life has currently presented you just plain sucks.

How could I possibly understand all of these themes? I don't have cancer. I live with chronic illness. I have Autoimmune Autonomic Ganglionopathy, Inappropriate Sinus Tachycardia, and Gastroparesis- kudos if you think you might have pronounced any of those correctly in your head- it took me months.

There's a look that the public gives you when you say "I have cancer." It's a look that says "Awww", "How horrible for you" and "I feel so bad for you" all without a single word leaving another person's mouth. On the other hand, in TFIOS, they described them as 'cancer perks'- they are the little things that people might do because you have cancer: going to the front of a long line, get a special seat at a sporting event, or even having a fundraiser for your cause.

Back to one year ago when I was walking- I still had AAG, IST, and GP (I typically just say AAG as that's enough for people to give you a confused face). They are each invisible illnesses. Walking past me on the sidewalk, you can't see that my nervous system fails in the fight against gravity with every step, you can't see that my resting heart rate is double that of an average person my age, and you can't see that my stomach struggles to function. I got the look that 'how dare she park in that handicap spot. How horrible for her to use her grandparent's tag like that.' I got the look that people assume that I'm lazy. When explaining that I have a chronic illness, at times I was treated with the same stigma as mental illness, and that I was just another lazy millennial that didn't want to get a job. (I love going to school. I LOVE my job.) I feel pressure to not move my legs in public, because I'm now in a wheelchair, and the general assumption is wheelchair = paralysis. I've heard the whispers and had the poignant stares of people having the nerve to call me a faker because I crossed my legs while in my wheelchair.

My close friends and colleagues all have taken the time to understand this, and that is why I keep them close to me. This is more of a general perspective of my experience out in 'the real world'.

To avoid more meandering- here's that thought that's been brewing for weeks now: There is more out there than cancer. Cancer is a horrible, life-altering, evil disease. Beyond cancer, there are other horrible diseases of all systems of the body. Everybody has their own battle, and I just wanted to put it out there as a small reminder to have compassion for everyone going through hard times- whether it's cancer, chronic illness, or even mental illness. Just because you might not understand it, doesn't mean that person is any less deserving of your help or compassion.

More about the great parallels between The Fault in Our Stars and Chronic Illness:
Huffington Post- The Truths Behind The Fault In Our Stars

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Welcome to Texas- Here, have some RAIN

From the license plates to the oversized parking spots for trucks and everything having some sort of "Texas Edition", I would believe that I've moved to Texas. What has be confused- it has rained or thunder-stormed Every Single Day. 

But alas, we are here in East Texas! After our 20 hour journey from Northern Virginia to get here, we had strongly hoped for a smooth move-in process for our afternoon of unloading the very stuffed Rav4 and my Mazda. I went into the office at my apartment complex, and they didn't know I was coming... I signed my contract in April, and called to confirm 2 days before getting there. After 30 minutes, they assigned me a room- drove to the front of the building that my room was going to be in- no handicap parking. Are you freaking kidding me!?! Drive back up to the office, and after TWO HOURS of waiting, they came up with the idea to make one of the parking spots designated as a handicapped spot. But wait! the room they assigned me? It wasn't handicap accessible! Another half hour and we get the right room number, and all should be right. Oh but wait... it hadn't been cleaned for a new tenant; and the old one moved out in JANUARY. Dirty carpet, dirty bathroom, holes in the wall- oh my.

To wrap this part of the saga up quickly- I have the absolute best parents in the world. My mom cleaned almost the entire time she was here, and my dad (Mr. Handyman) installed another grab bar in the bathroom, changed the shower head, installed a storage cabinet, put up a curtain rod, put up towel bars, and installed lower closet organizers. Also, on Monday the maintenance man for the complex, Kirk (insert fantastic Gilmore Girls reference), came and fixed everything else, and has been really awesome since.

Work has been beyond awesome. I watched the US vs. Portugal game with my new co-workers the Sunday that I moved in, started work on Wednesday, went out that night for my birthday :), and then the whole department had a "field trip" to go watch the US vs. Germany game. I LOVE MY JOB!!!

