Here is a secret that everyone knows: I don’t like to ask for help. Of course, my cerebral palsy means that I need help getting dressed and have to be driven everywhere, but that is precisely my point. Since I require so much physical help in my life, I don’t like to ask for anything beyond that. I am fiercely independent with things that I feel I should take care of on my own.
One night a few years ago, after my caregiver helped me to bed, I was enjoying my favorite part of my routine, snuggling with my yellow Lab service dog, Marshall. When I first got him, I knew that he could be trained to pick things up off the floor when I dropped them and to pull me in my wheelchair. I didn’t know he would grab a hold of my heart and not let go. When the rest of the world made me feel “less than” Marshall made me feel like “enough.” As he drenched my face in doggie slobber that night, the sadness of the day melted away. As usual, he jumped off the bed after a few minutes, but his surprised yelp and the pain in his eyes told me something was dreadfully wrong.
A few days later a trip to our vet confirmed my worst fears.
“He has a torn ACL in one of his hind legs…” Dr. Tom said, “It can only be fixed surgically.”
My heart plummeted.
“Is he in pain?” I held my breath. I knew Dr. Tom would be honest, but I had to brace myself for the answer.
The room started spinning as I absorbed the news. My stomach lurched as if I was on the world’s worst roller coaster ride, free falling into the depths of sadness and helplessness. I wanted to get off. I vaguely remember talking about details or Dr. Tom’s soothing voice trying to soften the blow. Only one question burned in my belly.
“How much would the surgery cost?”
It might as well have been a million. I couldn’t swing it. Social Security Disability payments were my livelihood. I usually didn’t have extra money to go to a movie, let alone an expensive operation. The specialty vet clinic where Marshall would have the surgery did not accept payment plans. For the next few weeks, every potential avenue of getting Marshall’s leg fixed posed an immense hurdle. Icy prickles of fear crept into my heart and loomed like an unwanted winter.
Would Marshall be in this pain forever? Would I fail him this way? How could I deal with that?
Stronger than the sadness that threatened to overpower me, however, was my need to help Marshall get well. Each day I searched for ways to provide this surgery and each night I repeated a prayer for peace and answers. Most often, I fell into a fitful sleep. I just couldn’t let Marshall down. It was time to start thinking outside the box.
A beautiful nature and bike trail ran close to the apartment complex where we lived, and on most days of our eight years together, Marshall and I used it. I loved the trees, the fresh air and being outside. Marshall loved to sniff and romp in the grass on the trail’s edge. We both loved the peaceful solitude. Over the years, many of the “regulars” recognized us. Everyone loved Marshall.
Then one day it dawned on me. Could I ask these people to contribute to the cost of his surgery? The thought of asking outright made my skin crawl at first, but what about organizing a fundraiser? If could push my wheelchair a certain number of laps and get pledges for everyone that I completed, might I raise enough money Marshall to have his surgery?
Our regular route was a mile and a half long. First, I set my goal to push ten laps, a total of 15 miles. Next, feeling very bold and a little desperate, I set a date. Then I made fundraising flyers and sent them to everyone that I could think of. I posted them around my apartment complex, and all over the bike trail. Neighbors were interested and concerned for Marshall. My excitement blossomed as pledges started coming in.
With renewed hope, I started to train. My dog had given me more than I could imagine. I had to do the same for him.
But I wasn’t sure I could do it. This was ten times my normal distance. At first, I got winded after a couple of miles. The ache in my back and shoulders eased the pain in my heart. My love for Marshall kept me going. Instead of listening to my body, I focused on the voice in my head. One more lap. You can do this. Don’t stop. Keep going. Marshall needs you. Keeping that voice louder than the pain became as important as the exercise.
Four miles. Okay. Breathe. Up and down the incline of the driveway of the parking lot to work on strength and endurance. Seven miles. My body won’t make it. Keep at it. Did I set the goal too high? Marshall is in pain. Keep pushing forward. Arms back. Push. Again. Nine miles. You can do this. How much do you love Marshall? Twelve miles…
After six weeks of daily training, I still didn’t know if I could pull it off. But I was determined to give it my all, the way that Marshall always gave to me. Watching him suffer so much was killing me. On the designated day, I started without ceremony at 6:30 a.m. The first few laps were long and lonely. Success seemed doubtful. But slowly the donors and neighbors started coming to watch. Some even cheered as I passed them. With every mile, more people came. There was hope after all.
Donations came from people in my apartment complex, even a few of the maintenance men. A little girl gave me three pennies out of her piggy bank so that I could “fix the doggie.” And because of an article in the college newspaper, I even received a collective donation from the admissions office.
A neighbor in our apartment complex was about to go to boot camp. He made a donation and then brought me several huge bottles of Gatorade. After lap 6, he gave a second donation, saying he didn’t need money where he was going. He thought that Marshall needed surgery more.
The kindness from these people kept me going lap after lap. I could never have made it without their support. After twelve and half hours, I finished all fifteen miles. By the end, the miracle had happened. Marshall’s marathon had raised enough money not only to get Marshall’s surgery but also to pay his vet bills for the rest of his life.
Weeks later, we were back out on the bike trail, enjoying Marshall’s recovery, saying hello to and thanking many of the people who had helped make it possible.
I still don’t like to ask for help, but amazing things happen when love makes you push.