Friday, January 28, 2011

Lucky dogs and luckier people

When Cal Ripken was in the midst of breaking Lou Gerhig's consecutive games streak in baseball, I remember watching a show about Gerhig. The part I recall most was about his disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and death. Most people die within three to five years after the onset of the symptoms of ALS, but Gehrig died just two years after retiring. The announcer of that show I watched marveled at Gehrig's will, suggesting that he played at least one year, maybe more with ALS.

The show came to mind this week because two friends lost their dogs.

One dog was a service dog who doted on his partner, kind of the polar opposite of Claren. We'd go to dog play dates and I would not see Claren till she was taken out of the fenced-in area with all the dogs. The model service dog played for maybe five minutes, then he wanted to get back to his partner and keep an eye on her. I was always kind of jealous. He retired less than a year ago, and with his responsibility lifted maybe he realized he was not feeling so great himself.

The other dog collapsed one night, and at the vet my friends learned that he was quite sick even though he hadn't been showing it. I am sure that he did not care he felt rotten -- his people were with him. What could be better?

Claren spent a weekend a few years ago running and running. I gave her the day off to recover, and about midday Mom called and said she was worried because Claren could scarcely walk down the ramp. I got a vet appointment later that day, and when Mom and Claren showed up at the office to pick me up, Claren seemed to recover as soon as she saw me. I felt kind of silly going to the vet, but they checked her out. I am sure her legs still hurt, but her person made it better.

Despite what he referred to as his "bad break," Lou Gerhig called himself "the luckiest man on the face of this earth" in his farewell speech to fans. I think dogs with good people would say the same thing ... well except they might say they were "the luckiest dogs on the face of the earth."

It's people like me, and anyone with a dog who loves them, though, who are really lucky.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Climbing is so fun!

This is my favorite pic because it looks
like I am doing something. The others
I am standing straight. (And note to
self: Don't wear black socks.) More
photos at end.
I achieved several firsts in our first rock climbing trip of 2011 on Friday. As usual we went to Earth Treks Rockville. It was just four of us, and a fifth friend to cheer us on, so I only had one helper. But:
  • I climbed four walls, one more than normal.
  • It felt like I was actually getting my legs in position, or at least helping. J still had to put my feet on the holds, but I think I was getting them in that general direction.
  • I even used both my legs once.
  • I also pulled myself up a little using just my arms, a climbing technique known as campusing. (More lingo. Seriously, how bad am I?)
  • I use a glasses strap, but I knocked my glasses off on one of my climbs, and they fell around my neck. But I finished the climb!

It was also the first time that I sweat so much I could feel it. But I didn't think that deserved a bullet point.

I brought my new manual wheelchair, which came apart and went back together fine. I did learn that it is really hard to push without being buckled in. (I tend to slide out.)

Someone said to my friend, he's been here a lot and he's getting better. Several people told me good job as we were leaving, too. I think I must be getting better, but mostly it is because in the morning I wasn't too sore.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

I could've had an iPhone

As I left for work today, I told Mom that I'd have a breakdown if I only had the time.

I was frustrated by the time it takes me to get ready in the morning. Yesterday it took me 10 minutes to get out of bed. This morning I am not real sure what caused my delay. It's not like I fell.

I saved that for the bathroom at work.

I went to the bathroom today and found a toilet seat cover still resting on the toilet. That annoyed me. As did the little dusting of talcum powder under the toilet. (I assume it was talc; I suppose it could have been cocaine.)

As annoyed as I was, I didn't have any choice because this was the accessible bathroom. So I pushed the cover into the toilet, as some loser was too lazy to do, sat down and took care of business.

When I stood up, I noticed that the talcum powder had made the tiled floor even more slick. I got my shorts and long johns up and made it to my chair, but when I tried to pull up my jeans, I slid to the floor. I was not hurt at all, but I could not get up: My feet kept sliding.

Finally, I decided to call for help. I did call the main office line and got a friend, but then someone walked into the bathroom. I hung up thinking this newcomer would help me.

Now, this is kind of weird. I am not sure what happened. I was peeking out of the stall and he saw me. We said hi, and I asked him to help me. I thought he said, OK, just a minute. I leaned back and waited. I heard the toilet flush, the water turn on and then I looked out to see the door open and the guy leave. I am sure he thought I was fine, but why would someone sit on the floor of a bathroom?

After he left, I dug out my phone again and called for help. Two friends came. One blocked my feet. One pulled me up. They saw my jeans were down still so they said they'd stop back to make sure I made it out. I did. Thanks, John and Steve (no, not my cousins of the same name).

