It started out like most hospital weekends…running a few errands early on and then getting ready for our shift. Every time we work at the hospital Sam has to be bathed. He’s professionally groomed every other month, but it was my turn this time. I’m pretty good at the in-between clean-ups and certainly think it’s easier on Sam since we can take breaks if necessary but it’s definitely not our favorite activity (oy my aching back).
It begins when the collar comes off. In the past, removing Sam’s collar always seemed to make him jump for joy at the thought of complete and unbridled freedom. Lately though, I think Sam has figured out that removal of the collar is a prelude to getting a bath, an adventure in which he’d rather not partake. I gather up the necessary stuff while he’s celebrating but think he’s on to me now. He used to be so excited at getting the collar off but now he seems to have figured out that it will involve being in a room where there’s running water and Sam avoids water like the plague. I grabbed a pile of towels…some for him as well as for the walls afterwards and the shampoo but he went MIA. I called and called but no Sam (cue cricket noises). Once I found him, he assumed the hang-dog posture as if he was being horribly abused and s-l-o-w-l-y made his way to the ‘liquid guillotine.’ Sheesh, talk about dramatic! Despite having webbed feet like all Standards (who were originally bred to hunt and retrieve waterfowl mind you), Sam despises water and has been known to completely walk around puddles on sidewalks. Lately though I think he might be harkening back to a previous life…one in which he had been an attorney specially trained in finding loopholes–in this case, an escape for himself.
My bathroom has one of those sprayer attachments but it’s just about 6” short of completely reaching the back-end of the tub easily. Sam will reluctantly hop into the tub, with the “oh my God, I can’t believe you’re making me do this” look on his face. But lately his MO is to hop toward the back of the tub, with a ‘ha, ha, ha…the water can’t reach me’ smugness. This forces me to get into the tub with him so I can keep him from hanging back just out of reach or from jumping out (which he did this time anyway).
As soon as I got him firmly positioned in the OSA (optimal spray area), I started the sudsing/rinse cycles. We go through lots of body shakings with water & suds flinging all over on the walls, window & ceiling so as soon as the dog is sparkly clean, I get to start mopping and cleaning up–oh joy. It’s a regular ritual which makes me often wonder if doing him at home is worth the effort of bathing and cleaning up rather than just going to a dog-wash. This time we tried out a new rosemary/mint-scented shampoo with built-in conditioner. Suffice to say, this stuff was ‘pawsome’ and I could hardly wait til he hopped in bed with me later that night. He smelled that good!
In addition to not liking water, Sam despises hair dryers too but he did remarkably well while being fluffed-n-buffed. He patiently endured a few swipes with the clippers and scissors and 90+ minutes later he emerged a sweet-smelling, handsome dude. We were ready, or so I thought.
It was a lovely Saturday and we excitedly left for our assignment. First we visited with several people with loads of little kids. Sam loves kids so it took us a while to finally get to see patients; they all want to touch and pet his soft hair. Many patients were being released and there were family members there to take them home. It can be kind of hectic for the staff but they manage it all really well.
One of the more memorable patients we visited was a young woman, Frances who had been in the hospital for a week but was being discharged that afternoon. Her Mom, Barbara was there to take her home. Frances fell in love with Sam since his fur reminded her of the two Bedlington Terriers they’d once owned. After both of them had passed away unexpectedly, her Dad couldn’t bear the thought having to say goodbye to another pet so they were now bereft of any dog companionship. Sam was spot on, letting everyone hug and pet him all the while staying incredibly calm and completely into it. After spending several minutes with him, they were both eager to work on Dad to get another pooch back into the household. I had to chuckle since they planned to use Sam as Exhibit A as he was so patient at allowing the daughter to weave her fingers through his fur, while he looked soulfully into her eyes and leaning against Mom. I was beyond proud of him and left smiling knowing they were determined enough to probably convince Dad to let them bring a new addition home soon. 🙂
Then it was off to hospice. Sam loves going to hospice-the staff is wonderful and there usually are a number of people we can visit. The first was a young woman visiting her uncle. She lived in Florida but had come back to support her Dad while he said a final goodbye to his brother, her uncle. She fawned over Sam and he responded sweetly. We had just started to make our way to the uncle’s room, when a man probably in his 50’s approached Sam and got down on the floor and hugged him. It was quite unusual since most adults that age don’t normally sit cross-legged on the floor and hug a dog while sniffling and drying their eyes in the middle of a corridor. The man talked to Sam as though no one were around. He said, “my Daddy is going to die soon and be with his dogs, so if Sam could come by room 214, it would mean a lot to my Daddy.” The niece was touched by this man’s display of bare emotion and said no worries since her family had decided against a visit.
As I walked toward 214, the nurse said the family was in the room and we probably shouldn’t go in. I mentioned the son had specifically asked for us just a moment ago and she said then she’d check with them and sure enough, they absolutely wanted Sam to come in the room. We walked in to see the whole family gathered in a circle around the patient’s bed, arm-in-arm holding onto one another. This was not what I anticipated since the son was full on sobbing now as were a few others.
At times like this, I’m not really sure what to do or say and think probably the best approach is to not say anything. It’s hard enough to know what to do with someone you actually know but even more difficult with a complete stranger. Sam seemed a little bit nervous but at the insistence of the son, we put his feet on the bed touching his father’s hand. Sam must have sensed something because he pulled back quickly but had managed to touch the man’s hand and arm. The son thanked us and I tried to be as supportive as possible with a smile and a squeeze on the son’s arm. We left the room quietly. As I walked out with the nurse, she thanked me for going in because it had meant so much to the family. I told her, “I don’t know how you do it day after day.” She smiled, said they did it for the families and I knew exactly what she meant.
As I was walking toward the exit, the attending doctor was doing paperwork and Sam expressed an interest in visiting her. He had walked past her when we first arrived so she was all too happy to snuggle with him. As we spoke, the nurse came in and said “call it 3:52 for Mr. Walsh.” The doctor smiled and said thank you to us for visiting. I knew there would be more paperwork for them to handle now. It was 3:55 and I realized that Sam had touched the man moments before he passed. Maybe he knew he was on his way to ‘see his dogs’ and it was ok for him to join them, maybe it was just coincidence. All I knew was that in a blink of an eye, the weekend went from smiles to tears. It left me feeling off-balance. There’s nothing that could have been done to change the outcome for Mr. Walsh, but just knowing Sam’s presence meant a lot to his family was somewhat comforting. In the hub-bub of the staff making the arrangements for transporting Mr. Walsh to the mortuary, I hugged Sam extra tightly. He responded like he always does, a serious tail wag and then a ‘let’s go look–there are others to comfort.’ We started to walk out and a small family was meeting with a social worker. They stopped to hug on Sam and thanked us for coming to hospice; it had meant a lot to them and their loved one. Sam acted as if they were the first people we’d seen that day and gave them his all.
We left shortly thereafter for home where Sam enjoyed a deep sleep as he is apt to do after a long or draining shift. We’d been there much longer than our usual visits and I could see it had affected this loving creature. While I watched his chest rise and fall with each breath, I sat and thought about all the memorable patients we’d visited that day. The smiles with Francis and her Mom at the thought of going home and the sad tears of loss by Mr. Walsh’s son. These human connections, the hello’s and goodbye’s bind us all together and are all inevitable. We can only hope they know that we wish them well on their journeys, whether here or in the next world.