Beware the Eve of Palm Sunday

Well readers, fear not! This journal hasn’t gone to the dogs permanently! But I hope you all enjoyed the entry Gilbert wrote. He has sure got opinions and an adorable personality hasn’t he? (smile) As Gilbert mentioned, I let him write his own entry to make amends because I felt guilty that my entries lately have been all about me with hardly a mention of him. I promised him I would be better about acknowledging his feelings when I write entries, but I think I will also let him write more entries himself in the future because man was his entry fun to read, and he proved his expertise in adding some cuteness and life to my often boring journal! In fact, he will be due for a vet appointment soon, and I am sure he will have a lot to say about that, as well as some volunteer opportunities we did last year that he enjoyed, so stay tuned! But right now, I bet that from my subject line, you are all wondering “What the heck is this entry going to be about?” So without further ado, let me explain.

     First however, maybe I should include a disclaimer. I am Catholic, and every year, I love going to church on Palm Sunday which is the week before Easter, holding a palm branch in my hand, and listening to the wonderful bible reading about Jesus marching in to Jerusalem and being welcomed by people waving palm branches, and the solemn reading of the Passion which is the story of Jesus being betrayed and crucified. So my point is, I take Palm Sunday observances seriously, so the purpose of this subject line is not to offend anyone, or make a mockery of Christianity for any of you readers who are also Christian. But I am of the belief that if God created animals like Gilbert and Snickers who are constantly doing silly things, and of course created a sense of humor in humans, He must have a sense of humor Himself. So I used this subject line because I cannot help but laugh and wonder if God is trying to tell me something. Why else after all, have scary things happened to me the last two years the night before Palm Sunday?

     Last year, I was taking Gilbert outside to relieve himself one more time before bed. When I took him out, it was about 12:30 and my parents, and the whole neighborhood for that matter were already asleep. But I wasn’t worried about anything happening because it is not unusual for me to take him out that late since I am a night owl. In fact, I was so confident that nothing could possibly happen that I didn’t even bring my cell phone. What I had forgotten to anticipate however was that this was Gilbert’s first spring with me, and as I am sure you readers who are dog owners already know, spring is full of irresistible temptation for dogs with all the new smells, wonderful mud piles and baby animals to investigate. I should have anticipated naughtiness because this early spring season was when Mojo and Indy, Gilbert’s predecessors, and actually even our cat Snickers, get that itch to run away. But I think I was still a believer of the misconception that guide dogs are angels because that night, I just went along and followed Gilbert further and further in to the grass thinking he was just looking for the perfect spot to poop. But after awhile two scary things occurred to me. The first was that if Gilbert had to poop, even a finicky dog should have made up his mind on a place by now. The second was that we were far far away from the edge of the driveway where we started, and were in fact, were in a cluster of trees I had never seen before. This could only mean one thing. We were severely lost, and unlike the day when the dog trainer did a drop-off near my college campus, tonight, no good samaritan would be passing on the sidewalk to rescue us. I tried turning around and pointing my feet straight, hoping to retrace my steps back to the driveway, but Gilbert must not have been walking straight because when I tried walking straight, I only found more trees. So, I ended up doing what all of the survival experts tell you never to do. I panicked and just started randomly scrambling around, only to be met by more trees! I tried shouting for help, but no one heard me. After what seemed like hours more of scrambling around, I began to consider having an impromptu campout. It was not terribly cold, maybe fifty degrees, but it would have been nice to have a jacket, something else I hadn’t brought since this was originally intended to be a quick outing. But I could huddle against Gilbert to stay warm, and then the next morning when Mom or Dad noticed that Gilbert and I weren’t slumbering in our respective beds and they called a search party to look for us, I would at least be doing one thing right according to the survival experts by staying where I am. I wished I had paid more attention at an Earth Keeper’s camp when I was in fifth grade where a survival expert showed how to make a shelter using sticks, or remembered some survival scenes from “My Side of the Mountain” and “Hatchet” two of my favorite books when I was younger, but books I never thought would be applicable to me in real life! But maybe Gilbert and I could make do and have some special bonding time in the process. But man, our nice warm house and soft bed sounded so much more appealing than a campout, so I wasn’t going to give up yet! That was when it occurred to me that in my panic, I hadn’t noticed the sound of cars in the distance. If I pointed myself and Gilbert in the direction of the sound of traffic, we should end up back in civilization eventually. So that is what I did, and finally, I had made a smart decision. I don’t think words can describe how excited I was when I felt concrete under my feet. I think I actually stopped and gave Gilbert a huge hug. I still had to get my bearings because instead of going to the driveway, we had ended up on the patio by the porch swing, but I was back on familiar ground so that didn’t take long at all! We had made it home to sleep the sweetest most appreciative sleep in our own beds! The next morning when I told my dad about our adventure, we must have subconsciously realized that maybe God was telling me I needed to be a more responsible dog owner when I am taking him out at night because we decided to put a few precautions in place that I still follow today, like taking Gilbert out while my parents are still awake, or carrying a cell phone with me if they are asleep. My dad also suggested bringing his harness so that I could put it on him if I got lost, and being on duty might mean he could get me home, and maybe some of you guide dog owners are thinking the same thing. But I refuse to swallow my pride and risk a neighbor looking out the window and noticing that I am so geographically challenged that I need Gilbert to guide me through my own yard! More importantly though, this ordeal taught me the importance of keeping my feet firmly planted on concrete so Gilbert understands I am on to his naughty exploring ways now! My dad did install a rope outside the back door by hooking one end to our porch swing, and the other to a tree in the grass, so that if Gilbert ever insisted on pulling me in to the grass, I would have a rope to follow back. But actually, I never ended up needing to use this rope because now I take him out the front door. I used to prefer taking him out either the garage door in the winter since the patio door freezes shut in the winter for some reason, and then the patio door in late spring through fall. I preferred these doors because they gave me a straight shot to grass without any steps to worry about. But last summer, my parents did some remodeling of the house, so now there is a new deck built with posts that stick out in the perfect place to clunk my head if I am not slow and careful, as well as landscaping rocks along the edge of the grass where I used to stand, so I quickly decided that having to climb up on these rocks in summer was way more annoying than going down the two steps outside our front door. But I soon discovered two advantages to the front door. The grass is closer to the house, and since the front door is right by our living room, I can hear the television while I am outside, so even if Gilbert did want to go in to the grass a little further, as long as I can hear the television, there should be no possible way to get lost, and sure enough, I haven’t gotten lost once since using this door! But if I thought getting seriously lost was scary, that scare was nothing compared to this past night before Palm Sunday when I almost died.

