“Thank you so much for coming here today.” A Dad and son walked over to Misty and I as soon as we were spat out of the revolving door at the hospital entrance. On this Special Day, Misty and I were on our way to rendezvous with our Team Leaders (Michele in my case and her little, white sweetie, Jasmine, in Misty’s case) at the hospital Timmie’s. We had arranged to visit both the Palliative Care Unit and the unit Michele/Jasmine visit, all together.
The boy, who appeared to be 9 or 10 years old, wore pajamas under his coat, topped with a Santa hat. He was so very pale. Since he seemed to be a bit tentative near Misty, I bent down. “This is Misty. She comes to see people in the hospital. Would you like to pat her?”
The boy looked to his Dad. The man’s face had the softness of heartbreak and worry. He quietly said, “It’s great you came here today,” and nodded his agreement. Still, the boy hesitated slightly.
“Look, Misty’s wearing her new Christmas collar. Would you like jingle the bell?” He reached out and wriggled the bell (at that moment, I was so very glad I’d invested the extra time to keep looking until I’d found a collar with a jingle bell!) His smile lit the hallway.
By now, his Dad was tearing up. “Thanks so much...” Misty leaned over and smooched the boy on his face. He was giggling and running his fingers through Misty’s fluffy coat near that wonderful bell.
For the fourth time in our brief encounter, the Dad thanked us.
“No need for thanks... Misty and I are delighted to be here today.” We left to meet Michele and Jasmine.
“Hey look, it’s Misty!”
Just as we’d met up with Michele and Jasmine, the beaming husband of patient on the PCU came over, arm around his daughter, who appeared to be elevenish. “This is the dog who visits Mom upstairs.”
“Oh, she’s just like Gertrude, eh, Dad?”
We’re getting to know of so many Golden Retrievers through the people we encounter in the hospital. It’s an intriguing thing, sort of an ice breaker – or—“here’s-what-we-have-in-common” moment that happens in this alien environment of IV and catheter tubings, disinfectant and body odours, high tech beepings and silent tears... those values shared with patients, nurses, visitors – the levellers, the moorings... stories of cherished dogs, cats, parrots, horses... and Misty appears to enjoy them as much as the people relating them (I know I do).
“Carey’s over here.” David gestured broadly to the eating area where many of their family members had gathered around the young woman propped into a large chair with a tray across the front. Her tracheostomy was emphasized by the angle at which her head was thrown back. David tenderly stroked his wife’s hair back from her forehead as I’ve witnessed on each of our visits. Meanwhile, I asked Misty to stand up on her rear legs while I positioned her front paws across the table. Then I uncurled Carey’s contractured hand from its grip around a rolled towel and tried to move it slightly across Misty’s outstretched forepaw. This was difficult, given the clench of Carey’s spasming arm.
“Carey, Misty’s here to see you.” David turned to me and said, “It would be good if she could feel the different texture.” I nodded and continued my efforts but the involuntary strength of Carey’s muscles to clamp her arm back to her body meant it didn’t go all that well. Carey responded as she always did: by smacking her lips, opening her mouth slightly as though she was trying to speak. I looked up to David who, unseen to his wife, shrugged. He didn’t know either. Was Carey able to understand our efforts to communicate with her? Was she trying to speak, but physically unable to break through the trap of her body? The nurses had told me previously that she cried when her children visited.
“Carey,” I said, returning Misty’s paws to the ground, “this is Michele and Jasmine.” On cue, the veteran team stepped over, Michele holding her small, white partner up to Carey’s field of vision. It seemed that Carey was not able to follow visual cues and one of her pupils remained noticeably larger than the other. I wondered whether she would be able to perceive the contrast of Jasmine’s soft, curly coat against the open, angularity of the hospital dining area. No matter. Irrespective of the precision of Carey’s sensory perceptions, she was surrounded by love, concern, warmth, caring... an energy that enveloped her. As Michele, Jasmine, Misty and I moved away, we were surrounded by the family thanking us, stroking our dogs and liberally showering us with Christmas Spirit. We headed up to the Palliative Care Unit.
“Misty! Who’s your little friend?” The box of dog cookies at the nurses’ station was produced quickly and both Jasmine and Misty shared the bounty. The dogs, always greeted enthusiastically by the nurses, were treated like visiting royalty on this day, with much fawning and gifts from supplicants.
Then the four of us began our visits. It was an interesting about-face given that only a few months before it was Michele and Jasmine showing us this floor. The hallways were clogged with visitors, many asking us to ensure we’d be visiting their loved ones and sharing their family pet stories.
“Code White... Code White...” On another unit in the hospital someone had become violent – the Code White being a summons for urgent assistance. Somewhere in the hospital was suffering of a different sort. Anguish. A cry for help. Michele and I looked at each other and moved along to the next room.
“You came today?” Edna’s daughter motioned us into the room. Her mother writhed on the bed but attempted to reach out for Misty, her arms now reduced from lankiness to stringiness, missed their mark and could not wrap about Misty’s neck, as she’d tried to command. Edna’s body was in motion non-stop. I wondered whether she was able to lie still in sleep. Legs, arms, head continually moving in uncontrollable fashion. The more Edna tried to conduct her movements deliberately, the more spastic she became. The result was a marching weight loss. Today, as she tried to say, “Misty”, her dentures were sliding in and out of her mouth. Nonetheless, Edna’s human warmth and light emanated from out of her bodily shell. She seemed determined to entwine Misty’s neck in a hug and we were all enlisted to help with that – to have Misty get her front half onto the bed without Edna sliding out of the lowered siderail. The thing was that around Edna’s bed, there always were crumbs, bits and bites of food that tumbled to the floor before making it to Edna’s continually moving mouth. These odds and ends always lured Misty to sniff and kept me commanding, “Leave it. Leave it,” which she always has done, but when we were attempting to choreograph a hug, it was an unbidden challenge! Finally, hugs were achieved. Bedrail locked in. Edna’s daughter sank into a chair. She was beginning to look exhausted. “Thank you,” she mouthed. We sanitized hands and moved on.
Rob is a patient Michele and Jasmine used to visit when they were assigned to our floor, so I was anticipating a happy reunion – but we couldn’t get close to him... each time we went by, the curtains were drawn as the nurses attended to his needs. Ah well, Misty and I will see him when next we visit: on New Year’s Day***
A note about visits 9, 10, 11 and 12: What can I say? Life got pretty hectic for Misty and me: busy at work, Christmas preparations, a sore throat I didn’t want to take to the PCU, and oh yes, a puppy! ... so I’m behind in my postings. Nonetheless, there are a few noteworthy items to mention:
- The Empress of Cheerios died suddenly. It seems to be an odd thing to say about someone on a Palliative Care Unit... Nonetheless, there is an anticipated trajectory for each person’s disease experience, and the Empress had seemed determined and delighted to extract the juice out of the gift of each day. Even the last day Misty and I visited her, she seemed tired, but her eyes maintained some of their customary twinkle. She was thrilled with each visit from her granddaughters.
- As to the Party Guy, who’s wisecracking wife and frequently attendant mother and son kept things hopping, who’s whiteboard above the head of his bed noted “Mondays – Misty visits”... well, the party’s over***
My life, and I daresay Misty’s life, have changed enormously since we began our experiences as a Therapy Duo on the PCU. We are so very privileged to be sharing the precious moments of so many people’s lives. And Misty and I are so blessed to be sharing each other’s life.
May you all know the richness and happiness of a Life Well Lived in 2013. Thank you all for reading these e-pages of Misty’s Journey and mine.