“ SYNCHRONISM: coincidence in time; Psychoanalysis: The simultaneous occurrence of causally unrelated events and the belief that the simultaneity has meaning beyond mere coincidence”: Dictionary.com.
July 2004. The TransCanada Highway in Prince Edward Island at West Point Lighthouse. A gorgeous, not-quite-adult Golden Retriever is nearly killed on the road, when she decided to join me on my run. Twenty-four hours later, I persuaded the owner to let me have the dog, walked the dog back to our cottage and changed her name to Misty, after the soft curtain that lifted off the ocean each morning. Was it “mere coincidence” for that gifted dog to appear at my side that sunny morning?
“Hello Beautiful!” Misty plunked herself down at the Nurses’ Station on the Palliative Care Unit, nose pointed to That Drawer – the one where the box of dog biscuits was hidden behind file folders.
“Well, she’s not subtle, is she?” A nurse obliged by walking over to That Drawer and pulled it out with excruciating slowness. Misty’s nose eased forward toward the box. The nurse raised up a dog cookie and squinted at Misty, as though there was some question, some doubt, about whether the biscuit would soon meet its fate.
Misty’s butt hit the floor with a thud. It was over for the cookie.
A round of applause erupted from the nurses. Misty seemed as delighted with the clapping as with the treat.
“Hey, Misty, over here.” A nurse waved us in the direction of a man sitting in a wheelchair at the Nurses’ Station. He looked as though he hadn’t smiled in the past decade. “Bill, here, needs some pet therapy.” The nurse was laughing. What was I missing?
He reached out and perfunctorily patted Misty’s head. Her tail wagged encouragingly – ever the Happy Girl. “So this is pet therapy.”
A group of nurses had collected now. Several were nodding.
Then Bill said, “What I really need is girl therapy!”
Several gasps of feigned shock from the nurses.
“Hey!” I piped up, “this is a family show.”
The merest flicker of amusement passed over his face and was quickly extinguished.
Okay, I think I get it now...
“C’mon, Bill.” One nurse got to her feet. “I’ll push your chair back to your room so you can watch the hockey game now.”
“Never mind! The Leafs are playing. I hate that team...”
Yeah. I’ve got it now... and Misty had him figured way before me.
“Okay, you,” I shook Misty’s leash. “Time to work.” She pulled me out onto the floor.
“Oh look! It’s Misty!” Two women walked toward us. Although I recognized both, something had me confused. I had seen them both before – just not together. The woman dressed in street clothes bent over Misty, kissing her nose, briskly running her hands over the soft, brushed fur. “Oh, I love this dog so much!” We had met this lady the previous week as she laid in a bed cuddling her dying sister. She had waved us up to the bed, then tenderly took her sister’s limp hand and ran it over top of Misty’s head. The sister roused slightly with this stimulation. It’s a phenomenum I’ve seen so many times now. Even someone who is slipping into coma begins to return to The Now when experiencing a tactile encounter with Misty’s fur.
Then the other woman bent down... very short, white hair belying her struggle with chemotherapy. She was dressed in fleecy pajamas. After a bit of hugging she released Misty and looked at me, “you’ll come back and see me in my room before you leave, won’t you?”
I gave the only answer possible for that question: “Of course!”
A number of people on the floor that evening were very close to death. At the doorway of each such room, I tapped quietly, asking if anyone would like a visit with Misty. In each case, silent nods and sad smiles welcomed us in. In one room, a thin man, attractive some time ago, lay still, eyelids beginning to close as he began his withdrawal from this lifetime.
“Look, Danny! Misty’s here. Remember that beautiful dog from last week?” Danny’s wife straightened up and with outstretched arm, motioned us toward the bed.
Misty and I both moved slowly and quietly forward. When I reached the bed I spoke softly. “Danny, I’m going to help Misty lay down beside you.” With Misty’s top half on the bed, I positioned her paws alongside his torso. Her facial expression was calm and kind. I placed his arm over Misty’s back and once again witnessed something of a return to The Here. The Now. Behind me, I heard members of his family quietly murmuring their appreciation. We all stood still for a precious few moments. Misty everso slowly began to back off the bed and I recovered Danny’s arm with the blanket.
Mrs. Danny took my wrist and whispered, “Thank you so much”. Another family member began to cry as she said, “You did such important work here tonight. Thank you so much.”
As we padded out of the room, I heard one woman remark, “That dog is a natural for this work.”
Moments later we knocked and entered into the next room, where the woman who’d greeted us in the hallway sat with her comatose sister. “Misty!” The woman walked over to us with arms wide in welcome. Some time passed while the woman hugged Misty, kissed the Retriever nose and stroked down her back.
I looked at the pale figure in the bed.
“Her dog died last night. Can you believe it?”
“What?” It seemed almost too utterly coincidental to be true.
“Her poor husband. He’s devastated. AND, you know what?” Her hands never ceased their movement over Misty as she spoke. “Gail was supposed to die last night. They told me to summon the family. So I did. Everyone was here from 10 until 4 this morning, but Gail didn’t die. She’ll die tonight. She has to. This is just too much for her. The same as her dog. Just too much. It’s not fair.” Her eyes were glistening. “Thank you so much. Misty has been amazing. This is such important work.” Her arms opened wide and she hugged me for the longest time. It was the only period she’d stopped stroking Misty.
“What’s your name?”
“Take care, Caroline. I’ll be thinking of you tonight.”
A few minutes and a few rooms later, Misty and I entered the room of the woman with the short white hair and found her sitting on the side of the bed, knitting and chatting happily with the person sitting beside her... Caroline.
“Oh! So when we saw you two walking in the hall earlier, were you just friends bumping into each other here?”
“No,” Caroline said. “We’ve just met here on the floor.”
The other woman lowered her knitting. “But it’s like we’ve known each other for years.”
“Wow. So you had to come here to meet and become friends.”
They both nodded and waved Misty over. The short haired woman said, “I’m going to miss you when I go home, Misty.”
“You’re going home?”
“For a little while. My own dog misses me. It’ll be nice to spend a bit more time with him in my own home.” She looked at Misty and ran a bony finger down Misty’s nose. “And then I’ll be happy to see Misty again.”
“We’ll be here.... but take your time...”
I’ve had a number of questions about why I haven’t blogged about our visits since the end of January. It’s nothing exotic or even terribly interesting... just a winter marred by 6 weeks of bronchitis, trying to get some painting done inside before the weather turns gorgeous... oh yes, and joining the Board of Directors of Therapeutic Paws of Canada... an appointment that has resulted in a brisk increase in volunteer hours... All this means is that I’ll continue to blog about Misty’s incredible grasp of human suffering, just perhaps not quite so frequently.