THE DAY had arrived… finally. The day I reached into the closet and said to Misty, “Let’s get your red vest on!” It was the beginning of June and had been four months since we had visited the Palliative Care Unit.
She tilted her head – a silent inquiry: “are you serious?”
“C’mon, Girlie. It’s time to go to work.”
A hasty piling of Misty and her wheelchair into the car and off we headed to Oshawa’s Lakeridge Hospital. Misty, riding shotgun, was grunting her happies out. “Oh no… she’s so excited. She’s going to bark when we’re up on the unit…”
* * *
“Well, look who’s here!”
The nurses had been in their change of shift report but now they emerged from the office, arms stretched in Misty’s direction.
“Come ‘ere, Girl! Oh, look at you! I’m going to cry.”
“Don’t you cry or I’ll start…”
“Oh! Oh. Oh….You’ve got your own wheelchair? Oh, poor girl…”
Misty planted herself by The Secret Drawer – the one where the dog cookies were stored. While some nurses sniffed, others hugged Misty and still others delivered a conveyor belt of snacks up to Misty’s Happy Girl Face. Of course, some shushing followed because of course, Misty was barking out her joy and excitement. “Shhhhh… shhhhh… shhhhh….” “Here, let’s stuff another cookie into that mouth…”
With greetings exchanged, I jiggled the leash – our signal to get it into gear. It felt great to start walking down the hallway of the unit.
We stopped to visit with a woman sitting in a chair by the nurses’ station – and encountered our first adjustment in routine. Normally, Misty would’ve snuggled into the person by popping her top half onto the tray across the person’s lap… a task now impossible with one rear leg missing and the wheels of her cart in the way. Immediately, Misty improvised: she stepped onto the foot pedals of the chair to elevate herself a few inches – which put her into licking range. The woman in the chair shivered as Misty licked her arms and soon she struck up a conversation with Misty in Korean. As usual, Misty understood enough of the new language to have an engaging visit with the woman, who maintained a lively chat with her attentive pet therapist.
In the next room we visited, a man in bed extended his arms out to Misty as soon as we walked through the door.
“What happened to the dog?”
“She has bone cancer.”
With that, the man’s wife looked amazed and pointed to her husband. “Him, too.”
I explained that after Misty’s amputation, she’d undergone chemotherapy. The woman’s mouth dropped open, as she pointed again to her husband. “Wow. Him, too!”
Then I compared Misty’s ability to get up close to her patients now, as compared to what she used to be capable of doing. I patted the bed beside the man and said, “Before her surgery, Misty used to pop her front end onto the bed beside the patient.” With that, Misty alley-ooped her front end onto the bed. The wheels of her wheelchair were flush up against the bed and Misty licked the man’s chest and face, just as she’s always done. I was flabbergasted… so I guess the lesson for me was: you can take the dog out of therapy – but you can’t take therapy out of the dog.
Interestingly, Misty has always had a close, yet unspoken, rapport with the patients… yet now that she too, is living her cancer experience, has had major surgery, chemotherapy and needs a wheelchair to be on her three feet for a protracted period, there is so much more that she shares with people living with cancer…
We entered a room where a man clearly was close to his final moments. The room was clogged with people and one person, I’ll assume it was a son, stood at the bedside holding the hand of the man who was breathing his agonal breaths. “Does anyone here need a hug?” I asked softly at the door. A way was parted so Misty could visit with everyone at the bedside, including the son who did not relinquish his grasp of his father’s hand. Misty pulled and pulled, manoeuvering her way through the crowd of folks who patted, hugged and kissed her nose… she was determined to get to the son on the far side of the bed… and she did so with numerous helping hands lifting her wheels and encouraging her efforts. The son held onto his Dad with one hand and stroked Misty’s head with the other – no hands left to wipe his eyes.
Misty had not paid much attention to the man in the bed, which was very curious given that soon we were in a room where another person, this time a woman, was drifting away from This Life. Her visitor waved us away when I asked if she wanted us to visit. This time, Misty was determined to reach the woman. She kept pulling in the direction of the bed, so the visitor shrugged and nodded – our signal to approach. Misty approached the bed and gently licked the hand of the woman in bed, who started to stir in response to this tender touching. How did Misty know? Why this dying person but not the previous dying person? So much is still an exquisite mystery to this puny human.
Misty was pretty tuckered out after our first few visits but is faring better now. Then there was the week we had to miss a visit – Misty had gotten into some dog mischief. I think a mouse family has taken up residence in a pile of rocks awaiting incorporation into my garden. Misty was most interested in that rock pile a few weeks ago. She appeared to be trying to move the rocks around – with her nose. She came into the house with a fresh scrape across her schnoz – weepy with blood. No visit with an open wound that week!
And then last week, I was moving a garden hose through the back gate. Finnegan, my Old Guy Brittany Spaniel, was the Antagonist – bolting through the gate, down the driveway and into a neighbour’s yard… with Delaney and the supposedly “good” dog, Misty, right behind. As she did a three-legged dash down the Court, tail swirling circles in that distinctly golden retriever way, all I could think was, “please let her cruciate ligament be okay!” Happily, the two boys across the street (huge thanks to Sam and Kiffen!) witnessed the break for freedom and helped me corral all the miscreants… without injury to any of us!
These moments of Misty Mischief were strangely joyous to me – every time I look at my girl, my first thought upon waking each morning and my last thought at night, as I boost her up onto my bed, is that she is a cancer patient. She’s incredibly brave and highly adaptive, but a cancer patient nonetheless. I’m so very aware that these are our good days – but it has been a welcomed and unexpected break when she’s just a dog going about her dog business, making a bit of mischief (and not rupturing her remaining cruciate ligament while she’s at it!)