Monday began a week that was fairly uneventful, though all the students knew the quarter was drawing to a close and finals followed by Christmas break would soon be upon them. Jerrod and Roger had easily slipped into the routine of driving to school, then home to walk Kaiser, after which Jerrod would run Roger home. They worked on improving a couple of Kaiser’s skills, so they’d be prepared for Sunday at the hospital. Roger’s Mom had called the clinic and Roger couldn’t get in to see the specialist till Tuesday of the following week.
Tuesday after dinner, Jerrod was at work on his homework with Kaiser curled up by his feet in the study, when his mobile range. It was Roger.
“Hi selle. Long time no talk!”
“Hi liebling. I had another one.” Jerrod knew that three days had passed and had been anticipating it all day.
“Was it the same?
“Yeah, I wrote it down, and it’s almost identical to what happened Saturday. It happens then clears up and goes away. No headache. Maybe it’s no big deal, just something I’ve got to live with.”
“Roger, I know you. Don’t try and make it sound normal. It isn’t, okay? We’ll deal with it for now, and figure it out, but ignoring it won’t make it go away.”
“I know, and I’m not trying to ignore it. I’m just already sick of it being such a big deal. It’s like waiting for an alarm clock to go off every three days or something.”
“I know, selle, I feel the same way. But it’s my ‘Roger alarm clock’ so I can deal with that.”
“I know. Thanks. I’ve got to get back to my homework. Love you.”
Wednesday’s ski team meeting was mainly characterized by anticipation that they’d soon be on the mountain as the snow base built. Jerrod and his training partner were up to pressing 165, still far less than Matt and his buddy, who didn’t hold back on their comments about being light weights in the pressing department and probably in their shoes too.
It had rained all week, but lightened up on Thursday, so the time they spent with Sean and his Mom was shorter than usual, but that didn’t dampen the boy’s enthusiasm or his pure pleasure in spending time with his favorite dog.
On Friday, as usual, they met Eric and Kim for lunch, and were part way through their sandwiches when Jerrod saw Roger blink a few times and shake his head. He reached over and put his hand on Roger’s and said softly, “Are you getting one?”
Roger nodded. “Lots of dots and flashing colors.” Jerrod glanced at Roger’s watch and noted the time. Then he looked at his friends across the table. “You need to know that Roger’s been having mild visual events. His doctor thinks he might be starting to get migraines. It usually only lasts a couple of minutes and then it’s gone. He just started having one, but be cool, okay?”
He turned back to Roger and squeezed his hand. “Can you tell if it’s one eye or both?”
Roger alternated closing one eye and then the other while looking over Eric and Kim’s head. “It’s one eye. It’s a lot easier to tell when I’m looking at a white wall like that one. It’s not in both, that’s for sure.”
“Good. We’re all cool here, Roger. You chill till this is over, and in the meantime we’re all sitting here like we’re eating lunch, and everything is normal.” The visual event cleared within three minutes, and though Roger felt a little out of it afterwards, he felt normal enough when the next period began. On way home Jerrod softly asked him about writing it down.
“Already done. I figure if you’re going to chauffeur me around, it’s the least I can do. And don’t worry. I’ll tell Mom as soon as I get home.” Jerrod reached over and squeezed his hand.
Saturday was a very wet day, so in the afternoon Jerrod and Kaiser picked up Roger and they headed for the small park next to the tennis courts, hoping to get some protection from the rain inside the courts. By the time they were done with a short walk and some training drills, they were wet, and Kaiser was soaked. They were all glad Jerrod had thrown half a dozen towels in the back of the Cherokee.
Roger insisted Jerrod and Kaiser come inside when they got to his house, and his Mom was in the kitchen cooking dinner. They chatted for a few minutes and she said hi to Kaiser, and then they all headed down to Roger’s room to hang out for a while. As they walked in Roger pointed to something in the corner and said, “See. I got Kaiser a dog bed for here.”
“You’re the best, selle. See how he likes it.” Roger walked him over, let him sniff all around it and paw at it a couple of times before he said “Lay Down,” and after a few seconds, Kaiser circled twice and laid down in the new bed looking quite proud of himself.
Jerrod had been sitting on the foot of the bed, and Roger left Kaiser and walked over to him, putting his hands on Jerrod’s shoulders and kneeling over his thighs as the deeply kissed him, holding the back of his head. He leaned back in a minute and said softly, “I just love the feel of your tongue, the way you use it like a weapon.” He was wiggling his eyebrows and shifted his hips. “I feel something getting hard.”
“Oh yeah, me, too. Do we have time?”
“It’s you that have to drive home, not me. I locked the door. Let’s ditch the pants. Suddenly a sixty-nine with that bulge I’m feeling sounds like a great plan!”
The next day they arrived at the hospital early and had lunch in the cafeteria, then headed down to the therapy dog training room. The instructor paired both new teams up with experienced ones, and Jerrod, Roger and Kaiser were with a middle-aged lady named Suzanne and her yellow Labrador Retriever named Rufus.
She spent a few minutes working to get Kaiser and Rufus familiar with each other. It only took that long and they seemed to act like old friends. Suzanne then turned to the boys and commented on their young age. “I’m not trying to embarrass you. Quite the contrary. I’m impressed that at your age you are making the commitment not just to train Kaiser, but to do the work. It is work and it does take time, but it’s very worthwhile. I’m curious what your motivation is.”
Jerrod started out telling her about how they had found Kaiser on the run last summer and what a great temperament he had and how perfectly he fit in their home and how well he did with other people. Roger took over and told her about meeting Sean and how clear it was to them as they watched this young boy with cerebral palsy interact with the dog, that he not only needed it in his life, but how much he came to depend on it. “It was Sean’s Mom who told us about the need for therapy dogs and encouraged us, because she saw a sign posted on one of the bulletin boards here.”
“You mean to say that Sean is a patient here, in this hospital.”
“Yeah. I mean, not in the hospital now, but he was and comes in regularly for check-ups.”
