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A Walk in the Park

Rainie in the park Earlier this spring

Rainie in the park
Earlier this spring

Yesterday, I came across a snake during Rainie’s and my late morning walk,.  It was a docile, 4-foot long gopher snake* stretched out along the path, basking in the sunshine.  I jumped and gave out a yelp — I do not like snakes (especially big ones, lying in wait to do whatever it is to me that my imagination imagines them to do)!  As it slithered away, Rainie quickly stretched up, gently put her paws on my shoulders, and looked me in the eye as if to console me (as well as, possibly, checking my blood sugar, which was fine).

Later in the afternoon, we went out again.  I was admiring the birds and noticing how dry the grasses have become.  Summer, despite the cool breeze and ocean fog that was beginning to come in, was finally arriving.  As I was walking along, paying attention, yet not paying attention, Rainie suddenly placed her body in front of me so I had to stop then and there.  I looked at her, expecting to see her staring up at me in one of her ‘blood sugar alert’ modes; but instead, she was staring at the ground directly ahead of us.   And there was a very skinny, very long snake.  It was hardly thicker than a pencil.  Rainie would not let me go further (so I decided to take a picture).  As she carefully led me around the skinny creature, the snake slowly moved away.

I can’t help but be amazed!  From our one previous encounter, Rainie somehow surmised that I am to be protected from snakes.  How little we know about dogs and their abilities.

The little snake

The little snake

* There have been no rattle snakes seen in this area for more than 20 years.  If your dog is ever bitten by a snake, please see your veterinarian immediately!

Blog Week: Memories

Diabetes Blog Week, “Memories”

Today we’re going to share our most memorable diabetes day. You can take this anywhere…. your or your loved one’s diagnosis, a bad low, a bad high, a big success, any day that you’d like to share.~~~~~~~

Me  at about 3 years old

at about 3 years old

 Since I have had diabetes my entire life, I have many memories to choose from.  I am going to pick a positive memory from ‘way back on “Memory Lane”…’  This is what I remember as a young child (age 4-ish) in 1961:

I remember my dad coming home one evening, after checking on his patients in the hospital.  He said he had something in his pocket to show me.  Like any little girl waiting for ‘one of those gifts Daddy brings home from a long trip’, I danced around in anticipation.  We went into the kitchen where my “mommy” was feeding my baby sister.  The kitchen was darkening in the late afternoon as my dad pulled two chairs up to the small table.  As I crawled up on mine, perching on my knees, my dad unfolded a clean towel and placed it on the table.  He then took one of my glass syringes, and laid it out.  I couldn’t figure out what was going on.  I had already had my ‘shot’ for the day; and my mom was getting upset because she had just finished laboriously boiling/sterilizing my two glass syringes, as well as re-sharpening the syringe needles.  (I was always fascinated as she drew the needles across a cotton ball to check for barbs, then would meticulously sharpened them on a special dark-gray stone.  These, too, were put in the pot with the syringes to be sterilized.   Since they were hand-made, the plungers had to be paired to the correct syringe barrel by matched the numbers etched into the glass – it was quite an ordeal.)

My dad then placed a large paper envelope next to the glass syringe.  He had brought home two of the first disposable syringes.  This was not quite the sort of gift I expected, but my dad was excited, and, therefore, so was I.  We peeled the envelope open, and there was a thin, plastic syringe with the needle already attached!  It was so much smaller than the glass ones I had.  He showed me how to pull the cap off – the needle was so sharp and thin!  I was excited!  My shots had always been the most traumatic time of the day – they hurt, they were big, and the skin on my legs was already bumpy and forming scar tissue. (Only later did we learn that I was allergic to the beef  the insulin was made of in those days.  And, even though the ‘new disposables’ were much smaller than the clunky glass ones, they were still much bigger than today’s.  In those days, the insulin was U40 – 40 units per cc, where today, the insulin is U100, or 100 units per cc.)

