Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The loss of Bristol

On July sixteenth, 2011, I had to say goodbye to my beloved guide dog and faithful companion Bristol. After his cancer diagnosis in early June, his health rapidly declined. His vet had told us that the cancer was aggressive and he was in the advanced stages of the cancer. His nose bleeds kept getting worse and more frequent. We had to make the difficult decision to let him go on July fifteenth when we could not get the bleeding to stop. The next morning I had to hug my best friend for the last time as I told him goodbye and that I loved him.

We were not sure how much time we had left with him. I enjoyed every moment I had with him during his last month of life. He was well enough at first to visit his many friends. In five years, Bristol made many friends. He will be dearly missed by all of them.

Even at the end of his life, he continued to do what he did best. That is he touched everyone that he came in contact with. For instance, he made a new friend when my mother and I started going to a gym. One of the staff members got to know and love Bristol. He almost instantly won Jenny’s heart. Everytime he walked into the gym, his tail would start wagging and he would drag me over to see her. In a way, she kept him going in his last few weeks of life. Going to visit her was one of the highlights of his day! Thank you Jenny for being a part of his final weeks and making his last weeks fun!

As much as I miss Bristol, it is time for me to move on to my new adventure with a new guide dog. I leave this Sunday to meet my new guide dog.

I will always love Bristol. He will always hold a special place in my heart. He was my first guide dog. Bristol showed me that I can have a full and active life even though I can’t see. I will always be grateful to him for the gift of independence that he gave me.

Bristol: 12/29/03 to 7/16/11

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sad News About Bristol

I have known for quite some time now that Bristol would soon be retiring. However, I wish it did not have to happen the way it did. Bristol is now in a medical retirement.

A few weeks ago, Bristol got a nose bleed. Neither my parents nor I could figure out what caused it. I took him to the vet and on his x-rays, there appeared to be what looked like a small metallic object in his nasal cavities. The vet scoped his nasal cavities and on a second x-ray, there was nothing there.

I wish I could say that this is the end of the story, but sadly it is not. The vet sent off tissues taken from the scoping to be tested to be sure that nothing else was going on. A week later, I got some devastating news. Bristol has cancer.

He has spindle Cell sarcoma which is a connective tissue cancer. He also has osteo sarcoma which is a bone cancer. At this stage in the cancer, there is not much we can do. Radiation is an option, but it would not cure him.

So I have made the decision to allow Bristol to live out the remainder of his life as comfortable as possible. He is now living with my parents.

Even though it is not the retirement for Bristol that any of us wanted, we are trying to enjoy him. I am taking him to have fun with all of his many friends to have fun. Everyone who knows him is having fun spoiling him.

We are taking it day by day with Bristol. We do not know how long he has left. The vet said it could be tomorrow or it could be a year. It really depends on how he is doing. For now, he is still doing okay. We have to keep him cool and calm to prevent nose bleeds. We have medication that we can give him to help with the nose bleeds.

I am trying to cope with his cancer diagnosis and with not having a new guide dog. I am back to using the cane which is a constant struggle for me. I feel as though I have lost most of my independence. I am not sure when I will get a new dog. I am hoping to have a new dog by the beginning of my fall semester. If I don’t, I’m not sure what is going to happen.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Waiting For a New Guide Dog

I have been on summer break for a few weeks now. Unfortunately what I thought was going to happen at the beginning of my summer is not happening. I was hoping to be training with my new guide dog during the month of June.

However, this is not going to happen; at least not yet. Southeastern Guide dog is still trying to find a good match for me.

I am hoping to be matched with a dog in time to be in the July training class. If it does not happen then, a home placement will probably have to be how it is done. I would rather go down to the school to get the training with the new dog, but I will do what I have to do.

Now I am doing the hard part of waiting. My patience is truly being tested. Bristol is not making this any easier by the way he is behaving. He does not want to work anymore. All he wants to do is play and socialize with anyone he comes in contact with. More and more often, he doesn’t want to work at all. He is not focusing on his job of safely guiding me at all. He get’s distracted by the slightest thing, whether it is another animal, person, or anything else that catches his attention. That is a dangerous behavior. If he and I aren’t careful, we could both get seriously hurt. When walking with him, I can’t rely on him like I use to be able too. The stress of that is not good for either myself or Bristol and needs to come to an end soon.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The dog who Changed It All

I have known since I was a young child that I wanted to one day get a guide dog. At that young age, I still could not truly grasp what a guide dog could do for me, but I knew that it would immensely help me move independently. After I graduated from high school in 2005, I started preparing for the time when I could finally get my first guide dog. After nearly a year of preparation and waiting, the big day finally arrived.