“How wonderful that a patient and his family are responsible to getting you involved. We’re going to have a lot of fun together. Let me outline what we’re going to do and how it will work today. First, there’s two of you and Kaiser. Usually there’s one owner and one dog. How do we handle that?”
“Can we do it like we did last Sunday, just trade off,” Jerrod asked? “For the training session there were three sets of skills and each was either me or Roger with Kaiser. We’d hand off the leash.”
“Works for me. We just need to be clear about when we transfer handler so there’s no confusion and Kaiser understands who he’s working with. Now, what we’ll do is start by patrolling the joint.”
They looked at her suspiciously, and Suzanne grinned. “Don’t you watch TV, as in police shows? Come on, boys. Get with it. We’ll just walk around to start with to get all of you familiar with the facility. We’ll walk some halls, in and out of the main lobby, up and down the elevators, then if that goes well, and I’m sure it will, we’ll walk through some patient wards. The point is familiarization. Make sense?”
Both boys nodded, and they headed out to patrol the joint. Kaiser performed with hardly a hitch until they got to the patient wards. He and either Jerrod or Roger had been following Suzanne and Rufus, and they had encountered occasional staff or family members, and a soft tug with a Heel command kept him focused. When they got to the patient wards things were a lot busier and there was a lot more stimulation. Now instead of empty halls it was halls with patient rooms, medical equipment and medication carts off to the side. There was lots of staff coming and going.
“Don’t be surprised if today even Kaiser gets distracted. This is his first time, and it’s why we do the training this way. We’re desensitizing him. Everyone sees the vest he’s wearing and knows he’s a therapy dog, so no one is sweating it. We’ll walk a few wards to get him desensitized, then we’ll take a walk outside to kind of refresh. Then we’ll come back and see how it goes with patients.”
It actually went well, and after they’d walked through six patient wards, with Jerrod and Roger alternating the handling, everyone was feeling better about it, and Kaiser seemed to adjust to the activity. Suzanne and Rufus were stopped a number of times by staff that knew them, and the new team was introduced, and Kaiser got some attention too.
When they went outside in the pavilion, Suzanne told them they’d all done well. “Many dogs just don’t do as well in the live environment as compared to how they do in a training session. When there’s more noise and commotion and people coming and going, they can get disconcerted. Kaiser was stimulated by all the new stuff, but you could see how calm and centered Rufus was. He’s done this for over three years, now, so he’s an old hand at it. My bet is that within a year Kaiser will be pretty much as chill as Rufus.”
“Yes, I do. He’s got that kind of temperament. Now let’s go back to 5A and see some patients. These are young teens, twelve to fifteen years old, so more mature and emotionally stable than many of the younger patients. We’re going to go see three patients who know and love Rufus. I’ll explain that you’re a new team in training, and they’ll understand and probably think it’s really neat. We don’t talk about a patient’s condition unless they volunteer the information, unless they want to talk about it. When we enter a room, you guys come in with me, but initially stay back near the door till you’re introduced, okay? Have Kaiser do a Sit/Stay and wait. Are you ready?”
They walked into the first room, and the young girl was in bed reading. Suzanne said, “Hi, Molly. How are you today. I brought Rufus to see you and cheer you up.”
She walked Rufus up next to the bed, and Molly smiled, set down her book and turned a little in her bed and reached to pet Rufus’ head.
“Hi, Rufus. Thanks for coming to see me.”
Suzanne asked how she was feeling, got a positive response, and then said, “Rufus and I have a new therapy dog team in training with us today. Do you want to meet them?”
Molly seemed interested, and Suzanne went on, “This is Roger and Jerrod, and the dog is Kaiser. Do you want to meet Kaiser?”
Molly nodded, and Suzanne stepped a little to the side with Rufus and looked at Roger and said, “Why don’t you bring Kaiser over and introduce him to Molly.”
Roger gave a soft tug on the leash and said “Heel,” and slowly walked to the side of the bed. Molly was watching Kaiser, who in turn was watching her. When they got to the bed, Roger gave a little tug and said “Halt” and watched as Molly smiled and said, “Hi, Kaiser. You’re pretty.” She reached out and rubbed the top of his head. Kaiser instinctively licked the bottom of her wrist. “Ooh! He likes me. He’s a nice dog, just like Rufus.”
Then she looked at Roger. “How come it takes two of you to take care of Kaiser and just Suzanne can take care of Rufus?”
Roger smiled at her, looking all innocent, and said, “It’s ‘cause he’s such a special dog. He’s got so much love that it’s more than one person can handle.”
Molly giggled and said, “I like you, too.”
Roger grinned back and said, “Do you want to meet Jerrod?”
She nodded and continued to scratch Kaiser’s ears, and Jerrod stepped up and said, “Hi, Molly. I’m glad you like Kaiser. He sure seems to like you.”
They spent a few more minutes with Molly and then Suzanne said, “Okay, Molly. Time for us to go and let you get back to your book. Thanks for being so nice to Rufus and Kaiser. We’ll be back to see you before long.”
They all said goodbye and walked out of the room and down the ward a little way. Roger handed Kaiser’s leash to Jerrod, and they stopped for a minute to make sure Kaiser understood there’d been a transfer. They walked into the next room where the bed held a boy who looked to be fifteen. He had no hair and looked quite thin, but his eyes were bright when he looked up as they entered.
“Hi, Michael,” Suzanne cheerily said, “Rufus said he wanted to see you.”
“Cool. I’ve missed him. Hi’ya Rufus. Come here, buddy.” Suzanne walked him to the bed and stopped so Michael could reach his head. He rubbed and petted firmly, and Rufus’ tail was wagging away, when he looked up at Suzanne and said, “Who’ve you got with you that have the Golden Retriever?”
Suzanne smiled at him. “I know you know your dogs, Michael, and that’s Kaiser with Jerrod and Roger. They’re a new therapy team in training. Do you want to meet Kaiser?”
Suzanne stepped to the side with Rufus, and Jerrod gave Kaiser a slight tug and said “Heel.” As they walked up to the bed Michael was looking back and forth from Kaiser to Jerrod. They stopped at the side of the bed, and Kaiser’s tail was already wagging.
