When Nick was at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) he was still in a semi-conscious state. It was a miracle really that he even was admitted for rehab. To get into RIC you have to be evaluated by a doctor. They ask if you can do different tasks and Nick, unfortunately, couldn't do any of them. He still can't, but now I think it's because he (and I, to be completely honest) get annoyed when every single neurologist comes in to greet him with "Hi Nick, can you follow my finger from side to side? Can you stick out your tongue? Can you give me a thumbs up?"
Every single time.
This time though, Nick knew that RIC would be a game changer for him. He figured this out by hearing all of our conversations in his room, about how RIC had a whole floor dedicated to brain injury and I know he felt my anxious energy. My push for him to get in. So when the evaluating doctor came in this time and asked him to do all of those tasks, Nick's brain wasn't cooperating.
The doctor looked at me and said, "I don't think he is ready yet." I asked if he had to do everything they asked and the doctor said, "No, even if he did something just a little bit to show initiation then she would know he was there."
His physical therapist and I looked at each other and sighed because we knew deep inside our souls Nick was present but not capable of getting his neurons lined up enough to tell the rest of them he was. I said, "Can you try one more time please?" and I started praying like crazy. I was holding my rosary in my hand as she rattled off all the tasks with Nick staring straight ahead.
Then, on the last task, the thumbs up, Nick lifted his thumb ever so slightly from his twisted hand. The physical therapist and I said loudly, "Did you see that?" "Did you?" Both hoping and praying she did because we knew how much effort that tiny movement took and I for one wasn't sure he could do it again.
She said she did see it but wanted to make sure that it wasn't "just a reflex" which was a term I would come to hate in days to come.
She asked again, "Nick, can you give me a thumbs up?"
You could hear a pin drop as we all stared at Nicks' hand. Then he moved it again just off his hand a tiny bit, but it was purposeful and he was fully concentrating and the doctor turned to me and smiled. He was in. I burst into tears.
Fast forward, to our days at RIC where Nick had rehab 3 hours a day. He was having a not so pleasant day when Georgia the animal therapy dog came to visit. Nick was exhausted from therapy and wasn't moving very much and Georgia could sense his struggle. She nudged his hand and he didn't respond. Then Georgia's helper got Georgia to lay on the bed with Nick and we placed his hand on her head. We waited and then, just like Nick's thumb, he began to move ever so slightly. It wasn't a full on pet per se, but it was an acknowledge to his furry friend that he knew she was there and she was there just for him.
That is when the staff member at RIC said, "you should get a dog." I told her that Nick always wanted a dog of his own. She said you should seriously think about that. So I did think about it.
We were discharged from RIC in February 2015. I looked for dogs for him and it never worked out. Then one day, I was talking to his nurse case manager Andrea, and I told her the dog story and without skipping a beat she said, "I am getting you a dog." I didn't think anything of it besides how sweet she was to want that to happen, but I didn't fully know the power of Andrea.
Andrea was Nick's champion. When he needed medical procedures she made it happen. When I was denied things for Nick Andrea would go to the mat for him challenging the bureaucratic healthcare system.
Well, as you can tell by the picture above Nick was gifted his Angel dog. We pick him up on May 07, 2017. Andrea and one of her favorite breeders Dave from Aarions Portuguese Water dogs made it all happen. Nick's pup whose name we will announce later will be trained as a Service dog for Nick and he will become Nick's mighty companion. We are excited and I am a bit nervous because of the work that goes into raising a puppy on the front end, but I know the magical helaing powers of animals. This dog will bless us all.