     It so happened that this year Palm Sunday coincided with the weekend of my birthday. So the Friday before which was my birthday, I woke up to get ready for another busy day of school, but instead of the same old eggs that I usually eat for breakfast just because they are quick to prepare and keep me satisfied until lunch, my mom kept a birthday breakfast tradition we started last year and made potato pancakes, my favorite breakfast item that I only eat on a rare basis since I am sure they are very greasy and unhealthy. But eating healthy is not supposed to be the priority on your birthday right?

     Then I went to school as usual, and after my politics class when I had some study time, I had hoped to take my birthday off and post an entry to this journal, but decided that even on my birthday, I should be a responsible student, so I think I worked on politics homework that I had fallen behind on. At 11:00 when I had my lunch before my next politics class and science lab, I thought nothing of it as I filled up on baked fish, and actually thought eating this fish was a smart decision since it was the only healthy thing I planned to eat that day. The other politics class was uneventful, but then it so happened that my birthday had to be the day we went to the creek to collect bugs for the science lab, an event which Gilbert mentioned in the last entry. As Gilbert mentioned, walking through the mud wasn’t my idea of a fun surprise for my birthday, but what Gilbert didn’t mention was that when we reached a clearing near the creek and were all standing listening to the professor give us directions for how to go about collecting our bug samples, a student mentioned that Gilbert was eating grass, which she heard dogs will do if they have an upset stomach. That was ironic because at that moment, it occurred to me that my stomach was a little upset too. It wasn’t bad, just a mild twinge of pain in my stomach, but any stomach pain is ominous when you are wearing a constricting one piece wader suit thing that goes from your chest all the way down to boots for your feet, and you are far away from any man made bathrooms. But the excursion through the creek had ended without a hitch, my dad had picked me up from school to take me home as planned, and still it was nothing more than a mild twinge. It was so mild that I insisted we go to Texas Roadhouse as planned, where I had a blast sitting on a saddle and getting my picture taken as the other diners said “Yeehaw!” to me. I even ordered and ate a steak and baked potato loaded with cheese, butter and sower cream, not to mention the free ice cream the restaurant gives diners on their birthday, and of course a generous slice of my mom’s delicious layered cake which is a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting of course! I had pretty much forgotten this pain as I opened my presents which included the usual clothes from Grandma, but also a beautiful gardenia bush whose pot took up the entire center of the kitchen table and whose fragrance once it started blooming was so heavenly I actually kind of looked forward to doing my homework near it, and letting its aroma soothe and relax me! My stomach pain was a distant memory when, after the party, I went to read all the birthday wishes written on my facebook wall, and then take a walk on the treadmill to try and burn off at least a couple hundred of the thousands of extra calories I am sure I ate that day.

