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!!”
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❣