Jamie's peace and rescue
Organized by: Bruce Cottrell
Over a year ago, Jamie, my lovely wife of 23 years, had contracted a rare disease called schleroderma. It is an autoimmune disease which affects your connective tissue throughout your body which, in her case, is causing her skin to harden and shrink down tight on her body. There is no cure and the treatment only slows progression, at best. The complexity of this disease takes a team of doctors to even begin to understand each individuals needs and the rarity of it make comprehensive study none existent.
This debilitating condition is squeezing her chest, restricting her breathing as though being given a bear hug; her hands are curling closed making it almost impossible to hold any item in a normal matter, let alone for more than a few seconds. Getting in or up from a seated position is more than a chore requiring a break from the effort before moving on. Walking is unstable with the constant fear of a misstep resulting in a fall (which has happened twice. Thankfully, I was there to lift her to her feet again). Scleroderma also makes it very difficult to swallow which is a major issue because of all the medication she takes throughout the day and night. The squeezing of her skin around her abdomen is made worse by the subtle expansion from eating the smallest amount of food or pills or even drinking a sip of water. Needless to say, Jamie is in constant pain, even though she is prescribed two strong pain medications. She is constantly unrested due to her pain plus having to take medications day and night. She is unable to do the simplest tasks unassisted which has been demoralizing considering she is such an independent person and having no light at the end of the tunnel has been depressing, in the least.
About fourteen years ago, Jamie and I had quit smoking and used the extra money to buy a small piece of land in the country. We both are naturalists with a love and understanding of nature with a desire to live and retire surrounded by such beauty. We set up a camper to live in and built a shed for the refrigerator and pump station for the cistern, for which we had water delivered every three weeks. We were living a minimalist life surrounded by what we considered paradise in the deep forest of Indiana. I started a job in sales and Jamie landed a job right up her ally, a veterinary clinic. It was located in the small local town about twenty minutes from our little nature preserve.
We started building a one bedroom cottage around the camper to protect us from the elements. The construction was slow. The materials sometimes were scrap, sometimes new. It was all done on a shoestring but none the less, assembled one board at a time with each nail having our fingerprint on them. Each night we recovered from a long day of both working our jobs and building a home. It took two years to get to a point where we were ready to pull the camper out of the structure and put in the floor so we could start to live in a house again. That was just before the third winter. I can’t believe we made it through two of them! The summers, springs, and falls were spent in the great outdoors, except to sleep. The winters were full of books and VCR movies from the library. We knew we could do this with a little help from a friend with which we were each other’s best.
After the purity of the first winter in the cottage when spring had sprung, the new view of our land surrounded by its majestic trees and small meadow of wild flowers was an indescribable reward. Being we were living in nature, having pets was the next logical step, but not just pets because Jamie worked at a vet clinic, but rescue pets! For example, a shih Tzu/russell mix we named Brillow, who had such issues that he required Prozac. Jamie trained him up, weaned him off, and found a great home as a lap dog for a retired woman traveling the country in a Winnebago. There was also a jack russell named Mister, who just needed to be taught how to behave in a human world. He was found a home with a boy who suffered from autism and whose jack russell had just passed away. You should have seen his face! There were countless dogs that were found good homes but we did keep a calico cat that was dropped off at the front door of the vet clinic and a sheppard pup that no one wanted because of an eye injury. They all had made good friends with the rhodesian ridgeback we already had.
Next would be a lifelong dream of Jamie’s ever since she had ridden in her teens. She wanted a horse! Mainly just to ride the trail circling the eight acres of our property, but also as a blessing being able to ride the trails on the 200 acre forest of our neighbor. She was glad to have someone patrolling her land to keep it private from hunters and four wheelers. I, of course, immediately built a small two stall barn with a loft for hay and a paddock opening to a lot for grazing.
Our first horse was discovered in a herd of horses bred and sold by someone whose manner of caring caused a sense of urgency in Jamie that she felt every day at the vet clinic. Does rescue come to mind? Hunter was the line dunn colt, too young for our level of expertise. Jamie has always found proper homes for rescue animals, me included, so Hunter found a good home. Next was Atlas, a rib showing, rain rot, spotted, saddle bred grade horse, so starving he could not help but behave while hoping for Jamie’s rescue. Nursed to health and well ridden Jamie asked why I was not enjoying their fun. Through all the farm chores I hadn’t realized I was not enjoying the fruits of the labor. That’s when Barchetta, the black Tennessee, walking, 14 year old mare, being trained by a green teen, joined us. Barchetta was mellow for me, which I needed because my expertise consisted of being hoisted on and immediately tossed off an untrained horse named White Lightning. This happened on my grandfather’s farm when I was about the age of 7. This event was perpetrated by my older brothers. No hard feelings towards the horse of course. My brothers were a different story!
Having two horses brings us to our riding together, hand in hand, all around that land until Atlas spooked at a turkey and tossed Jamie. Then he spooked at a stick that looked like a snake and tossed her again. Then she was tossed yet again because of a leaf dancing across the trail. After these few times, he got in his head that he could do it for the sake of not wanting someone on his back. Jamie, not being the teen long ago who liked a spirited horse but being the adult in her 40’s who needs not bounce on a regular basis had a problem her level of equis could not address. It didn’t take long to find an experienced police officer looking for his own private partner to take Atlas. So at this point Jamie inherited (confiscated) Barchetta, who was a sweetheart, and I was on the search for a suitable horse so we could continue our rides hand in hand.
Enter Willow, a chocolate coated, flaxen maned, smooth gated, rocky mountain mare, taller than the already tall Barchetta. The two horses matched their gates but not their personas, which are totally expected in mares. Everything was great with the exception of the elevator required for my 5 foot tall wife to mount her horse. Serendipitously, our close friends who own a tack shop happened to acquire a horse we liked to call Repo. That is until we became her forever home. Miss Chenery is a pinto foxtrot, one inch taller than a pony, with the sweetest personality and an altitude to match Jamie’s. We found a great home for Barchetta with a 4H girl who did excellent work with her, even winning some ribbons at the county fair!
Everything was good in our little paradise, until Jamie noticed our trail rides were really beating her up physically to the point of dread. Then the pain and exhaustion was constant, eventually leading to her being bedridden in screaming pain while months of hospital and doctor visits with neurologists, infectious disease specialists, and a multitude of tests were fruitless until a dermatologist walked into the exam room and immediately exclaimed, “Oh my! You have scleroderma!” Of course, tests confirmed and specialists were referred and a course of treatment and maintenance were being administered.
That was over a year ago. There are mostly bad days and some better days, but no good days. The disease is made worse by stress which is what we are presently experiencing in spades. We have been barely living off of my income and we had to sell everything, including Willow. All Jamie has is Miss Chenery to dote over.
We have used up all the mortgage assistance out there along with the assistance of family and friends and we are still waiting for the disability hearing. Over the last four months they have told us four times that it will be scheduled for the following month. I guess like tomorrow never comes it feels like neither will next month. We are about to be foreclosed on and lose everything we worked for over simple delays in the system. The place is up for sale but the market for a one bedroom cottage on a mini farm is nil. We are about to lose everything and Jamie deserves more than this after giving so much in her life. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated. All monies received will go to the debts incurred and to maintain Jamie's vision of a transitional home for the mistreated and infirm.