The next morning I got to use the other new syringe.  I don’t know if it truly felt better; or if it felt better because I wanted it to.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to use the disposables for a couple more years because they were too expensive – 19¢ a piece.  I was too young to know the value of 19¢, but I do know that using the disposable syringes was something I looked forward to.


I had originally intended my blog, “RainieAndMe,” to explore my life and experiences with a Diabetic Alert Dog (DAD).   However, during the Diabetic Blog Weeks, I will muse about my life and experiences as a diabetic.


But, Does She Ever Get To Play?

IMG_0042Not long ago, Rainie and I went to talk with a Cub Scout troop about diabetes, service dogs and diabetic alert dogs.  I had completed my presentation and soon the group of 50 scouts was bombarding me with questions.  They were pretty standard queries for a 2nd to 4th grade crowd: “Where does she sleep?”  (Mostly on the floor next to my bed.), “Does she always have to wear her jacket?” (No.  She wears it when we’re in public), “Can service dogs have other dogs in the house?” (Yes.  However, the service dog needs to know that he/she is the most important dog in the house in the eyes of the person that he/she is taking care of.), “How much do they cost?” (Early Alert Canines does not charge for placing a dog.), “How can I get one?” (You have to be diabetic and been on insulin for at least a year.), “Does that mean taking a shot?” etc., etc.

Then came a question I’d never been asked before. “Why is she lying down?”  I’d never considered thinking about it – especially from a child’s perspective.  Yes, she had been active and alert moments before, and now she was lying on her side with her eyes open.  So, I decided to explore the possibilities with the scouts.  We agreed that a few reasons could be that she was lying down because it was getting towards evening.  And it was possible that she was tired.  But then I explained that Rainie was “always making sure that each one of their blood sugars was safe, and that was a big job.”  I told them that Rainie did not know that they were not diabetic, but she did know that there were at least two diabetics in the room.  She was continually monitoring everyone, all the time; and although she looked like she was resting, she was actually alert and taking her job seriously.  Then there were many nods and ahh-hahs.

After the meeting was over, the boys came to pet Rainie.  I felt a young scout name Jeffery tap me on the shoulder to ask, “But, does she ever get to play?”

Yes Jeffery.  She does get time off to play!

DSCF0807       IMG_0023     IMG_1518

IMG_0409     photo    DSCF0694

“Always Trust Your Dog”

“A good companion shortens the longest road.”  ~ Turkish Proverb

Rainie near the fire.

Rainie near the fire.

It’s been the sort of day when it’s nice to be able to sit by the fire and read, and have the enforced time to get paper work done.  At times, when I looked out the window, all I could see were gray clouds and rain. It was hard to remember that the hills are finally turning their bright ‘spring’ green after enduring the dry, dull yellow-browns of a long, dry summer.  We’ve been lucky.  Despite the winds, the power hasn’t gone out.  The weather forecasters had warned of heavy rains in our area; but I preferred thinking about my friend’s advice of going to the lumber store to buy what’s needed to make an Ark.  I love the rain and the winds, and watching Rainie lie belly-up in the warmth of the fire.

Finally the rains abated to a mild drizzle around 4:00.   I must admit that I, like Rainie, needed to get out and stretch my legs.  After donning the required rain-gear, we went to the park.  The hills were freshly rinsed to their stunning greens, and the birds were crazily darting about as Rainie and I began our walk along the slick paths (while happily stomping through every puddle – both of us).  I could read the joy in Rainie’s face as she raised her nose in the crisp wind.   Surprisingly, the kids were already out with their snow-saucers and surfboards, careening down the river of mud pouring down the amazingly steep hill.   Rainie stood at the bottom, nose pointed,  twitching toward the teens.  I gave her the command to “Go say hi,” and she charged up to the muddy sledders, greeting each one as if she were ‘checking them out’.  I was wondering, “Did she remember?” On this same hill, last year, she alerted a boy who was unaware that his blood sugar had dropped dangerously low while sliding in the mud.

