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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Is there value in a Therapy Session when you don’t see a patient?

Names/conditions and other personal information from a Therapy Visit cannot be shared.

Chad Burgess, Carla Donovan-Burgess and Gopher are volunteers and do not officially represent any institution mentioned in these visits.

The experiences, conversations are true and really took place the names of persons, if given have only been changed to protect the privacy of those we visit.


Gopher, Carla and I went on a Therapy visit recently to a local Ronald McDonald House. For those not familiar with this charity, the Ronald McDonald House (RMH) provides living arrangements for families and very sick children whom have to be near a hospital for a series of long treatments.

While visiting I have had two experiences one with patients and their families, and sometimes with only the families. The advantages of Therapy Animal Visits with patients are well documented and researched, and are the images most people have in their heads when they think about Therapy visits. When you start training I know our instructor informed us that this is not always the case and sometimes it is just as much for the families and the staff of a facility.

I have witnessed this as well. There are times when a patient getting a visit might not be up for the visit or is unavailable as they are currently undergoing a treatment. The interactions with the families are no less rewarding and it is my judgment no less beneficial to the patient. An ill person especially a child relies heavily on their family and staff for support. This is a stressful place to be especially in regards to a child who is ill and could be fighting for their life before they even have had a chance conceptualize life and death. In some sad instances a child might only know hospitals, clinics, and a facility like RMH. The support and break a therapy animal is able to give these families and staff is no less important than the break it gives the patient. In a previous entry I spoke about a woman who used the fur of a wonderful Golden to dry her tears, not only was that wonderful animal in a place to provide fur as a Kleenex, it gave this mother the opportunity to cry, show vulnerability, not often afforded to her due to the strength she has to show for her child.

Gopher had this opportunity recently, but this time is wasn’t for the mother it was for the sibling. Fifteen minutes after our arrival a young boy approached Gopher, Carla and I where we sat by a fireplace in a public sitting area of RMH and began to talk. He was very curious about Gopher and anxious to share stories about his experiences with family dogs. He would be our primary and almost our only guest during our one hour visit. I don’t think a moment went by when he wasn’t talking and/or petting Gopher. His stories were wild and improbable typical of a young boy his age, speckled with elements of truth and embellished to add excitement, or the ideas of both wisdom and experience on his part. I can’t even begin to recall all of the stories or where one story ended and another began, but I can tell you some truth, not embellished as this young boys story.

Truth: He was young and his sibling was facing an uncertain future, fighting for his life.
Truth: He was living with his family at RMH where due to this illness he had to be part of a very difficult time, attempting to grasp and understand concepts that were beyond his limited years.
Truth: He was not sick, but his sibling was, and due to the care needed he had to live in an environment where everyone he interacted with was sick or caring for the sick.
Truth: For 45 minutes he was with Gopher and us, not directly caring for the sick, and for those 45 minutes he got to be a kid and maybe forget for a moment the scary things going on around him.

Upon leaving, Carla, Gopher and I were exhausted heads spinning from the stories we had been hearing, and watching him tell them. We did not directly interact with a patient that day, but our visit was no less worthwhile, we gave a young boy an opportunity to be a boy. With that respite I can only imagine the stories he told his parents or sibling perhaps making them laugh for a moment in a place where tears are very common.

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