Happy International Assistance Dogs Week Noodle!! 

Usually I allow myself to write two soppy assistance dog posts a year maximum to prevent the readers of this blog having to endure an unreasonable amount of dog spam. Birthdays and anniversaries are perfect for over the top declarations of puppy love, though I confess that being in hospital has meant *Noodle and I’s qualification anniversary slipped under my radar this year. So let’s celebrate IADW instead.

This pasty-faced girl with an overgrown pixie cut/mullet is me back in December. I was about five months into my hospital admission when I got the news that we were winners of the Guide Dog of the Year ‘Beyond the Call of Duty’ category. I wasn’t well enough to go to the awards but Noodle and I became movie stars for a bit for the filming of this clip. I would love to have a go at making a similar video six months on because I am more able to get my point across now. The film was shot at Heron unit when I was paticularly unwell and I don’t feel like what I said gave Noodle justice. There’s a longer video too if you root around on YouTube; but even in the extended version I don’t think I managed it.

So this post is about Laila (AKA Noodle), and the fact that at 5am this morning she was helping me regulate my breathing. She puts weight on my legs to calm muscle spasms and stays there. She is always calm so there is a gentle breathing pattern for me to try to copy. She doesn’t get phased at all by my daily battles.

She’s been in ambulances and she’s gone mad for reasons I was unaware of at the time. She sometimes will start ‘acting up’ and take a telling off for being naughty because I’m not aware of the oncoming episode. Of course, once I have crumbled and rebuilt, I apologise for accusing her of any wrong doing, usually with a toy or a little bit of cheese.

Guide dogs didn’t give me this little miracle fully formed. She was an amazing guide dog and we were a brilliant team, but what happened for her to begin helping with my mental illness was slow and gradual. She always knew when I was going to go into panic or meltdown before I did but I just hadn’t been watching out for her ways of telling me. When I started listening to her the door opened to her being able to do so much more for me. As my illness has progressed I’m now dependent on her help. Fetching a bag with soothing items or meds in? Got it. Finding someone to help me in a crisis? Got it. Intercepting negative patterns? Got it! Literally watching my back when we are out? Got it! We learn new things all the time together. It’s actually hard to make a list!

If there is a way she can help me then she will do it and, most importantly, enjoy doing it. She reminds me of a doctor or nurse who swings into action in an emergency; movng quickly and professionally and getting a high from the urgency. Not to mention she is always very pleased with herself when she has successfully aided normality to be resumed.

In her freetime Noodle likes lying with her legs in the air, giving kisses and playing with her best friend and fellow guide dog Isla (above).

She’s seen scenes to rival a police dogs memoir and has the guts of a warrior. A very happy International Assistance Dogs Week to my best friend Noodle. You’re one in a million.

Angels Can Have Four Paws

I thought I would share this post with UpsideDownChronicles readers as well as people who know me from elsewhere. It’s the next day and I have slept the majority of the day and have lots of aches and pains. Nothing more than what could be expected though. Noodle has waited for me to play all day. She gives me hugs and licks my feet as I sleep; she is never impatient with me. We had a play at lunchtime and she got a good groom and a game of fetch. Now she is sleeping next to me as we watch Mean Girls for what must be the 6th time this week… Night! 

 Today I am grateful for my furry colleague and partner in crime. How can this paw perfect little guide dog switch roles so fast? In church she was a guiding dream- she even got blessed. But this evening I had two major dissociation episodes and she turned into my own furry superhero! There was a short time when I came round and it looked like the worst of it was over, so the staff propped the door open with a chair and went to get me a drink. The gremlin gripped me again while they were gone and the last thing I remember was the sound of her scrabbling to get out, under the chair, to find help. If I was fine she would never dream of doing this, It’s against all her training but she knows she must do it if I am going to get help. She went straight to staff and brought them to me. Things could have got so much worse if she hadn’t. 

The staff tried to make her calm down but she wouldn’t stop licking and licking me, putting her paws on me. She wanted me back! A member of staff took her out but still she wouldn’t calm. Had I been able I would have told staff that this was pointless- she only calms when she knows I’m supported and safe. Then it died and I was finally okay and she sunk straight back into being a beautifully behaved guide dog. No more craziness from either of us.

