Life with TBI : Lost and Confused

In the days Before Injury (BI), my life was different.  I completed a Masters in Social Work and and a full time career.  I served both active duty and reserve in the military.  I was medically retired after 17 years because of the injury.  I organized complicated trainings and retreats.  I ran marathons.  I traveled alone and in groups.  I was part of the Criticsl Incident Response Team to the 2009 shootings at Ft. Hood.  In short, I managed stress, frustration, and change well.  

This is life after injury.  It is a direct quote from my Face Book status.  

“I am totally losing it. 

This is brain injury:

I had to go to my neurologist today in Kennewick.  Normally, a friend drives me to and from.  Today, she could get me to the appointment but not back.  She had another requirement she needed to attend.

So, I’m alone in Kennewick, waiting for the Grapeline shuttle to get me home. I don’t know kennewick.  I had looked up the bus routes to get me to the transit center to get the shuttle.  It’s one transfer.. But it gets me there 5 minutes before the bus and I have to figure out the right transfer at the first transfer point.  And deal with all the sensory stimulation.  I opted to call a cab for a pick up.  I could barely manage to communicate when I needed the ride, where Imwas, and where I was going.  The dispatcher had to tale me through it, several times. I promptly forgot what time the cab is picking me up and had to call her again.

It’s lunch time.  My friend suggested a Mexican place.  I went in… A few people.  But no sign telling me if I had to sit, wait to be seated, or order at the front.  I got so anxious, I left and went to a small bagel place down the street.  It’s quiet.  And the counter person is really nice.

I’ve taken lorazepam because I’m coming totally unhooked. 

Tell you what, if I didn’t have Riley, I’d be curled in the fetal position in an ER telling them I can’t get home.  Probably get a psych eval.  

And I still have to tolerate the hour shuttle ride home and still get to where it leaves.  

I function much better in familiar settings or with someone else.  Typical of some forms of brain damage.

There’s no one here and I’m scared out of my wits.”

The cab got me to the Grape Line and I made it home safely.  But, I just can’t function outside of routine and familiarity.  This should not have been hard.



 

Conquering Wal Mart

Today was a huge accomplishment. The last time I was in WalMart was over four months ago and a friend had to stay next to me at all times. Today, Riley and I conquered WalMart. His trainer was present, observing and offering guidance. However, she wasn’t next to me constantly, Riley stepped in several times, both blocking and nudging and licking, when I was stressed , experiencing sensory overload ,or off balance. I didn’t require any medication during or after the trip. After I got home, I still needed a two hour nap.

He also correctly placed behind me and to the side when we were in a line. When people approached from behind me, I was aware they were there. They didn’t just suddenly come out of nowhere, right on top of me, because I couldn’t see them because of the peripheral vision loss. I didn’t startle or get anxious.

Notice in the picture how he is looking up at me. He is checking in to see how I was doing. I was fairly anxious at the time. He was considering what, if anything, I needed him to do.

He is a wonderful dog and even in our training sessions, he is making an incredible difference in my life.

I’m hopeful that once we fully partner, not only will I handle store s easier but perhaps I can also use public transportation successfully.

I still required a long nap after our training session. But, it wasn’t like Mt. Everest today. It was more like running a marathon. It’s hard but easier.

Please, donate and share,
Riley Fundraiser

Thanks for all your support.

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Meeting the Family

Last weekend, Riley and his trainer came to my house so Riley and his new siblings could meet each other. Heidjchdjaka…..

Dis is Kaliyah. I stoled the fingy dat mommy uzes ta rites an stuff. I hidded unda da cowch. I gets ta tell dis storee. Dat day wez exitun. Me an Bobby knewz sumfing wez happunun. Mommy gotz uz owt uf da cage eerly dat mornun. We plazed wif Brigid an me an Bobby chased in da tonnels. We gotted tweats an Brigid chased Bobby and I pounced on her. She ranned and wented up da cat climer thingie. I climed aftur her an she battud me wif her paw…

Den da door ranged. Dere was a new hooman an a big dog. We metz dogs befor. Sum are mean. Ofers like ta snif an play. Dis dog wez nice. He sniffed but he haz big paws. Bobby and me wez scared sumtimes wen his big pawz jumped at us. We hidded unda da couch and wached him. We sniffed noses again. He wez nice. Me and Bobby liked him.