On April 17, 2006, I began the incredible journey of getting my guide dog Bristol. This was a huge step for me in many ways. On that day, five years ago, my mother and grandmother had to leave me eight hours away at Southeastern Guide dog. I was terrified to have my family leave me, but I knew it was something I had to do.

My fear was quickly replaced by joy when I met my new dog. I still remember that moment so vividly. The trainers brought Bristol into my room and the next thing I knew, I had a seventy pound dog in my lap. And that is when the fun began!

Bristol and I have had our ups and downs over the last five years. Walking with him the first time was both invigorating and terrifying at the same time. I had to surrender my life to this dog with whom I barely knew, much less trusted. Learning to trust Bristol has been one of my biggest challenges. Both Bristol and I have had to learn to put our trust in each other. It took time, but I finally came to the point of being able to trust him and allowing him to guide me. Those first few weeks was spent in intense training. Bristol and I were put into many different situations that we might face together during our time as a guide dog team. The trainers taught me how to respond and work with Bristol in these various life situations.

Thinking back over the last five years is something I have been doing a lot lately. With his upcoming retirement at the end of this month, I can’t help but think back on all that we have gone through together. Bristol has taken me to college, on road trips, and much more. Bristol has even saved my life on a few occasions while crossing streets. He has been my constant companion since that first day. He has been with me through the good times and the bad times. He has been with me during my greatest triumphs and when I have been at my lowest point. He has stayed by my side during the laughter and the tears; through the times when I felt so weak both physically and emotionally that I could barely get up to do anything. He has been with me when I have felt like no one else understood me and I felt so alone and confused.

Bristol has shown me so much over the last five years. Before I got him, I did not truly understand what walking independently meant. Up until then I had to rely on other people to help me. With Bristol’s assistance, I have been able to navigate the last five years with less support from other people. This newfound independence has been one of the greatest things to happen in my life.

Although I am deeply saddened by his upcoming retirement, I know that it is what is best for both of us. Bristol has been the best first time guide dog that I could ever ask for. Bristol has been telling me in his own way over the last year that it is time to let him go. It is time to retire him and let him spend the remainder of his life with my parents. He may struggle with his retirement at first, but I know in time he will adapt to being with my parents instead of me. I too will have an adjustment. I have got to go through the grief of surrendering him to my parents and then starting a new adventure with a new and younger guide dog. I have so many mixed emotions at this point. I’m looking forward to working with the new dog, but I’m also dreading leaving Bristol. Even though I know deep down that I’m making the right decision, I still have to sometimes wonder if I’m doing the right thing. I’ve had to deal with a lot of guilt over the last months about retiring him, but I am getting past it. I am now trying to enjoy the last few weeks we have together as a guide dog team.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Life Story Part Three

When I left off at the end of the last post, I had just finished the fifth grade. At that time, I was in a deep depression. I will now continue with what happened throughout the rest of my schooling up until my graduation from high school.

Over the summer between my fifth and sixth grade years, I started pulling my life back together. I wish I could say that my troubles with school ended here, but that did not happen. I would have to continue to fight to receive my education all the way until I graduated from high school.

During my middle school years, I spent a lot of time catching up academically. My math skills were very limited because no one had taken the time to teach me basic math skills. I was quite advanced in other academic areas. I was reading at a twelfth grade level by the time I was in the seventh grade. That was a shock to me because I was told that I was stupid and unteachable.

As I was trying to improve academically, I was also emerging from the depression that I was in. There is a lot about this time in my life that I don’t remember well. I do remember immersing myself in my schoolwork. I was determined to prove all of the people who had given up on me that I could make it. As a result of this, I was a very good student.

I carried this determination into my high school years. Most of my high school memories are not good ones. I was mistreated by my fellow students and once again, I was not given the opportunity to prove that I could make it academically.

For much of my middle school years and the first two years of high school, I was placed in special education classes. In middle school, I could understand why that was done. My emotional instability alone was enough to cause me to be in special education classes. Add in the academic challenges I had and I probably wouldn’t have made it in a regular classroom.  However, this did not make sense once I got to high school. I still remember being so bored in the special education classes. I was not challenged at all in the classes and grew bored quickly. I asked to be put into regular classes and was met with resistance from the people in charge of the special education department. They did not think I could handle the work in a regular classroom.

This time I did not accept that answer. With the help of my mother and one teacher in the special education department who saw my potential, I won that battle. My junior and senior years were my best academically. I was finally in regular classes full time. Unfortunately it was still not easy for me. I wanted to graduate with a standard diploma. I could not do that because I could not complete all of the course work in a two year time period. I wanted to do extra course work so that I could finish all of the required courses, but I was not allowed to do that by the administration. The school wanted me to go another year, but I refused to do that. By the time I got into my senior year, I just wanted out. By then, I did not care. I was so frustrated with all of the people who were against me.

