Hope springs eternal that I'm going to learn how to display better photos "when time permits"!
She’d been crying. A lot. Near the hospital’s entrance, an exhausted-looking woman was being pushed in a wheelchair, by a young man. Usually people gravitate over to Misty in the hospital corridors, but on that evening, Misty seemed very interested in pulling me toward the young couple.
“Oh wow, is this a dog for the blind?” The young man bent to stroke down Misty’s back.
“She’s a Therapy Dog. Her job is just to visit people here and hopefully make them feel a little better... and she just loves her job.”
The man sniffed his hand. “She smells like hand sanitizer!”
“You... wipe hand sanitizer on her...”
“Got to.” Meanwhile, Misty was wiggling close the woman and becoming even happier. I hadn’t seen anything like this before. “I don’t know why she’s acting like this.”
“Well,” the young man took a sharp breath in and gestured grandly to the woman, “maybe the dog can tell that she (pointing to the woman) just gave birth to two baby girls!”
Whoa! That would certainly explain the blotchy complexion and puffy eyes, all right. I marvelled once more at Misty’s ability to detect significant human happenings, imagining what it must have been like for her to perceive for the first time, all those clues – a wondrous cornucopia of scents all new to her, each associated with the recent birthing and initial breastfeeding functions of this young woman. Undoubtedly there were hormonal riptides, biochemical stress flares, teary saltiness, warm bloodiness, sweet colostrum. Newborns. All fresh. Vital. Bursting with Life.
We finished our socializing with the young parents and headed to the Palliative Care Unit.
“There she is!” As soon as the nurses caught sight of Misty, The Secret Drawer at the nursing station was opened abruptly and dog cookies produced (and quickly consumed)... another reason Misty seems to love her work...
We headed down the hall to Party Central. The Party Guy was sound asleep. Out cold...but half a dozen members of his family were still on hand, chuckling at his sudden plummet into sleep. He’d been up in a chair for a while and a covered platter of cupcakes told the tale of some celebration or other. Misty still had a nice visit with the family members while I looked up and observed that two of the four beds in the room were now vacant , when last week they had been occupied. Party Guy’s wife followed my gaze. She shrugged. Not their turn yet. Today was for cupcakes.
As we entered room after room, following up with those who earlier in the day had indicated they’d like a visit from Misty, we found most people on the list asleep. I’d knock quietly on the door, we’d tiptoe in. I’d whisper, “Hello?” No answer. I’d check the face of the person in bed. Long slumbering breath sounds the only response. We’d silently back out. Sanitize hands. Move on... and so it went.
“Well, there’s Misty!” The Empress of Cheerios was awake. She reached out for her furry hug with hands now tremulous. Her speech has been slowing and it seemed pressing the switch to elevate her head up required a great deal of effort – too much, because the visit occurred with the Empress lying flat. No matter. She still smiled broadly and Misty was very happy to lick and cuddle and be hugged in return. Have I mentioned Misty loves her work?
“Hello, Buddy.” The outstretched hand of a visitor began stroking Misty’s face. I recognized the man as being the husband of one of the many sleeping patients on our list. We had a long conversation about techniques for brushing canine teeth while Misty nibbled, in true lady-like fashion, the prized pumpkin and cranberry treats in his hands. It was a most welcomed conversation, standing as it was, in stark contrast to the somnolence on the floor that evening. We moved on to the next room.
Uh-oh. There she was... one of the few people awake...The first time I’d seen her, was a few weeks before. She had been able to sit up in a wheelchair at that point and was at the nursing station, with a sour expression on her face. Misty had walked over to her, then began licking the woman’s clenched hands. The woman sat rigidly still, just watching Misty, not speaking or patting her, as is the usual response. I became a little uneasy watching this strange interaction. Then, a slight smile began to spread across her face. “Oh, good,” I thought.
Abruptly, the smile fractured. “Get this dog away from me!”
A nurse mentioned quietly it had been the first time she’d seen that woman smile... and I’m venturing a guess it was the last time. In the week following, the woman was lying in her bed when Misty and I entered to visit the patient in the next bed. There was so much equipment on the outside of the other patient’s bed that Misty and I moved into the middle, between the two. Misty greeted the new patient and her tail began wagging happily, sweeping onto the beside of the first woman. Whupps! As had been the case the week before, the first woman watched quietly for a few moments, then: “Get this dog out of here!”
On this sleepy evening, the woman was awake. Watchful. This time, there were no moments of passive observation. She came right to the point. “Don’t bring that dog in here!” I looked at the other woman in the room. Thankfully, she was another of the sleeping many – no visit required – no problem to solve. Misty and I left quickly.
I’ve thought so often of the woman, with her half-inch regrowth of hair. Clearly, she’s lived The Chemo Battle. Her tiny frame seems to be all shiny skin stretched tightly over bones. Disease has consumed her softness. It seems Misty and I cannot be part of bringing comfort to her in her suffering. As to what may bring solace to our fellow traveller, it is yet another mystery of the human experience on this incredible floor.
We were just about to leave the floor when I noticed a visitor observing us. She came over and bent down to Misty, handling her with a veteran and knowing touch. It turned out that this woman also was one half of a Therapy Dog Duo who volunteered with another organization in the community. She and her Golden Doodle, *Fergie, visited seniors in a retirement home. In no time, we shared some experiences and a giggle over that widely spread phenomenum: that everyone seems to know our dogs’ names but not ours...
My fellow Dog Handler also had another one of those truly incredible stories about the unknowns and magic of the human-animal bond. She described introducing Fergie to a woman in a wheelchair and the woman began conversing with the dog. At that point, staff became excited and began reaching for recording devices. Apparently, the woman in the wheelchair had dementia and until she met Fergie, had not spoken a word. The next week, the Dog Handler returned to the Home with Fergie and hopes of a continued dialogue between the two. Nope. Silence. Once again, the woman was mute even in Fergie’s presence. On the third week, the Dog Duo returned to the Home and the woman spoke to Fergie. The next week, no verbalizing. It has been somewhat of a pattern: the woman speaks only to Fergie and usually on alternating weeks.
It is so humbling to bear witness to such precious moments as these, in the company of our couch-potatoes-turned-therapists and occasional miracle workers. And as for Misty, well, I believe I’ve mentioned... she loves her work.