Taken By Surprise!

Discovering a large dog CAN be a lap dog! My 18-year-old with Chloe

My daughter, Kyersten, has developed an interest in hiking. Perhaps it is because her boyfriend is a “super hiker”, and she is learning to enjoy some of the things he does. Irregardless, on Memorial Day she took advantage of the fact that she had “mom and dad” all to herself, and drug us to Harper’s Ferry.

Harper’s Ferry is one of our favorite family “hang outs” and it takes less than 30 minutes to get there from our house. Kyersten recently went on a hike with Mark and his mother, discovering a trail we’ve never taken before as a family. She was anxious to show us the view, and so we were “game” to let her drag us up there.

Taken by surprise #1: As females are wise and practical, Kyersten and I took turns going to the bathroom so that we could watch each other’s dogs. She had her show dog, Pegasus, along for the hike and although Chloe can go to public bathrooms with ME, Peg cannot go to public bathrooms with Kyersten. (Besides, he’s a BOY dog – smile) Peg attracts a lot of attention. He’s umm… UNUSUAL looking.

Left alone as hubby was parking the van, Chloe, Peg and I made ourselves comfortable at a picnic table.  It didn’t take long for a family to make a bee-line for me and started asking questions about Peg. (Chloe is quite use to this and normally rolls her eyes and lays down to wait while all the questions like “was he born that way?” are answered). The “mom” of the family was standing on my left, and pointed to my head and said, “Amy, come look at this!”

I was taken by surprise by the delight and attention that was now directed at ME. “Mom” explained that Amy was waiting to get her first hearing aid. She was born with a bi-lateral hearing loss and was waiting for the “pink swirly” ear mold to come in before going to her audiologist for her last fitting. Amy looked to be about 6 or 7 years old. They were very interested in my cochlear implant and “bling”, and I also showed her my orange/red ear mold on the hearing aid in my right ear. Amy seemed excited about the prospect of putting “bling” on her own hearing aid when she began wearing it.

I get a lot of “looks” in public, but rarely have the opportunity to discuss hearing loss as much as I did with Amy and her family. When they walked away, the mother mouthed, “thank you“. I was under the impression Amy hadn’t met a lot of people with hearing loss. I was glad to be an impromptu role model.

Taken by surprise #2:

Finally ready for the hike, my daughter led us across the road and up the path to the railroad bridge. It’s a good thing my 17-year-old son, Chris was NOT along. He has “acrophobia” and would have never made it across! Chloe was not in vest as it was a hot day, and our goal was the top of a mountain! She stayed in a proper heel all the way across the bridge. When we got to the other side, we were to take a metal, spiral-staircase down to the path next to the Potomac River. I stepped down and made it down 3 steps and realized something with sudden clarity. Chloe wasn’t moving and I was on the verge of losing my balance. I think I may have screeched! Terry took my bag for me, and I turned to look at Chloe while holding the staircase railing with a “death grip”.

She was quivering from head to tail, and although she made it to the 2nd stair, her toes were curled around the rungs on the iron steps and her eyes were as wide as saucers. She was scared “drool-less”. (Chloe, being a hound does not have “spit”, she has “drool”… one kiss from her and you’ll agree fairly quickly!)

Hubby said, “Uh… Denise! I don’t think we are going to be able to do this!”

Kyersten and I both swung our heads to look at him with consternation… “Honey! A working dog doesn’t “not” do something new just because they are scared! I can do this! SHE can do this!”

I began talking to Chloe non-stop and used her name over and over again. Kyersten told me later that people coming UP the stairs were murmuring, “Poor Chloe!” “You can do it, Chloe!”, etc. Slowly but surely, Chloe came down the stairs. I’m sure seeing the ground underneath her from THAT high up, totally rattled her. But with shaking paw after shaking paw, she made it all the way to the bottom. We all praised her like crazy, and her tail gave one or two VERY small wags! Peg, who was CARRIED DOWN, looked at her like “what did she do to deserve so much praise?”