Max has had a couple of rough days adjusting, but we're working through it. He's having trouble staying in his spot at work while I go across the room, so I have a feeling that some more Cheese Ritz-Bits (his favorite) are going to be coming to work to do some training. Around the apartment he's doing really great with now pulling open doors and shutting them! We've had some barking issues with the window in my bedroom now being at his height and he feels the need to tell me about every person who walks by- it's a lot busier than my place in Blacksburg, but that's just one more thing we're working on, and is getting better by the day.

Until next time...

Friday, June 13, 2014

Making a Habit

I remember back in elementary school that I had some teacher that would repeatedly say that if you do something consistently for a week, then it becomes a habit. Well, I'm calling BS because I updated this regularly for over a week, and now it's been almost 2 weeks of it being neglected.

I've been on vacation with my parents in Nags Head, and Max has been having his own vacation back in Lynchburg with his trainer for a last two weeks of "Boot Camp". I call it boot camp, but really- he gets to play with other dogs, go hiking in the woods, go on field trips to PetsMart, and there's even a swimming pool- he's pretty much on vacation too. I head back to reality tomorrow to my parent's place in NoVA and then pick up Max next Wednesday.

Scary realization: The 10 day forecast now includes me in Texas. Eek! Lots of packing, a bit more shopping, and a ton of driving in the days ahead. 

Max at 'camp'

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Step 4: Finding a True Lifeline

Police K9s train for years before ever make it to the streets with their partners to take on 'the bad guys'. I can only imagine the satisfaction of when the K9 performs flawlessly for the first time in a real-life situation. The same principle goes for service dogs. Max's history isn't that of a typical service dog since he has officially been in training specifically for service work with me for just about 6 months now. I still consider him a Service Dog In-Training because we do still have hiccups and things that need to be worked on more, but he does help to mitigate my disability which is why he has Public Access Rights. You can train any dog with time and patience to be obedient, but Max's unique desire to truly please and take care of me nearly brought me to tears today. 

Since I am just a week after surgery, I still need some help around the house. Max is my shadow- everywhere- and even in the bathroom. I got out of the shower and needed some help from my Mom. I did the typical- opened the door and yelled 0:) She didn't come though. I tried again, but no response. Before Max, my option would only be to continue yelling and wait. 

There are tasks that I've trained Max on my own and there are others that his trainer has introduced to him. I think it is the mark of a great service dog when they find ways to help on their own.

I sat with Max and had him look at me and told him to "Find Mom". We'd never really practiced this. Find Ball? Heck yeah. Find a Toy? Sure. But never a person. I told him again, and opened the door, and out into the house he went. He was gone about 30 seconds, but then he came back- nothing. I gave him a pat on the head, and encouraging scratch, and told him again- "Max, Go Find Mom". He went back out and it turns out he realized that my mom and dad were out on the porch. Max went to the screen door and barked! 
Side Note: In my life, when you see Max, you should see me. If Max shows up and I'm not with him, something's probably wrong.

My mom quickly got up and rushed in to help me. I could not believe it. Max has not been taught to bark on command. He has not been specifically taught to go find any specific person. He led her straight back to me. I needed help, and he put 1 and 1 together to make 2 and got me help. While today wasn't a life-or-death scenario by a long shot, he took on the role of being a lifeline and potential lifesaver for me. I was emotional and so proud; my mom was very thankful and impressed; and my dad was just floored at his intelligence. Max? He wanted to know where his lunch was. ;)

As if that wasn't more than enough- we also went to a packed Target where he was called a seeing-eye dog (LOL), hid stealthily under a clothing rack to stay out of the aisle as a cart passed within inches, and for one great mom- helped her teach her very young daughter about service dogs and how they are highly trained and there was no reason to fear him (even though Max was at least 3x her size). If that wasn't enough, we took advantage of Staples being empty, when we went in to run an errand, as a training opportunity, and the staff there was great.

Yeah, it was an amazing and very big day for Max and Me.
Office supplies anyone? :)
Max has had one of the best days EVER- more later...

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Step 3: I'm Moving Where???

Stephen F. Austin State University

That's a really long name for a university that everyone that's familiar with it calls SFA. When I tell people in Virginia where I'm going my scripted answer has become "Stephen F. Austin in Texas". There are 3 typical responses:

1. Oh, Austin is such a great city! 

Problem: SFA is in Nacogdoches, Texas. I don't expect people to know that considering I had to Google the name of it to find out what state it was in...

