This past weekend was our regular rotation at hospital and hospice. Saturday we were scheduled for oncology. It’s always an intense session for both of us. Patients are so sick, their families are worried and a hardworking staff usually has their hands full. Everyone seems a little bit on edge. I get that and know that with Sam’s usual calming presence we usually manage the shift well.
It wasn’t that we were running behind, in fact, we were fairly early. The problem was my fault; I didn’t cope well and it may well have affected Sam. Maybe it was barometric pressure. It was one of those rain-threatening days with hail in the forecast. We’ve had some real doosies of hail storms recently so I thought; “heck we’re early, let’s park at the farthest point away in the parking lot under a very large cottonwood tree that would easily protect my little set of wheels.” My car isn’t super special, but it’s cute, dependable and in very good shape. It’s kind of important to me to want to keep it a nice, cute, dependable vehicle. So far so good, right?
That’s when everything went to crap. Unbeknownst to what was just ahead, we sauntered into the volunteer area to sign in. As soon as I got us all signed in, I realized Sam was missing his ID tag. Phooey. Having lost my own badge several weeks ago (still think it fell off somewhere in the parking lot but it was never turned in to Lost & Found), I wasn’t feeling like I wanted to go through the replacement process and expense again. Hey, no sweat, we’ve got plenty of time I thought, we’ll just go back out to the parking lot and see if it fell off in the lot since I had attached it to his collar when we got out of the car. About this same time, I also realized my car keys are missing. Ugh!
Part of my uniform consists of a handy apron with pockets across the front and a smock/lab coat also with pockets. Since volunteers don’t have lockers, all these pockets are especially useful to stash the items we need during our visits—Sam’s business cards that are given to patients, a small hand sanitizer, small note pad with enough room for a few dog treats–just stuff like that. The coat has two decent sized pockets where I can stash my wallet and (on good days) my keys. So I empty all the apron pockets and check my pant pockets as well. Dang it, no keys. Then I empty the pockets of the smock. Again, no keys. Rats! So I do the only thing I can think of, go trundling back out and check the car and guess what…it starts to rain (I am not making this up).
Sam really despises getting wet and I wasn’t all that keen on looking like Little Orphan Annie with curls up to here. We dash to that far end of the lot (remember that good idea I had earlier?) and I look in the passenger side to see if the keys are in the ignition. No dice. Ah, crap! The good news is I spot the missing ID tag and secure it on to Sam’s collar. We head back toward the sign-in area because I’m convinced that I probably just set the keys down next to the sign-in computer. No biggie. Ha!
Once back in, I fluff Sam and myself up a bit so we don’t look like drowned rats. So far, not so bad. But alas, no keys either. Oh man, really?!…I decide to go back out and see if maybe the keys fell next to the seat or maybe I set them down in the back seat when Sam got out and I hooked up his leash. Well, at least it’s not raining now but I’m starting to get stressed. Muttering and kvetching, I notice Sam is panting hard and not just from walking back and forth like crazy. He’s picking up on my energy. Oh no!
So back out in the parking lot, I walk all around the car and what do I see? The blankety-blank keys sitting ‘purdy as a picture’…in the door lock! Argh, are you freaking kidding me??!! Now we are running behind and we rush back inside. Sam is definitely stressed. He freaks out in the elevator and seems completely at odds with his normal calm “I’m ready to go to work” persona. I’m upset and feel out of step myself. This is not good.
Before we begin a shift, we always swing by the gift shop and say hi to the volunteer high school students that generally man the shop on weekends. Sam loves these kids and they always enjoy a visit with him before we head up to our assigned floor. It’s a good way to begin a shift and it brightens their day. He’s totally disinterested and out of balance so we leave and head on up hoping it’ll get better (sorry kids, we’ll be more friendly the next time…promise!). The oncology floor can be intense and kind of crazy. Saturday the stars were totally aligned but not in a good way.
The first room we stopped by was on full tilt alarm. The patient was stressed and tired and no doubt probably sick of that annoying beep, beep, beeping noise so we didn’t stay long. I offered to bring someone in to turn the alarm off. Sam was restless and disinterested in visiting, that confounded alarm wouldn’t shut up and it seemed like it took forever for the nurse to come silence it. Everything seemed frenzied (or at least in my mind it was–it’s all in perception, right Grasshopper?). We left and moved on to patient number two. Another squawking alarm (what are the odds?). Ugh. The patient’s visitor asked if I could get someone to turn it off, they said it had been trilling away for the past 10 minutes. Oh dear. I’ve never seen or heard so many alarms going off on a floor. Sam actually hesitated and then balked at going into the next room. And so it was the entire shift. In the rooms he would go in, he’d be restless, panting, not fully engaged. By then I was no longer stressing about my misplacing the stupid keys, but about him but I wasn’t in the best place to guide him back to balance (breathe, Grasshopper).
Recent research has shown examples of dogs and their amazing ability to ‘smell’ cancer. The results suggest they are quite good at it too. I couldn’t help wondering if some of those scents were part of Sam’s distress or was I totally to blame. Granted, I’m sure he picked up on my negative energy but I couldn’t help but wonder if his super sensitive nose was picking up on those patients’ condition, all the equipment alarms and the stressed out staff. It was a perfect storm of everything converging. Maybe it was just an off kilter alignment of the stars. Whatever it was, it all started out with something stupid and minor and turned into ‘one of those days.”
Thankfully Sunday was better; we went to hospice and Sam was more balanced. We visited with some really nice people who told funny stories of their family’s experiences with dogs (I learned a lot about Dalmations–oh my!). There was a greater level of calm though it was still a teeny smidge off from our usual shifts at hospice. I guess perception is everything, and when it’s bad as it had been the previous day, it surely impacted us and maybe even carried over to Sunday. Next time I’ll be better prepared so it’s a good visit for patients as well as a good experience for Sam. They all deserve that. <3
Did you do anything fun on the first weekend of summer? Do dish on how you handle ‘one of those days.’