an autism journey

I am notorious for undignified injuries (aka, I am clumsy). I have gotten a black eye from opening the freezer door. I have broken toes (twice) from missing a step on the stairs. I have smashed my fingers in the door more times than I care to admit, and have gotten bruises from walking too close to the doorframe. Completely uncool. These are the types of injuries that you pray no one will ask about (but they always do) because no matter how bad it hurts, the reasoning for it always creates more laughter than sympathy. So, that is why I was so proud of my latest injury. For the first time ever, when someone asks how I hurt myself, I can give a dignified answer.

I fell the other day and landed hard face flat into the mud. My chest took the brunt of the force and resulted in a chest contusion (ok, so really that just means I got a really nasty bruise to my sternum area… but doesn’t the word contusion imply more sympathy is required than a regular old bruise?) I irritated my throat from breathing in mud and busted my lip… I don’t think I will ever get all the mud out from my teeth. I hurt my shoulder, my neck, and even hit my head. This however was not a typical fall. So, when they asked me in the emergency room what happened, I was able to hold my head up (well, actually not since everything hurt so bad) and tell them…. “I was doing search and rescue practice with my son’s service dog.” Doesn’t that just sound like something only a really cool person would say? It is so much better than “well, I opened the freezer too fast and hit my face?”

Would you believe that not one of those people in the ER seemed even the slightest  bit impressed? Apparently they wrote in my chart that I was walking my dog and he knocked me down, because that is what the doctor said to me when he walked in. Are you kidding me?  This was supposed to be impressive! I don’t care what any previous records might have shown for my injuries… this one was definitely supposed to draw some ooohs and aaahs.  I have so little dignity in most things, you would think they could give me this one. I quickly had to clarify with the doctor  that , “no, I was NOT walking, I was RUNNING … really FAST, and this was no typical dog… this was a really powerful, big, fast, and determined SEARCH AND RESCUE DOG… and we were on a mission! I was NOT knocked down, I was DRAGGED down (I left out the part about how I was dragged down because I had handled it all wrong. That was not important at that moment.) This was supposed to be dignified! I was so disappointed.

Thankfully, we were off the pavement, just barely when I fell. The reality is that I have never seen my son’s service dog so worked up. He was specifically trained in the task of search and rescue since statistics show that many people with autism are prone to wandering. My son is no different. He has very limited verbal skills and even more limited awareness of danger. Every second matters. That is why we were so excited to have his service dog trained specifically to find him. Lugnut (his dog) always gets excited to practice this skill. To us, it is a life saving skill, but to him, it is a game. He knows that at the end of the track, he will get a big reward (hot dog and a squeaky tennis ball, not to mention lots of love and praise). This time however, was different. I had my teenage daughter walk out the door with my son and take a walk and hide. From the moment they walked out the door, Lugnut went CRAZY. He ran to the window, he ran to me, back to the window. He began to cry and whine, and eventually started jumping on me like crazy as if to say, “hey, what are you doing just standing there? Didn’t you see my boy walk off? We got to do something !!!!”

I leashed him up and took him outside. I started to give the work up (the talk that proceeds the track and goes something like “where’s Sam? Where’s Sam? Ready, ready, ready? TRACK!!!!) This talk was not needed, he was off. I knew from the day I saw him run that I would never be able to keep up with his fast pace. That is why the trainers worked so hard with me to teach me how to properly set and control the pace. This time however, everything was happening so fast that all that training flew right out of my brain and was flying like the wind right along with the dog. I had the flexi leash in the wrong hand, I didn’t let it out slowly, I didn’t hold the flexi in close to my body and dig my feet firmly in the ground. It was clear that Lugnut was in control of this track, not me, from the first moment on. The real problem hit when as the leash was letting out, I accidently locked it up and as I was running out of control, Lugnut just happened to hit the scent right as I hit the release to unlock the leash. That last bit of extra space provided was enough momentum for him to give a really hard hit. Anyone who has ever trained with such a dog knows exactly what I mean, when the dog catches the scent  and hits it for all they can to go. There is a forceful pull like no other and if you are not using proper techiniques, you are going down… hard. That is exactly what happened… I was able to run with it long enough to get across the street (thank God for that and thank God that there was no car coming). We were told over and over that if you lose control, let go of the leash, rather than go down… that is the only two options at that point. There will be no regaining it. That however, never crossed my mind. It was all too quick and WHAM, I was down. Lugnut very briefly turned to look at me. It was as if I could sense his struggle with what to do, but his desire to find his boy won out and he ran on…. Actually, I am not sure his feet were even hitting the ground, to find his boy, which he quickly did. My husband who had been trailing behind us observing, quickly ran to me. I could not even get up off the ground. The pain, nausea, and dizziness was too intense. I told him to run on. When he got to the spot, there was a very excited Lugnut waiting with the kids.

As I laid there, unsure if anything was broken or if I was going to pass out, I couldn’t help but be just a little proud. Tears came to my eyes, mostly from the pain, but also because at that moment, it hit me once again of what this dog could do. If, God forbid, my son was to ever wander off, this dog was not only going to let me know he had done so, but he was not going to let ANYTHING (even his handler) stop him from finding his boy. I can’t tell you what that means to me. What I didn’t know at the time was that Lugnut had even injured himself along the way. When he reached the kids, his paw was covered in blood (he is fine now).

So, they can try to take my dignified injury away from him and chalk it up to clumsiness if they must, but I know the truth. As I heal, I take a bit of pride in myself and a whole lot of pride in my dog!  Dignified indeed!

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