Stupid ferret. I managed to rescue the iPad. Kaliyah, Bobby, and Riley me to each other. I introduced Bobby first. They sniffed and Bobby gave a lick on the nose. His body language was curious, no afraid. When I put him down, he went nose to nose again, then scampered off to play. He basically went about his business, ignoring Riley, except when Riley tried to puppy pounce. Riley showed absolutely no prey drive or aggression. He just thought the ferret was a fascinating new friend to play with. I brought Kaliyah out and introduced her to Riley. She was curious also. The only times the ferrets showed any concern was when Riley pawed them. Big paws, small ferrets. For Riley’s part, it was an exercise in self control, as he is still puppy enough to want to play!

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Watching Kaliyah

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Meeting Bobby

After the introductions, Riley, his trainer (Krystal), and I went for a walk. Riley was still excited about meeting the ferrets and was not focused on leash manners at first. Even “misbehaving,” he walked without pulling. In a short time, he calmed down and walked like a pro. We practiced on different terrains.

Riley is a fantastic dog and well on the way to becoming an outstanding service dog. Riley was walking calmly next to me when he suddenly decided to walk in front of me and started pacing. Krystal said something about this being different behavior. Within about 5 seconds of Riley doing that, I had a seizure. Krystal told me he immediately braced and watched me. My seizures are partial, focal ones. I lose awareness, my eyes twitch, and I become disoriented when the seizure ends. My balance is off and I can fall.
We decided to return to my house. As we walked up my street, a man was mowing his lawn. Riley repeated his earlier behavior. I had a second seizure. The young dog taught himself to alert to seizures!

When we got home, Krystal and Riley came inside. Riley drank half the water bowl. Thirsty boy. In the interim, Brigid had left her safety perch, hidden on the chairs under the table. She comfortably walked through the house, watching Riley, but unafraid. Riley is familiar with cats and wanted to befriend this cat also. Brigid wasn’t quite ready to meet him up close. However, she is not afraid of him.

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Riley and Brigid Watching Each Other

The introductions were successful.

Riley is already functioning as a service dog when he is with me. His training continues, as he needs to learn to perform several more tasks and polish the ones he already knows. He is also only 7 months old and needs more “seasoning” before beginning his career.

If you can donate to his training fund, please help. Share the campaign!

Riley’s Fund

Thank you for your service

As a Veteran, I often hear the phrase “thank you for your service.” At one level, I appreciate that people recognize, at least on some level, the sacrifices members of the military make daily. However, there is more to appreciating the impact and costs of service than saying thank you.

Veterans struggle with issues such as Traumatic Brain Injury, PTSD, depression, homelessness, and suicide. We need more than “thank you” and a referral to the nearest VA. The VA has its problems but does provide needed services. However, there is more demand on the system than VA is staffed and funded to address.

Have you ever helped a Veteran? It doesn’t have to be complicated, or a large time commitment, or monetary gift. Consider volunteering at a VA. Or donating to programs like Wounded Warrior Program Give to Wounded Warrior ProjectAn example of a need that is often missed: the VA gets HUD/VASH grants to help Veterans who are homeless get into affordable housing. Frequently, these Veterans have little or no resources. They may have a roof over their heads but lack cleaning supplies to clean their apartment. Or they have no furniture. One Veteran I know slept on the floor in a sleeping bag for over a month before he could buy an air mattress. Now, he has a regular mattress with no frame. But, he’s happy. He’s no longer homeless. What you can do to help: contact a local VA homeless program and ask if they need something for a Veteran going into housing. Another person I know has one bowl, a plate, fork, spoon, and knife. His apartment came with a microwave. Everything he eats is either something not requiring cooking or microwaveable food. Something small like a set of plates, bowls, and cutlery can make a difference.

I’ve blogged several times about fundraising for Riley. I have service connected PTSD and a Traumatic Brain Injury. Riley is primarily being trained to help with my TBI, as that is the most limiting medical problem. However, he is also being “cross trained” in several PTSD tasks. So far, only 12 people have donated to my GoFundMe campaign. Part of me is frustrated, thinking that since my TBI is not combat related, it’s not “sexy” enough to get donations. Meanwhile, I see a report about a fundraising campaign that earn $14,000 so a woman could pay for an abortion. What is up with that?

Please, if you want to thank a Veteran, or a service member currently on duty, do something tangible. We need more than words. I’d appreciate a donation to my campaign, but if you choose to donate to another Veteran or program, I still appreciate the fact you chose to help.

Have a wonderful day.