Now I’m as tired as if I ran a marathon- but if I stand up she will stand with me. I will slip a finger inside her collar and she will help me. One step at a time. I can’t express how thankful I am to have her in my life right now. I couldn’t do it without her and I certainly don’t say it enough. The nurses are now calling her ‘the super dog’. Anyway this has taken like an hour and a half to type but I just wanted to say thank you to anyone who supports guide dogs in any way. Every single guide dog is a super hero, they are our eyes and so much more. It’s incredible. I am also just so thankful that my little guide dog decided ophthalmology wasn’t enough, and took on the neurological too. Guide Dog of the Year Beyond the Call of Duty? I think it was very much deserved. Who knew angels could have four paws ey?

noodle and human snuggling

Old photo- “If I lay here, if i just lay here, would you lie with me and just forget the world”

My Furry Colleague and Her Sneeze of Needing Back Up

Well Noodle has done it again. Worked her way as an assistance dog into yet another hospital! Regular readers will remember the first part of the saga when I battled to keep her with me in a Paediatrics ward. You can read ‘How to Smuggle a Dog into a Hospital’ here.

We had a very difficult first fortnight in my new unit, questions and issues rained down on myself and my furry colleague near constantly. The subsequent flood filled me with hate for the whole hospital and very nearly washed me out the door. But we got through it. We learnt to groom before seeing the staff who will comment on Noodle’s shedding winter coat and we compromised on many an issue.

On admission I told the hospital about Noodle’s magic powers. But I don’t think they really believed that the little dog (rather shabby looking after a seven hour drive) could do all these things I was telling them.

The first time it happened they thought it was a fluke.
The second time they thought it was odd.
The third, they thought it was lucky.
The fourth, they realised that she is amazing.

And then it clicked. When Noodle watches me go into crisis, often dangerous or disabling for me, she will get out of the room. In fact sometimes she predicts it and won’t go in to the room at all. She will then do everything she can to get human assistance for me. In a ward like my current one there are many fire doors, so she is limited to pacing and barking, but at my old open plan unit she could run straight to the office and then straight back to me. Staff find her at the other side of a door and she greets them with what I have coined ‘The Sneeze of Needing Back Up’. It is distinctively loud and repeated over and over. Head up, head down, head up, head down. In all honesty it does look like the dog is trying to tell you she needs to place an urgent last minute bid on EBay. Either that or she has been given some sort of amphetamine.

Naturally, the incoming member of staff is usually slightly surprised at being so enthusiastically greeted by a Guide Dog who is usually the definition of cool, calm and reserved. On realising that I am not with her they begin checking for me everywhere, but I will always be behind the door that the dog runs to.

I have no idea what I would do without her. She’s learnt her technique over time. It has evolved as my health has deteriorated. She has done ambulances, she’s done three hospitals AND survived my final year of secondary school. I am beginning to wonder if there is anything this little dog can’t do?!

IMG_0211

Guide Dog of The Year: Beyond the Call of Duty

It isn’t every day that you find out that your guide dog has won an award. Let alone the prestigious ‘Guide Dog of the Year’. She was nominated several times over for her work to help me fight OCD and mental illness. I was too unwell to attend the awards, however myself and Laila (AKA Noodle) did have a mini award ceremony in the Unit. The best part of the experience though was having a photo-shoot on the hospital grounds and a video made. Laila goes beyond the call of duty every day and expects nothing in return. In the video you will see just some of the reasons why she won.

How to Smuggle a Dog into a Hospital

A Dog in A Hospital?

“No.” She said. “Definitely no.” The rather pinkish woman, introduced to me as the ward manager of the PMU, was looking down at a rather sheepish looking Noodle and I. Myself, in a hospital gown and a tired Labrador curled at the end of my bed. It is the 14th of August and soon to be my second night on paediatrics. The previous night Noodle had returned to a friend’s house to be fed but from the second she arrived back on the ward she made it quite clear she had no intention of moving again without me. The little dog had spent the day watching members of the psychiatric team coming in and out- sending the message ‘don’t hurt her’ telepathically through her chocolate eyes. Now she was tired and warm and just wanted to sleep the night away by my side.

“We can’t.” The woman reconfirmed.

“You can.” I say, my voice wavered as I begged my eyes not to fill. “She’s a guide dog, I need her to move around. She’s my eyes.” I don’t want to have to have this conversation- I am after all here because I can’t deal with the normal stuff, let alone advocate myself.

“The other children don’t have dogs in.” She continues. “Their dogs are special too” I grimace at the word ‘special’. Then to my great relief a mental health worker returns and after a ‘quiet word’ the pinkish lady’s orders had lifted, though her scepticism hadn’t.

