Follow by Email

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

About A Girl

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.

"I have boxers, he's cute." Those were the first words little E spoke to me before quickly settling in next to Gopher for our visit. She has been one of the sweetest and most faithful visitors of Gophers the past few months,  and what an amazing little girl. E always came to us with a smile on her face and a knowledge of dogs well beyond most children of her tender age, but like most children we visit she has been facing an illness much beyond her years. Her and her family never stopped amazing me throughout our visits, and her positive attitude was nothing less than contagious.

"Hey Dad, when I get better can I get a dog like Gopher."

"You know when I get better I am going to go camping and fishing, I have never gotten to go before, and I will be better soon and get to go next summer."

"He's cute, I love him, do you think when I am better, I can teach my dogs to be like him and come back for visits?"

Mom and Dad both confirming all things, without hesitation or even fear in their eyes, they knew she would be better, and this was nothing more than a bump in the road, a temporary illness that needed a band aid. The strength of the three of them would overwhelm me on more than one occasion, and on our drives home I would tear up for a few moments thinking about them and hoping that all her dream for the future would come true. In Little E's world there always was a future and it would be better.

She would come and visit Gopher at every visit, always with a smile and always excited to see him. I never got to see her whole face since she was always wearing a mask to protect her compromised immune system. Despite the mask you could always see the smile and sparkle in her eyes. She stroked Gopher and would work her way into a position where she would sit using his side as a back rest and Gopher would arch around himself around her making a perfect chair. Little E would sit there talking with Gopher or talking with me all the while stroking his neck, head and back. During our visits she would hug him many times with Gopher being perfectly accommodating wrapping his head around her neck giving his best doggy hug. Following each hug she would give him the best kiss she could by pressing her mask into his fur and kissing the inside of the mask.

The last time Gopher and I would get to visit with E was also Hawaiian night at the facility, and what a night it was. The lobby area and our visiting area transformed to brightly colored rooms of streamers. music was playing, a DJ was playing music and engaging with the kids, and food was everywhere. It was a dreary evening outside and the spirit inside could not be more different than the activities within the facility.

E was having her caricature done when we arrived, and staff set Gopher and I up with Leis. Gopher and I then went over and said hello, and she gave him a pat over the wall and told me she would be with us in a minute. We worked our way through the crowd and settled into our typical spot in now a highly decorated room. Gopher was highly distracted on this visit due to the music, people and food everywhere. I seemed to be the only one to notice this as everyone who came up and loved him talked about how well behaved he was and loved him, but no one loved him more than E. She came up promptly after getting her caricature completed and adorned him with more leis, hugs, and her own special kisses. 

Gopher and her spent most of the evening together. Gopher did one round of limbo with her, and even dance with her by sitting back on his haunches and letting her hold his front paws and sway together. He kept himself low and let her dance with him for many minutes and looked into her eyes, despite being several inches taller than her. E went off to do some crafts, and after craftily painting a box in the shape of a heart returned it to him stating "Look Gopher what I made for you." She then went off again only to return a little bit later with a sandal shaped ceramic box, craftily painted and even autographed. Gopher and I thanked her again, me verbally and Gopher by delivering a solicited 'kiss' on her cheek.

E has been one of many of faithful Gopher fans. Her attitude, and her families attitude for a situation that could easily overwhelm any one person left an everlasting mark on me. Her gifts to Gopher have been placed in a safe visible spot in my home to remind me of them and their strength.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Gopher’s Biggest Fan, and Consistent Therapy ‘Patient’

It has been a year myself and Gopher have been able to fulfill our work as a therapy team, and three years since the journey began, and it is amazing what I have been able to see, but even more amazing as to what I have learned.

There are very few people who have insight into me and my true nature of vulnerability. The most common and widespread misconception people have about me is that I am confident and even arrogant, both could not be further from the truth,  but I enjoy this perception so I do what I can to propagate it. My fears are not too different from any one else but they are still mine and no matter what level of commonality I know exists with my community it does not calm the sea of fears I have.

I talk a lot, and often, and I love nothing more than being engaged in a good debate, so many do not realize that every time I speak I am afraid. As an infant I had a feveral seizure following the vaccine pertussis. The cause is unknown; it had been thought to have been either an allergic reaction to the vaccine itself or a low dose mercury poisoning as I was vaccinated from a multiple dose vial that had low level mercury under the name thermosial that is used as an antibacterial and preservative of some vaccines. The resultant seizure damaged the speech and fine motor movements of my brain and I had to learn to walk and talk again, but from this point on when I spoke it would be accompanied with a minor speech impediment. My sister was one of the few people who could understand me and often would speak for me when I was very young. As I grew older her as my shield would go away and my peers would ridicule me as children often do when something was strange or different. The result would be that even at 30 I am still very afraid that when I speak no one will understand me, or dismiss me as my speech impediment would give the image of another defect in my mental faculties.

