When it first happened, I wasn’t very concerned. My service dog Leah lost her breakfast, and because she eats too quickly and sometimes gets into things she shouldn’t in the backyard, this is not an uncommon occurrence. But when it happened a few more times throughout the day that Sunday, I called my vet’s office and talked to one of my vet’s partners. We had never met. I explained Leah’s tummy trouble, and in that conversation, I also said: “one of her eyes looks funny to me as well.” Without the benefit of looking at her directly, the vet on the phone told me that those two things were probably unrelated. She advised that I give Leah some cottage cheese and a dose of Pepcid AC to settle her belly and to bring her to the vet clinic the following morning if her symptoms didn’t subside.
I followed her instructions to the letter and Leah’s digestive issues disappeared, but with every hour that passed that evening a couple of weeks ago, her eye got worse. It was red and swollen, she couldn’t focus on me and seemed to have trouble keeping her eyes open. She had never had any symptoms of the sort before. Something inside me knew this situation was extremely serious. I panicked. Was she having a brain bleed? Would she die right in front of me? Would my partner of seven years be gone before morning? Every possible disastrous thought was swirling around in my head.
One of my caregivers took her to the vet’s office as soon as they opened the next day. An hour later, my vet called. Doctor Tom has always taken care of my service dogs. He has been in my life for the past eighteen years and is one of the best people I will ever know. He also knows me well.
“Lorraine, what does your caregiver situation look like today?”
Alarms went off in my head. “I’m pretty short handed right now Dr. Tom. I had a caregiver for a few hours this morning and I won’t have another one here until 6:00 tonight. What’s up?”
“Leah has pressure building up behind her eye and needs to go to a specialist in Kansas City right away to get it drained. If we don’t stop the fluid build up as soon as we can, she will lose her sight and her eye. Do you have someone who can get her there as quickly as possible?”
I called my church who found a friend that was willing to take Leah where she needed to go immediately. The diagnosis was sudden onset glaucoma in her right eye. She got the fluid drained and the vet in Kansas City told me that she had gotten sick the day before because the pressure in her eye was extremely high. Tests revealed that there was no medical cause. She did not have a tumor or a detached retina. The best guess is that this is somehow genetic. Before she could be treated, we needed to get the inflammation in her eye way down, and that took several forms of medication. It took a bit to figure this out, but she doesn’t mind her gazillion eye drops or her pills nearly so much when she gets a spoonful of peanut butter before and after. My dog is no fool. 🙂
This situation is complicated by the fact that Leah developed a cataract in her left eye more than four years ago. Currently, this dog who I love with my whole being, can’t see much of anything.
If Leah’s vision in her right eye was going to return, it probably would have started to come back by now. Her most recent exam revealed that her retina in that eye had severely deteriorated. She has to go through several additional tests to see if she is a candidate for cataract surgery on her left eye. That is where we are right now. Those tests are scheduled for a few days from now, and if she passes those, I will schedule the procedure.
To date, Leah’s vet bills have run about $1500, and the cataract surgery is roughly $3500. I have been asked if it would be better to simply get another service dog since getting Leah back into “service dog shape” is going to be so expensive.
It is a valid question, posed by well-meaning people. I understand it. The cost of getting a new service dog and going for training would be about the same amount as the total of the vet bills to fix Leah’s eye. And if I got a new service dog, it could potentially be with me for many more years than Leah will. Getting a new service dog would be a good investment. That is totally logical.
But my response has nothing to do with logic. The reason I want to do all I can to fix Leah’s eye is both simple and complex.
I love Leah the same way Leah loves me.
From the moment that we met, Leah has never had any expectations for me to be anyone different than who I am. She has always loved me unconditionally, my flaws have never been her focus. And we connected because of that acceptance, that “I love who you are” mentality. In fact, Leah is probably more emotionally in tune with me than most human beings are. When I am having a bad moment (I try hard not to have bad days) Leah will come beside my wheelchair and put her paws in my lap. It is what I call her “It’s time to hug me” pose. She will snuggle with me until I feel better, and will keep repeating the process if she feels like one hug was not enough. My service dog knows how to take care of me. Her compassion didn’t leave when some of her her eyesight did. If I gave up on Leah because she has a disability that is beyond her control, I would be going against everything I believe in. That decision would betray the essence of who I am.
When I write or speak about disability issues, my core message is always the same. I hope to challenge people not to consider me “less than” because I don’t have some of the same physical capabilities of others. There are many wonderful things about me. I laugh. I play. I enjoy life. I care deeply about other people and practice putting positive into the world. Leah does the same. And none of those things are even remotely related to our disabilities.
I want to do everything I can for Leah, the same way she has always done for me. She is my family, my partner, the other side of my soul.
I also know that if the situation were reversed she would do nothing less than the best she could for me. Because she really loves me.
That is all I need to know.