Then I went and put in a request to get the floor cleaned. It was. Next time I went in, there was no talcum powder, but there was an iPhone in the wheelchair stall.

On the way to turn it in to the office managers, I asked a friend what the Finders' Keepers policy is on smart-phones left in wheelchair stalls by someone not in a wheelchair. Perhaps my friend was colored by past conversations with me, but she said that it was clear the owner of the iPhone had broken all the rules of human society. One of the office managers said the person had clearly meant it as a present for me and just forgot the bow.

I love the people I work with.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Wake the neighbors!

I went climbing last night, but I'll wait to write about it till I get the photos. I will just tell you it was awesome and Claren carried my cellphone because the new chair does not yet have a good bag.

When I was in the shower this morning, I said to myself: Make sure you get your phone, you awesome dude you." But, of course, I forgot, so I found myself with Claren outside without a phone.

This would have been fine except somebody -- not me -- caught the alluring scent of poop and wandered behind the garage to check it out. I hurried back there to get her away from it, got there just in time to see her eat the lat of it and got stuck in the uneven ground back there.

Mom and Dad were out. I had not seen my sister or brother-in-law. I yelled at Claren to lie down, picked up ball and put it in my bag, and began to figure out my next steps.

I used my feet to push the chair backward but not quite far enough. Still stuck.

At this point Claren decided it was time to play again so she started barking at me, telling me to give her the damn ball.

The neighbor of the new house heard and poked his head out to ask if I needed help.

I told him I was stuck so he came out and got me free.

As he headed back to his house, he pet Claren and said, you did your job. He meant calling for help. I had to break it to him that it was her fault I got stuck.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

It's a wheelchair, not a bra

I have never purchased a bra.. Never been in a Victoria's Secret.

I do seem to go to the Victoria's Secret website occasionally. Last week I went their to see whether the photo I was using was of one of their stores. It was, I am sure, but I could not prove it. The time before that I needed some caption info on the jewel-ecrusted bra Adrianna Lima was wearing. Sometimes my job is hard.

When I got my new wheelchair yesterday, I started thinking bra.

It needed some tweaks before it felt comfortable and when it finally did fit right, it was with some fancy wheels that said "the Natural-Fit." on the rims.

Apparently, that is the name of this wheel handrim system that covers the part of the wheel where you put your thumb. The thumb just slides along this groove. It is very cool, but the name still reminds me of bras.

It is a very plain chair and very light. There is so little of it, compared to my old manual. The website assures me it is cool, too. It is just like my brother's, although unlike the clothes horse of the family, I did not get the clothes protectors.

Between the TiLite and a shower chair I bought earlier, I have spent way more money than I have. I still don't know what the final cost to me will be because insurance doesn't get called in till I take delivery.

I may need Adrianna to hock her bra for me.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Claren is 9 today; how did I survive without her?

I have really only given one speech for Canine Companions for Independence, the first one. Ever since, I have just modified that one.

I am not embarrassed by this. It was a good speech. Puppy raisers afterward told me how good it was. Mom and Dad were there. A friend came. I even recently met a woman who told me the speech helped sell her on service dogs.

What does surprise me is how spot-on the speech was. Not to brag or anything.

I said that I loved Claren, but not really for the help she offers, even though it's a lot of help. And I demonstrated some of her commands, which have grown and improved. Last night, I dropped the remote and the battery cover popped off. Claren got off the couch when asked, went and got the battery cover, then the remote.

No, I said, I loved her because she is with me and a perfect partner. I never go through anything alone. She is there, sitting on me, pawing me, whatever.

I may never know why she is too cool to play catch with me or why she refuses to lie on the couch facing me -- I always get the butt --but I never knew what I was missing.

The Speech

Hi, my name is Matt Trott and Claren and I have been together about 2 ½ years.

I have a genetic disorder called Freidriech’s ataxia. It steals your balance and coordination, among other things. So I began using a wheelchair full time about seven years ago.

I can hardly put into words how much Claren has meant to me.

She will pick up anything I drop (DROP SOMETHING). Well, almost anything. She got a little too excited and bit through the last credit card she tried to pick up. She tugs drawers and doors open. She will get me a bottle of water from my fridge and go to a back room and turn on a light switch.

It is not always easy, but I can do most of the things Claren does. What I could not replace, though, is her companionship.

I live alone, and anyone who has lived alone knows that having someone else around is a huge blessing, even if that someone is a dog. For someone in a wheelchair, multiply that by a thousand. She is with me always. I know that if I fall or something bad happens, she will be there. That gives me untold amounts of strength and confidence.

