People have been asking if Whitney stayed with me while I was in the hospital last week.
She did not.
Legally, I could have had her in the room with me — Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act allows those of us who rely on service dogs to have them along in hospital rooms. All bets are off, however, if the dog constitutes either a “fundamental alteration of goods and services available for all” or a “direct threat to safety.” So while Whitney could have legally sat at my bedside once I was recovering in a regular hospital room, she would not have been allowed while I was in ICU. She wouldn’t have been with me in any sterile rooms (such as the operating room). Certain areas of the emergency room/departments would have been forbidden, and she wouldn’t have been able to ride in the ambulance with me to the hospital in the first place — even Mike had to follow behind in a cab.
Hospital staff cannot be made responsible for caring for a service dog while a patient with a disability is in the hospital, and I’m afraid my case left doctors and nurses with bigger problems to solve than figuring out when and where to take Whitney out to pee. The truth is, we never even thought of asking my Seeing Eye dog to sit still and behave at my hospital bedside while I recovered. It wouldn’t have been fair to an energetic ball of fur like her. I didn’t need her to guide me anywhere, and she would have been bored out of her mind.
Our dear friend Greg Schafer rushed to the waiting room after cardiologists recommended Mike call a friend to be there with him while I was being operated on. After surgery was over, Greg offered to stop by our apartment and fetch Whitney, take her home with with him for a few days. Greg and his wife Lois have a huge yard with two dogs and all sorts of other critters. Whitney spent the weekend there tracking deer and enjoying long walks while Mike spent time helping me recover at Northwestern Hospital.
Greg and Lois returned Whitney to Chicago on Sunday. After getting her settled in our apartment, they stopped by the hospital to regale Mike and me with details of ways Whitney spent time with their own beautiful dogs, Griffin and Gamma. Their stories really cheered me up. Whitney was there to greet Mike at home that night, and she was at the door waiting for me when I finally returned home Tuesday. A joyful reunion for sure.
Surgeons had to cut my sternum to perform open-heart surgery, and until that bone heals I can’t let Whitney wear a harness and pull me. Trainers at the Seeing eye have dealt with graduates who have had open-heart surgery before. Until my sternum heals, they recommend I have Whitney wear a Gentle Leader, a collar designed to gently discourage dogs from pulling while walking on a leash. Mike comes along on my walks with Whitney, and each day the length of our cardio walks expands a minute or two. Neighbors are getting used to seeing me sauntering down the block with Whitney on my left, Mike on my right: a heart-healthy sandwich.
Friends have been volunteering to take Whitney on faster walks every day too, to keep her in shape. Others fill in for Mike when he isn’t available to take me on the slower-paced walks. Between these volunteer walkers, the friend who brought her violin over to perform for me, the ones who have sent or delivered food, friends who have sent cards and music CDs and concert tickets and audio books and get-well bracelets and a lounging gown and body lotion and flowers and gift cards and whew, you’ve all been so kind I need to stop here to take a breath before I go on: my lungs aren’t back to normal quite yet!
Okay, I’m back. Thanks to all of those friends and all of you blog readers who have left such encouraging comments here on the blog, I feel loved, and I feel grateful. I’m alive, and I’m healing. And I’m looking forward to getting on the road again with Whitney.