All of us needed a “breather” after that scare, and I had to admit to my family that I was totally taken by surprise that those stairs scared her. I’m so accustomed to her being in public with confidence and just being happy to be by my side, I was not ready for her to be frightened by something! I learned a valuable lesson… new things should be approached with caution.

Taken by surprise #3: My third surprise was that my daughter’s idea of a flat, wide path with compact mulch through a shady forest, is REALLY a 6.3 mile hike that is labeled by the park service as “difficult”. She did get the “shady” forest part right. She was also right about the view at least!

Chloe? Well today, she seems to have recovered…

Denise Portis
©2008 Hearing Loss Diary

Acceptance is…

Have you ever had a time in your life where you realized that accepting the way things are is all you can do right now?

The advocate in me chafes at what acceptance means. There is a part of me that yearns to be instrumental in change; that other late-deafened adults will be encouraged and helped by the things I do. In the public arena I try to be a good example, a positive influence that stimulates change in access, communication strategies, and coping mechanisms.

As a person with a working dog and one who has carefully counted the cost of what that means, I want to be a good role model. I hope to help create an awareness that there are other types of working dogs that are not guide dogs for the blind. I want to be instrumental in other’s acceptance of other types of working dogs.

It is much easier for me to “go to bat” for others. If it means a sacrifice will help someone else, I do so with little thought about whether or not I should. However, exerting emotional, mental and physical efforts in which the end result helps only me? Well… that is much harder!

When I first began losing my hearing, I lived in North Carolina. I had a friend who had a great deal of experience in working with people with hearing loss. Thoroughly exasperated one day, she put her hands on her hips and exclaimed, “Denise! You are the most difficult person to HELP! If and when we can, would you just sit down and LET US?” To this day, it is still something I struggle with each and every day. I want to “help”, but don’t help me!

I hope that I’ve mellowed with age, for in truth it is pride that keeps me from humbly accepting assistance from others. I’ve actually learned to ask for help! That’s GROWTH in my opinion! (grin)

Acceptance can be difficult to embrace. I accept that I have a hearing loss. I have a disability that at times makes communication difficult. I accept that I will need to ask for help at times in order to clarify, and that I will need to clearly communicate my needs.

Sometimes, acceptance means that right now… nothing can be done to improve your situation. My family and I are members of a really wonderful church here in Frederick. Our church is “big” on “small groups”. It is a way for the members to really get to know one another and to become involved in each other’s lives on a more personal level. Without going into a lot of unnecessary detail, there is no place for me in any of the current small groups. I’m encouraged that there are “plans in the works” to create a small group this fall that will be in a quieter setting with no children, etc. For now, however, I accept that there is not a place for me. Acceptance can mean to be brave and smile right through the feelings of loneliness. Acceptance does not mean that you “give up” emotionally and wrongly convince yourself that “this is the way it will always be”.

I am in a tough situation with my assistance dog, Chloe right now. A new person in my life has a very severe allergy to animals with fur. It is actually a life-threatening asthmatic reaction to pet dander, and she is unable to be near me if Chloe is with me.

Chloe isn’t a pet. As an assistance dog, her job is to be with me even if I do not immediately need her ears to hear or her “steady stance” to balance. To leave her at home in her kennel on occasion is not a problem. But to do so regularly, affects our bond in a negative way. It’s tough when a “new person” enters your life that you want to get to know better, but you must limit getting together with them because you cannot leave your assistance dog at home a great deal. I must accept that sometimes I can’t get to know someone like I would hope, as I cannot undo all the work and training I have gone through in order to live a more independent life.

Acceptance isn’t always an easy, “feel good” choice. At times, one must courageously determine that you can “accept” the way things are for the present. Right now, “acceptance” has actually caused a lot of heart break in my life… it has caused many a heated argument, frustration and sleepless nights. I can, umm… (BIG SMILE) accept that!

Denise Portis
©2008 Hearing Loss Diary

I Can’t HANDLE IT!!!