“He’s cool, and he’s got a nice red color. Are you Jerrod or Roger?”
Jerrod chuckled. “I’m Jerrod. I’m glad Kaiser likes you. How do you know about dogs?”
“I’m from Pendleton in eastern Oregon, and my Dad and Granddad all hunt for upland birds and ducks and geese. The best hunting dogs are Labs and Retrievers. But Labs are better swimmers, so they’re better for ducks and geese. But Retrievers are better for upland birds like pheasants and quail.”
“Wow, man, you know your stuff. I don’t know if Kaiser was trained to hunt. We found him last summer on the run, so we’ve only known him for six months. He’s a pretty cool dog though, eh?”
“Yeah, he is. You are lucky dudes if you just found this dog! I love his eyes.” Michael had no problem with dogs expressing their affection, and Kaiser had been licking his hand and lower arm like there was no tomorrow.
Suzanne cleared her throat and said, “Glad to see you’re feeling good today, Michael. We’ve got to get moving, but I know that Kaiser will be back next Sunday. Maybe we’ll see you then?”
“Yeah, I think I’ll still be here. I’ve got two more chemo treatments next week, and you know, they knock you down for a couple of days afterwards.” He looked at Jerrod. “Promise me you’ll come see me if I’m still here. And maybe you can stay longer, too?”
“It’s a deal man. You can count on it. What kind of music do you like?”
“Mainly country, but some rock…the light stuff, you know.”
They left Michael and walked to the end of the ward and into a room that had a girl who was also probably fifteen and who was sitting in a wheelchair in the light below the window. She had medium length black hair and medium blue eyes that shone in the light.
“Hello, Janet. Rufus told me this morning he was missing seeing you. Do you want to say hello?”
Janet looked up and a smile crossed he face, and she said, “For sure! Come here, Rufus. What a good dog.”
Suzanne walked Rufus over and as Janet reached out her hands, Rufus dropped his head in her lap. She petted him and laid his soft ears over her knees and stroked them. Jerrod watched and thought to himself, ‘that’s what I was doing with Kaiser when I realized he could do this.’
Janet looked at him and Roger and Kaiser and then said, “Suzanne, who’s this team you’re training?”
“This is Kaiser, and he’s got two owners. Roger’s holding the leash, and the other young man is named Jerrod.
“Hi, you guys. I’m Janet and I love dogs. Will you bring Kaiser over here?”
Roger walked Kaiser over, and when Janet reached for his head, he dropped his chin on her knee, delicately not imposing himself in the space that Rufus was already occupying in her lap. Janet stroked both dogs, who’s tails were happily wagging in synch with each other.
“He’s really friendly. I like him as much as Rufus.”
“They get along really well together,” Roger said. “He likes people a lot, as you can tell. You know what else he likes to do with people he’s into? Walk up when you’re sitting in a chair and lay down with his chin on your foot. He wants the connection.”
“Would it work in a wheelchair? I’m probably stuck in this one after the took the tumor off my spine. I don’t know if I’ll walk again.” She said it matter-of-factly, no hint of pity in her voice.
Roger didn’t miss a beat. “You know, we haven’t tried that. I bet he would though, your feet aren’t that far off the ground. Want to try?”
Janet nodded, and Suzanne tugged on Rufus’ leash and moved him back and Janet said, “Where.”
“Come over here by the bed, and Jerrod and I will sit on the bed on either side of you and we’ll tell Kaiser to lie down and see what he does.”
Janet wheeled herself over, so she was facing the bed, and Roger and Jerrod sat down facing her, with Kaiser between them, as if they were going to have a conversation. The boys feet were suspended in the air from the height of the hospital bed, and Roger looked at Kaiser and said, “Kaiser, lay down.”
He looked back at Janet but could see Kaiser circle once, like he usually did to get comfortable, and he laid down with his head next to Janet’s feet. Roger asked, “Where are you from?”
Janet replied, “I’m from Hillsboro. Do you know where that is? A suburb on the west side. How about you guys?”
“We live in Sellwood. Do you know where that is? On the other side of the Sellwood Bridge.”
“Yeah, I know where it is. I’ve gone to the Columbia outlet store there.”
Then it happened. Kaiser acted like he was going to stretch, but he raised his head, looked at Janet, and laid his head back down on her left foot.
“Oh, cool. That is so neat. He’s my favorite dog in the world now.” She laughed brightly and looked at Suzanne and Rufus and laughed again, “Sorry, Rufus!”
Everyone chuckled and Janet said to Suzanne, “You know I’m not serious, right?”
“Oh, yeah. No worries. He is a very good dog, isn’t he?”
“He’s great. Right up there with Rufus.”
They chatted a few minutes longer and Jerrod saw Suzanne look at her watch and then say, “Well, Janet. We’ve got to get going. Our training time is almost up. Thanks so much for letting us visit you.”
Both boys chimed in their thanks, and Janet leaned over to pet Kaiser, saying, “Thanks, Kaiser.” She also reached for Rufus and said, “You, too, Rufus.” She smiled at them all. “This was great. Thanks for the visit.” Roger told her they’d be back the next Sunday and would visit her if she was still in the hospital.
When they got back to the training room Suzanne told them they’d done very well, and that Kaiser had performed admirably. “To watch him at work you’d think he’d have been doing this for six months or a year. He’s something else. You boys are naturals at this too. You’re good at talking to the patients, have no hesitation engaging with them, and are both good at handling your dog. I’m impressed. I hope Rufus and I get to be your team trainer next Sunday, too.”
On the drive home, Roger and Jerrod were ecstatic. “It couldn’t have gone any better,” Jerrod said, “and you were so good in there with Janet. That whole thing with Kaiser putting his chin on her foot was like magic.”
“I didn’t know if he’d do it, but I figured it was worth a try, and if we could just get a natural kind of set up, you know like under the kitchen table or in front of the couch, he’d just kind of do it. And he did. What a whiz! You noticed that I said, ‘lay down’ not just ‘down,’ because I didn’t want him to just lay down straight on the floor.”
