Six Days Until Departure
As I write this, it is six days until Garrett, The Hotness and I fly to St. Louis.
When our plane touches down and Garrett and I make our
way into the airport, it will likely be the last time he is in a public place. Once Garrett retires as a service dog, he will no longer be protected as such under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
But, Marc, you live in Florida. Why is Garrett retiring in St. Louis? Good question. But before I explain that, I have to remind you of a story you already have heard…
Back in October of 1993, I was a college freshman at Missouri State University. That weekend, I came home for a weekend with family and friends, attended a St. Louis Blues hockey game, I was on top of the world. Following that game, the car in which I was riding was struck broadside by a drunk driver. This is the trauma that not only took 100% of my sight instantaneously and permanently, but it also crushed every bone in my face; a Le Forte III fracture.
Since I was only three miles away from Barnes Hospital, and since Barnes was the nearest level I trauma center, that’s where the ambulance headed. Friends, I cannot express emphatically enough how close to death I actually was. One question I often get is if I had a near death experience. I did not. At least, not one that I remember. There was nothing like the usual reports of warm, white light and indescribable feelings of peace and comfort. Quite the opposite. I remember my entire body screaming with pain, I remember not being able to see, but I just thought I’d been knocked for a loop. I had no idea my sight was gone. Throughout that wretched night, Jennifer held my hand and never left my side. Her presence and her words of comfort, “Marcus, I’m here…” were the only things she could have done to help…and that’s exactly what she did.
For 20 years, I knew nothing of Jennifer. After that night, I have a vague memory of her coming to my hospital room once, introducing herself and telling me she was with me in the E.R. But even then? I was on a ton of narcotics. My memories wouldn’t be taken for fact in a court of law. Jennifer’s words and presence have been talked about in my memoir, “After This…” and start off the first chapter of both healthcare specific books, “The Other End of the Stethoscope” and, of course, “I’m Here: Compassionate Communication in Patient Care.”
But, beyond those brief moments with Jennifer while I was hospitalized, I’ve never known anything about her. No last name, no idea what her position in the E.R. was-nothing.
Four years ago, I was invited by the hospital that saved my life, now known as Barnes-Jewish Hospital, to keynote for all the hospital employees and volunteers. BJH booked me for five days of speaking to accommodate everyone who serves the patients in this 1300 bed hospital. Of course, I told the story of Jennifer and reminded everyone how simple human presence is the cornerstone of caregiving.
Day #2 of speaking, I finished a keynote when I was approached by a member of the patient experience team. She said, “Marcus, we have a surprise for you…we found Jennifer.”
Shock. Disbelief. Confusion. Wonder. I was speechless. I was overwhelmed. I was nothing short of an emotional mess as I held her hands again and finally had the chance to say thank you.
Weeks later, Jenny and I were being interviewed by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Garrett, of course, was at my feet, as he had been when Jenny and I were reintroduced. The journalist asked questions beyond our meeting. Questions like, “How long can a Seeing Eye dog work? What happens to Seeing Eye dogs when they retire?” I explained.
The Seeing Eye, Inc. in Morristown, NJ, estimates that an average Seeing Eye Dog will spend seven to nine years working. Dogs are usually around two years old when they are first introduced to their new master. Simply doing the math, the journalist could estimate Garrett still had another four years in his career, provided he didn’t have a career ending illness or injury.
“So, what will happen to Garrett when he retires?” she asked. These were not questions that would go into her article, they were just from her curiosity. “Well, when that time comes, I will find a friend or family member who will want to adopt Garrett. I don’t know who that will be yet.”
At this point, Jenny practically jumps out of her seat and states, “I want him!”
“Yes, absolutely, I would love to have him!”
“Done,” I said. “You took care of me during the worst night of my life, I know you’ll take care of Garrett when the time comes.”
Well, Faithful Reader, that time has come. We’ll fly into St. Louis, meet up with Jennifer, her husband, Drew, and their 12 year old daughter and Garrett will permanently go into retirement.
And an interesting side note: Seeing Eye dogs are not typically taught to “shake hands” but for some reason we quickly learned one of Garrett’s favorite things to do was hold hands with us. It seems especially fitting that he is going to live with “The Jennifer” who held my hand that night, when hand holding was the only thing that could bring me any measure of peace.
I am so, so comforted that this story has come full circle.