Have you ever heard anyone say, “I’ll be OK! God promises to not give me anything that I can’t handle!” Or maybe you’ve heard, “You’ll be ok! Don’t worry! You have to trust that God will never give you something you can’t handle!” (It’s even worse when someone preaches that verse at YOU when you are going through something difficult!)

I suppose that this verse from the Bible – when mis-interpreted, and pulled out of context – is one of my biggest pet peeves. The verse is found in the book of First Corinthians, chapter ten, verse 13. The people who mis-use this verse the most cannot even tell you where it’s found!

Let me paste it here in case you are unfamiliar with what the verse says:

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”

Paul was writing a letter to the church in Corinth. Many had refused to take responsibility for their poor decisions, or actions which led to sin. Paul pointed out that God always provides a way for you NOT to make poor choices. He allows an opportunity for you to do the right thing.

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard folks (with the BEST intentions) mis-interpret this verse, I’d be very rich in … umm… nickels!

The truth of the matter is, that sometimes things can happen that I cannot handle. At times, I picture myself with hair standing straight up, clothes rumpled and torn, dirt from head to toe (basically looking as if I’ve just stepped out of a war zone), with megaphone in hand shouting to the Heavens… “Hello God? Umm… what in the heck are Ya doin’?” Yup. From time to time, I can’t HANDLE IT.

God has never promised anyone… anywhere… that He will not allow things to happen in your life that you can’t handle. We’re human. Much of what life has to offer, we cannot handle. Think of the holocaust, AIDS, Somalia, earthquakes, wars, cancer… these things are simply “life happening”. God doesn’t allow terrible things to individuals because they can “handle it”.

One of the most difficult things about having a disability that is considered “acquired”… one that develops later in life… is that you are not the person you WERE. It’s tough on relationships to have to learn to communicate differently, or learn to accept a working dog within four feet of a person you once knew that lived life without one!

I have times where I just can’t HANDLE IT. I usually drag myself out of my self-made “pity party” simply because what I live with is nothing compared to what some must HANDLE on a daily basis. I’m coping. I’m learning and growing.

Thankfully, I don’t go through tough times alone. I have discovered a great number of people just like me; people who can’t handle it from time to time. It helps to find others coping with the same problems.

Of course… when I’m really at my wits end, God reaches down and takes the megaphone from me. (After all, HE hears just fine!) He says, “You can’t handle it, Denise, but I can. I’m not goin’ anywhere. I’ll go through this with you. Your deafness? Not a problem. You don’t need ears to “hear” Me. The dog? Not a problem. I love dogs!”

Accept that there will be times in your life that you can’t handle it. I hope those times drag you into the presence of the One who can.

Denise Portis
©2008 Hearing Loss Diary

Third Year Anniversary

Today I went for my 3rd year mapping at Johns Hopkins. I haven’t been to Jennifer, my audiologist, for one full year. One of the first things she asked me was “How is everything going, Denise? I guess since it’s been a year, things are good?”

I hadn’t thought of it in quite that perspective before, but I guess I have had a very good year since I’ve not emailed nor called her begging for a new “map”! Actually, it is a little unsettling to go in to have your cochlear implant checked and “tweaked” when you feel like you are doing great! I always remind myself that Jennifer doesn’t push me to change anything if I don’t like the new maps.

First stop… the sound booth. (a.k.a. “the torture chamber” if you listen to some late-deafened folks!) The orientation of “the chair” was different this time, and I had Chloe (my hearing/balance assist dog) with me. I got kinda tickled a couple of times, as my audi would sometimes “pop in” with her voice and say, “Denise… this time we are going to…” Chloe’s head would jerk around and stare at the speaker. I could tell she was trying to see if my name was repeated for a genuine “name call alert”. One of the tests (my favorite – NOT!) is a man who says… “Ready? and then a word” It goes on for what seems like FOREVER, but actually I’m sure it’s only several minutes. I missed “when”, as I thought it was “whim”, and I missed “nice” thinking it was “mice”. As there is a “white noise” as well, I was pretty proud I only missed two! The sentences given are harder, but they are more indicative of actual conversation I believe. I didn’t miss any of these! (patting self on back…) The only thing I would change about these tests is that I believe two more options of “noise” should be used as well as the “white noise”. I think “traffic noise” and “restaurant noise” would be wonderful options for the audiologist to track how well their patients are hearing in “real life” situations.

