Reflections on Therapy Visits ~ Part 1

Sam and I visited the hospital a couple of weeks ago for the first time since December and while we’re visiting again this week, I wanted to share our last experiences. My mom was again hospitalized in December (you can read about the first time she became ill here ), so pet therapy visits were put on hold while I drove back and forth to visit her a 100+ miles south of Denver. When she was released four weeks later, my brain apparently excised all previously felt fears, memories and hospital experiences as life returned to being more “routine.” The whole family was jubilant she was still with us despite various setbacks experienced while in the hospital. Walking into the hospital now with Sam, I was soon to be again teleported back in time where I saw more than my fair share of hospital waiting rooms, heard overhead notifications, watched medical treatments and overworked staff dashing from room to room. The hospital lighting and odors of hospital corridors suddenly triggered deep memories swirling deep within my brain as I recalled many once forgotten memories a couple of months ago as I watched her in ICU and prayed like a monk she would survive again. Funny how that kind of experience transports you back in a heartbeat.

Sam eagerly entered the hospital during the week where our temperatures had been in the single digits, with a dusting of snow. As a safety measure, the hospital tends to over salt all walkways so I decided to make sure Sam’s feet were covered to keep his paws from being burnt by nasty de-icing chemicals. We went to work right away even though I learned when it comes to wearing snow boots on freshly groomed paws, they can act like a new pair of shoes does on uprights, cause a blister and they rubbed one toe raw (so sorry buddy). Luckily treats seemed to keep me in his good graces even if that one toe in particular looked very angry. Being the pro he is, Sam was pretty nonplussed. We started out in the lobby area, picked up a hot beverage at the coffee shop and began to re-acquaint ourselves with all the lobby traffic. Next to the coffee shop is the out-patient surgical waiting area where we drop in to visit folks waiting for word on how their loved ones endured their procedures. Soon we were surrounded by several nurses and medical staff wanting to say hello to the Knucklehead.

Because it’d been so cold that week, I had left Sam’s hair long, just cleaning up his face, feet, and tail. He was brushed into a giant fluff ball and always manages to attract a crowd who want to run their fingers through his soft hair. It wasn’t long before we were approached by a couple of women. The first one said Sam looked just like her three-month old standard poodle puppy and she showed me a video of her pup who was enrolled in a class in preparation for being trained as her own therapy service dog. She explained she was an Air Force veteran and looking forward to her ‘baby’ helping her. We talked for a long time about training methods, etc. and Sam sat contentedly near her as she recalled time spent in the service and of her beloved puppy. Her friend chimed in and shared stories of her own pets and experiences as a military contractor in Okinawa and how much she loved living there. These women were friends and the military contractor was vacationing with her friend. There was a deep bond between the woman and we chatted a long time. Realizing we needed to get on with our appointed rounds, we bid each other adieu then made our way through the lobby when I heard two young girls squeal a frequently heard comment, “Oh my gawd, there’s a dog here!!”

Student CNAs, Alyssa (L) and Danais (R) enjoying a break with Sam

These two girls fussed and fawned over Sam, took selfies of him and I was beginning to think  I might have to arm wrestle Sam away from Danais. They were just finishing up their shadowing experience and shared details of their training and all the steps they were taking toward future plans with becoming RN’s. Not sure I was ever that well-organized in high school…heck, I’m not sure even now as an adult, come to think of it.  Yet these two young women gave me hope for the future as young people begin to take their place in society. Today’s youth seems to have their lives well mapped out.

A quick swing through the gift shop and along other public areas and we were ready to hit our first assignment. We’d already been there well over an hour.

As we made our way to the assigned floor, a tall elderly man rushed up to us and asked if we would visit his wife who’d love a visit. “We’d love to brighten her day,” I replied. He smiled broadly at Sam, and the two of them looked deeply into each other’s faces. It was one of those lingering moments and then he abruptly turned, thanked us for going to see her and proceeded on his way toward the elevator. As I walked toward Alice’s room, memories suddenly flooded my psyche…the lighting, the odors, the hectic pace of the nurses dashing from room to room and the look of concern on people’s faces. And in a snap, I was reminded of my mom’s stay. Sam must have picked up on my energy and he stayed close though he did visit with Alice briefly.

By now, my brain was in a fog triggering recollections from those four weeks while I visited my mom in her hospital room. My soul had been deeply touched with the memories flooding back and yet we still had more visits at hospice. Sam seemed to sense that I and everyone else we encountered that day needed his attention. His energy level was beginning to wane, yet we soldiered on to hospice.