Suddenly she turned and bombarded back down the hill, stopping at my feet, and alerting me.  Had she actually been smelling me, but associating it with her past experiences with the kids?  Who knows?  I reached into my pocket, pulled out my meter to test my blood sugar, and discovered I had no strips!  Oh no…  Rainie was adamant, dancing at my feet, and jumping toward my face.  I figured my blood sugar must be dropping quickly, but I felt fine.  Yet, in my head, I heard my trainer’s voice saying, “Always trust your dog!”  I popped some glucose tablets into my mouth as we turned back toward the car.  Rainie, however, wouldn’t stop alerting the whole half-mile back.  And when we got to the car, she wouldn’t get in.  This is not a good sign – She’s done this before when my  blood sugar’s been too low to drive.  Deciding to “trust my dog,” I ate more glucose and sat in the car for about 15 minutes, watching the rain come down with gusto.  Finally, Rainie settled into the wheel well, and let me drive us home.

Asleep in the wheel well.

Asleep in the wheel well.

Differing Outlooks on Life

My daughter, Nikki
and Rainie

Last weekend as I strolled into a friend’s garden art show, a man who wanted to know about Rainie approached me.  When I told him that I am a diabetic, and Rainie alerts me to when my blood sugar is dropping rapidly, he immediately put up his hand to give me a “high-five”.  He was diabetic also.  As our conversation progressed, he began regaling me with stories of his diagnosis and bemoaning life’s hardships due to being tied to the regimes and paraphernalia associated with diabetes: the regimentation of shots, finger-stick/blood sugar checks, monitoring, food counts, exercise, etcetera, etcetera.  While sympathetically agreeing that life is different when one has diabetes, I began to overhear the lively discussion taking place at my feet between my daughter and a little girl.  The levels of enthusiasm toward life, and life’s situations, could not have differed more.  I was completely taken aback.

Later, I asked my daughter to tell me about the conversation she had with the little girl, so I could share it here.  This is what she wrote:

“…While I was talking with Angelina, the inevitable question came up, “How old are you?”

She responded with a resounding “Six!”

I told her that six was a good age to be and that I had enjoyed being six.

She said, “I think SIX will be GOOD!! I think I’m gonna get my wish when I’m six!

When I asked her what wish that was, she reached into her big glittery purse, and pulled out a well-loved book.  She informed me that she wrote it in there, and asked if I wanted to read it.  As I flipped through the loose pages, I noticed that the book was filled with “wishes” (to see Turtle Man, to fly in a private jet, to wear ‘the’ pretty blue dress, etc.)  When I finally got to where she wanted me to be, I read aloud from the obviously adult cursive handwriting:

 “Go to Disneyland and stay in Cinderella’s castle.  Dress up like Cinderella”

She danced and beamed, and said that she didn’t know if her wish would come true, because the Make a Wish Foundation was still talking to her doctors, but she hoped it would.

I told her I hoped so too – every one.”

(And I hope so too.  Every single one…)

The Power of Self Realization

The color of diabetes awareness

Have you ever suddenly realized that you are not the person that you were raised to be? That the beliefs you hold about yourself are totally opposite to the ones you were brought up to embrace or accept?   And what you now see in yourself, you like?

I had that sudden realization the other day – mostly regarding how I relate to myself and others about my diabetes.  This all became paramount when I questioned myself about posting this on my Facebook page:

It’s Diabetes Awareness Month, it’s not pink or sexy, it doesn’t involve boobs, football players, or cute shirts. It’s about being grateful when your loved one wakes up in the morning. It’s about 3:00AM blood sugar checks, needles, low blood sugars, and the smell of insulin on your hands after changing a pump set or filling a syringe. That’s a person with diabetes life. Re-post if you love someone, know someone, or are someone with diabetes.