My audi then took me back to her office and showed me a printout of the test results. I’m always amazed to see the scale, as it seems such a short time ago I could hear very little. Below is an audiogram from a couple of months before my surgery in 2005 (on the top), and below it is one of today. The up-to-date audiogram is labeled with “M’s” for the implant and “S’s” for both the implant (on my left side) and hearing aid (in my right).

She then hooked me up to her computer and gave me four new maps, carefully explaining what each were.  We then “sat and talked” so that I could “listen” to the new maps and be able to give her feedback.

When I got home, my plan had been to go right out to Wal-mart. The list from my family had gotten longer and longer over the past week. However, the sound of the rain, had me lingering at home.  For over a year now I have enjoyed the sound of the rain on the roof of the van, or on the roof of the house. Funny how something you now think sounds TOTALLY GRAND, was something you don’t remember registering as “sound” prior to becoming deaf. It most certainly wasn’t something I thought was a spectacular sound! The map I am now using as my primary, mixes both ADRO and ASC. (That probably only means something to folks with the Nucleus Freedom!) I am amazed at how wonderful the rain sounds with my new map! And it sounds… different than it did twenty-four hours ago! (It’s been raining for four days, so I very easily recall what rain sounded like yesterday!)

All thoughts I had of rushing off to Wal-mart with shopping list in hand went right out of my mind! I couldn’t help but pulling up a seat and just listening. It’s amazing how the rain sounds as it hits the wood on our deck. It’s amazing… when you are “hearing again”. Wal-mart? It can wait until tomorrow!

Denise Portis
©2008 Hearing Loss Diary

Certification Day

(On the opposite of her tag is emergency contact information, information about Fidos, her tattoo number, microchip number, etc.)

On Saturday, May 3rd, Fidos For Freedom held their annual certification day. It is a voluntary certification. Although currently the ADA does not require certification, the Department of Justice often considers requiring assistance dog teams to provide “proof of training” as the subject comes before them periodically.

Fidos is accredited with ADI (Assistance Dogs International) and IAADP (International Association of Assistance Dog Partners). As clients we must demonstrate our knowledge of the basic commands as well as those accompanying the specialized skills our dogs have been taught. The certification training team also notes how well we work together as a team, and we are evaluated on a number of “tests”. One test, is the written test (approximately 10-12 pages long), which covers all the information in our client handbook. Topics include communicating with your dog, “matching” and afterwards, the “30 Day” bonding period, your dog’s equipment, daily care of your dog, “time off”, public deportment, traveling with your dog, preventative health care, first aid, and emergencies, and “1 year Probationary Period” and beyond. Our dog is also weighed. Their overall appearance as well as the appearance of their equipment, is evaluated.

Chloe and I both passed! (I was hoping for a new picture… but they used my picture from last year when we were matched. I don’t have long hair anymore!)

We arrived at Fidos at 10:15 AM. Part of the certification training staff were in the parking lot. We were not allowed to unload our dogs without an evaluation. So I had to demonstrate my knowledge of Chloe’s seatbelt, “Chloe wait”, “Chloe OUT”, etc. Then I had to re-load her! “Chloe HUP!” “Chloe wait”, etc.

Next we checked in at registration. Here Chloe was weighed and her paws, nails, teeth, ears, eyes, etc., were checked. She weighed 59.2 pounds. (She was suppose to weigh under 62… all those walks have paid off!)