We walked in and were warmly greeted by the staff. The palliative staff at hospice are angels on earth in my mind. Theirs is a difficult job transitioning people through whatever comes after life and yet they always manage to stay warm, calm and comforting. One of the nurses asked us to stop in and see a staff doctor before visiting patients and we happily took the detour. Dr. R was thrilled for a break and gave Sam loads of attention. Leaving her to return to visits, we moved to see the patient in Room 213. The desk nurse said she’d be non-responsive but her husband could use a bit of diversion and a friendly face.

It’s always touching seeing someone visiting a hospice patient-we often see too many who are alone. We knocked, introduced ourselves and were greeting by a kind face. ‘Calvin’ unconsciously began to pet Sam who sat between his legs while sharing a number of long stories about his wife, ‘Jeanette’ who was a handful of years younger than her youthful looking husband. She had suffered repeated health issues during her life and he seemed the need to share details of her life to assuage a soon-to-be uncertain future following a grim prognosis. After a long visit, Calvin thanked us, we exchanged well wishes and then left. It had been a bitter cold day and though I experienced many warm thoughts toward everyone we visited, I couldn’t shake the reality of what it’s like on the other side of the leash…exactly where I had been just two months earlier with my mom. It weighed on my heart and made sleep pretty elusive that night.

Tomorrow we’ll visit West Pines again and should have more stories to share later. Last month’s West Pines visit touched me and it will no doubt likely be the same again this time. We continue to be moved by the residents at West Pines. They often impact us for days and even weeks later.

Live, love, bark❣

81 thoughts on “Reflections on Therapy Visits ~ Part 1

  1. I loved reading this, Monika and was reminded of the time I spend in hospital when I was initially diagnosed and treated for my auto-immune disease. They were very bleak days for me and I experienced a despair that had no end. My husband worked through because we knew he’d be needed when I arrived home and I was alone much of the time. I was also having tests and I still remember how they’d wheel me down and just park me in the corridoor like I was already dead. I remember watching people walking past and analyzing how they walked. Now, I can imagine you and Sam wandering through that dreary corridoor and bringing me such joy. You can feel like a prisoner in hospital, and a friendly face makes such a difference. I must say that I really appreciated the flowers my many friends and family sent it. They really brightened up the place and I remember following Keats’ advice to turn to flowers when you’re feeling down.
    It makes me think Lady and I should get moving, although and I have so many infections, that it would make it difficult.
    I hope you are starting to feel better. My nose is clear. I;m still coughing too much but am otherwise good and on the mend.
    Take care and best wishes,

    1. Thanks, Rowena. Pet therapy is one of the finest things I’ve ever done and I’m always thrilled to share my lovable knucklehead with others knowing how much joy and happiness he brings to an ailing patient. I can only imagine how great Lady would be, allowing someone to twirl their fingers in her soft fur while she patiently allows them to drink in her inner healing magic.

  2. Sounds like you were able to get right back into the swing of making visits, Sam! That’s wonderful. I’m glad mom is out of the hospital, I know that can be scary.
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

  3. Many years ago, after my Dad’s sudden death in hospital following two unexpected strokes in the space of a few hours, my Mom could no longer watch any of those television series set in a hospital.

    Fast forward more than twenty years to her own last days: she was in a truly amazing little hospice down the coast with the most wonderful nurses, who made her last weeks as comfortable as possible. It was a warm, comforting, peaceful place and perhaps the only thing missing was a therapy dog like Sam.

    Well done to both of you for the love, joy and comfort you bring to both patients and visitors.

    1. Thank you, Susan. Hospice staff are truly amazing and do the best for patients. Sorry you lost both your parents; I know they don’t last forever but it always comes as a hard shock when it arrives.

  4. I can see how hospitals can trigger past experiences. I have friends who are unable to enter a hospital, to the point of feeling ill if they do. Yet, you and Sam persevere and bring joy to those who need some levity.

    1. I really hadn’t expected such a pronounced reaction and will be more sympathetic to others. Thank goodness my 4-legged rock star was there. I hope everyone has that kind of support system in place.

  5. You and Sam are a special team and a gift to everyone you visit. I’m so sorry that your visit stirred painful memories, but thankful that Sam was by your side to offer comfort and support. <3

    1. Many thanks. Yes, it was fortunate my BFF was there when the memories started flooding my heart. Today was better and I hope I was able to lighten his load with all the people we saw. The ‘magic pocket’ contained all the high value treats which he seemed to enjoy. ☺️

  6. You two do such good work! I know that all of the patients (and families and staff) you visit are touched and feel better, even if just for the moment. Sometimes, a moment of peace and a listening ear goes a long way when you’re stressed out. I’m glad that your mom is back home. I know how stressful it is to have a loved one who has a long hospital stay. The memories can be overwhelming too. Kudos to you for pushing on and helping others.

  7. It must be rewarding to see all the ways Sam makes people happy – if only for a short while. I love that the non-patients are just as happy to see him as the patients!