Noodle spent the night alternating between my bed and the chair beside my bed. The floor was freezing cold and I had nothing to offer her in the way of a blanket. She then went on to spend every night with me in the PMU, a favourite with the nurses and a source of curiosity for passers-by. In fact her stay had gone embarrassingly well for the reluctant pink lady. After a couple of nights I find myself sitting with the duty psychiatrist, who kindly popped in everyday regardless of when her shift ended, at the end of my bed. We were discussing my fears of Noodle being rejected again. I knew I was going to go to hospital but I had no idea where, finding a CAMHS bed is like a cut-throat level of bidding on Ebay. Beds were hard to find for anyone, let alone a girl with a dog.

“She has to come with me.” I tell the psychiatrist as I stroke Noodle’s ears.

“I know…” she replied, biting her lip as she watched us carefully. “I have put in all the referrals that the dog is non-negotiable. Both of you or neither.”  She smiled and I smiled back, though her voice was that of someone who was attempting to build a hadron-collider in their basement.

News came back on Friday that there was a possibility I would be going to the *Heron unit. They had to check that there was no one on the ward with an allergy or a dog phobia and everyone’s parents had to be called. I later found out that in the gap between that Friday and my arrival on the Tuesday there had been several calls to guide dogs. Most of the queries were on the ‘will it poo everywhere?’ variety. Within a week of arriving on the ward Noodle was the favourite of all the patients. Her determination to keep me safe never wavered, running to get staff when I needed help and sitting in the corridor outside my room to show if I was about to do something dangerous. She even tried her hand at carrying cards with messages on to the staff!

Now, as I am about to be transferred, the ward is having trouble contemplating what they are going to do without a dog on the ward. A far cry from the ‘infection control risk’ they reluctantly took in. I hope that they find themselves a PAT –Pets as Therapy- dog. Though I think that the ward manager is quite keen on getting her own dog and bringing it to work with her every day! Overall, this dog belongs with me. No matter what.

Nope and Noodle

“And Though She Be But Little, She is Fierce!’ – Two Years of Freedom

So today is the day that I write a soppy post dedicated to my faithful sidekick, Noodle…

Two years ago today I regrew my wings and qualified with my beautiful guide dog. The dog that; got me through school, travels the country by my side, keeps me going and helps the outside world keep me going. She is a key sword in my fight against mental illness and sight loss and she is my world.

I have said most of this many, many, times before.

When looking for a quote to describe my loyal companion a long time ago I could find no better than the wonderful Mr Shakespeare:

One of the things people always comment on is Noodle’s skinny frame. She is a very slight dog naturally and in nature when working she is my shadow. She will often peek at the world from behind my legs. We take it in turns to be the brave one. This year I managed to connect with Noodle’s puppy walkers, the people who looked after her for the first year of her life. So here is really, really, little Noodle… She is comparatively quite big now!

Tiny puppy Noodle lying asleep on paving flags

But she is fierce, not in a snappy-bite-your-head-off way, but in her own mental strength. If I ask her to do something she will do it. If I am in a bad situation she will find a way to get me out of it. At our one year anniversary I thought I couldn’t love her anymore, but this little dog is full of surprises and my love for her just keeps growing.

Noodle following me on a swing.

I Forget That You Exist- And That is My Biggest Compliment.

Four years ago today a puppy was born who would go on to change my life and touch those of the people around me. She gained the trust of my parents to keep their daughter safe, the respect of my friends and eventually the pride of my, once reluctant, secondary school. She has travelled all over the country with me and was my motivation to get up and keep going when it was really tough for me to find that strength from within myself. And four years ago, in fact up until only eighteen months ago, I had no idea she even existed.

She helps me in so many ways every day without fail. Each morning she wakes me up by licking my hand or by staring patiently at me from the side of my bed. She knows what I am feeling better than I do most of the time, leading to people observing her rather than me in order to know how I am doing. She is a guide dog plus so much more and I owe her so much.

I forget that she exists even now that our paths have well and truly crossed. I forget she is there because she is so seamlessly a part of me. I am not trapped, or stuck, or lost when I have her. In any tricky situation she always seems to be able to help me “find the door”. She has shown me a freedom which I would not have been able to even imagine beforehand.

So here’s to Noodle- a star in her own right and a friend to nearly everyone she meets.

Thank you for existing.

Lai and myself in a coffee shop