Healthcare and Life Intersections

Earlier this week Sam and I went to the hospital for our regular visits. And what visits they were. I knew this month would be challenging different as we have a new required protocol for entering each room known as BioVigil. What the heck is BioVigil you ask?? It’s a hand washing monitoring system designed to remind healthcare workers (included pet therapy volunteers) to ‘wash’ going in and out of a patient’s room. The device triggers an alarm to sanitize one’s hands whenever entering patients’  rooms when not properly activated and will be a good reminder for those who may be somewhat lax about the requirement and figured initiating something new hospital-wide might have a few hiccups associated with it while being rolled out. The training demo was laden with challenges (under-charged base units which wouldn’t demonstrate how they work, electronic keys not unlocking units, etc.), but the beta group who tested it noted there was a 30% reduction in sick days alone with staff so clearly this will be a good thing in the long run (great way to stem C-Diff) once it’s got all the bugs worked out. If you have failed to properly sanitize, a door sensor sound an alarm upon entering a patient’s room. No doubt it’ll be a little nerve-wracking for patients to hear more alarms but with practice and diligence, it should get better for them as people become more familiar with the procedure well as reducing healthcare associated infections.

This week we were assigned the Internal Medicine floor but were hardly able to spend any time with patients since so many were in isolation with the flu. As volunteers we are not permitted to enter any isolation room unlike nurses who must. Luckily Sam garnered the attention of six nurses who were more than happy to fawn over him when it was clear there were few patients for us to visit. The ooh’s and ah’s over this goofball added to his self-assurance (as if that was ever an issue!). Sam owned the 6th floor nurses and staff and was in hog heaven because of it.

We were able to have a nice long visit with one patient whose daughter I ran into as we were about to leave. She said she hoped her mom hadn’t missed the dog visits and would be so grateful if we would swing back by before we left so we headed back toward her room. “Mrs. D” was reading a book and excitedly invited us in when she saw Sam. He trotted right over to her and sat next to her chair letting her run her fingers through his hair, eyes nearly rolling back in his head with pleasure. Clearly the dude was in 7th heaven. Mrs. D told me about dogs she and her family had, how much they enjoyed them and how much of a dog lover she was. Sam was mostly interested in the nice thigh he could lay his head on while being petted. After a long session visiting, we let Mrs. D get some well deserved rest.

Karen GrantThe next day we went back to our favorite place, the Senior Behavioral Unit. It’s always a roll of the dice when we go there. These patients which I’ve written about here and here can be more than uncertain but they either love dogs or loathe them. We managed to win this dice toss with Jay, David, Norma and Mary Anne. Each patient had their own individual mental health issues but each of their faces lit up when they saw Sam. While those suffering from emotional and behavioral issues may have difficulty expressing themselves with a therapist, they easily and happily relate to an animal. David was first, asking if he could spend time with Sam and walked over and sat on the floor next to us. I got down on the floor with him and he talked. And talked. Sam patiently and intently listened to every word, confused as some of them were. Then Jay came over and talked to Sam as if he was his best friend in English and German. Jay’s story was he had been a professional skier at one time in Austria, and a decent one at that. A hard life of living had affected his mental acuity but the kindness and soulfulness of this man was readily apparent. Mary Anne leaned over and asked if we’d spend some time with her and of course, Sam was easily convinced. A sweet, tiny elderly woman she pushed her snack aside and smiled broadly when Sam sauntered up to her side, tail wagging. Her eyes twinkled while she thanked us for visiting with them. Norma came over with questions. Lots of questions. What’s his name, how old is he, where did I get him? A bubbling fountain of inquisitiveness with loads of love as she stroked him and smiled broadly in his eyes.

Sam in uniformWhen you’ve been working with patients you begin to read their body language for clues as to when enough is enough. I can also tell with Sam. That day’s visits took their toll on his energy level yet he stayed and listened to each of them as he slid into a full down position next to each one. He remained as long as it took for them to tell their stories and share their life experiences. Clearly there was a lot of released endorphins that afternoon which had a very positive effect on us all. By focusing on him, their minds were drawn away from their own life happenings whatever they were. These kinds of interactions help them develop and fine tune nurturing skills and encourages them to share their humanity.

Have you ever noticed your dog ‘listening’ to someone they encounter and lifting their spirits with their total focus?

Live, love, bark! <3

61 thoughts on “Healthcare and Life Intersections

  1. What a wonderful post! All animals are special in their ability to make us feel better when we’re around them. I’m a huge animal lover which is why I often and up painting them 😉

  2. I have a BeerVigil unit installed near my refrigerator. Works pretty much the same. Great story and love the Sammy pics. You guys bring a lot of happiness to folks who can use it. Give the Spoo a scruff for us!

  3. Shadow and Ducky are MY therapy dogs. Well, mostly Shadow because she’s older and more patient; but occasionally, Ducky will surprise me and REALLY listen in between bursts of zoomie energy. 😊

  4. That’s quite a hand washing system. I was wondering about Sam – does he have to be washed between rooms? Not to make anything more difficult, but I’d bet that his fur carries germs… (we just had an extremely sick person with Influenza A staying with us so I am alert to all forms of germ-carrying. Our flu shots seemed to limit our illnesses but our doc made our visitor put himself into isolation in a hotel room).