“Oh, I noticed. You’re my ‘dog whisperer boyfriend’ now! Speaking of whiz, I’m surprised he didn’t need to take one, and isn’t that him snoring back there?”
It was and they laughed about it. They dropped Roger at home, knowing they had a busy homework evening. “We don’t have time for you and Kaiser to come in, but I’ll call you later, Liebling. Today was so cool. I loved every minute.”
“Me, too. We’re a pretty good team, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, both ways. Meaning you and me…and us and him.” He nodded at Kaiser in the back seat, and then leaned over and gave Jerrod a kiss, slipped out the door and headed for the house.
Later in the evening when Roger called, they talked Russian history and modern poetry homework first, then switched to the training session with Kaiser. “Didn’t you think it was just so cool? Being there, being with those kids, watching their faces light up when the dogs walked up to them?”
“Oh, for sure. It’s right up there with what I saw that day Kaiser and I ran into Sean the first time. You weren’t with us, Roger, but his eyes lit up and you could just feel the love and the emotional need pour out of him. That’s what did it for me. It was the same kind of thing today. It’s so much more important than anything else we’re doing.”
“I know. After I told Mom and Dad how it went at dinner, I thought about it some more. Like you said, the way the kids reacted, how much it meant to them… and you know, how much I’m figuring out it means to me. I mean, I realized that while we were in the hospital, you and me and Kaiser, I didn’t think about another thing. Not school, not the visual stuff, nothing else. Just being there with you and Kaiser and the kids. It was so neat.”
“I hear you, and me, too. I’ve heard David talk about it. It’s what in psychology they call flow, or being in a state of flow. Like time flies, your own thoughts disappear, everything is connected and focused on what you’re doing. I’ve felt it in ski races, not so much in tennis. But usually I’ve heard people talk about it in terms of sports, not about things like what we were doing. I mean, visiting sick kids with a dog?”
“I think I’ve also heard it talked about as living in the moment, in stuff I’ve read, Roger added. “But like you said, having it happen when we were doing something like that was amazing.” He paused. “Do you think Kaiser experienced it the same way?”
Jerrod wiggled his right foot under Kaiser’s chin, and watched one eye open and check him out. “I can’t get an answer out of him right now, ‘cause he’ll only open one eye, but I think so. Didn’t you think he was totally focused, too?”
They talked a little longer and Jerrod said he had some reading to finish and would see Roger in the morning. “Love you, selle. Dream about today. It will be worth remembering!”
Monday was a non-eventful school day, followed by a typical walk with Kaiser, but when Roger called after dinner, he sounded worried.
“Did you have another one? It’s been three days.”
“Yeah, it was the flashing multi-colored spots and other shapes, and it went on for about three minutes again, and…”
“And there were so many spots I almost couldn’t see anything out of that eye.”
“Whoa! In other words, there were so many, that it kind of blocked your vision?”
“Yeah, that was a weird feeling.”
“You wrote it all down, right? So that you have it for the specialist tomorrow?”
“Not yet. I called you first once everything cleared up and I started feeling better. I will though as soon as we hang up. I’m still feeling kind of spacey, so then I’m going to bed. Sorry, liebling, but I’m tired.”
“No worries. Get a good night’s sleep. I’ll see you in the morning.
Roger looked refreshed when he walked out of his house and climbed in the car in the morning. They leaned over and exchanged a brief kiss over the console. “You look pretty sexy this morning. Are you feeling better?”
“Yeah, I slept like a rock. Mom had to come wake me up, but I feel normal this morning.”
Jerrod grinned and they set off for school. Roger’s Mom picked him up after school for the doctor’s appointment, and he’d promised to call as soon as he got home. That was a brief call since it was close to dinner. “Sorry. We had to wait a long time to see the doctor, and only got home a few minutes ago. Dad is cooking tonight, so we’re going to eat dinner now. I’ll call you after, okay?”
The fact that Roger hadn’t said anything about the appointment with the specialist left Jerrod nervous, and when he talked about it with David and Jackson, they encouraged him to chill out till he got the details. Roger called a little after 7:00 pm.
“Sorry I couldn’t talk earlier, but here’s the story. The specialist turned out to be another doctor in the clinic who’s a headache doctor, whatever that means. He’s an internal medicine doc that has a lot of experience with headaches. Like tension headaches, migraines, all of them.”
“Wait! So, he isn’t a neurologist or eye doctor or someone like that?”
“No. That was the first downer, because Mom hadn’t asked. She just assumed, and me, too, that specialist meant something like that. But he’s a headache specialist.
“But you hardly ever get any headaches.”
“Tell me about it. So anyway, he did an exam, looked in my eyes, asked a lot of questions, read the logs in my journal, and although he kind of hemmed and hawed about how I wasn’t presenting with all the classic symptoms of migraine syndrome, he said he was pretty sure I was developing migraines.”
“You told him about one eye versus two?”
“Yeah, and he basically said he thought it would start appearing in both eyes before long.”
“And about why no headache or like Mom told me, no numbness on your face or any of that stuff?”
“Because he said, it’s just starting and the fact that the visual symptoms and length of time are increasing, he thinks it’s the start of migraine syndrome and I have to get ready for it to start in both eyes and get more intense and also start having major headaches. He gave me a prescription for migraine medicine I’m supposed to carry all the time and take one when it starts.”
“Roger, you don’t sound convinced.”
“I’m not, somehow. I guess it’s ‘cause of a bunch of the stuff your Mom talked about isn’t in the formula. Oh, and I asked him why I wasn’t getting a scintillating scotoma, and he said again it’s ‘cause the syndrome is just starting.” Roger went silent.
“That’s just not what we wanted to hear and some of it doesn’t add up. I’m going to call Mom right now and tell her all of what you told me and see what she says about it. Then I’ll call you back. Okay?”
Roger agreed and they hung up. Even though it was after 10:00 on the east coast, Jerrod’s Mom was still up and watching the news. When she heard Jerrod say hello, she said, “Hi, Darling. Good to hear your voice, but it’s a school night. Is something wrong?”
