Wellbeing: A hero's best friend

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In October 2010, Royal Marine commando Phillip Eaglesham, now 36, was due home after his second tour of duty in Afghanistan. Two days before the tour ended he came down with flu-like symptoms. But this was no form of influenza. Back in the UK, Phillip was diagnosed with Q fever, also known as Helmand fever due to its prevalence in the Afghan province. First described in 1935, Q stands for ‘query’ as the cause was then unknown; it’s now recognised as a bacterial illness usually spread by infected animals. Fatal if left untreated, the course of Q fever can involve a typical pneumonia, hepatitis, jaundice and other serious conditions. With treatment, Phillip improved briefly before becoming much worse.

‘From being fit and strong, my condition deteriorated over the next three years until I lost virtually all physical ability. I couldn’t kick a ball around with my sons [Travis, 14, Tyler, ten and Mason, seven]; even playing with Lego was tiring,’ he says. The mental strain became overwhelming and, by 2015, Philip’s sense of ‘being a burden on the family, particularly my wife Julie, sent me over the edge and I tried to take my own life’.

Fortunately, Phillip didn’t succeed and today the man I meet, albeit wheelchair-bound, is strong mentally and physically – a Paralympian in air rifle shooting, a motivational speaker and an entrepreneur involved in the manufacture of an elevating wheelchair (victormobility.com). It’s a far cry from the days when he stayed at home, hopeless and helpless.

Much of that transformation is, he says, down to a two-year-old golden labrador retriever called Cooper, Phillip’s canine assistance dog who joined him in December 2016. ‘He knows when I’m down and he’ll sit and cuddle me then get me out to play. I have no chance to sit around and be unhappy.’

Phillip heard about the charity Canine Partners (www.caninepartners.org.uk) in 2014 from another ex Royal Marine, Jon Flint. ‘I had always loved dogs and seeing the difference an assistance dog made to Jon, I decided to apply.’ Phillip was put on a two-year waiting list before being matched with Cooper. ‘He’s a wee bit cheeky, which suits me, as well as sociable and task-oriented. He opens doors and picks things up off the floor – I’m forever dropping the phone, my keys or my wallet.’

Constantly by Phillip’s side, Cooper’s resourcefulness is extraordinary. Phillip now has 24-hour care, but when Cooper first came, Julie looked after her husband full-time. ‘One evening I was waiting in the bedroom for Julie to undress me. When she didn’t come, Cooper decided to do it himself, starting with gently tugging my socks off. He had seen Julie do it and he was so happy he could do it, too. It reinforced the bond between us. I knew we were there for each other.’

Cooper has made a ‘massive difference’ to Phillip’s life. ‘He gives me independence, and having someone that I can look after has given me back pride in myself. He has taken away the stigma of being disabled.’

Sadly, Canine Partners, which receives no government funding, is not currently accepting new applications, mainly due to the need for more donations. Each partnership costs £20,000, from selection as a puppy through to the dog’s retirement. To donate, visit caninepartners.org.uk. For other accredited assistance dogs charities, visit Assistance Dogs UK (assistancedogs.org.uk)

 

Don’t feed your dog rich festive food, warns Protexin Veterinary (protexinvet.com), makers of canine probiotics. Mince pies, fruitcake, chocolate, sweets, stuffing, nuts and bread can make them ill.

 

FIRST AUD IN YOUR KITCHEN CUPBOARD

BURNS

Run the burned area under cool water for ten minutes. Wait at least 20-30 minutes before gently rubbing a cut raw onion over the burn.

SCRATCHES/GRAZES

Ensure the wound is clean and dry, then spread a little honey on a clean dressing and place it on the graze, honey-side down.

ACHES

Rub warmed apple cider vinegar into the aching area.

Taken from Old-Fashioned Remedies: From Arsenic to Gin by Dr Rob Hicks, published by Remember When (Kindle edition, £5.75, amazon.co.uk)

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