I was reorganizing my computer stuff one day and was sitting on the floor under my computer desk. There were CDs and cords and boxes and junk all in front of the desk — not to mention my wheelchair. Well, my head was wiggling the top drawer and it came off its track and fell on me. It didn’t really hurt but it startled and angered me. While my mom helped get the drawer and its contents off me, Claren came and laid down next to me, really on me, because there was no room elsewhere. She was on CDs, too, probably not too comfy, but she did it. She seemed to just be saying, “I’m here. We’ll get through this.”

She doesn’t answer me, but she listens. She keeps me from becoming too self-involved, from worrying too much, from being too depressed. I can’t do any of this anymore because of Claren. And largely because of her, I don’t want to.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Reboot in the spring

I am entering week 3 of not having a comic book subscription.

I dropped my subscriptions at one store because it was getting too hard to get out there regularly. I planned on starting the subscriptions up at a store in Falls Church, but I haven't.

It isn't that I am bored by comics, although when I do restart my subscriptions, Daredevil won't be there. The Shadowland stories were just lame.

How many times can I blame cold and dark for keeping me inactive?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Matt shows some skin

I wrote yesterday that the bathroom in the conference room was OK because it has two wheelchair stalls.

Not really.

I had to use the second stall today because someone was in the first.

Turns out it is a hybrid stall, which sounds like it should be awesome but is not. It was wider than normal stalls with grab bars on the walls, but no room for my chair next to the toilet. And thank goodness Claren got the day off: She'd have had nowhere to go.

The only way to close the stall door was to wheel up so my chair touched the toilet. Of course, then I could not get out of my chair. And I did have to use the bathroom.

I wound up just leaving the door cracked open while I sat and took care of business.

I know many people who aren't in wheelchairs use wheelchair stalls sometimes and sometimes for good reasons. But when you are alone, not in a chair and there is a stall right next door with a high toilet and grab bars, I really wish they wouldn't.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

This is nothing like college

Rodney Dangerfield's Back to School left me woefully unprepared for my return to the classroom.

Granted, I am in a 9-5 class at work about a new computer system we're getting, not on a campus full of dumb jocks and pretty girls. But, I've finished day 2 of the class today, and no one has invited me to a crazy bacchanal or even asked me to perform the Triple Lindy.

I am getting disillusioned and really tired.

At first, I thought the class would be a fun change of pace, even though I wouldn't get to work on the Detroit auto show much. I am also the only person with a dotcom background and several people have told me how key I will be in designing the new dotcom interface. I also got $10 worth of gift cards to the cafeteria so I was thinking, "cool."

But I never knew how tiring it is to try to listen to someone when you can't hear that well. There are just nine of us in the class, so it is not like I sit far away. I can hear the instructors fine, until they start talking to another student.

I also didn't realize how much I use sight to type and how hard that is in the dark. It's dark so we can see the big screen at the head of the class.

The bathroom in the conference room area is good and bad. The door is not automatic but is quite light, and they are several wheelchair stalls. I can't really reach the paper towels to dry my hands off, though, so I dry my hands on my shirt.

Today, I left the bathroom (is it odd I originally wrote "I walked out of bathroom?) and this co-worker was there and he introduced me to a few other folks. I debated declining to shake hands because my hands were damp, then I decided: Screw it, it's the towel inaccessibility, let them get a taste. So I shook hands. They probably thought I was a slob or something. Not sure it was the right call.

It's better than when in Back to School Rodney spits out a meatball into his hand, discards it, then tries to shake someone's hand. So don't watch Back to School for classroom tips, but it has got etiquette galore. And a Springsteen reference!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Insured but not happy

I ordered new glasses Friday, no thanks to Sears Optical.

I went there for the eye exan because it is on my insurance. But the signs suggested we run far away from Sears. We should have listened.

We parked at Point A, the curb cut was at Point B 30 feet away. The ramp into the store was back at Point A.

But that's not all. At the optician's office, they had a space heater going.

After the exam, I went to buy some glasses. They had 20 frames to choose from, none of them titanium, which I wanted since I bang my glasses around, and a harried technician.

We left without buying anything, and I noticed Target Optical was also in my network, so we stopped there. What a difference. Selection, plenty of titanium frames and pleasant help.

She rang up the glasses and told me that it would be cheaper to buy without insurance because the generic discount would be better. I wish I could say I was surprised, but my vision insurance is the a joke. That's OK, though. I know it is a joke -- it gets me cheap eye exams mainly -- and its price hasn't changed for several years.