Even though much of my high school years was a struggle, there were a few good parts. My best memory is of being in the choir. My last two years were the best. I had actually given up on music after my sophomore year because of the current choir director. I felt like I was wasting my time. I wanted to quit, but my mom convinced me to try one more year. I am so glad I did. A new choir director started working at my high school at this time in my life. With her encouragement, I regained my love for music. I felt like she was one of a few people who gave me a chance to prove that I could do something. Jamie, the choir director, helped give me back the confidence that I had lost in myself. I will be forever grateful to Jamie for what she did for me during those two years. During my last year of high school, that was all I cared about. Nothing else seemed important to me. I new by then that I would be graduating with a special education diploma. I continued to do well in all of my other classes, but there was no enjoyment in them.
 At the end of my senior year, I did not know what I wanted to do with my life. While everyone around me was preparing for college, I was left lost and confused as to what to do next. I ended up taking two years off between high school and college. However, these two years were not a total waste. In the next post I will share with you what I did during those two years.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Life Story Part Two

In the previous post, I started my life story by describing the struggle I had to go through to survive past my infancy. After the open-heart surgery to save my life, my health improved and I began to grow. I was a little behind developmentally, but I caught up in time.

I will now jump ahead to the time when I started elementary school. The first few years seemed uneventful to me. But as I advanced in school, problems began to arise. When I entered school, I was placed in special education classes. This was fine until I was in around fourth grade. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I need to backtrack a few years to maybe my second grade year when my eyesight was getting progressively worse. At this time, my teachers started teaching me Braille to prepare me for the eventual loss of my sight. I will admit, I resisted the need to use Braille. I can still remember the times that I strained my eyes because I didn’t want to use the Braille. I guess that was my way of fighting against my increasing eye problems. But at age eight, this struggle came to a halt by the detachment of my retina in my right eye. A surgery was performed to fix this problem, but it was not successful. A second surgery was done that gave me some of my sight back, but it was not nearly what I had had before all of this occurred. I was then left to cope with my new reality of near blindness.

The best that I can remember, this is when all of my school problems started. A new teacher came into my classroom during my third grade year. That first year was not really a problem because she did not have much control over my education. However, this changed at the beginning of my fourth grade year. She had total control over my education then. It did not go well. At first, she was giving me assignments that were far above my academic level for that time. When I failed at these assignments, it seems as though she gave up on me. To her, I was a stupid kid who could not be taught. To this day, I am still haunted by the words, “you are unteachable.” At age ten, I believed her and gave up on myself.

These events set off a chain reaction of events that would forever change me. After a while, the class I was in was eliminated and I was placed in a classroom with students that were below my age level and my grade level of fifth grade. My fellow classmates were placed in a fifthgrade classroom. I was placed in the other class because the teachers didn’t think I was ready for a fifth grade classroom. The part I struggle with most about this is that I was not given a chance to prove that I could make it.

Because of all of these events, I fell into a deep depression. A few years before this I had been diagnosed with seizures. During all of this turmoil in my life, the seizures became uncontrollable. A lot of my fifth grade year is a vague blur to me because of of the depression and seizures. The combination of the two had a devastating effect on my emotional state. The one thing I remember most clearly is the feeling that everyone, except my parents, had given up on me. I felt as though I had just been shoved into a classroom because no one wanted to take the time to teach me. I wasn’t worth their time or energy. I was a problem that just needed to go away.

After many meetings and disagreements with the administration and teachers, I finished the fifth grade. The school wanted to hold me back another year, but my parents wouldn’t let them. All my parents wanted was to get me out of that situation and into middle school where I might be able to pull my life back together. I spent months trying to pull myself out of the deep depression that I was in. It took me years to catch up with my peers academically. The emotional damage has been harder to handle over the years than that of my academic difficulties. Even now, I’m dealing with the emotions from that dark time in my life.

In the next post, I will continue with what happened next. I will explain more how I recovered from what happened to me in elementary school and what I did with my life in the years that followed.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Life Story Part One

In the next few posts, I will go back in my past and tell my life story up to this point. Some of what I am going to say is a secondhand account. Either I have know memory of some of the events or I have blocked some of it from my memory.

My parents had been married for four years when my twin sister, Jennifer, and I were born. Both my sister and I were declared healthy at birth and were sent home. However, I was not healthy at all.