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A Pet Adviser: Special Report

This is an excellent set of articles about the problem of fake service dogs. It is sad that many people think it is their “right” to take their pets everywhere with them and lie to make it happen. Every time a poorly trained pet “service dog” misbehaves in public,it makes it harder for people partnered with a trained dog to work.

I support the requirement to show the dog is trained. However, the laws need to be written intelligently. For example, Riley is being trained by a certified professional trainer who is registered with Service Animal Registry of America. He has been in training since he was 49 days old. When he is through, he will have over 8 months of training and over 500 hours. He is being trained to exactly what I need him to do. Neither the military or the VA will recognize his training unless an Assistance Dogs International trainer is willing to certify him. He will EXCEED their standards of training. But, they are the only group recognized as trainers. And, there is no such thing as a free or low cost service dog. Most ADI programs require recipients to find raise at least half the cost of the dog. Some waive this requirement for veterans.

I chose to stay local and pay for my dog’s training for several reasons. One, the closest program is 175 miles one way from me. I don’t travel without assistance due to my disabilities. Two, I wouldn’t be able to be part of the training process. With staying local, I get to work with Riley several times a month. I am part of his training and we are already bonding. Three, he is being trained for exactly the tasks I need. Nothing I don’t need. Four, the ADI programs in my state have a 2-5 year waiting list. Five, my trainer and I got to choose the dog and the breed. No allergies with a standard poodle. And a very bright dog.

The laws will need to be written to be more inclusive of training options. As for Riley, at least most VAs aren’t enforcing the ADI only issue too strenuously. And,my trainer is looking into finding an ADI trainer to sign off on him.

Watson, my Service Dog

I found this awesome article recently. It is definitely worth a read!

http://www.petsadviser.com/service-dog-report.pdf

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Update on Riley

It’s been a busy time lately. I am still working to raise funds for my service dog, Riley’s, training.
Big news on Riley! He passed his Canine Good Citizen test. Now that he passed that test and knows 4 tasks, he is ready to start more intensive task training on his remaining tasks I need. He is also allowed public access. Riley and I will now start working on partnership- training together more often.

This morning, Riley, Krysal (his trainer) and I were on KVEWTV morning news. On the way to the studio, we stopped for a caffeine run. This was the first time since I was medically retired that I was awake and working before dawn (4:30 am). I needed that caffeine! Riley accompanied me into the store and performed perfectly.

This time is so exciting! Riley issuing so well in his training and we are already starting to work well together. I’m really looking forward to the day he comes home with me as a fully trained Service Dog.

Here are links to the news story:
part one of Riley on the news

part Two of Riley on the News

I still need help paying for his training. Please donate if you can!
Riley’s Fundraising Page

And please share!

Have a wonderful weekend!

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My Hope

I saw this video first as a commercial on TV for moments.org. The veteran also has a brain injury and faces many of the same problems I have. Her service dog changed her life. My hope is that Riley will one day do the same for me.

Service Dog Story

Paws For Service- Fundraiser for Riley

Riley is doing great in his training. He is ready to take his Canine Good Citizen test. He is working hard on his public access manners.

Last Friday, I visited him and the training team. I started to learn how to do basic trimming and grooming of his coat. We then worked on walking together and practiced the access test. He has to learn me as a handler. Then, connect me with the rest of his task training.

He started to learn a couple of his tasks last month. Right now, he is working on recognizing and responding to auditory overload, bracing, and standing between me and people who are crowding or upsetting me. He demonstrated his progress last Friday.

I was recently diagnosed with a seizure disorder. My friend, Carol, drove me to see Riley last Friday. Riley was practicing responding to my cue for sensory overload. I clamp my hands to my ears. He was not consistently understanding the cue from me, as I am a bit different from his trainer. He’s also in the starting stages of,learning the task. Carol made the suggestion they couple a loud noise with the task. Loud noise means Riley “checks in” with me to see if I am managing. To demonstrate what happens, she suddenly clapped her hands sharply. My hands went to my ears and I stepped backwards. Riley stepped in between me and Carol. Then, he looked up at me. He performed a task in a real situation, without prompting.

That is one of the many challenges of being a service dog. Riley had to choose between two tasks. He did both. However, he will eventually have to know what task to do, when. He will have to make independent decisions about my welfare and what he needs to do. In addition, he can’t become “alpha” in the partnership. He still has to defer leadership to me in most situations. Thus, the long period of training before a dog earns the title “service dog.”

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