Jerrod found himself getting emotional and had to swallow hard a couple of time to not start showing it. He thought of what David had told him about the gift of tears and being able to show your inner self and express your emotions, but he wasn’t quite there.
“Honey, take your time. Take a couple of deep breaths and then tell me.” Cassie waited, and after a few more swallows Jerrod said. “Roger saw a specialist today, who turned out to be an internal medicine doc that specializes in headaches. He said that he thinks Roger is developing migraine syndrome, but he doesn’t have all the symptoms you told me about. It’s still only in one eye, there’s no scintillating scotoma. And even though the visual stuff is happening every three days, almost like clockwork, he’s only had a couple of real mild headaches.”
“Okay, thanks for that info. A couple of quick questions: Is it the same eye each time? How about loss of peripheral vision? Any numbness on his face?”
“I don’t know if it’s the same side each time. We never thought about that, we’ve just been sorting out one eye or two. I’ll ask, though. He’s writing a log of each one, so maybe he’ll remember. He said when you first mentioned it that he hasn’t lost peripheral vision, and no numbness on his face.”
“Now, one other question. How are you?”
“I’m getting really worried. It’s slowly getting worse. The whole idea of rule out makes me really nervous, and it almost seems like migraine is an easy slot to put him in.”
“I wish I could hug you right now. You sound like you need it.”
“Me, too. What do you think?”
“Well, first, people develop migraines in different ways at different ages and they manifest differently from person to person. That said, though, there are a few pretty expected symptoms, and from what I understand a scintillating scotoma is one of them, most people have peripheral vision loss or facial numbness, but I think it’s unusual that the end result isn’t a full blown headache. That’s why it’s called migraine headache! Still, I’m just a Registered Nurse, not a doctor. I think your sense of this is right, and here’s what I’ll do. Tomorrow or the next day at work, depending on his schedule, I’ll see if I can sit down and talk with one of our neurologists. I know lots of headache specialists are internists who spend a lot of their time working on headaches, but an equal number are actually neurologists who have completed a Board-certified specialty in neurology, meaning the study of how the brain works. I know you’re worried sick. I can hear it in your voice, but take comfort in this: the progress that you’ve described is actually quite slow. You are watching it happen and you’re right in the middle of it, so you’re scared and shocked, but as conditions go it’s happening slowly.”
Jerrod was quiet, trying to process what his Mom said.
“Honey, did you hear me.”
“Yeah, I’m just trying to understand and not be… I mean, how’m I gonna tell him…and…”
“Honey, it’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to cry about someone you care about greatly. I know you love him, and I know you’re scared. That’s okay, it’s normal. But you know what? I know he’s got his parents and they love him and care about him, too, but he’s got you. You’ve got to be his rock. He’s liable to be more open and honest with you, and depend on you more emotionally. You can’t let your fear get the best of you. I’m not telling you to deny how you feel, I’m just saying you’ve got to be strong for him. If you’re scared, think how he’s feeling inside.”
Jerrod started softly crying and his Mom said, “It’s okay, darling. Let it out. I’m so glad you called me. But when we’re done, I want you to go talk to David about this. He’s the psychologist, not me. You’ve got to be able to vent and share your feelings, and you can’t share them all with Roger. Have you been talking to David?”
“Yeah, I’ve been telling him about all the details each step of the way.”
“I mean have you told him how you feel? What you’re feeling inside?”
“Well, he knows I’m worried.”
“Jerrod, there’s worried and scared. They’re related but different. Promise me you’ll have a candid conversation with David.”
“I will, Mom. And thanks for saying you’d talk to that neurologist. I’m feeling better already.”
“Good. I’ll call you as soon as I have that conversation. It was great getting your update about the therapy dog work at the hospital when you called on Sunday. You three are a real team. I’m more and more impressed.”
“Thanks. I’ll call Roger and let him know what you said and then go talk to David. I love you.”
“Me, too. And we’ll see you in ten days or so. You’re Dad and I are looking forward to that.”
Jerrod immediately called Roger and only told him that his Mom was concerned about a migraine diagnosis without all the classic symptoms, and that in the next few days she’d talk to a neurologist friend of hers and see what she could find out. He asked, but Roger couldn’t answer the question if it was always the same side, but remembered that the last two were on the right side, and said he’d update his log.
Then Jerrod went to find David and told him everything, including how scared he was starting to get.
“Your Mom gave you good advice, and thanks for taking it. I appreciate that you’ve kept us updated, but I have purposefully not been quizzing you all the time, especially about how you’re feeling. I think you’re handling it responsibly and like your Mom said, it’s necessary to talk and sometimes it’s good to let the emotions out… even cry. What are you most worried about?”
Jerrod was staring at the carpet, chewing on his lower lip. David waited, and finally Jerrod said, “How bad it could get. I love him, he’s my soulmate. What if it gets really bad?” He started choking up again.
“Really bad migraines can be incapacitating, but from what I know, most people have them intermittently and they’re temporarily incapacitating, and they’re treatable with medicine. You’re right to worry, even be afraid. But don’t let the fear get ahead of the situation. He’s going through it, too, and you’ve got to be there for him. It won’t help if you’re both afraid.”
“Mom said that, too, that I need to be his rock. That’s when she told me to come talk to you about it all.”
“You used to have a tendency to bottle stuff up inside you, remember? Like last summer?” He paused and grinned at Jerrod who finally smiled back at him. “I’m betting your Mom knows that, too. We’re all on your team and we’ll do all we can do to help. Let’s see what she learns when she talks to that neurologist, and then I can talk to my doctor friend if we think that’ll help. I think we all agree that if this keeps getting worse, he needs to see a neurologist, not just a headache specialist.”
Jerrod nodded his head but didn’t say anything.
“Now, why don’t you come over here and let me give you the hug your Mom wished she could have given you.”
