“Can I pat your dog?”
No sooner are Misty and I through the hospital doors than passersby are pulled over to Misty’s Happy Girl face. By now, we’re accustomed to the unabashed gawking that happens as I apply hand sanitizer to her paws at the sanitation station.
When we get off the elevator at the Palliative Care Unit, Misty starts pulling me down the hall, seemingly anxious to get to the nurses’ station. Our rapport with the nurses is increasing and so is the reception Misty receives at the nurses’ station. Tonight we arrived at shift change – two teams of nurses fawning and fussing over this rescued therapy girl.
“There she is!”
“Over here, Girl, I need a hug.”
“No! She’s not finished kissing me yet.”
“Look, Misty! I’ve got the biscuits!”
Misty plunks herself down, ready for a gab. “Hey, you,” I hate interrupting. “Time to go to work.” I shake her leash and immediately Misty is on her feet, ready to begin visiting.
“Come back for more biscuits before you leave!”
“Can I pat your dog?” The man approached us at the nurses ’s station. His quiet voice and exhausted movements said it all: he was about to lose someone soon.
“That’s why she’s here.” Misty went right into action, moving closer to the man, licking his arms and as he bent down, licking his face, as well.
He stayed squatting, accepting every bit of care and concern Misty offered him. After a while he stood up. “Beautiful dog. Thank you.” During our visit to the floor, the man listlessly walked circuits around the unit, returning to Misty again and again. And again. It was going to be a long night for him.
We stood in the hall outside the room occupied by Rob for so long. When we visited on New Year’s Day (Visit #13), I’d been puzzled not to find him – he’d seemed so well the last time we’d seen him: all smiles, colour in his cheeks. I’d gone to the nurses’ desk and asked about Rob, but the nurse just slowly shook her head. An abrupt death on the PCU. It happens. Still, I haven’t stopped being surprised to walk into that room and not find him. I wonder, as we stand in the room, whether Misty can detect his recent presence.
“Misty! Where were you last week?” Misty was tugging me into the room where Connie unfailingly had a baggie of dog cookies waiting. In a flash, Misty’s front paws were on the bed so she could cuddle alongside Connie (and make it easier to accept those bagged treats).
“We couldn’t come last week. Misty sprained her paw somehow, probably slipping in the mud after all that rain.”
“Oh, poor girl! You just eat these cookies and it’ll help you feel better.” Misty didn’t need convincing. Connie looked at me levelly and said, “ I really did miss you both last week.”
“We were missing you, as well, Connie. I felt so badly that we couldn’t come. I think of all of you when we’re not here.”
In our last visit (#15, January 7, 2013) Connie had been telling me about the cancer that was eroding her bone marrow, chewing on nerve endings that shot flares of pain up her leg and arm. She had seemed so well that I didn’t understand why she had come to the PCU. As Misty crawled even higher onto the bed to position herself closer to the snacks, Connie wagged a finger at her: “Now, you be gentle... oh, good girl... you’re such a good girl...” Misty’s tail whipped furiously as Connie explained that she had started to experience “pain crises”. I hadn’t heard the term before but Connie’s daughter, who had left her employment to care for Connie at home, was unable to control her mother’s pain at times... which had left one alternative: the PCU.
“This isn’t living,” Connie confided. “I miss my sweet, little doggie and hang on for my daughter and son to bring me home cooked food. And the pain...” her voice trailed off as she put two fingers to her temple in the universal sign of a handgun. At this point, Misty nuzzled under Connie’s elbow, demanding a shift in Connie’s attention. Connie’s face warmed and glowed but sdidn’t take her sight off Misty. Her gentle stroking of Misty’s head and Misty’s gently swaying tail said it all: they were together in this precious moment. Minutes passed. I said and did nothing while dog administered to suffering human. As we were backing out of Connie’s cubicle she said, “I really look forward to these visits. Thanks for bringing Misty to see me.
“Misty loves coming here. We’ll see you next week.”