Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Traveling by plane

I just found out that I was approved to attend a technology workshop in June that is in Georgia. I was thrilled that I was selected. It’s a great opportunity. Teachers don’t often get chances to travel to state of the art conferences.

Then I remembered that


It’s not the flying part that I don’t like. It’s the build up to the flight. I worry the entire ride to the airport. Mostly about not getting an aisle seat when I check in. I have had times that I wasn’t able to get a seat assignment prior to arriving at the airport. This creates even more anxiety. I get this picture of myself sitting in a cramped seat without elbow room. I’m sure that the plane I’m getting on is unbearably hot. And the takeoff is probably going to be delayed, so I will have to sit in the plane sweating and squished—probably in a middle seat.

Once I actually get on the plane I am o.k. I realize that there is room, the temperature isn’t close to sauna like, and there is air to breath. I can usually just take my aisle seat and set up my dvd player and be quite content.

I guess that you could say that I am a reluctant traveler. Friends and family that have flown with me cringe at the thought of sharing that opportunity with me again. They say that I make them nuts. (They, of course, say it in a gentle way)

So I squirm a little thinking of it.

Then I realize that I will be flying with Dixie for the first time.

Oh no.

Holy smokes.

I can probably cope with flying alone. But flying alone with Dixie. Ahh!

How do you even fly with a dog?! How will I convince my lab that flying is no big deal when I’m a basket case?!

I spent a day or two panicking about this, but then realized that I would make my life much easier, eliminate many of my worries, and fly first class. (no, my district won't pay for first class, just coach. So I'll be paying the difference) I call Northwest and talk to a very nice woman who gets my ticket squared away (and it’s really not much more than coach—I can’t believe it!). She asks if I would like an aisle or window. Of course I say aisle. Then I mention that I have a service animal that will be traveling with me. She asks if it is a dog or a monkey.

A MONKEY? Who’s heard of a service monkey. Whenever I think of trained monkeys, I always get a picture in my mind of that movie – can’t remember the name- but it had a guy and his monkey who rode around with him in a truck. The monkey wore a little red, hooded sweatshirt and jeans. Very cute. Then I thought of the monkeys that you see on public television that are trained to use sign language to communicate. I don’t think I would want a monkey pulling at my hand and using sign language to tell me I should test my blood sugar, or screaming at me if I didn’t promptly treat a low.

I tell the woman that Dixie is a dog. Then she asks if she is a Chihuahua. (WHAT?!) I tell her that she is a 55 pound lab mix. She says that I will need to sit in seat 1-A, which is the “handicapped” seat. I assure her that I’m not handicapped, and don’t need a special seat. (although friends would say that I’m handicapped by my wacky traveling behaviors:-) She says that it’s the seat with the most room, so Dixie will have plenty of space to stretch out. Oh, o.k.

I got off the phone and took a deep breath. I can do this. I’m sure Dixie will love Atlanta.

I’m all lined up to travel. If anyone happens to lurk by and read this, and works in the airline or vet business, I’d love to have some tips for flying with a dog.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


I got a recent email from someone interested in knowing more about Dixie and her training. I'm posting my response here so that others who might have the same questions can see my answers.

What trained skills does your dog perform for you?

Dixie is a trained emergency medical response dog. (EMRD) As I’ve written before, she alerts me when my blood sugar is high, low, or dropping. She knows how to push a switch to activate Life Alert if I’m not responsive. She knows basic obedience skills—sit, stay, lay down, heel, come. I trained her to push “handicap buttons” at public buildings to open doors. She is trained to put her “paws up” which was initially used to teach her to use her front paws to alert me.

If I go to an alert dog school, what can I expect? What will happen there?

I can only speak as to what training was like at Great Plains Assistance Dog Foundation, as that’s the only place I’ve trained. I spent three weeks at their center in Jud, North Dakota. They have two, on site apartments. (really two separate little houses) The apartment that I stayed in had a furnished kitchen including stove, fridge, oven, pots, pans, silverware, etc. It had one bedroom that had two twin beds in it. There was a large bathroom (handicapped accessible) with a shower. (no tub) I trained with the trainers and Dixie Monday thru Friday. Thursday was community access day. We went to Jamestown, ND to practice public access at stores, restaurants, etc. Saturday and Sunday were days for Dixie and I to rest and spend time together as well as to go to Jamestown for shopping. (She stayed in the house with me after the first day when we met) Training included working on the B-5. (basic 5 – sit, stay, down, heel, come) I usually had about an hour to an hour and a half off each afternoon for lunch. It was exhausting. I brought movies, activities to do, books to read…and did none of them. When I wasn’t working with Dixie at the training center, we were working together in the apartment or crashed. The staff there was great. They are a great bunch of hard working folks that want to help you develop the best relationship with your service dog.