Wednesday was a normal school day, but Thursday, as Jerrod was driving Roger home after they’d met Sean and his Mom at the park, Roger had another event. This time because he was driving, Jerrod couldn’t see it start, but Roger reached for his arm and said, “I’m getting one.” Jerrod quickly said, “I’m going to pull over,” and glanced at the clock. He pulled into a parking lot, turned off the ignition and took Roger’s hand in his. “We’re sitting tight right here till it passes, okay?”
Roger nodded and smiled, and Jerrod kissed the back of his hand. “What can you tell me?”
“So far it’s just like the last one. Lots of flashing multicolored spots.”
“Can you tell if it’s one eye or both?”
Roger blinked one eye, then the other, and then Jerrod saw him start in his seat, then cover first one eye and then the other with his cupped hand. He turned to look at Jerrod, his expression flat and repeated covering one eye and then the other with his hand.
“It’s on the right side again, but this time the multicolored spots just converged, and I can’t see anything out of that eye. I can’t see you when I cover my left eye.”
“Oh, fuck,” Jerrod softly whispered to himself. He figured he needed to keep Roger talking so he said, “Okay, to confirm, it’s the right eye again, so that’s this one and the last two in the same eye, right?”
“And this is the first time that all the spots merged to make it so you can’t see out of that eye?”
He nodded again and reached for Roger’s left hand and brought it up to his lips. “I love you selle, it’ll be okay. We’ve just got to wait for this to pass and your sight to clear up. If it’s like last time that’ll only be another minute or so.”
“Fuck, I hope so. This is a little more scary! At least last time I could still see something around the spots. Now it’s completely black.”
“I know, selle, but before you let yourself get too scared, let’s see how long it lasts. Mom said with migraine patients that lose peripheral vision, it starts there and then when the scintillating scotoma starts the peripheral vision comes back. We’re hanging in there for the blackness to go away.”
Roger reversed the hold on his boyfriend’s hand and brought it to his lips for a kiss. “I don’t now what I’d do if you weren’t in this with me. You get it. You understand what I’m going through.”
“Are you worried about where it’s going?”
“Well, yeah. It’s slowly getting worse.” Jerrod saw Roger’s shoulders slump. “What if it gets so bad that I’m a total basket case? Why would you even want to be around me then?”
“What? Roger, I’m going to pretend I never heard you say that. That’s the kind of stuff I would have said last summer before I had you and David and Jackson and Eric and Kim in my life. First, you’ll never be a basket case, and second, I want you around me forever. My Mom told me it was okay to be scared, but you can’t let the fear control you. David told me the same thing. So, let’s make a pact that we’re not doing the fear thing, okay? Or the paranoid thing! Like those kids we visited in the hospital. What they went through was worse than this, and I didn’t see any fear. What I saw was hope, and joy, like when you got Kaiser to put his head on Janet’s foot.”
Roger was quiet, then said, “You’re right liebling. Sorry, it’s just self-pity. I promise I’ll stop. Hey, guess what? The lights are coming back on.”
He pulled his hand free and covered his left eye and said, “I’m starting to see stuff again. It’s starting at the outside and then moving in.” He turned and looked at Jerrod, his left eye still covered. “Guess what? I can see my boyfriend again. And you know what? He’s cute but looks as scared as me!”
Jerrod giggled and leaned over to put his head on Roger’s shoulder. “You caught me. Okay, no more fear! Tell me when you’ve got all your vision back, ‘cause then I want a kiss.” Jerrod had watched the clock, and the whole thing took a little over three minutes till the vision started returning, and in another two minutes Roger said it was all back and leaned over to deliver that kiss.
When he released Jerrod he said, “That was delicious! You better get me home or Mom will be worried.”
“Do you have those migraine pills with you?”
“Yeah,” he looked around the Cherokee. “But we don’t have any water.”
“Okay, first thing when we get to your house, take a pill, then we’ll talk to your Mom.”
“No worries there, I want one of those pills. This time I’m getting a headache.”
They updated Roger’s Mom and Jerrod told them he’d call in the evening. On the drive home he started to worry about something else: they both had their last finals the next day. If Roger had a headache how would he study tonight?
Cassie called right after dinner and told him about her conversation with the neurologist. He’d said that on the surface it did appear in many respects to be the onset of migraine syndrome, but that the fact some of the classic elements were missing was troubling and bore close observation. “He was quite troubled that there was no typical headache. He also said that some of the visual symptoms can overlap with a torn retina—mainly that they’re only in one eye, because the visual symptoms of migraine are always in both eyes.”
“Roger had a visual event today, and it was worse. It started with the flashing spots, then that eye went black. He lost all vision in it for three minutes, and when it was over, he had a mild headache. He took a migraine pill and that seemed to help.”
“My doctor friend was curious about the type of headache he gets. Specifically, if it’s like a tension headache where’s it’s a dull ache, and it feels like tightness around the outside of your head, and the scalp and neck muscles are sore. In contrast, migraines are a severe throbbing pain or a pulsing sensation that feel like it’s inside your head and is often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound.”
“Geez, Mom. I don’t know. I’ll ask. He’s only had a couple, but it sounds more like the tension ones.”
When he called Roger, he was relieved to hear that the headache had only lasted an hour and he’d taken a nap after dinner and was now studying for his finals. He cautiously asked about the headache and decided to tell Roger the details on Sunday.
“I’m impressed you’re studying for finals! I don’t know if I could do it if I just went through what you did. I’ve got a hard-core boyfriend, that’s what I’ve got.” They kidded around for a few minutes, Jerrod confirmed Roger had written it all down, and they said goodbye.
Friday was a typical last day of the quarter, and they’d both worked hard during the quarter and never fallen behind on their homework and both felt they’d done well on their finals. They ate lunch with Kim and Eric who wanted to know what they were doing the next day when school was out.
Jerrod said, “I’ll be on the mountain. There’s snow, so we’re skiing. It’ll probably be all day of doing drills and running gates, but at least it’s skiing.”
Eric wrinkled his nose, “That sounds too much like work. Maybe we can all go skiing next week before Christmas? You know just slide around and have fun, chill out!” They agreed to talk again on Sunday after they returned from the hospital and make their plans.