Gretchen S., (trainer and owner of Chinese Crested… she introduced my daughter Kyersten to the breeder from whom she received Peg, shown in the picture) followed me to the “Bottom Dollar” grocery store across the street. In the parking lot, we encountered two “strangers” who asked to pet Chloe, and asked to give her a treat. (Both were sneaky “Fidos pests” stationed to see how we handled the requests). I was watched the entire time by Gretchen, as she made note on a clipboard how I handled the “pests”, crossed the street, walked on the sidewalk (with traffic “away” from my dog), entered the store, etc. I was instructed to purchase one item at the store. As I perused the isles, Gretchen “dropped grocery items” behind me, made a “ruckus”, etc. She then had me “accidentally drop my leash” to see how Chloe behaved and if she stayed in heel. I did a short “off leash” recall. She then observed my “check out”. (Where did I have my dog?, how did I handle progression through the line?, etc.) I was then observed taking Chloe back across the street to Fidos. (Chloe had to be in “place” for this in order to keep her away from the “street side” of the sidewalk… I’m glad we’ve been practicing this!)

When I arrived back at Fidos, I was taken to a room in order to take my written test. Sherri (another trainer), took Chloe from me. Chloe was evaluated on how she behaved when not with me… did she exhibit any anxiety due to being apart from me? was she under control?, etc. I was about 75% finished with my test, when I noticed movement at the door. I was really concentrating (the test was HARD!) so only looked up for a fraction of a second. I caught a glimpse of Sherri, so my head snapped back up to look at her. She was mouthing from the door, “sorry!” About that time, Chloe shot up from underneath the table right into my face! Scared me spitless! She licked my whole face and was practically in my lap! I had trouble calming her down because… well… I was SPITLESS! Sherri came over to me and told me she did great, and that there weren’t any problems. (I was thinking if this wiggling, licking, “thank goodness I found you, you were lost!” bundle of canine was “she did great and there weren’t any problems“, I was thankful I didn’t know what the reaction was when there WAS a problem!)

Chloe and I then met up with Judy to do our skills test. I brought my alarm clock, cell phone, kitchen timer, keys, etc., thinking we were to be tested on every skill. However, we only had to demonstrate two to pass, and then a “name call” alert. I chose “dropped item” (keys) and the kitchen timer.

I walked with Chloe in heel and “accidentally” dropped my keys. Chloe is to do an “immediate retrieve”. This alerts me to an item I dropped. She retrieved the keys immediately and handed them back to me with a look like, “Denise? You sure drop your keys a lot, but I don’t mind gettin’ them for ya!”

Judy set the kitchen timer and then hid it amongst some training equipment at the side. I walked with Chloe in a small circle in heel while she did this. When the timer went off, Chloe immediately stopped and cocked her head. (At least I’m assuming it went off… I can only gauge this by her reaction!) She bumped my hand with her nose and made eye contact. I said, “What is it, Chloe? Show me!” She immediately took me to the area where the timer was, and then stopped and cocked her head again to listen. When she located that it was up high, she stood up on her hind feet to locate where it was at on the box. After she “placed” where it was positioned, she jumped up with her front feet on the box in the location of where she saw the timer. She was unable to “bump” it with her nose as it was just out of reach. Instead, she laid her head down on the box and stared right at the timer. It was so cute, I almost forgot to praise her!

Next we did the “name call alert”. Every client with a hearing dog at Fidos must pass this. I was a little bit worried, because I’ve been told that Judy has a very low and soft voice. Judy started calling my name like an alert. (Denise! Denise! Denise! – about every 5 seconds) At first Chloe didn’t react, but then she froze and cocked her head to listen. Her head whipped around to where Judy was, and she stopped to listen again. She licked/bumped my hand, and trotted towards Judy. She sat right in front of her and looked from me to Judy, and repeated this. (It looked like she was watching a tennis match actually!) She passed all of the skill’s section with “flying colors”!

We then went to the obedience skills, and temperament testing. Pam (another trainer) met me inside a large sectioned off area of the training floor. I was instructed to “drop” Chloe’s leash when I came into the area. A plate of food was in the middle of the floor. I instructed Chloe that it was “stolen! Leave it!” Chloe walked around it, but gave it about a 5 foot berth. Her nose kept sniffing towards the food, but when she’d catch my eye, she’d whip her head around and pretend interest in the pictures on the wall. She can really be a “hoot”! I was instructed to put her in a down/stay right in front of the food. She stared at me the whole time. I caught her looking sideways at the food under her nose one time, but she immediately jerked her attention back to me. (I think she was hoping I’d say, “Chloe! Paid for!”)