Why did you choose alert dogs from other therapies?

I had an untrained mixed breed dog that used to wake me in the morning if I was low. She died and I realized how much I had come to rely on her. I connected with a woman who was “hooked” in to the service dog organization, and she helped me to find Great Plains. I have had hypoglycemia unawareness for many years, and have always had to rely on other people to help me manage or tell me when I was low. CGMS have never really appealed to me because I struggle just having enough viable tissue to use a pump. (I’ve been using a pump since 1992) I was worried that having another sensor would make more of my tissue not viable. Plus, I love dogs. As a special education teacher, I also support animal interactions for students. Dixie has been amazing with my special ed kids. They love her and she loves them.

What advantages do you think that an alert dog has over other therapies (i.e. Continuous glucose monitoring systems)?
I think that for me, it was all about saving my tissue for insulin and not using it for a sensor. And CGMS aren’t furry and nurturing to kids. ☺

What has been the biggest issue with the public and your dog?

I get sick of the questions from the public. Some of the repeated questions are: “Are you almost blind?” “Is that a seeing eye dog?” “Your dog is in training for a blind person, right?”
I can’t go very many places without having questions asked. Most of the time I am happy to share information about Dixie. I do feel a certain amount of responsibility to educate people that there are service dogs doing all sorts of jobs. But it does get old. At school, kids know the rule about not petting Dixie, and are cute about just waving to her the hall. We don’t go down a hall without a bunch of waves, smiles, and “Hi Dixies!” The adults have the most trouble remembering. Parents walk into the building and just start petting her, then realize her vest says “Please don’t pet me, I’m working” and stop.

Why is your alert dog important to you and your lifestyle?

Dixie and I are a team. She has changed the quality of my life. I don’t carry around the guilt I used to have that my friends had to constantly notice if I was low, because I couldn't. One of my colleagues said, shortly after I was back at school with Dixie, that she felt like she didn’t have a job anymore—she was so used to helping me when I was low. I am able to keep my blood sugars in a reasonable range without worrying about running higher to avoid lows.

I'm a dog person.

And she is a really, really good dog.

Friday, April 6, 2007

New Deltec

I got my upgraded, complimentary Deltec pump with new features. I have it up and running and have dabbled into some of the features that my old Deltec didn’t have. (hypo manager, disconnect feature, etc.) I like it. I like the fact that the company made improvements to the pump and then passed along those improvements to their customers, free of charge. That feels good. The only drawback was taking the “test” on the internet after watching video clips that describes where and how to use the new features. It took me close to an hour to do, but now I feel like it was worth it. All I have left to do in the process is send Smith Medical my old pump in the provided, postage paid box.

As a teacher, I use an Apple computer. That’s what I have access to at school, and it’s what I have at home. The CoManager software that is available is only usable on a PC. I’ll have to figure out a time to get access to a PC so that I can at least name this pump. Not sure if I should name it Squirt like my last pump, or if it’s time for a new name. I don’t like looking at the home screen and seeing the name Cozmo on there. I need my own name. Any ideas?

I was reading Scott’s blog, and it seemed like something that I could have written. I’m sick of diabetes. Tired of site changes and strips. Sick of carrying supplies with me. Frustrated with overbolusing for meals and then having to eat more when I’m not hungry. Sometimes I feel like I’m just coasting along, and don’t even really think about all that I’m doing. Then it changes. Everything feels like more work. I get mad about little things in diabetes care that don’t usually faze me. Today… it feels exhausting.

Hopefully tomorrow, it won’t.


Dixie and I went shopping today. We were getting ready to go home, and I opened the back hatch of my car for her to jump in to. She sat and stared at me. I encouraged her to “hop in.” She sat and stared. So I got out my Flash and tested. As soon as I opened the case, Dixie jumped in the car. Blood sugar = 78. Not horribly low, but too low for her. I had a couple sips of powerade and waited about 10 minutes. Retested and was at 85. I drove home. Man, she’s a good dog! I’m lucky.