"When my lungs were so inflamed, when I was gasping for breath, I would say to hearing dog Angus: ‘I will survive this for you’.”
For those with underlying health issues, the threat of Coronavirus made life even more stressful. For Marika Rebicsek, it nearly proved fatal – but her incredibly close bond with hearing dog Angus helped her pull through.
A shrinking world
I was born three months prematurely. This damaged my immune system, and also caused me to be profoundly deaf. I lost the rest of my hearing when I was 25. I was left with severe and incessant tinnitus. I tried a cochlear implant, which helped, but due to my damaged immune system, it had to be removed.
Life was very difficult. I just didn’t feel safe, anywhere – not outdoors, not on public transport, not in supermarkets, not even at home. I was so isolated. Deafness can be soul-destroying and when you have constant tinnitus on top, it can all get too much.
So I just withdrew into myself, and my world became smaller and smaller.
I felt like I was in a glass bubble, looking onto the world but not part of it.
Hearing dogs are my lifeline
Then my first hearing dog Trixie came along, a lovely little Chinese Crested Hairless dog. She was specially chosen by the charity for me, because she wouldn’t trigger my many major allergies.
Oh, she gave me my life back! I started going out more and rediscovered my old extrovert character. We had so much fun together. When Trixie died suddenly of heart disease, it was devastating. I felt so cut off again.
I was then matched with Amos, another Chinese Crested Hairless. He was such a happy, busy little dog. He helped me run my British Sign Language courses! If people needed my attention while I was writing on the board, they would ask him to tell me, and he’d trot over and give me a nudge.
I would tell people ‘I hear through him’. He was my bridge between the deaf and hearing world.
With Amos due to retire, the Hearing Dogs team put a great deal of thought and time into choosing his successor. Their breed of choice for people like me was a Miniature Poodle, because they’re hypoallergenic, and their happy, fun nature really helps deaf people.
I took a lot of persuading... but they were absolutely right!
Angus joined my hearing dog ‘family’ and Amos was able to retire and be my pet. When Amos died two years later, I was heartbroken. He was such a dear friend, the shadow of my soul.
Like me, Angus has lots of allergies, so we look after each other. He is the most compassionate, kind and caring dog I have ever come across.
Practically, he helps me by alerting me to sounds – the smoke alarm, the doorbell, the cooker timer (which I also use to run the bath, as I sometimes forget about it because I cannot hear it!). He’s so well trained for everything I need. He even tells me about medical text alerts.
With Angus around, I feel so SAFE. He helps me to connect with the outside world.
Angus really cares about me. He hates to see me upset. He will push his head under my arm, asking me to stroke him. It’s so relaxing for both of us. We like to play most evenings with his toys too, when he makes me laugh – sometimes I am in stitches!
Without Angus, I might have gone
In early April, I contracted Coronavirus.
As my blood pressure and pulse rocketed, I knew I was becoming very ill. But there were additional risks to consider: I couldn’t stay in hospital because I’m allergic to many plastics, and I have food allergies that can’t be catered for. Surgical masks are also a nightmare for deaf people, as they make lip-reading medical staff impossible.
So I had to fight the illness at home. I honestly don’t think I would have made it without Angus.
While I fought the illness, Angus kept me going. He would settle himself in my arms and snuggle into me, wanting to be with me and help me. I was still terribly afraid, but Angus helped me feel safe, supported, comforted and calm.
During the worst days, when my lungs were so inflamed and painful, when I was gasping for breath, I would say to him ‘I will survive this for you. I will fight this with everything I’ve got’.
Every night, unable to sleep, drenched in the most dreadful sweats, Angus would plonk himself into my arms, and nuzzle his head into my neck and cheek.
Every day, when I was struggling, I would hold Angus, and just focus on my promise to him.
I think I would have gone without him pouring his love and strength into me. He was my lifeline during the illness.
He looks after me. I look after him. We love each other and we rely on each other.
Thankfully, after many weeks of poor health, I am now well. I recovered from the virus with medical advice and with Angus’s constant love and loyalty.