Saralee Perel

Award-winning columnist, Saralee Perel, can be reached at sperel@saraleeperel.com 


Her novel, Raw Nerves, is now available as a paperback and an e-book on Amazon.com.



My First National Broadcast


Last month, I received a horrifying email from a well-known psychologist named Dan Gottlieb, who hosts his own weekly show on National Public Radio called "Voices in the Family."

His email read: "We are doing a show on therapy dogs and your story could be part of the show." He was referring to my caregiver dog, Gracie, who helped me re-learn to walk after my spinal-cord injury.

He added, "Could you email my producer whatever information is relevant? Thanks so much."

Now, you might be saying, "What's so horrifying about that?"

And I'd answer, "WHAT?! I'll be so nervous that I'll go blank after everything Dr. Gottlieb asks me. Listeners will think there's a mime on the air!"

A week prior to the show, which aired several weeks ago, the producer, Jennifer, called me. She said that the broadcast wouldn't be taped. It would be live. I begged, "Oh please, can we tape it? I'll give you Gracie if you agree we can tape it."

"It's much better live."

So I laughed knowingly and tried saying, "Of course it is," which came out, "Yep, I know that. I mean, I knew that. I mean, oh heck, know or knew, tomato, tom-ah-to..." Before I could complete my inane sentence, Jennifer, probably thinking, "I can't believe Dan wants this bonehead on his show," said, "Let's have a mock interview ahead of time." We set a date for that.

My husband, Bob, heard my part of the mock interview. And actually, it went surprisingly well. So Bob helped boost my self-confidence. (Please note I'm being sarcastic.) He said, "You sounded amazing. You were so calm and composed and articulate that I couldn't believe it was you!"

Jennifer told me that Gottlieb would be interviewing me via our landline telephone. My part of the hour-long show would take place at precisely one half-hour into the program. At that time, my phone would ring and I'd be right on the air. I was not to say hello. What I'd hear was Dr. Gottlieb welcoming me.

I had rehearsed - oh, I'd say about 4,500 times — the words, "Thank you for having me here."

On the day of the broadcast, 15 minutes before airtime, Jennifer called to make sure I was OK. What was I supposed to say to that? "Oh sure, Jenny. I'm about as OK as a woman swimming around Chatham who, upon seeing a huge fin speeding toward her, gets excited about appearing in a remake of 'Jaws' and then realizes there's no film crew."

Instead I said I was just ducky.

When the show came on the air, Bob and I listened to the first half-hour on our cellphones. When it was a few seconds before my airtime, I heard, "And now, we have Saralee Perel, who is a nationally syndicated award-winning columnist whose dog, amazing Gracie, became her 24/7 caregiver after she suffered an inexplicable spinal-cord injury eight years ago. Gracie now provides happiness and hope to thousands via her own Facebook Fan Page."

As expected, my landline rang. I picked up and heard Dr. Gottlieb say, "Saralee, welcome to the show."

"Thank you for having me here," I said, which came out perfectly, thank God.

There was silence. Then he said, "Do we have you?"

I said, "Yes! I'm here." But nobody could hear me.

I heard him say, "We must have a line that's down."

Don't you find it unbelievable that there was a malfunction at that very second, and instead of my planned "thank you" statement, my national debut on NPR consisted of nothing but dead air?

Bob took the phone and hung up quickly, assuming they'd call right back. During this time, I was banging my forehead against my wooden desk and saying, "Bob, Bob, Bob. Why do these things always happen to me?"

Before he could answer, the phone rang. Bob handed it to me. I could hear Dr. Gottlieb saying, "We have Saralee back on the line."

"What a way to start!" I said, now on the air.

Amazingly enough, I was able to respond pretty well to all of his questions about Gracie, and how she had found her purpose in life, which was to selflessly take care of me.

You might wonder why I agreed to be on the show.

I wanted to be on the show so that Gracie's courage would be remembered. She always thought of me as her hero. But she's always been mine. She has put herself in harm's way by protecting me from traffic, from joggers, bikers and aggressive dogs. She would have given up her life for me. She has been my biggest fan and my greatest supporter, my lifeguard and guardian. Gracie was my champion, who would never, ever let fear stand in her way.

And so, I've learned from her, neither will I.