Meet Jane, from Edinburgh

Posted 5 months ago in the Our partnerships category

In 2009, a sudden spinal abscess and onset meningitis almost killed Jane Knights. Against the odds Jane survived, but was left with the realisation that she would never walk again.

In 2009, a sudden spinal abscess and onset meningitis almost killed Jane Knights. Against the odds Jane survived, but was left with the realisation that she would never walk again. Jane had to find a way to love life again, and it all began when she was partnered with Damson in 2013. This is her story.

Ten years ago, back in April 2009, I was a busy person. My life revolved around my family, my job as a teacher and my hobbies, which were mainly tennis and gardening. I can still remember the last day at work and the last tennis match.

It all changed forever from one day to the next. I could almost laugh now at the idea that I was in charge of my life because of course it was actually very much in charge of me. A sudden terrible backache caused by a spinal abscess and the onset of meningitis nearly killed me in the space of a few days. My husband was told I was unlikely to survive overnight. But I did, against all the odds.

Three months in hospital fighting infection was followed by another five months in a spinal rehab unit. During this time it became clear that I would never walk again, so I concentrated on adapting to life in a wheelchair and all the difficulties that come with paraplegia. I had lots of positive support from my husband Richard, friends and family, as well as the professional rehabilitation the physios, nurses and Occupational Therapists provided in the unit. But it was a protected environment and I think I became institutionalised.

The reality hit me when I got home. I was now dependent on others for so much and the outside world had become a scary and intimidating place. I found myself immersed in a world of wheelchairs, hoists, carers, access problems and house adaptation problems. There were times of utter despair and desperation. Sometimes, I look back and wonder how I got through it. I suppose you just keep going and the days pass. I would often hide how I felt from friends and family, crying myself to sleep most nights and waking from dreams in which I was always walking and never in a wheelchair.

I have always been an optimist, but I did come near to becoming a glass half empty person, especially after a second terrible blow when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2011.

Meeting Damson

It was September 2011 when we went to the Naidex Independent Living Exhibition in Glasgow. I was still recovering from a mastectomy, had put on 2 stone in weight and had to be persuaded to go.

As soon as we went through the door, however, my eye was caught by a gorgeous black Labrador in a very fetching purple jacket and it wasn’t long before we were watching, in amazement, a demonstration of all his wonderful skills. There and then, I decided to apply for a canine partner and it was the best decision I have ever made.

After waiting very impatiently for almost two years I was delighted and excited to get the phone call in June 2013 that would change my life forever. Meeting Damson was love at first sight – a beautiful Golden Retriever with liquid brown eyes. I couldn’t believe that I was going to be lucky enough to be partnered with such a lovely dog.

During the two weeks of the training course we worked hard. I was frequently exhausted – after all, at 61, I was no spring chicken! But I learnt so much about how to handle and communicate with Damson. Sometimes my head was swimming and I wondered how I would ever remember all the cues and commands. Our wonderful trainer assured us that it would all become second nature in time, and it does. Having said that, Damson and I are always learning more and more as our life together goes on.

Life with Damson

When I look back I realise that I am a different person in so many ways to my pre-Damson self. I used to be self-conscious in social situations so much so that I didn’t want to leave the house, I used to suffer from terrible backache, I used to cry most days and I used to yearn for a ‘normal’ life. How that has changed!

I love going out now with Damson by my side, chatting to everyone who stops to admire my dog, taking the bus into town together, going to the shops and meeting friends for coffee or lunch. We have enjoyed organising coffee mornings to raise funds for Canine Partners, giving a talk about the charity’s work and even featuring on a TV programme on STV! Damson has done all that for me.

In a practical sense, my life has changed – she picks up all the things I drop throughout the day, gets me my phone, opens the door, pulls off my socks and gloves, hands over my purse at the checkout, passes me my gardening tools, and pulls my wheelchair to me. Those are just a few examples!

But just as importantly, Damson coming into my life has given me confidence, independence, fun, hope for the future and lots of unconditional love. I don’t cry every day anymore. I get up looking forward to the day ahead. Damson cares for me but I also have to care for her, and that means my life has purpose. I have energy and enthusiasm just like she does; we feel like a team! And, if I do have a bad day – which like everyone I do – Damson comes and puts her head on my lap, looks at me with those beautiful brown eyes and soon I’m smiling again.

With Damson by my side I have come to terms with my different self and I don’t spend time longing for the way things used to be. Damson has taught me to love life again.

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