That night, with David, they joined Dieter and Robert to attend the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus for their holiday concert. Roger seemed perfectly at ease, and it dawned on Jerrod that this was the first time he was part of a large group of people where at least half, maybe more, were gay, and most of the rest were totally accepting family members and friends. It was a bit of a realization and helped him enjoy the performance which included a mix of classic holiday numbers, some Renaissance religious hymns and some contemporary compositions. He particularly liked the rendition of Little Drummer Boy.
Jerrod had called it right for the first day skiing. They rode to the top of the Magic Mile lift and then the team members helped Coach and the staff set up gates on a difficult run, and they started technique drills. At lunch in the cafeteria Jerrod was in line with his work out partner when Matt Willis ambled by with a full tray of food, trailed by his football buddy. They heard him say, “Oh look, it’s the fairies. I’m surprised they made it through the morning.” They both ignored him and after lunch the team started working on speed and times. Matt was definitely light on his feet and fast on the more vertical courses, but Jerrod noted with some satisfaction, he didn’t have the technique for serpentine courses or lots of transitions.
He got home tired, and David had planned a later dinner and encouraged him to take a bath and relax. It felt good and he fell asleep for a few minutes in the tub. After he dressed, he called Roger to fill him in and check on his day as he walked into the kitchen, where Jackson handed him a glass of white wine. He flashed him a grin, said goodbye to Roger and then said into the phone, “Here, say hello to Jackson.”
He gave David a hug and asked if he could help, only to get a head shake. “Nope, all under control tonight. You can tell us about your day over dinner.”
Their training time the next day was the same as the week before and they got to the hospital in time to have lunch in the cafeteria, then meet up with Suzanne and Rufus in the training room. Once they got the reunification out of the way, Suzanne explained that the three patient visits they’d made the week before were purposefully short. “We were getting Kaiser used to it, and a key part is not overdoing it, not overstimulating the dog. That way he leaves feeling good about it. You know, like the saying ‘leaving with a good taste in your mouth,’ right?” They all grinned.
Suzanne went on. “Today we’ll spend more time with the patients. Janet and Michael are still here, so they’ll be happy to see you both again. Then we’ll go see a couple of other patients.”
“How long do you usually spend with them?”
“There’s no standard length for the visit, just like there’s no standard greeting when you walk in. I tend to lead with some variation on ‘Rufus wanted to see you’ so they feel that the focus is on them. Patients also have good days and bad days. Some days they want to talk and play, other days they just want to lay there and pet the dog and feel the love. If Michael had chemo yesterday, he’d be quite weak and low energy today, so it would be a short visit with not a lot of talking.”
She stopped and eyed them both. “He had his last chemo two days ago, so he should be in pretty good form today, because he’s expected to be discharged tomorrow. Did you bring that music you were talking about?”
Jerrod smiled, “Yeah and that’s why I’ve got this pack. I’ve got a small boom box in here so I can play him a CD.”
“Good. Okay, let’s start with the new patients. I mean new for you. They’ll probably be shorter visits because it’ll be the first time you meet them.”
They met and spent time with three nice kids, and each visit was much the same as when they’d met Molly the Sunday before. When they walked out of the third room Suzanne said, “Let’s go to the pavilion and take a break.”
When they got there she said, “Sometimes this is as important for the dog as for you, and vice versa. You probably don’t know it yet, but when you’re visiting patients you’re engaged in a lot of focused attention on their needs and on interacting with them. It can be emotionally draining. Same thing happens to the dog. So, a break like this in an open space with lots of light and plants and stuff just changes the scene and refreshes you and the dogs.”
When they started up again, the went to ward 5A and into Michael’s room. Suzanne led the way, but Kaiser and the boys were right behind her.
“Whoa! Look what the coyotes drug in!” Michael broke into a huge grin as he said it.
“Yeah, man. We promised we’d see you again if you were still here, and we had to enlist a bunch or coyotes to make it happen, but here we are!”
“Far out. You don’t know how great this is. I get to go home tomorrow, but the last two days have been like total downers after chemo. All my family is in Pendleton, and my folks come over once a week, but I don’t have any other visitors besides the therapy dog teams. They’re the best. And Rufus and Suzanne are the best of them all. Well, until last week. Now we’ve got a real contest between the teams! It’s gonna be hard to say who’s best.”
“Guess what,” Roger said to Michael?
He raised his eyebrows. “You don’t have to choose. You’re so cool you get the two best therapy dog teams on your last day to send you on your way. You’re a lucky dude!”
He got serious. “You’re right, I am. I’m still alive and the prognosis looks good, and I got to spend time with cool people and super cool dogs. You know I’m just bullshitting, don’t you?”
“Yeah, man, we do. It’s all cool.”
They talked about life and school in Pendleton and skiing and growing up back east and had a great time together. Michael told them about the Pendleton Rodeo, said he wasn’t really into all the cowboy stuff, but told them they should come visit and check it out. Suzanne just watched and appreciated the banter and the perpetual smile on Michael’s face. Finally, Jerrod said to Michael, “Are you up to hearing some music?”
“Yeah, as long as it’s not Kiss or White Snake or some of that stuff.”
“No, it’s cool and hip country. Roger gave me a CD for my birthday by a band I’d never heard of and I love it. I think you’ll probably dig it, too.”
Michael smiled and said, “Lay it on me!” Jerrod set the boom box on the bedside table and said, the band is called Hootie and the Blowfish.”
“Whoa! That’s pretty unique! Let’s go.”
He punched the Play button and Cracked Rear View started to play. Michael was immediately into the style and the rhythm of Hold My Hand, nodding his head along with the music.
Jerrod couldn’t help looking at Roger during their song, and looked back at Michael as Let Her Cry played, and it was obvious Michael liked that, too. Then up came Only Wanna Be With You. Jerrod couldn’t help it. He looked at Roger again, smiled and gave him a wink. Roger smiled back, and Michael was nodding along, still really into the music.
