Six Days Until Departure

 In Blog

As I write this, it is six days until Garrett, The Hotness and I fly to St. Louis.

 

Seeing Eye Dog

Marcus and Garrett in Long Beach, CA

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.

Garrett in our backyard with Marcus

Garrett in our backyard with Marcus

 

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!”

 

For real?

 

“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.

 

Garret holding hands

Garret holding hands

 

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Showing 13 comments
  • Sheila Englebardt
    Reply

    O.K. so YOU made me cry yet again… nothing could be better than for Garrett to live with Jennifer. I am so thrilled for all of you. Like closing a perfect circle. Bless you all.

  • Lisa Kolan
    Reply

    This touched my heart and I had to wipe the tears from my eyes. I read it at work. What would the customers think if they come in and see me crying! lol

  • Gale Bauer
    Reply

    Oh Marcus, how did I know this is how this story was going to go only a few sentences into the blog. My heart is melting. What a gift for all of you.

  • Shauna
    Reply

    Ooooh myyyyy goooodness…tears are flowing here. What a story–thank you for sharing this Marcus. Blessings to you and Marvelyn as you journey onward. So thrilled that you found Jennifer and that she and her family will see Garrett through his later years…

  • Lauren E Duerr
    Reply

    Glad I am sitting in my office at Via Christi, Wichita Kansas as I read) )this as I am just bawling. You were here and I met your beautiful dog. I can not imagine how you are going to get thru this. I am so glad Jennifer will receive your dog.

  • Claire Daidone
    Reply

    Thank you! So fitting that Garrett will be with Jennifer. I wish you the best !

  • Angie Clarkson
    Reply

    Once again you bring me to tears! Hard ass trauma/ED nurses are not supposed to cry but you definitely have a direct line to my heart! Jennifer is one very lucky lady!

  • Sandy Jonas
    Reply

    Thank you for sharing! Tears are flowing here in Mid-Missouri. Marcus YOU are a blessing to each of us. May God forever bless both you and Marvelyne! I send my love and hugs to both of you!!!

  • Kara Burdick
    Reply

    Tears ran down my cheeks as I read this and my harm is warmed knowing what a happy ending this story will have for everyone.

    • Kara Burdick
      Reply

      *Heart

  • Teresa Coyne
    Reply

    Thank you again for sharing your story & reminding us all of why we do what we do. We do touch peoples lives even though we rarely get feedback. I can only imagine how touched Jennifer was, how excited to meet you so many years later & then to get your precious dog, Garrett when he retires….. Blessings to you all this holiday season! Thank you for touching our hearts – again!

  • Schelly
    Reply

    Oh, I am sad that you’ll be missing Garrett, but so very happy he’ll have such a wonderful, happy retirement! I met you at CHOP and my other half met you at Drexel several years ago. You are such an inspiration! Currently, I am fostering a pup for The Seeing Eye–my “short, blond and handsome!” He’s such a love…we hope he helps someone the way Garrett has helped you 🙂

  • katie johnson
    Reply

    Marcus, this is such a moving story and just as when I read your books I found the tears and emotions rolling. I know it will be so very hard to part paths with Garrett but I pray you will be able to see God’s hand in your journey. He placed Jennifer there to comfort you in your time of great need and He gave you signs from Garrett from the start ( even though at the time you didn’t KNOW it was a SIGN) of where Garrett should end up by the “holding hands” with you. Then at just the right time God brought Jennifer back into your life and the fact that the journalist happened to get “off topic” and bring up the questions about Garrett after he is retired while Jennifer was there is oh so God’s hand in this situation. The “perfect” timing of Jennifer being found and meeting with you and then the interview with the journalist to tell your story is in no way a coincidence in my mind !!! Years back after I had to make a job change and I thought was the “worst” thing ever I found the new job to be such a blessing in my life and I wrote a poem about the experience. It started out, ” When looking BACK I now can see, God had a special plan for me” !! It’s like God took this horrible accident that you were in and He used it to use YOU to do such an incredible job of touching so many people and guiding them to learn from your experience how to better help the people that crossed their paths. Just think how many lives have been touched and changed because of YOU, your willingness to follow God’s leading and your NOT letting this horrible accident keep you down !! My prayers are with you as you continue your journey and that you will ALWAYS seek God’s direction. Rest assured that Garrett is EXACTLY where God PLANNED for him to be!!

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