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

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…