Earlier this week I spent five hours with an incredible family in order to learn techniques used and to toss around ideas, pros and cons of using other methods for training alert dogs for people with diabetes. There are four family members who train full time. Each person has from one to three dogs each depending on the stage each dog is in. Not just these four members, but this entire family has committed to breeding, raising, and training diabetes alert dogs. Their entire lives revolve around dogs. Wow! Talk about inspiring!
The first thing we discussed was why these dogs are so important. Obviously I had heard of type 1 diabetes, but I never heard of a subset of people with type 1 who are hypoglycemic unaware. In a nutshell, when our blood sugar levels drop, we feel the effects of it. People with type 1 diabetes who are also hypoglycemic unaware do not feel the symptoms and that can have deadly consequences if there is no one around who knows how to recognize what is happening or who knows how to help them.
The hardest part of training doesn’t even involve the dogs. It’s acquiring the saliva samples that we use in training. When our volunteers check their blood sugar levels and the numbers are within our parameters, the volunteer must get a cotton swab and swab saliva from the inside of their cheek. Without touching the tip, they carefully place the swab in a freezer-safe, sealable plastic bag. Then it must be double-bagged, labeled with the date and blood sugar level, and immediately put in the freezer. At no point can there be contamination of the tip of the swab lest the whole thing not work at all.
We need a cheek swab from a person with type 1 when their levels are just beginning to go high or go low. For example, we train for blood sugar drops by using a sample from when a volunteer’s level is between 60-70 on their glucometer. These samples are almost priceless for our training. We are lucky enough to have a few people willing to take the time to swab, seal, and label when their levels are within our parameters, but we do need more. At this point the longest a sample has been frozen and is still viable is three months. We don’t want to take a chance on losing the few samples we have, so testing beyond that three month mark will only happen by accident.
As a trainer, I know how much work goes into training a dog. I knew there would be extra work once I committed to training a diabetes alert dog. What I never considered was the necessary extras such as the network of volunteers with type 1 who are willing to give us samples and just how valuable those samples are. We wouldn’t be able to train these fabulous dogs without our volunteers.
Three of the little guys I'm training.
Lists are for the compulsive or for inflicting pain on oneself. Why remind yourself of the things you aren't going to have time to get to? That's such a downer. I've tried the list route. I end up writing lists on top of lists or I continue adding to my list until the items left to do are three pages apart and I need to move items to a fresh list which brings me to the moment that I feel like I am spending more time staying organized than actually doing the things that need to get done. All this list-making builds and stacks on itself (quite literally) until there's an explosion and list after list floats down around me on the currents of chaos.
Rather than fretting about lost or unorganized lists, I just start over with a fresh list of things that need to be finished. I am well aware that some items may be dropped and never returned to the list, but I figure that is the universe's way of letting me know that a little bit of chaos is a good thing.
List-making is an attempt to organize chaos. I've always said I live in organized chaos, but even then I use that term loosely. I am not an organized person. To me, an organized person knows where the hidden things are. An organized person will remember there's a pack of frozen peas in the freezer. I need to see that package of peas every time I look into the freezer lest I forget it's there. In my closet, if I don't see my clothes hanging in front of me, I'm very likely to forget I have a particular garment until something triggers a memory or I find myself in need of soemthing similar and remember that I actually have that item.
“Set yourself a schedule,” you may suggest. That seems like the best answer, doesn't it? Here's part of the problem. Schedules are very hard for me to keep. I don't mean forgetting a hair appointment or even a dental appointment. I mean an hour to hour type of schedule. A time management type of deal. When I finally get focused, I don't want to stop to fix a meal or let the kids out of their cages.
Although I'm not one to wait for inspiration, a quiet mind is essential for me to easily enter my mental creative place, and that's a rare occasion. I usually have to work my way into creativity - butt in chair, etc. and when my entire world is tilted, I can't get my special door open. I can write and write and write and the rest of my world falls into disarray. Then it hits. The spheres of domestic chaos converge and I can't move back and forth between my creative plane and my everyday life; it becomes easy for me to get side-tracked and lose focus on the task at hand.
At that point, I can't focus on the writing. I spend the next number of days doing the laundry which of course turns into needing to purge and organize shelves either in the laundry room or in a closet. Dirty dishes expose the need to wipe out cabinets and drawers. Or a quick dusting job throughout the house turns into washing floor boards and corners. Although for some reason, I don't feel the need to scrub any more than absolutely necessary on the toilets.
But once things are clean again or “airy” as that is how it feels, I can take a deep breath and begin working on characters, plot, scene development, etc. I wish I were the type of person who could do a little each day and therefore be able to almost continuously work on my writing, but I guess that's not in my personality. So the best thing I can do at this point, is embrace my faults and somehow turn them into positives. Of course, the problem is putting that theory into action.
Laundry piles up, dishes go unwashed, dust collects on the picture frames, toilets need scrubbing, etc. A domestic goddess I am not, but I have a hard time moving into my creative place when all these things are out of sorts. One or two, even three messy items if they are well hidden, is all right. I can handle small doses of chaos.