Nanaw's New Blessing

Nanaw's New Blessing

Epilepsy had come between me and my grandchildren.

Guide Post

Fourth of July, and my sister-in-law was having a cookout. Once I would have looked forward to a gathering like this. Today my husband, David, had to convince me to go.

Since the spring I’d withdrawn little by little from the world. I’d become a prisoner of my epileptic seizures. I never knew when one would sneak up on me and knock me clear off my feet.

I tried different medications, but they only made me zoned out, less in control than ever. Doctors didn’t know what to do for me. How could I keep from injuring myself?

David came up with the idea of my wearing protective gear. “When you get up in the morning, slip these foam pads onto your elbows and knees, and wear this helmet,” he had said as he pulled the equipment out of a sports bag. I was desperate, ready to try anything. David helped me strap on the helmet and stepped back to take a look. “You’re suited up for the game now,” he said.

I had to laugh, catching sight of myself in the mirror. But it was hard to laugh when people stared at me in public, and the pads didn’t stop the convulsions. Seeing other people, especially strangers, became something to fear. At least today I’m with family, I thought. They understand. I’m still the same to them.

“Come say hello to Nanaw,” my daughter said, leading my young grandchildren up to my chair. I reached out my arms for a hug, but the children shrank back, not sure what to make of my strange getup. Who was I kidding? This is no kind of life, I thought as we drove home that day.

Epileptic seizures were nothing new to me. Despite my condition, I got married, raised children, held down a job at the supermarket for 14 years.

One simple blessing made all that possible. A few minutes before every seizure I experienced an “aura,” an unmistakable feeling that told me a seizure was coming on. My mind raced. Sounds, emotions and movements were magnified. I’d let my supervisor know and slip into the ladies room to sit down—safely—until the seizure passed.

Having epilepsy wasn’t easy, but God had given me a means to deal with it. He wanted me to have a full life, and my aura was what allowed it.

Then in May 1999 I had a seizure. No aura had warned me it was coming. I was caught completely off guard and fell where I stood. In the next few falls, I suffered a mild concussion and terrible bruising. Doctors couldn’t tell me why.

It was as if God had taken his gift away and left nothing in its place. Has he forgotten me? I wondered one evening a few weeks after the cookout. I had barely left the house since then. David grew more and more concerned about my isolation.

David turned to me from the desk where he was working at the computer. “I’m going to do some research on the internet,” he said. “We’ve got to find a way to help you.”

What could the internet possibly tell me that my doctors couldn’t? “I know all this,” I said as David pulled up yet another page of information on my condition. Then I noticed an icon over in the corner of the screen. “What’s that?” I asked.

“A chat room,” said David. “For people with epilepsy.”

I clicked on the icon. Right away I was in the middle of a conversation between people who were going through things similar to me. David moved aside and I sat at the keyboard. I typed away, sharing my story and listening to the stories of other people. When I looked up, an hour had passed without my even realizing it.

“Looks like you found some new friends,” David said.

It was like finding friends. For the first time since I’d lost my aura, I was talking to people without fear. Everyone in the chat room under-stood my condition, and safe in my chair at the computer I didn’t have to worry about falling down.

Maybe God has given me something in place of my aura, I thought. Chatting on the internet wasn’t the same as being able to go out in the world like I used to, but it gave me a way to talk to people. A way to connect.

I went back to the chat room regularly after that first night. One afternoon in November I entered it to find a woman telling some other people about her seizure-alert dog.

I couldn’t believe what I was reading. “You mean a dog can help someone with epilepsy?” I typed.

“Dogs can be trained to roll you on your side when you have a seizure, or bring medicine, or even dial a phone to get help,” she said. “Some dogs can even predict when you’re going to have a seizure before it happens.”

Predict it? She was telling me a dog could replace my aura! “How can I get a dog like that?”

She gave me the name of a trainer. “What you need is a puppy no more than six weeks old,” he said. “Smart, well-socialized, with a gentle disposition. Those are the basics.”

“And the dog will be able to tell me when I’m going to have a seizure?”

“I’m afraid nobody can train a dog to do that,” the trainer said. “In fact, nobody knows how some dogs can tell and some can’t. Some dogs may be able to tell but don’t know how to communicate it. But even if the dog can’t predict a seizure, he can be a lot of help when one occurs.”

I filled in my husband. “Do you want to try it?” he asked. 

What I really wanted was a dog that could predict my seizures, but I wasn’t about to turn down a dog that could help me in other ways. I’d lost so much. Any independence I could get back would be an improvement.

I sent a letter out to breeders in Oklahoma explaining what I was looking for and why. Leslie Toney gave me a call. “I have the perfect dog for you,” she said. “A purebred German shepherd, wonderful disposition. When I read your letter I had the strangest feeling you were the person I’ve been waiting for.”

“Waiting for how long? How old is this dog?”

“He’s already six months old,” she said. My heart fell. The trainer had said no older than six weeks. But something told me I had to check this dog out. The trainer agreed to visit Leslie’s kennel. “The dog is very smart and sociable,” he reported. “We can work with him.”

The Saturday after Thanksgiving, David and I drove out to meet my new dog. Just being in the car made me feel more like my old self than I had since I’d lost my aura. I was out in the world, taking charge of my life. Not passively waiting in my safety gear for the next seizure to hit.

At the kennel we were greeted by a strong bundle of black, brown and beige fur with soft, pointy ears and big brown eyes. “Meet Yahoo,” Leslie said as the German shepherd rolled over on his back so I could scratch his belly, as if he’d known me all his life.

“Yahoo, like on the internet,” I laughed.

“That’s what I call him,” she said. “The name on his pedigree is Von Rachell Yahv. It looks like ‘Yahoo,’ but Yahv is Hebrew for ‘God is able.’”

God is able, I repeated to myself. That’s a good sign.

Leslie certainly believed God was at work in Yahoo’s life. She felt so strongly that he was meant to help me she gave the purebred German shepherd to me as a gift! “You don’t know how many other people wanted to buy him, but I never felt the situation was quite right. Not until I found you.”

On the drive home Yahoo sat on the floorboard in the backseat. We had only gotten about 20 miles away when he suddenly sat up, sniffing the air and whining.

“What is it, boy?” I asked.

Yahoo crawled into the front seat, squashing himself into the space at my feet, whining loudly and nibbling at my fingers. “What’s the matter, Yahoo?” I said, stroking his head. “Don’t you like the car?”

Yahoo jumped into my lap.

“Hey!” said David as Yahoo put his big paws on my shoulders. “You’re a little big for that, buddy.”

He isn’t hurting me,” I said. “I just can’t figure out what’s wrong.”

Not two minutes later I had a seizure. Yahoo sat in my lap, pressing me into the seat. Without any training at all, Yahoo had warned me before I had a seizure. He was a natural.

“And to think I might not have even considered taking Yahoo because of his age,” I said when we got home.

David looked at Yahoo thoughtfully. “Six months old,” he said. “That means he was born in the spring.”

It took me a second to realize what that meant. “He was born just when I lost my aura.” I had felt abandoned when my aura went away. But God had gotten to work that very moment on his new plan.

These days, if there’s a party, you’ll find me at it. I won’t be wearing protective gear. But I will be close by a big, loving German shepherd, the angel God sent into the world just for me.

Thank you for visiting.