19 July 2014

The True Meaning of Service

In the wee hours of the morning, July 14, 2014, I was awoken by Thane ramming his body hard against the back of his crate which had the impact of vibrating my bed to wake me. My first thought was that he might still not be feeling too well from the impacts of the heatwave, but this seemed out of character for him. He had NEVER done anything like this before. He meant business and I could tell he was unsettled.

I quickly got out of bed, let him out of his crate, and as soon as I did he tore for the front door.  After checking the back patio door which overlooks the parking lot, I ascertained there was a big problem indeed. There was a maze of flashing emergency lights out front, more than had ever been here for previous individual tenant needs.

I raced to the front door where I smelled smoke. I have no idea how bad the smoke was because I seem to have a greater ability to ascertain certain types of smells and where they are coming from. It isn't the heightened sense of someone with MCS (Multiple Chemical Sensitivities)  but it is a sense I can use to assist me in life more so than my blind friends seem to have. Perhaps it was heightened at this moment because for so many years this sense was used to protect me from danger.

I  harnessed Thane with the essentials I could not do without to navigate, and headed out the door still in my pjs (not even thinking about that little detail).

The building wide fire alarm was blaring, but I was not privy to that as a deafblind tenant. Thane has always been sound sensitive to our fire alarm (not to be confused with the simple smoke detectors in most apartments and homes that can be shut off once you are alerted to them). This time, he was all business, doing what needed to be done to save me/ us.

I had a really difficult time getting through the two fire doors that blocked passage to the only outside doors that have wheelchair accessibility. Once I got to the final door which led to the outside, a really nice gal held it open so we could get through it more easily than our normal approach.

She was trying to talk to me, but I could not understand her. I explained that I was deafblind. Immediately she began to fingerspell when she heard the word deaf, but I could not read her signing. I explained to her that I needed to feel her hand to understand what she was signing. She was awesome and helped me understand what was going on. She even knew one of my friends here and took us to where she was after I got wet by the grounds sprinklers going off.  Being with my friend helped both Thane and I relax.

The sprinkler system did its job with the fire in the unit one floor up and directly across the narrow hallway from me. The water damage from the sprinklers is being dealt with for both of the two units and the hallways-- lots of work ahead with that, but the bottom line is that everyone was OK.

I am just so impressed with Thane's work. We've never had a situation where I needed him more than I did while I was sleeping that night. Something changed in us after this experience. I realized just how much my wonderful sidekick will do for me when danger is knocking at my door. We are both OK, albeit a bit rattled from the experience that first day.

When the firemen were leaving the apartment across the hall from me, I had the opportunity to speak to them about my safety concerns in an emergency. Thane definitely proved himself in this situation, but I just have felt it important to have a safety net with emergency response teams knowing to check that I made it out. My address is being flagged so emergency personnel will always check. In other places I have lived, there isn't a very high turnover of tenants, but here, I have been here longer than anyone in my wing on this floor so relying upon a neighbor in an emergency wasn't the answer. I'm grateful for the firemen's ability to input my address to give me an extra sense of security. It is my hope that we will never experience another such experience again. I plan on putting together a good go bag so that if there is an emergency to contend with again, I am ready to get out the door more quickly. One can never be too prepared. 

The memory I am taking away from this experience is just how much Thane ROCKED! He is my HERO!

30 March 2014

Now This is FREEDOM!

Recently freedom has become one of the most amazing words in the English language for us. When I saw the topic for the upcoming Fifteenth ADBC (Assistance Dog Blog Carnival) being hosted by Gentle Wit was *Freedom*, I knew I had to make the time in this new life of ours to participate.

If you had asked me 6-8 months ago to write on this topic, I probably would have written about the independence and safety I feel as I work with Thane and trust in his judgement around drivers whose minds are on everything, but the 2,000 plus pounds of steel they are steering into the crosswalk we are travelling across.

Today, though my definition of FREEDOM is very different.

For the past six months I have been embarking on a scary, albeit remarkably rewarding journey. Through a program centered in the science of neuroplasticity, I have left the life of isolation I lived for fifteen plus years behind me. It was not a CHOICE to live that way, but a necessity (or so it had always been thought). Brain damage to my limbic system had left me with profound Multiple Chemical Sensitivities and Electro-Magnetic Frequency Sensitivity. Though I am still a work in progress, the changes in our life (not just related to MCS) have been dramatic to say the least. Living life without the limbic system locked in its flight/ fright response is truly incredible (and relaxing).

There have OBVIOUSLY been a lot of new experiences for the two of us.

When I trained Thane, it was in a very limited scope for public access with the rest being in home tasks for my multiple disability needs. When it came to public access, we essentially went grocery shopping, picked up meds at an outside pharmacy window, used transportation, and went to vets and doctors when required. The rest of our life has been spent mostly in the home environment or taking walks in areas where it was safe enough with my respiratory mask (which I could never go outside without leading to oxygen deprivation issues when I wore it very long).

In the past six months, I have not only been training my brain to rewire and thus correct the dysfunction, but I have also been dealing with whether these changes for me would mean it was time to part ways with Thane as my guide or whether fighting harder for his thyroid health would have any better results than they had for his predecessor and thus allow us to pursue this new life together (at least for a time). It does seem like the latter is coming to pass which is quite exciting!

Training Thane to handle new experiences almost as though he were a young pup being socialized to everything he might encounter as a trained service dog might seem odd to some given his age, but its wonderful to be taking this journey full circle with him. Through this we've discovered an older dog (7 years old) DEFINITELY can learn new tricks as we experience new joy in training and being in public places that we never could have been before.

As I continue to heal and rewire my brain, I find this intense joy in nature and outdoor opportunities. If it wasn't for my power wheelchair, I'd probably hit the trails, never looking back again. giggle I suspect this intense nature drive stems from how much time I've been required to stay indoors so isolated from opportunities.

As Thane continues to heal, I am finally experiencing the guide dog I had always dreamed of having at my side-- the dog I knew he could be and this is INCREDIBLE as it shows me that the new life I am embarking upon is going to be a new life with him showing me the way.

I have a long way to come socially, but today I find great pleasure and yes, freedom in the little things of life. 

The freedoms I am / will be able to experience now with Thane guiding my way through new terrain and opportunities is what it means to truly live freely to me. We are no longer merely existing through life each day, but experiencing life through a guide's eyes filled with curiosity and alerts that describe intricate details about this new exploration I am embarking upon.