    It sounds as if Sam does so much good, particularly with those who have mental challenges. What a sweet boy he is… listening so intently to every story.

    Neither of our dogs is very good at listening to people’s stories besides ours. They each have their own issues. Shyla does melt peoples’ hearts if she “chooses them” as someone who she trusts. It’s amazing to see the effect that has on someone after Shyla has been aloof with them for months or years. They grin ear-to-ear!

    Way to go, Sam. You do something that my dogs could never do, and you do SO much good (kudos to your mom, too)!

  5. Oh Sweet Sam, you get a whole bunch of gold stars filled with your favorite treats. In giving, you receive.
    “Get the bugs worked out.” Ha, ha, ha. Good one, Monika.

  6. We don’t have that system – still carrying around sanitizing pens! I agree with you – I think that buzzer would be bothersome for the patients. Sam is a wonderful therapy dog – the patients are blessed to have him.

  7. The Bio Vigil system sounds great. Hospitals are the worst place to get sick with things like C-Diff. I friend of mine got that and it is NASTY!!! Does Sam have to go through some sort of sanitizing between rooms? Sam, you are doing an excellent job and a great service to the people you encounter.

    1. No sanitizing of his paws between rooms but he must be bathed whenever we go to the hospital. I try to wipe the paws off when we go home so he doesn’t bring anything along with him. My mom got C-Diff last year when she was treated for pneumonia (in a different hospital). It really is nasty stuff and can be easily avoided with better sanitation.

      1. Cleaning the paws when you get home is a must. I spent a lot of time in the hospital with my husband, when he was sick, and they really don’t do a great job in cleaning the floors. Makes me know to never set my purse down when I visit someone, unless it is on the chair or the bed.

  8. Well done, S. Mom and I always recognize that shift from inward musing to outward reaching when we visit the old soldiers home. They love to touch my furs and tell us about dogs they used to have or still have back at home.

    Love and licks

  9. Just yesterday I sat with a lady with lung cancer, at the hospital, and she told me with a bright light in her eyes, all about the poodle that went to visit her. I am sure you know what joy you and Sam bring. Bio Vigil sounds like a great idea. By the time I finish my shift, my hands are covered in that sanitizer! God forbid I forget to wash it off and bite a nail. Yuck!

  10. Thanks to you and Sam for all the work you do. Sounds like Sam is an excellent therapy dog! If I’m ever in the hospital, I hope somepawdy like Sam would come visit me! As for Rita, she’s pretty shy with strangers, but every once in a while, she’ll go up to someone and very sweetly say hi. Maybe she senses they need a little endorphin hit.

  11. I never thought about an animal’s influence in that way before … but you are absolutely right! I’ve always had trouble putting my feelings into words – and I depended on art to be able to express them. But I think having Bear Cat has a similar effect – I just didn’t realize it before. Maybe the peace I feel in his presence is more about being in touch with myself and not just about him loving me.

  12. They have such a system at the Flinders Medical Center in Adelaide and at the new wings of the hospital here. It is not, however, compulsory merely recommended. I use the system when I go to visit people in the new wings and did so when I visited a friend in the Cardiac Unit at Flinders Medical. I wish we had a canine visitation unit here. I think they have in Adelaide but not – to my knowledge – here.

    1. I’d love to see therapy visits expanded to any number of settings. Test day at schools, EVERY nursing home, places like that. Whenever a pup is snuck into work, everyone always enjoys the endorphins that get released with those 4 paws.

  13. love when you share therapy days with us. thaks for taking us along.
    you do much more then just drive. esp…you are there as Sams best friend and mom when therapy visits are over. hugs to Sam for being such a good listener and being there for the nurses.

  14. That’s really interesting about the new disinfecting protocols. Guess that makes sense given the terrible stories you hear about those very nasty bacterial infections people pick up in the hospital. Always good to hear how Sam brings a smile to all the patients…especially the happiness that animals bring to older people with dementia.

  15. What an interesting blog post! Pet therapy appears to be so beneficial in many clinical settings. Really interested to hear about BioVigil too – that sounds like a really great way to reduce hospital-acquired infections. What great work you do!

  16. What a great gift you and Sam bring to those patients especially the elderly need a couple ears: one to bend and one to rub. Would like to think that Kloe could do this one day. She loves people – a little too much sometimes but I think that’s the puppy in her. In her brain she wants to be calm but sometimes her body doesn’t comply… I can imagine you are pretty pooped out at the end of these visits too. Definitely earned some wine time this day!

    1. These visits are beyond gratifying, Michael, but yes, they do take their toll on both Sam and my energy levels. I hope when I get to that stage in life, someone will visit me and bring a dog as sweet as Sam with them. ❤︎

  17. Sam is an angel on 4 paws… I always feel better when I see that a dog listens to me… the move of the head the eyes and even the yawning tell me that someone is there for me :o)

  18. oh my
    what profound work you and Sam do. Such connection. The healing power of connection. I used to take my lab to the classroom of emotional kids and they told her stuff too. They were toughs, but when they sat with Chelsea they changed into soft humans. Cole listened to me, in fact I woke up thinking of the time he lay with me on the bed, head on dh’s pillow, and looked into my eyes as we both fell asleep. He gently put his paw on my shoulder and we just quietly looked.

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