23 July 2013

The Biggest Obstacle of All

I decided to go back through previous Assistance Dog Blog Carnival (ADBC) topics and write what first comes to mind on them. This one on Obstacles had my mind going so I thought I'd put it all down here.

There've been other obstacles in my partnerships, but for this post I am going to focus on the medical side of things. Its not so much the actual medical problems that are/ were the obstacles, but the ineffective vets/ vets who stood in the way of diagnosing and getting my dogs back on their feet. What do they teach these people in Veterinary School anyway? How to party? OK that was probably uncalled for, but really when you seem to know more than the vets ALL the time-- sigh

A good vet who not only puts their education to work effectively, but understands the need to take a service dog partnership seriously (the entire scope of it) can be a great fortune to have. Unfortunately more and more individuals partnered with service dogs are having to fight for their vets to take their dogs health seriously  (not just placating symptoms that they failed to diagnose the cause of).

I won't go into actual diagnoses of my dogs, but instead focus on how this ineffectiveness has impacted my independence and life.

I have never had a vet who really got the entire scope of a service dog partnership - ie how much their health impacts my independence (including the treatment plans). I've educated until I was blue in the face with some to no avail (even getting the DVD from IAADP for my last vet) For a while, she seemed to get it, but near the end it was clear that she was treating Thane even more like a pet than when he first began working for me. My needs were rarely considered. In fact, Thane was partially retired twice because of her inability to treat him (treated the labs instead)

Illness happens and we, partnered with service dogs, have to take the appropriate steps while it is present. This means using other modes to accommodate our disabilities. It does mean, in many cases, that independence is lost.

I have multiple disabilities that were dramatically impacted by Thane's inability to work, not once but twice in a period of two years. I had to navigate in public solo which was downright dangerous for an individual who is deafblind. I also had to  rely upon store employees for shopping help. This dramatically lengthened my outings, causing numerous health complications from exposure and oxygen deprivation due to much more lengthy use of my respirator mask. Not only was our partnership on the back burner so to speak, but my health was impacted so dramatically that it made it very difficult for me to take care of Thane's health requirements. Sometimes a vet will do everything right and still this happens, but that wasn't the case for us.

The first time I was able to excuse her due to the lower incidence of Lyme in our area. In hindsite though, I completely described the tick incident (not knowing it was a tick) so there really was no excuse for his mounting symptoms to be dismissed. From the ring formed rash after the tick fell off, to wandering lameness, to diarrhea, to skin infections, to visual and hearing deficits, eventually he developed seizures. Though I got the diagnosis and treatment, the stress and deterioration of our partnership and his inability to work, were astronomical.

Even when he was functional enough to work, he was not at the level of the dog I had before. Some skills were completely lost while others I felt like we were a green team once again. It wasn't just the public access assistance that I lost. I lost my home hearing dog as well as help in activities of daily living from dressing to transferring stability, to the ability to handle refrigerator needs, to help with the laundry- all of this was lost for various lengths of time.

When we were finally working part time again, it was very part time because Thane's eyes were impacted due to the delay in diagnosis. As long as it wasn't raining hard, he could work pared with my tactile mobility aid to *trust, but verify* his decisions. It made working with him difficult at best, but it also had an emotional toll, that of not knowing if it would ever get any better. Fortunately they did, but I will always have to be vigilante with him since his Lyme could relapse again due to the late stage diagnosis and cyst form that can survive through treatment.

I was fortunate, his vision did return so that we could work in any situation again. Finally we were working as a team again, but this wasn't the end of the story

Thane had hypothyroidism and had it for years. He does not appear to have autoimmune thyroiditis. It could have come about as a result of Lyme. It doesn't really matter though what the cause of his thyroid collapse is.

This is the second Border Collie I have had with it. The labs never agreed early on- in fact both dogs were severely hypothyroid (one nearly dying on me) before the labs concurred and I finally got them treatment. With Thane, his severe anxiety and lack of energy (amidst his other symptoms) sidelined him once again. It felt unbelievable. This wouldn't be the end of it though. At this point, I began to wonder if my independence would ever be what I had back in 2009. Thane had developed a lot of anxiety including being left home alone. I had to juggle grocery shopping, help from store personnel, my own health, and his mental and exercise needs. Emotionally and physically I was way beyond spent. At least this time around, he was still able to help with most in home tasks.

Still none of this should have risen to the level of  the loss of my independence or his skills. Perhaps instead of vacations, vets should be in education regarding just what happens to partnerships like ours when they fail us-- or better yet, some serious continuing education (or perhaps re-education) on diagnosis and how to use laboratory reports as the tools they were meant to be instead of placating symptoms until a partnership dies (even if temporarily).

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