“DON’T LEAVE YET.” The man’s voice came in wisps. His oxygen canula had fallen slightly more out of one nostril than the other, its dehydrating flow causing his voice to drain away. His inflated neck support
was crooked and slipping off to the side. His glasses sat crookedly on his face... all in all, he seemed “off kilter” but his hand was straight and sure. And that hand stroked Jasmine as she lay on the bed beside him. For her part, Jasmine responded with tender licking
of that hand. “Please... don’t leave yet.”
(Jasmine is pictured above, on her way to "work")
Minutes before, I had dashed into the hospital just as the remnants of Hurricane Isaac were fading. The fierce rains had stopped. Even the light drizzle was slowing in seeming exhaustion. This was to be the first of three “monitored” visits – those made with Michele, my Team Leader.
This first visit was without Misty; rather it was Michele’s, dog, Jasmine who would be accompanying Michele and me. I was being “shown the ropes” – how an experienced Therapy Dog/Owner Team visits patients on the Palliative Care Unit (PCU). After the initial rituals of sanitize dog - sanitize hands - head to the floor - sign in - obtain the list of patients who had
requested a visit from the four legged Therapist, we were ready.
A man whose lower teeth were somehow sliding up over his upper lip was our first stop. Jasmine and Michele went into their well-oiled routine. I stood, watching and appreciating the display of the gentle, yet timeless body language of human and canine: a soft smile on Michele, a slightly wagging tail on Jasmine. It was wonderful. Michele soothed,“Would you like a visit from Jasmine?” The man did not speak. His eyes narrowed slightly, as though he was concentrating fiercely but it seemed like he was reaching mentally for something just beyond his
grasp. He did not appear to comprehend what was happening. Michele moved slowly and lifted Jasmine onto the bed beside him. Jasmine settled quickly but the man did not react beyond
regarding her. I noticed his arms were tucked under the blankets so I asked if he would like some help to lift his arm out of the blankets. He did not respond, so I gently moved the blanket enough to lift his arm out and lay it near Jasmine. There was no movement from his arm. No
words. Just apparent incomprehension. After a few more questions, “Would you like to give Jasmine a snack?” “Is she okay lying here?” Michlele said softly, “Okay, we’ll come back and see you another time”. She moved slowly, lifting Jasmine off the bed. I replaced his arm under the blanket and tucked him in. We moved on to the next bed in the room.
The woman visiting in the next cubicle reached down to Jasmine, all smiles. “This little dog looks just like our *Cindy used to look!”
Her husband looked so pleased.“Is Cindy here?”
His wife looked at us, her voice trailing, “He’s very confused today.” Then turning to her husband she said, “No, it’s not Cindy. This little dog looks like our old dog, Cindy.”
Michele asked the man, “Would you like a visit from Jasmine?” She had started to lift Jasmine up when the man answered, “No.” Then he caught sight of Jasmine and her sweet, little face and reached up for her. Wife, Michele and I all looked at each other trying to make sense of what we’d just seen, but Jasmine was there ‘way ahead of us, licking the man’s hands. She dispensed with the mental gymnastics, just doing what seemed right to her. It worked. The man was stroking little Jasmine, smiling.
Wife said to Michele, “I’d like to bring our dog in from home. He misses Daddy, especially since the hospital bed was moved out.”
Michele bent over to speak quietly to Wife so the man’s visit with Jasmine would not be disturbed. And so he could not overhear the conversation. “I’m very sorry to ask you this.” Wife nodded that whatever was going to be asked was okay. Permission granted. “Will your husband be going home?”
Wife shook her head slightly.“Not this time. No.”
“Well,” Michele continued quietly.“Of course, you can do whatever you feel is best, but we find that when a person is not going home from the hospital and the dog is brought in to visit, the dog seems to suffer more. For the dog, it’s better not to visit... but again, whatever you think best.”
Wife nodded. “Okay. Thank you.”
Her husband had seemed too tired to continue patting Jasmine, so Jasmine was lifted
down to the floor and we moved to the last cubicle in the room.
“Looks like the party room over here!” Michele and Jasmine waded through the numerous visitors in the next cubicle. The youngish man in the bed had lost patches of his curly hair. He moved over so Jasmine could be placed on the bed. She promptly settled in and the two of them
looked ready to watch a movie together. Michele handed him Cheerios to feed Jasmine. The visitors laughed and captured the moment on a phone camera, checking to ensure the image was satisfactory. Captured for eternity. All agreed – it was quite satisfactory. Michele turned to me and said, “We’re not allowed to take pictures but it’s okay if the families do it.” I nodded marvelling at the number of important things I’ll need to keep tracking. Michele lifted Jasmine down but we couldn’t leave the room until all the Party People hugged, stroked, admired and generally heaped affection on her. We left the room, paused to sanitize hands, make a notation on the sheet of each visit and how it went, then we moved onward.
In the next room, lay a woman who had requested a visit. She was deeply asleep, mouth open and sunken. A gorgeous crocheted afghan graced her bed, and so many others on that unit. Michele looked sadly at me and whispered, “We won’t wake her up,” and we tiptoed out.
More sanitizer. Next room. High mischief. The first woman in the next room was smiling That Smile. You know That Smile: that you know something. That you’re up to... something.