     But the next day, my stomach pain was back with a vengeance. Actually, most of the day went well. I got up, heated myself some leftover potato pancakes for breakfast, and a small fajita made with leftovers from Texas Roadhouse before going to a local chapter meeting for the National Federation of the Blind that I was invited to by two other blind students who went to my college last year. I don’t usually go to these meetings because since I spend most of my time with sighted people, I actually feel kind of funny and out of place at gatherings for the blind. I know that probably sounds weird coming from a person who is blind herself, but it’s the truth. However since I was invited and encouraged to come by the blind students at my college whom I had sat with for lunch one day, I thought I should go and I had a good time meeting some new people. Best of all though, they had pizza, and I had a piece of this tomato basil pizza that was really good. My dad picked me up from this meeting and I enjoyed a typical carefree Saturday evening listening to A Prairie Home Companion on the radio, and when my mom came home, my dad made a wonderful dinner of baked fish and this rice dish from Trader Joe’s that has curry and vegetables in it, topped off with a slice of leftover birthday cake of course. But then, shortly after this dinner, my stomach pain returned and I even got slightly sick, meaning, without going in to too much detail, let’s just say, I had to get rid of some of my dinner. But since I still thought it was relatively mild, I decided I really should go ahead and walk on the treadmill since the guilt of this weekend of unhealthy eating was really starting to take hold, and despite all of the experts who advise people to take it easy when they are feeling sick, I decided my need to burn some serious calories was more important than taking it easy given the circumstances, so I pushed myself to the limit, setting the treadmill a little faster than usual. I was hoping to walk through ten songs of the Toby Keith album I was listening to thinking that should come out to about half an hour, but after only six songs, I started to feel kind of nauseous and uncharacteristically tired, so decided I better stop. I thought maybe I could get off the treadmill, but still march in place slowly for the remaining songs, thinking that maybe just slowing down would settle my stomach. But my nausea only got worse, and in addition, my heart rate also seemed unusually fast, even considering that I just finished a workout. So as quickly as I could, I turned off my music, walked upstairs and sat down. The next thing I remember was my mom sitting me up and shouting “Allison! What happened?” It turns out that she had been upstairs watching television when she decided she wanted to give me my medication so that she could go to bed. But when she called my name repeatedly, I wasn’t answering, and then she thought she heard a thud downstairs. When she found me I was completely passed out and unresponsive. Even once my mom had woken me up, I was still in a fog, so a lot of what happened was a blur, but I guess my mom had shouted for my dad to come quick, and he was standing over me trying to keep me talking so I wouldn’t pass out again while my mom called 911. Needless to say, despite being in a fog, I was scared witless. The only times I had ever been in an ambulance were the times when I was little and firemen would come to the school to talk to us and let us explore the fire trucks. I never imagined I would see an ambulance from the perspective of a patient, or at least not until I was elderly or something. But as I mentioned in my entries about the surgery I had in October, I was finding out once again that life is full of uncertainties. So alas, the paramedics came, checked my vital signs and loaded me in to an ambulance on a stretcher. The paramedics did not use the sirens which was probably a combination of the fact that my vital signs were stable despite being unconscious, and the fact that it was late at night. Also since I had managed to sit down in a safe area before passing out, I did not sustain any injuries, making me luckier than a lot of people who pass out. This was a relief to me because it made me feel better that while passing out is nothing to take lightly, at least my condition wasn’t so grave that I had to be rushed to the hospital with sirens blaring. But it was pretty cool not to have to stop for red lights, and after the paramedics put an IV in, I was actually feeling better enough to joke with the paramedics that being an ambulance driver must be a pretty cool job since they can legally speed and run red lights!

     Mom rode in the ambulance with me and Dad drove to the hospital separately after taking Gilbert out and putting him in his cage. My mom would later tell me that since the paramedics had trouble finding a vein for my IV, she knew exactly why I had passed out. When I had gotten rid of my dinner earlier that evening, I hadn’t realized that I also got rid of a lot of my fluids. Add to that the fact that my brain tumor destroyed my pituitary gland which monitors my electrolytes, the loss of even more fluid through my sweat on the treadmill, and the fact that I purposely drank less water than usual that day since it embarrasses me to have to ask where the bathroom is at a total stranger’s house where the NFB meeting was held, and as the emergency doctor who took care of me that night put it, it was the perfect storm that led to severe dehydration.