Unlike, say regular health insurance. My co-pay for one of the two drugs I need went from $20 to $80. I am dreading buying the other one. It is brand name still.

I don't know what I am supposed to do. Do I not take these meds anymore, which would leave me depressed with lots of continence issues. which in turn would make me less able to work and contribute to the country's economic well-being?

Thursday, January 6, 2011


Sometimes, it is just too hard.

Life. Friedreich's ataxia. Everything.

This week has been one of those times, and it isn't over. I waited for the new year to get glasses because I thought it was one set a year and I bought sunglasses over the summer. I see now it is once every two years, so either wait another year -- not an option -- or suck it up and pay.

But as hard as it has been, there have been clear reasons why I can keep going. And the reasons are certainly not because I found some vast font of grace within me. I am just lucky.

Here is a rundown of my week:

Sunday: I got into the new house only to realize the bathroom is too tight. My brother-in-law has a solution involving barn doors that sounds awesome. But it is aggravating to find that out.

Tuesday: My sister got sick, which is bad for me not only because she entertains me but also because I worry that she infected me.

Also Tuesday, I took Claren for a quick walk and got home and had all of a sudden to be excused. I didn't make it, and it took me twice as long as the walk to get me and the bathroom cleaned.

Claren could not help at all, but God love her, she did her best. She sat on the couch waiting for me, leaving me about 10 inches to squeeze in. She didn't even flinch when I sat; She just dozed right there, as close as possible. I already know she'll help me through anything, but she seemed to be saying to me forcefully: We will get through this.

Wednesday: I went to the bathroom at work and the toilet stopped up on me, almost overflowing as it auto-flushed. I was not ready for it either because what came out of me was not clog-the-toilet worthy. A janitor walked into the bathroom right then and saw the situation as I exited the stall and promised to take care of it.

Thursday: The janitor cleared the clog, but whatever caused it was still in the pipes. It smelled like a dead squirrel had been flushed down the toilet. Needless to say, it is hard to go to the bathroom if you can't breathe. SPOILER ALERT As I hurried out of the stinky stall. I did not buckle my seat belt.

I took Claren out for a walk and decided I would be excused after the walk and would use the lobby bathroom, which doesn't have an auto-door but is pretty private so no one would hear any banging to get in.

While I was out, Claren went to the bathroom and I all of a sudden had to get to a bathroom, too, and I can't use just any grassy area like her. I bent forward to get Claren's poop and just kept going. I had most of the poop in a bag, but I think I rolled on some. I never found it on me, though.

I was stuck for a minute as one arm was pinned under my body. Thankfully, the urge to go went with the fall. Again, Claren thoughtfully just laid down with her back to my back. Finally, I got my arm out and worked my way back to the chair and grabbed my phone.

I called my boss and asked for a younger friend because I didn't want to strain my boss. The younger guy was not at his desk, though, and my boss said he'd come. He did and picked me right up like I was nothing. Claren chose this point to wander off out of site but came wandering back when I called.

Back in the office I was telling a friend who said she was going to make me a spring thing I'd wear on my chest to bounce me back into my chair. She even promised to make it look superhero-y. More importantly, she told me I could call her for help.

Now, on to the glasses place.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Matt the dorky adult gets results

Claren's puppy raisers told me she almost didn't graduate because she would not speak. That is still not her favorite thing, but I am surprised she did not flunk out of service dog school because of dof distraction.

Actually she is pretty good about it. In work situations especially.

Elsewhere, she reminds me of the head cheerleader/class president in high school. She is sure that every over dog wants, no, needs, to meet her.

On walks, I make her sit if we see other dogs coming and she is pretty good ... assuming, of course, the other dog is not loose and not able to walk right up to her.

Mom and I had taken the little goofballs on the bike trail, and while they were playing at one of the exercise posts, I saw a dog wandering loose with a group of people.

I told Mom and turned to keep me between the trail and other dog and Claren. I had Claren sit (once she saw the dog, she laid down).

The people and the loose dog came up. I saw one of the people was carrying a leash. The dog wandered around me and smelled Claren, who did break her down but just sniffed back.

One of the people, all college-age or younger, called the dog, and it eventually left Claren alone. Then it was my turn.

Without turning, I yelled, "there are leash laws, folks." Then I spun the wheelchair and said, "Leash your dog."

I wish I could say it felt good. It didn't. I felt like a whiny adult. They just kind of stared, but about 10 yards away, they did stop and put a leash on their dog.

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