If you're familiar with Texas/Louisiana- draw a line from Dallas to the Southwest, draw a line from Houston to the North, and from Shreveport to the Southeast. It's about 2 hours from each of those (and the closest major commercial airport).

2. Are they that tiny school that upset VCU in the tournament?

I haven't heard this as much since it is farther past March, but yes. SFA was a 12 seed and VCU was a 5 seed- SFA pulled off the upset to win in overtime. Unfortunately, they lost in the next round to #4 UCLA. 
Also, it isn't actually all that tiny. Enrollment at the beginning of Fall of 2013 was 12,772. It's an NCAA Division I school, and their football team plays in the Football Championship Series.

3. My personal favorite.... Huh?

If I had to compare it to a Virginia university- it's like James Madison. It started out as a college that was founded to educate women on how to be teachers. Because of this, it still has a female majority and they are known for their education and nursing programs, but also their business program.

I flew out and spent a long weekend there in April. It is a college town (for the most part- to be explained more later) and the staff was all great and very welcoming. We went on a tour of campus, and I was able to push myself the entire time without assistance. The land is flat! At Virginia Tech, I was always driving to each class because of the terrain being so hilly it was either too steep for me to push myself uphill, or I would be reaching the speed of light if I attempted to go downhill. 

I could go on and on about why I have chosen to pick up and move 16 hours away to somewhere that I have no family or currently any friends in the area, but that's really all I have to write about until I move at the end of June, so that's it for today.

Max wearing his new Purple bandana for SFA

Monday, May 26, 2014


Max believing he's a lap dog.

Surgery went well, and I got to come home the same day and have been recovering on the couch. Max has been spending 90% of his time right beside me. A friend from community college stopped by today to catch up and talk about stuff, and Max never turns down the opportunity to get an extra pet or cuddles from people when he's not 'working'. 

Other than that- it's been uneventful and low key. I signed my lease for my new apartment for next year. My laptop battery got replaced so now it will (hopefully) hold a charge for more than 15 minutes at a time. That's really it- exciting, huh? 

Not really a 'step' for this post- just recovering and taking it easy. I've got an appointment with a home health nurse tomorrow and then the rest of this week is more healing and list-making of what I have/ what I need/ what to buy before the big move.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Step 2: Medical Clearances... Bleh

I'm not really sure if I'm going to keep up with the "Steps" format for this blog, but for now it seems to work...

Before making the big move, I have to wrap up the working relationships I have with doctors from this area and transfer all of that information to new doctors that will be within actual helping proximity. It was agreed upon that I should go on ahead and have at least two surgeries done before the whole doctor switch-a-roo happens. So- Tomorrow! I had one last consult with the surgeon on Tuesday, and I'm having my gallbladder removed and a port-a-cath put in. This isn't my CarePages, so I'm going to try and avoid this getting all medical and detailed, but hopefully this will be all I need to have done (as far as surgery) for the immediate future. I knew this month before moving was going to fly by really fast, but this seems like warp speed.

Max's conclusion has been that doctor's offices are boring, and a good place to catch up on some sleep. He's doing really well adjusting to life at my parents' house with their two smaller dogs (Aubrey and Daisy) and cat (Ellie Mae). It might resemble a bit of a 3-ring circus with Daisy being afraid of Max, Aubrey making it clear that she is in charge of Max, and Max being scratched on the nose by Ellie Mae, but they all have been co-habitating well and insist on all sleeping together in one room- mine.

I'm told that it will take about 2 weeks to bounce back from surgery, so until then hopefully I can keep up with updating this on a semi-consistent basis.

In short:
Second step- Surgery tomorrow.

Edited to add more Max pictures per request ;) 
(I see how it really is...)
He found himself quite handsome to look at in the fitting room mirror 
at Kohl's while I was trying on some new clothes for Texas.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Step 1: Thank You

After having 4 different people suggest it, I’m going to attempt to keep up with a blog about the next year of my life- Max transitioning into working full-time with me, moving to Texas, starting graduate school, and being a Graduate Assistant.
First step- A thank you to everyone at Virginia Tech who are a very large part of the reason that I have gotten this far…