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.
The 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.
When 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