     Of course, just to be cautious, the doctor wanted to do some other tests that included a blood test, an EKG which was a special type of scan to make sure I hadn’t developed a heart problem, and a CT scan to make sure I hadn’t passed out from a seizure which could mean another brain tumor. There was also this test where they took my blood pressure three times, first laying down, then sitting and finally standing. I forget what the point of this test was, but I remember the standing test had to be redone three or four times because I think I felt so faint and my blood pressure dropped so quickly that the blood pressure machine couldn’t register it. When the EKG and CT scan came back showing no other problems, the doctor ordered two huge bags of IV fluids to restore my electrolytes, and then at 4:30 in the morning, I was released from the hospital and walked out feeling tired from the long night of tests but otherwise, good as new! The doctor’s orders were to stay off that treadmill for awhile, and drink lots of fluids like water, but also sports drinks that are high in electrolytes. Once again, my disgust for other drinks besides milk and water that I mentioned in the first entry about my surgery had come back to bite me. But since I was able to tolerate bland food the next day, which also has electrolytes, my parents agreed it was fine for me to just drink water. But the next Thursday when I was all recovered, my dad wanted me to try a sports drink so that if I was ever starting to get dehydrated again, they could give me something to restore my electrolytes before I reached the point of passing out. The drink he thought was the most mild, PowerAid made me gag when I tried to drink it. But if I eat it with a spoon like soup, for some reason I could tolerate it that way, and actually even kind of liked its gentle sweet taste, not enough to add it to my beverage regimen, but enough that I would use it to avert any future dehydration disaster!

     But anyway, on Sunday morning as we reflected on the eventful night, my mom said she believed God was watching over us last night, since she said if she had given me my medication before I went on the treadmill and went to bed, I might not have been found until the next morning by which time I might have died. But despite our immense gratitude for God’s protection, I slept until 11:00 that morning, too late to go to church for Palm Sunday. And just like last Palm Sunday, we discussed precautions to put in place like making sure to always go on the treadmill earlier in the day so that my parents are awake to check on me and ensure that I would be found sooner should I pass out and to never ever go on the treadmill if I feel sick to my stomach. My parents also broke down and bought me this medic alert necklace with my name, medications and allergies engraved on it that I wear every time I leave home in case I am knocked unconscious and my parents are not around to tell the paramedics of my special medical circumstances. My parents wanted to get me one of these necklaces when I was younger. But my protest at having to wear such a necklace that could potentially be ugly and scare people away, combined with the fact that since my brain tumor, I have been so healthy we didn’t think such a necklace was necessary meant that we never went ahead and ordered one. But after this medical scare, even I relented and agreed to wear one since I finally appreciated the truth behind that saying that life is fragile. But the necklace they ordered actually looks like it would be pretty. My information is engraved on a metal dog tag, but this tag is on a gold chain with an angel charm that I like to think of as my guardian angel watching over me. Hardly anyone has seemed to notice it, and those who do probably think it is just a normal piece of pretty jewelry. In addition to these precautions, I added one more. After getting sick a few days later when once again, the school cafeteria served fish, I will only eat fish from places that specialize in fish like Red Lobster where you can be a little more confident that the fish is fresh, and weird stuff wasn’t added to preserve it because I have never gotten sick from the fish at these kinds of restaurants.

     So I don’t mean to be superstitious, but can you see why after the increasingly scary things that happened the past two years on the night before Palm Sunday, I would wonder what God has in store for me next year before Palm Sunday? I mean, there is only one thing worse than almost dying! Does God have a “three strikes, you’re out” plan for me? Just in case, maybe next year, I should drink lots of water, take Gilbert out before dark and spend the night in the basement, or somewhere far away from any windows where a meteor could crash through and knock me in the head or something! I am just being silly of course, but maybe it wouldn’t hurt if next year, you could all pray for me!

Published by Allison Nastoff

As I write this in 2020, I am 30 years old. I am blind, and Gilbert was my first guide dog. He passed away on December 2, 2020, but I decided to keep the title for my blog as a tribute to him because he will always hold a special place in my heart. In 2012, I earned a Bachelor of Science in Communication with a journalism emphasis, and went back to school for a Paralegal certificate in 2014. I worked for five years at a Social Security disability firm. When the pandemic hit, I did some reflecting and decided to resign from this job and take seminary courses. My dream is a career as a teacher or writer where I can be a blessing to others.

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