“Jasmine!” she exclaimed, delightedly. She sat up in bed, as bright as a penny (hmmm, what will our expression be once pennies go out of circulation? I digress). The woman had Cheerios waiting for Jasmine. Michele lifted Jasmine onto the bed and the woman spread out a few Cheerios, making a little halo around Jasmine’s paw. Jasmine sniffed them but did not eat them. Michele was floored. “Wh-what? I’ve never seen her turned down Cheerios.” Michele took some of her own supply of Cheerios and Jasmine delicately and systemically downed every one of them. We three humans looked on in amazement. “Is there something on these Cheerios?”
“Really? And Jasmine’s turning down sugar?”
“Wow. That is one smart dog.”
Jasmine looked in the direction of the woman’s over-bed-table. A gorgeous looking lemon
tart sat there... enticing. Jasmine looked at the tart, then looked away. At that point I realized there was absolutely no hope my Brittany Spaniel could ever be a Therapy Dog – oh, he is certainly sweet, affectionate, loving and a great cuddler, but he would’ve pounced on a defenceless lemon tart and downed it in a single bite – no impulse control at all – sorta like me with pralines ‘n cream ice cream... Nope. No therapy dog potential there, I’m afraid. Fortunately, Misty has more self control – and this just demonstrated why that is so critically important in a Therapy Dog. We moved on, lemon tart in tact.
A very attractive woman sat up on the side of the next bed – she was happily excited. Her daughter was getting married the next day at the park beside the hospital... the wedding had been moved up significantly in time so the woman could attend. Jasmine stood on her back legs to administer to the woman, who in turn, reached down somewhat distractedly to stroke Jasmine. She was running through her Mother-of-the-Bride anxieties: will my dress be okay? Michele said quite perfectly, “You could show up in a bathrobe and nobody would care because it’s you they want to see.” Brava, Michele!
The Mother-of-the-Bride considered this and smiled. “This is my first one to get married.”
We all left that hanging in the air. Clearly, she would not be able to attend the weddings of her remaining children. I would think of Mother-of-the-Bride often the next day, when the sun was out and a gentle breeze blew. I thought of her sitting in a wheelchair in her new dress witnessing the only wedding she would see of one of her children. Still, that was cause for celebration, was it not?
The man with the crooked nasal canula, tipped neck support and pushed-over glasses
was in the next room. “Do you remember me?” Michele asked him. He shook his head. “No? You don’t remember me?” Again, he shook his head. “What about Jasmine? Do you remember her?” Michele bent over and picked up her little girl.
The man smiled brightly, reached up with both hands and near-gasped in his desiccated voice, “I remember her!”
Jasmine was placed on the bed where she laid across his leg. He patted and stroked and spoke to Jasmine. Michele asked if he wanted to give her a snack and he reached out to receive the Cheerios that Jasmine nibbled delicately. “She likes you!” Michele said. “Animals can always tell about people.”
I asked him if he had a dog at home. The man shifted around the styrofoam glasses and can of Ensure on his bedside table. He shook his head.
“My wife has never liked animals but when I go home, I’d like to get a cat.” Michele and I looked at each other. The man said, “Please... don’t leave yet.” We three stayed at his bedside for some time.
Reluctantly, Michele said, “I’m sorry, we have to go now, but Jasmine and I will be back in a few days.”
“I understand,” he said. We left.
Our last visit was perhaps the most poignant. In the last room we entered was a young man (well, my age, but that’s young). He sat straight up in the bed and had an easy, open, even zen expression on his face. He was smiling. His wife was visiting and as soon as she turned and saw us she said, “Well! I’ve heard all about you!” She bent down to greet Jasmine. Michele picked up Jasmine, holding her so Mrs. could stroke her more easily, then she walked to the far side of the man’s bed. “Is it okay if I put Jasmine on the bed with you?” The man smiled broadly. It was a smile that brought you in closer to him. Invited you to get to know him better. Michele gently placed Jasmine on the bed, using care not to touch his leg because she’d heard touching his leg causes him excruciating pain. Cheerios were offered and a drink of water from that tiny little bottle. The time to leave was upon us. Michele persuaded Jasmine to do her trick: waving good-bye. It was stellar. A real crowd pleaser. And then we left the room. I’m looking forward to spending more time with this young couple and introducing them to Misty. The world will turn. We will learn more about each other and ourselves.
At the nurses’ station, Michele was returning her visit sheets to the binder. An elderly woman in a wheelchair told us, “I don’t like dogs.” Michele started to reel in Jasmine when the woman surprisingly dropped one of her claw-hands down to Jasmine. With that, Jasmine knew what to do: she started licking the dropped hand. The woman watched Jasmine licking her hand but did not withdraw the hand. The nurses mentioned there were dog treats left somewhere in a drawer or similar hidey-hole. They opened and closed drawers, filing cabinets. Where, O Where were those cookies? Through all the searching, the woman in the wheelchair left her hand down and Jasmine obliged with her gentle licks. What a lovely and altogether satisfactory end to our visit.
When we got back to the main entrance, there was the sanitizing ritual and then we
stepped out into the evening air. I said, “It’s stopped raining.”
Michele said “Look! A rainbow! I haven’t seen a rainbow in years!”
And there it was: a rainbow. It hung precisely over the hospital, as though painted
*The names of some humans and animals will be changed in this blog, where I haven’t yet obtained permission to use actual names.*
HELP! There is a shortage of Therapy Dogs and a long list of facilities waiting for them. If you think you are living with a potential canine therapist, if you'd like to learn more about programs that benefit from the love of Therapy Dogs, OR if you'd like to support or volunteer, please visit the website for Therapeutic Paws of Canada @www.tpoc.ca