Pam removed the food, and had a volunteer come up and pet Chloe, and then step over her. Chloe remained in a down/stay with her attention on me. Then Pam had me release Chloe, and she brought out a squeaky toy. Chloe having been told “free”, was immediately all “a wag”! Pam told me that she was going to play with Chloe for a couple of minutes, and then I was to call Chloe back to me. The “test” was to see how quickly she settled down and how immediate was her response to a command given by me. Pam started squeaking the toy and tried to get Chloe all excited. Chloe only 1/2 played with her! She continued to come over to me with a look like, “Is this all right, mom? Is this ok? Can I be playing? You don’t need me do you?” Pam had to keep getting her attention to come back and play! (Chloe’s all time favorite toy is a “squeaky” toy! I was floored that she was more concerned about not being by my side!) Finally I was given my “cue” to call her back. Chloe seemed so relieved! Her response was immediate!

I was then taken to another area of the facility where they had a make-shift “store” set up. Sarah, another trainer, was the shop’s “owner”. Chloe and I were denied access, and were given a “hard time” with all the usual statements given by store personnel. “You can’t bring that dog in here!” (“Oh, actually I can. She is an assistance dog, and my rights of access are guaranteed by the federal ADA law!) “Well, what if she makes a mess or tears up things in my store?” (“She won’t make a mess or tear things up. She’s been trained to never touch things without permission. Should she make a mess, I will clean it up as I carry everything I need with me. But I can assure you, she will not as she only goes when I give her leave to do so in a private OUTSIDE area!”) “Well, what if some of my customers are allergic to animals?” (“If I discover someone has an allergy to dogs, I will shop in another area of the store and do my best to stay away. However, unless their allergy is a disability, my right of access with my service animal supersedes their allergy to dogs”) “Well, I’ve never heard of this law! I’m going to call the cops!” (“I have a copy of the law right here. Please read it. If you feel you must, please feel free to call the authorities. They are required to uphold the federal law that protects my rights as a person with disabilities accompanied by an assistance animal”) “Is she certified? Let me see her papers!” (“Chloe IS certified, but actually all the law allows is for you to ask me what she does for me to assist me with my disability. Anyone can fake certification tags. It HELPS me for you to ask what the dog does for the person with a disability when you see someone trying to bring a dog into your store. I don’t want people claiming to have a service dog anymore than you want people coming in with “fake” working dogs!”) Combinations of, and part of each of these conversations took place during my “access” test. I tried to hand Sarah information about the training facility in which I am involved with, but she knew they were the older version. Sarah is legally blind, so I was amazed that she could tell by the feel of the brochures that they were the “old” ones. She showed me where the partnership seals at the bottom were slightly embossed. The new ones have 4 or 5 partnership seals, and the old ones only have two. (Sarah is AMAZING! She does a great job training the dogs as well!)

Next I stopped to see Pat, the director of training. (She was/is my individual trainer too! Chloe was glad to “sit” close to her as she spent a great amount of time in Pat’s home! I’m thankful to consider Pat a friend now too!) Pat went over the problems I missed on the test in order to explain “why”. One I disagreed with a little bit. The question was that the ADA protects my rights as an individual to have access with Chloe into any public building. I put “false” because my rights are not guaranteed in court houses, federal buildings, etc. I consider these places “public buildings”! Evidently, federal buildings are not considered “public buildings”, however. At least I’ll know the next time I take the test! I missed a couple of others… but I still passed!

I received my new certification tags, and we went to the foyer to wait for Pat. We had a “lunch date” and Chloe and I needed to wait for her to finish.

So? Should I say that Chloe and I are “certifiable” now? Perhaps I should just stick with that, “yes… she is certified!”

Denise Portis
©2008 Hearing Loss Diary