 Do I really want to endorse the fact that I’ve got diabetes?  The ‘younger me’ was taught to hide my diabetes at all costs.  I was taught that it was shameful and something not to be shared.  I grew to be my own reliant “chronic child” and never ask for help, even when I needed it badly.  But now, the answer is “YES!”  I do have diabetes and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.  I’ve been teaching about diabetes to patients, families and groups for years; and finally, after over 55 years of living with “type 1”, I’m finding I can stand proudly and say, “Yes.  I have diabetes.”

Just last weekend, Rainie and I were representing Early Alert Canines at the JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes.  As I was and talking to families and individuals with diabetes about diabetic alert dogs, I realized that, not only did I have Rainie (with her “Medical Alert Service Dog” vest) and was wearing my usual medic-alert bracelet (which I was not allowed to own when I was a child), but I also donned a blue “Cure Diabetes” bracelet, a blue-bead necklace, and a blue ‘dog-tag’ that states, “I have type 1 diabetes (T1D)”.  I was a walking banner for diabetes!  I asked myself, “How different could I be compared to what I was?”  And I also knew that my dad must be rolling in his grave. (He never became comfortable with the fact I began wearing a medic-alert when I went to college.)  I also discovered that, once I began wearing the ‘dog-tag’, other diabetics seemed to be more comfortable talking with me.  I wasn’t just another counselor or nurse. I was one of them.  Little kids liked to show me that they had on a dog-tag, just like mine.  We are all part of the same club.

Oh, and if you are still wondering, I did post that statement on my Facebook page.



The Life of an Ambassador

Rainie locked into a puzzle of Cub Scouts

At the training center, the instructors and trainers repeat, “Remember, whenever you and your dog are out in public, you are ambassadors for Early Alert Canines, as well as every other service dog in the community.”

Oh, how true this is.  Rainie and I are frequently stopped and I end up answering questions about diabetes, what she does, what an Early Alert Canine is, how they are trained, how to apply, the rules and regulations about service dogs, and, sometimes, medical advice regarding dogs (which I usually refer to their local vet).  We were warned that when the dogs are in their vests, we would lose our anonymity – which is not usually a problem for me because I am a born teacher and (usually) love to talk.  Rainie has learned that part of “getting dressed” is enduring (i.e. enjoying) a quick brushing before she gets her jacket on.  Since I know we’re likely to get stopped, I like her to ‘look pretty’; but I think she thinks she always looks pretty, and the brushing is just an added bonus.

Besides the daily, impromptu questions, Rainie and I have spoken or appeared at twelve “outreach events” in the past two months.  Because Rainie has made such a huge difference in my life, I’ve become passionate about bringing the knowledge about Diabetic Alert Dogs to the medical and social community.  The questions and responses we get vary immensely.  My answers must be correct, and heart-felt, while Rainie does her best to keep everyone entertained.  Since Early Alert Canines can’t fill everyone’s needs, I often find myself referring people to other agencies and suggesting other places to get their questions answered.

Here is a partial list of where Rainie and I have visited in the past eight weeks:

  • The Rotary Club of Aptos and Soquel.
  • The Farmers’ Market at Cabrillo (Early Alert Canines Fundraiser).
  • Silver Oak Cub Scouts of San Jose.  (The most interesting questions asked was, “Does she ever get to Play?”)
  • CarbDM meeting with parents of children with diabetes.
  • Watsonville Diabetic Education Center.
  • Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s “Walk to Cure Diabetes” Santa Clara.
  • Watsonville School Nurses at the Watsonville Diabetic Education Center.
  • Soquel High School, three Health-Education classes.
  • Rotary Club of Santa Cruz.
  • The “Spooktacular Event” an Early Alert Canines.
  • Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s “Walk to Cure Diabetes”, San Francisco.

And when we get home after one of these engagements, Rainie usually runs around the house, checking on her bed and making sure her toys are still here, as if to celebrate the fact that we are, again, home!