I remember the first time I really felt scared. I was 19, a college sophomore, driving back to the University of Delaware from my parents’ house. Dave Matthews was blaring on the car radio and it was a gorgeous day. All was fine until…it wasn’t. The beautiful scenery in front of me blurred and darkened. My skin felt wet, not clammy, but wet. My heart raced.
Immediately, I pulled my car over and tried to catch my breath. I was somewhere in Pennsylvania and had no idea what was wrong with me. After a few scary minutes, I called 911. A police escort brought me to a very small, local hospital.
In the waiting room, I started to panic. My body felt like it was dying one cell at a time. I couldn’t breathe and the room pulsed. The walls around me were like a beating heart. The charge nurse came rushing over and began to yell at me. She said I had to calm down but I had no idea I was screaming. Then it all went black. This was the beginning of a very long and scary journey for me.
I spent years with these scary “attacks” that were initially diagnosed as panic attacks but were actually temporal lobe seizures. I suffered from a form of epilepsy referred to as complex partial seizures. Each seizure could last for a few minutes but the aftermath it brought could last hours. I had no idea when they were coming and I lived in constant fear. Sometimes, I had them under control with medication and sometimes, nothing helped.
Then in 2008, I met my hero. I desperately wanted a puppy that could spend time with me when I was in bed. The seizures wiped me out and I spent a lot of time recovering. My neurologist and therapist thought it was a great idea too. I felt very isolated. A month later, I met Paisley.
She didn’t seem like much. Maybe 4 pounds, and more hair than actual body. She’s a Chinese Imperial Shih Tzu. I had read about a pet store being seized by the state and the remaining dogs were being auctioned off. I had to help her! So we kind of saved each other.
After Paisley settled in and got used to her new home, she bonded to me. It made sense: I was the first to hold her, the first to feed her. I cuddled with her as much as possible. But then that bond became so much more. I had a virus, which caused a high fever. This always aggravated my seizures. Paisley started behaving funny. When I felt a seizure looming, she jumped off the bed and started barking wildly. She was literally alerting my household. She was looking for help.
From then on, Paisley was able to let me know, before I even did, that a seizure was coming. She could sense it even up to an hour before. Her behavior changed (she would pace or bark, or both) and as soon as I saw this, I knew to take my medication and find a safe place to lie down. She was able to do this no matter where we were: walking in the neighborhood, running errands, or just watching TV.
My neurologist heard all about it, from me, her proud mommy, of course. He contacted some people and Paisley was enrolled in advanced training. Later, she became official! She’s now a licensed seizure alert dog. Equipped with a vest and ID badge, Paisley can now accompany me where ever I go. She is my best friend and my lifeline.
For so many, service dogs are a sort of medication that can never be dispensed. They are a warm body, full of love and affection, that can literally calm even the most frightening moments. They are a dog, sure, but they are so much more than what an outsider may not see. They are that link to someone who truly “gets it.” Without Paisley, my life would be fine but it would never be this incredible! She is my little, furry hero.
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