Anyone who knows me knows I love sports. But when an introvert like me has to compete against the biggest sports team in town, that can be particularly daunting. We had shifts over the weekend and as usual, Sam was spot-on. For me though it’s awkward going into a room and striking up a conversation with strangers. I’ve never been good at small talk, that whole “cocktail party” chit-chat is just not me. If someone starts a conversation I can generally hold my own but I’m terrible at breaking the ice. Thankfully there’s Sam to the rescue and while it becomes repetitious asking about each patient’s pets, it’s always safe material and usually gets the ball rolling.
Most people will happily share stories about their dogs. A woman we saw told me about the multiple dogs she and her husband had on their ranch over the years. She told me about their quirky behaviors (I can definitely relate to quirky) and all their names. I laughed and marveled at those stories about their doing amazing work on the ranch over the years but particularly at some of their names. I mean seriously, “Simone” for a ranch dog? 🙂 But there was such a glow on her face when she spoke about them, and it was noticeable. She smiled vibrantly as if lit from within and you could tell it had a big impact on her overall psyche recalling them. And it definitely made my day.
On Sunday we had to compete with a football game in addition to my social ineptitude. The Denver Broncos are about as big as it gets in this town and nothing, and I do mean nothing interferes with this city’s love affair with their team, even at a hospital. The game against the Seattle Seahawks was on in most of the patient rooms as well as in waiting areas. And this week was a HUGE game–a chance to regain some pride after the Super Bowl shellacking the Broncos took at the hands of Seattle earlier this year. This game was one that people were really excited about and who weren’t especially interested in having anyone interrupt their game (let alone by a socially awkward dog handler). Oh sure, a couple of them were polite but in a few seconds it was pretty clear that visiting was pointless since they were completely hypnotized by seeing what #18 was doing (for the record #18 is Peyton Manning, a future Hall of Famer who is an absolute God in Bronco nation). Our presence was more than superfluous so the quick departure no doubt was more than appreciated. Hey no criticism here, I totally get that. I’m a fan too.
Then we went to hospice hoping someone there might need us. We made the rounds to the few rooms that were occupied. I don’t recall a time when it was less filled over the past several months. That’s probably a good thing. It means families are together and whole, that fewer folks are suffering through those last days and while it makes a slow day for us in the therapy biz, I’m happy for them. I tried to engage a couple of families visiting loved ones, but they were all about the game and I know from experience you do not want to get between fans and their beloved Broncos even with awesome social skills, let alone someone with limits skills.
But down the last corridor, we stopped by a room where two women were dressed in bright orange Bronco jerseys and who were watching the game at the table next to the patient’s bed when I sheepishly asked if they’d like a visit with pet therapy fully expecting them to say “thanks, but no thanks.” Instead I was pleasantly surprised when they excitedly invited us in and then apologized that the 103 year old patient would likely be unresponsive. 103?! Whoa, that’s impressive. The daughter said her mom had always been healthy until a couple of months ago when she suffered a stroke. While she had recovered from the stroke they discovered she had broken her femur (never a good injury in a young person let alone someone who’s 103) and she was clearly in a lot of pain. Though unconscious, she cried out a few times when we arrived. Sam immediately went over to check out the situation with her and then bee-lined it straight to her daughter. After the initial ‘sniff and greet,’ he moved next to her friend. She was thrilled with Sam and ‘oohed and awed’ over him. His tail was wagging and then abruptly he went back to the daughter’s side.
These friends looked as though they were having a tailgate party while visiting and I couldn’t help but notice the fabulous looking guacamole, chips and snacks. I felt like a trespasser yet they graciously chatted away sharing family stories and talking about how sweet Sam was and what a terrific service he provided. They commented about how ”mother would have love him because all her life she had loved dogs.” I felt melancholy initially but soon realized they were celebrating her life the way she actually lived it, on her own terms. It filled me with joy and sadness at the same time–joy at a life well lived as well as sadness that it would soon be over. It was apparent by Sam’s behavior that the daughter really needed him and he stuck to her like glue. First he sat at her feet while she spoke and petted him. He hung on her every word. Then he laid down next to her, the sign that means ‘we’re gonna be here for a while as I let this person process whatever they are going through.’ It was a stunning afternoon with a couple of really neat women who needed Sam in that special way only he can provide. There was little need for me to worry about starting conversations, or to try to fill that awkward silence when you meet someone and don’t know what to say next. It was a beautiful and chance encounter on a gorgeous Bronco Sunday. I’m honored and humbled to have been able to spend time with those women. Just like the woman over at the hospital, they gave me a great gift and I can only hope and pray that Sam returned the favor by soothing their hearts even if just for a bit.
So until our next hospital visit…go Broncos!