  8. this was a delightful and poignant post. I love how petting and seeing Sam made so many feel compelled to share THEIR stories. I remember when my father-in-law was in the memory unit of a nursing home before he passed, and there were therapy dogs who would come to visit. It would warm my heart to see people who had no memories of much of anything, smile when they would see these dogs. I often wondered if for a moment they were reminded of a special dog that they had. Whenever I see dogs such as Sam doing their “jobs”, my heart (and hat) goes off to all of these amazing dogs and their owners who invest so much of themselves to just bring even a few minutes of joy, peace and comfort to another. You and Sam rock, he is one special woofie and is sure a far cry from being a “knucklehead” even if I know you call him that with the utmost of love! xoxo

  9. I can surely relate to that dread feeling that can overcome when re-entering a hospital after an absence. Gives me chicken skin just thinking about it. And thanks for the tip: I am now taking the few hairs I have left and fluffing them into a giant puff ball in the hope pretty young nurses will come and fawn over me. So far, no joy. Keep up the good work you guys but be sure to keep your head in a good place – what you do can be tremendously stress-inducing!

    1. It can be very challenging when you’ve been on both sides of the leash, that’s for sure as I know you’ve experienced. I’m just in awe of how Sam is able to handle everything that he sees with such grace and care. I’m sure Max does the same for you. 😍

  10. It takes not just a special dog, but a special person to do this kind of therapy. When I started going to the children’s hospital with Lexi, I was told not everyone could do this. In fact, when my closest friend from PA came to visit, she declined going to our scheduled appointment at the children’s hospital for just that reason. I chose to see the happiness Lexi’s visits brought. And I sometimes wonder if Lexi was happier on stage or at the hospital. The children’s hospital was the only place I saw her smile…

    1. There are days when I’m not sure I’m cut out for these visits and then Sam shows me how easy it is to care about the person across the bed from you and his example provides all the guidance I need.

  11. It’s a beautiful thing Sam and you do, and I’m sure in a place like hospital or hospice, it’s a breath of joy in an otherwise sad and often painful place.

    I’m sorry that you were flooded with memories of your mom’s illness. It’s funny how certain events can trigger memories.

    I hope your next visit had less memory triggers.

  12. You and Sam are quite a special team! Not having what it takes to do it myself, I hold you in highest regard. I’m sure having those memories flood back must be emotionally exhausting!

    I hope Sam’s poor toe has healed by now and isn’t angry with you any more! He is quite the trooper! Shadow and Ducky are whiny primadonnas when it comes to having ANYTHING on their cute little paws! Luckily I don’t have to worry about it in the backyard! 🙄

  13. What you are doing is so very wonderful. You are making a difference and so is Sam. What a heartwarming post. Thank you for what you and Sam do.

    Have a blessed day. Extra scritches to Sam. ♥

  14. You are a beautiful human and Sam is one of a kind amazing. I teared up as I read this, for so many reasons.
    And yes, going into a hospital brings you right back . . to visits that were not quite so pleasant. Everything evokes a certain memory. And yet, you prevailed, and you did this! I am just . . just! No words.

    Just bless you both.

    Peace and love

    1. Aww, shucks. Thank you. Sam is the impressive one-he has such amazing abilities bringing a bright spot to those who need it most. I always feel privileged to be able to share him with those who need a goofball to make them feel better. ☮️

  15. For the last two years of my mother’s life there were a few ambulance deliveries to the hospital. All the while and for some times afterward I would cry every time I heard an ambulance siren. Eventually it went away but the flashbacks were awful! Now when I hear them I say a prayer for them.

  16. it Must have been hard to get back on that horse as you entered the hospital with so many painful memories of your mom’s ordeal last year. It sounds like Sam was your rock and helped you weather the storm. You are both angels to staff and patients!

    1. As always, many thanks for the kind words. It didn’t occur to me that going back would so emotional. It really snuck up on me. So grateful that Sam was there to be for me what he is for those we visit.

  17. I’ve wondered what it’s like to have a pet who is a “professional” therapy dog. Clearly Sam is a star, and you are an angel for helping him fulfill his duties. Looking forward to Part 2.

  18. Sam you are on the way to become a super star… I bet the two girls will share the selfies with all their friends and viola a new star of cyperspace is born… ca I pre-order a mug, a food bowl and a t-shirt with your signature please (if possible not with yellow ink)?

  19. I did Therapy Dog work for a long time back in the day, even founded a chapter of Therapy Dogs International, Pals on Paws. I had two goldens certified. Ripley never really loved it, being a shy boy, but Sprocket did enjoy it. Me, an anxious social-phobe…not so much. 🙂

    1. For me who is socially awkward, my job is to drive. Oh and then listen to people tell their stories. Bless you for being a pet therapist and extra ear scritches to Ridley and Sprocket. 💖

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