My first few months of life was spent in and out of hospitals. My mom took me back to the hospital because of an irregular heartbeat after being home for a few days. At a month old, doctors finally figured out that I had a hole in my heart that did not close on its own as it should have. Doctors wanted to wait until I was a few years old before doing surgery to repair the hole. This did not happen though.

At three months of age, I had a scary incident that alerted my mom that I was seriously ill. One day, I threw blood up all over her and stopped breathing. She rushed me to the hospital at which time a procedure was done that determined that not only did I have a large hole in my heart, I also had a blockage in my heart. In short, I was in heart failure. Without immediate surgery, I would soon die.

The odds for my survival were very slim. The doctors only gave me a ten percent chance of living through the surgery. But as my mom has told me many times, if she and my dad did not consent to the surgery, I would have died anyway.

I can’t even imagine how my parents felt when they signed those consent forms and when I was wheeled away into surgery.

I did have complications on the operating table in which the doctors lost all of my vital signs and they had to bring me back to life. During the surgery, the surgeons patched the hole in my heart, and were able to remove the blockage.

My medical complications did not end there. As a result of being on a feeding tube for such a long period of time, the passage to my stomach closed off. For a while, I was only able to be fed in small amounts. I had to be taught how to eat again at three months old.

I went home at four months of age. My parents have had to watch me closely for much of my life. I have had to see cardiologists often in my short life to make sure that everything is still fine with my heart. Now at age twenty-four, I have no further complications. The fact that I am alive today is a miracle. To this day my mom calls me her “walking miracle.”

Now you might be asking how my vision impairment comes in to all of this. My mom could tell by looking at me when I was born that something was wrong with my eyes. The doctors told my parents that I just had a lazy eye. It wasn’t until I was nine months old that they learned that it was something else. Finally at eighteen months, doctors were finally able to tell that I had a severe case of a disease called Coloboma. Coloboma is a disease that causes deformities in the eye. My retina is misshapen and my octave nerve is damaged.

I am going to end this post here. All of what I have written above has had a huge impact on my life. There is more to my medical history that I will get to as I tell more of my life’s journey in the next post.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Bristol's Bad Day

It is days like today that helps to remind me that retiring Bristol is the right thing for both of us. He has had a really bad day in which he has barely been able to be a guide dog for me. Instead of relying on Bristol to get me back to the dorm safely after a class today, I had to rely on someone else. I did not feel comfortable enough allowing Bristol to do it alone. I needed the added security of another person.

Usually my lack of trust in Bristol is not this bad. But on these rare days when he can not seem to focus at all, it is better to ask others for help. Forcing him to work while he is having such a bad day can be more harmful than good. All it does is add unnecessary stress to him which does not help either one of us. If anything, it put’s us both in danger. Our day did not end here. A few hours after this occurred, I walked over to the campus cafeteria to get something to eat. Bristol had other plans for us. He took a few detours while going there and on our way back to the dorm. Even though I was alone with him, I never felt unsafe. It was just a frustrating situation for me because I could not get him to take the path that we usually take. We did make it to the cafeteria and back to the dorm, but it took a lot of patience on my part.

Being stressed is one reason why Bristol is retiring in May. Another reason is that he is becoming more skittish around some things, living and nonliving, that use to not phase him at all. His severe thunderstorm fear is another factor in the decision to retire him. At times, his fear is so strong that he can not do his job of being a guide dog for me. All he wants to do is either climb in my lap or hide under the bed.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Journeying through life

In the last few weeks, I have been encouraged to tell my story. I am totally blind and am in college. In this blog, I hope to tell how I got to this point in my life. It has not been an easy journey so far, but those hardships have shaped the person I am today. I am looking forward to the future and will also be sharing that in this blog.

I am now in an exciting time in my life. I have overcome a lot to get to where I am at now. In the next few months a big change will occur in my life. I have a guide dog named Bristol. He has been my faithful companion for nearly five years. It is time to retire him and to start a new and exciting journey with a new one. I am looking forward to getting the new one, but at the same time I am dreading the day I have to walk away from Bristol. I feel like I'm in some way betraying Bristol's trust by retiring him and replacing him with another dog that will be with me constantly. At first, Bristol will struggle with the presence of the new dog. I am not looking forward to that part. Even though Bristol will be spending the rest of his life with my parents who adore him, it will not be the same for him. For me,no dog will ever take over the spot in my heart that I have for him. He was my first guide dog. Bristol gave me the greatest gift of independence. Through Bristol, I have discovered that there are many things that I can do that I thought was out of my reach. I am able to walk independently without holding on to another person. My next dog will be a continuation of that freedom, but it was Bristol who first showed me that it is possible to live independently.