Jerrod glanced at Suzanne who smiled at him, but also pointed at her watch. When the song was over, he pushed the stop button and said, “We’re about out of time, Michael, but I told you you’d like the music. Was I right?”
“Yeah, it’s real cool.”
“Something else you’ll want to know. Have you ever heard of Farm Aid, the music concert Willie Nelson sponsored to raise money for farmers? Hootie and the Blowfish played at Farm Aid two years ago. Pretty great, eh?”
Michael grinned at them as if that assured the band was good enough. Jerrod was slipping the CD back into its jewel case and handed it to Michael. “Here, this is for you, from Kaiser.”
“What? Really? That is so cool. Thanks, guys, and you too Kaiser.”
He looked momentarily embarrassed then said, “Can I ask you guys something personal?”
Suzanne, ever the attentive therapist stood up and said, “Rufus and I will be out in the hall. You guys finish your conversation,” and stepped outside.
Michael smiled, “She’s the coolest lady. I wanna ask, but I don’t mean to be nosy or obnoxious or anything, but you three are all so cool together, and you and Roger seem so close to each other. I mean…I saw you look at each other when those two songs played. They’re love songs. Are you guys like… you know, close like that?”
Jerrod and Roger glanced at each other and both knew it was okay. “If you’re asking whether Roger and I are boyfriends, the answer is yes. We are. He’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
“And me too,” Roger added. “He’s my soulmate. I was just kind of drifting around till I met Jerrod. So, that means we’re gay. Are you, or have you thought about it?”
“Well, I don’t know. I mean I’ve thought about it, but my family is kind of religious, and I live in cowboy country which is pretty conservative, so you know, it’s hard! But mainly, I just really like you guys and I just wanted to know. You guys are so good together. That’s all. Is that okay?”
“It’s more than okay, Michael. It’s cool and brave that you asked. We’ve got to get going and meet up with Suzanne. Enjoy the CD and get well, okay? Can I give you a hug before we go?”
“Well, yeah! But only if Roger gives me one, too!”
When they joined Suzanne, she said, “I don’t know what that was about, and it’s none of my business, but it’s pretty special when patients feel close enough and trust you enough to want to really talk. I think you guys will do alright at this work. You guys and your dog, I mean!”
She paused and handed Jerrod one of her business cards. “I’m pretty certain you don’t have cards, so before we leave either write your contact info on the back of mine, or go back in there and get Michael’s so you guys can stay in touch.”
Jerrod and Roger looked at her in wonder.
They visited the last patient, and it was a nice visit, too, and the young girl really got along with Kaiser. None of the visits though, matched the time and the connection they’d had with Michael.
Before they left Suzanne pulled them aside. “You three are going to get stellar marks as a therapy team. Over the holidays you’ll hear from the office about being approved, and Kaiser will receive a certificate as Therapy Dog Novice. They’ll also be talking to you about your visitation schedule in the new year. Since you’re still in high school, it’ll be weekends.”
“I’m on the ski team, and we race on Saturdays. Do you think we’ll get Sunday?”
“I’ll put that in my write up. You’ll do well, and you’ll make a great contribution. Here’s my card. I want you to know that I’m always available if you have questions or run into any difficulties. I predict you’ll connect with quite a few patients, so I suggest you get some business cards made so you can exchange contact information. Also, we all need to get together occasionally so that Rufus gets to see Kaiser. Deal?”
The boys agreed, they all shook on it, and they said goodbye to each other’s dogs. They decided to stop by the house to fill David and Jackson in on the day, the time with Michael, and the certificate. They’d finished the laundry and were resting in the living room when they walked in. It was obvious that the boys were still totally enthused with how the session had gone, but it was harder to tell how Kaiser felt. He curled up and took a nap at Jackson’s feet as the day’s events were related.
David and Jackson were all ears, and very impressed with how Kaiser had performed and made clear that like all teamwork, it equally reflected on them as the handlers. When they described the time with Michael, playing the Hootie and the Blowfish album and what he’d asked at the end of their time together, Jackson couldn’t resist. “This is pretty amazing! David and I are getting older you know, and here we have the next generation of gay counselors coming along!”
The boys looked at each other a smiled knowingly, then Jerrod turned to David and Jackson and said, “Suzanne told us we should get business cards so we can exchange contact info with patients if they want. How do we do that? What do we put on them?”
Jackson looked at David and grinned, then rolled his eyes as he looked back at the two boys. “You know, you guys, for as bright as you two are, I don’t know why you struggle with the basic stuff like this. This is just too obvious.”
Jerrod acted mock offended and said, “Well, it’s easy for you to say, you’re in marketing. So, what do you suggest?”
“Easy. It’s dog therapy, right? Meaning the key piece is the dog. Without the dog you’re not doing dog therapy. Then there’s you two, the handlers, and together the three of you make a team. Oh, and you’ve both got mobile phones now, so you call it Team Kaiser and then you list both of your names with your cell phone numbers! Oh, and you need an e-mail address too. Pretty basic marketing work, right? And guess what, because you’re nice guys I’m going to give you a big discount on the cost!”
“Ha, ha, Jackson!” Jerrod looked at Roger who grinned back at him and nodded. “We think it’s a pretty cool suggestion. Where do we get them made? Can you help us with that too…for a small fee, of course?”
Jackson grinned back, nodded his head and insisted today’s turn of events called for a celebration and went to get a bottle of wine and four glasses. When he got back, he poured, and they all toasted Team Kaiser and the day’s successful therapy work. Then David made another toast for the first time Jerrod and Roger were also able to help another possible gay kid feel good about himself.
Jerrod saw Roger about to take another sip of wine and noticed him pause and then set his glass down. He watched him look across the room at the wall and blink a few times, but say nothing. Jerrod slid closer to him and said quietly, “Are you getting one?”
Roger was initially quiet, then petulantly said, “Yes, and why the fuck now. This is supposed to be a good time. Why does this have to happen now?”
He plopped back against the back of the couch, tears in the corner of his eyes, frustration clearly evident in his expression.