The fear of speaking is one of my fears that are more unique to me and not shared by as many in the population as my other fears. Being raised by parents and grandparents who have instilled a fear in me of always telling people how you feel as you don’t know what will happen, my grandmother especially always telling us. “Good night, I love you, see you in the morning, I hope.” Makes me want to take the time now to tell some good friends, Duck, Greg, Annie and many others I count as friends in the theater community how much I look up to them and almost envy them as they speak and put themselves out there in ways I cannot even imagine due to my fear of simply speaking. You all are wonderful in so many ways, but probably never realized how much you amaze in that simple ability alone.

My other fears are more traditional the biggest one is failure and this last year has been the most difficult in my life. I am afraid as most of people are, of disappointing others, friends, my mother-in-laws (Yes, I am a lucky man and I get two), my father-in-law, my sister, my mom and dad, my wife, and myself. Persons like myself who have what seems like an overwhelming fear of failure resort to two things, becoming withdrawn, which I do to a point, or overcompensating which I am more likely to do. So I respond, I take on challenges that seem insurmountable and when I tackle a task I deflect making sure the credit goes to someone else as it is not me who could have done this, and when it goes poorly rather I am the cause or not I take over all of the blame, as no matter how many are involved it is assuredly my fault. I also seem to have a string of bad luck, and I blame myself for it, even if it is out of my hands. I get an internship of my dreams, and have a blast, but it goes bad, my life is threatened, and it is I who failed not the horrible mental disease of my intern advisor gone awry it is my fault. I settle into a position I despise, not due to the work or my peers, but due to leadership and struggle in a bad economy where everyone is suffering to find something else, and am unsuccessful and it is me who is failing. I am laid off and struggle to fill the void of work and income, and it is entirely my fault. Personal finances suffer and it is my fault since I am out of work. Nevermind the overwhelming evidence that this is the second worst economic times in America, that there are many, many people in my position, and often in more uncomfortable situations than myself it is assuredly my fault, I failed. This fear is not unlike the majority of my peers and my community, but as is the same with all people no matter how logically I know I am not alone in feeling these, I still feel alone in this fear.

I am extremely blessed with a loving wife, and loving family, and for three years a loving dog, that has performed as a therapy dog to me more in our visits than any other person I have visited with.
Since he is the focus of all our visits, and I trust him and have so much confidence in his ability to help others, I have been able to talk for the first time in my life with adults and children for the first time in my life without fear. Persons with any level of speaking impediment will understand how much of a relief it is to be able to speak without being afraid for the first time in memory. This fear, although not crippling exists with me every day rather I am speaking to a stranger or my mother, it is irrational as most social fears are, and cannot be corrected by any amount of reassurances by loved ones or friends. More often than not those reassurances heighten the fears, and the thought right or wrong that they are only giving me reassurances because they care and want to protect me. On our visits though, thanks to Gopher it is gone.

It is nearly inexplicable how much this changes ones perception if only for an hour or so a week my fear of speaking is gone. I hope with Gopher’s help I can start extending this to other areas of my life, and may one day leave this fear behind.

The fear of failure unfortunately though has not left, not even for an hour of vacation, but does it ever really leave someone? However because of Gopher, and the success he has had in therapy work thus far, I am able to be truly confident despite the fear. Most people who have taken the time to read this will believe that I do all of this work and the blog for one of two reasons, first that I am an altruistic and wonderful person, or second that I do it to seek attention. Both are false. In the beginning I wanted to do it, because I thought it could help, to fill In with some level of work satisfaction since I could get none of that from what I actually get paid to do daily. The blog was and still is to share our experiences in the hope more people will find a way to do this on their own, provide insight to those looking in from the outside thinking they might want to be part of a team someday, and hopefully provide some smiles to others who can bear witness via the blog to the hundreds of smiles Gopher has given to me and others.

Now my motivation for going nearly every week and sometimes multiple times a week is not for those to whom Gopher will bring a moment of comfort or the pat on the back of peers, or even the wonderful things I have seen. It is purely for the therapy Gopher gives me,  an hour of being able to speak without fear, and the confidence to face and accept my failures, move on, and find my next path. Thank you Gopher, for being my companion, friend, and my ‘therapist’.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Stan never seemed overly interested.

Stan never appeared too interested in Gopher on our visits, which is not something that has ever deterred me. I can only go to the facility and do my best to make sure Gopher is well mannered and direct him during visits. That is all I am supposed to do, visiting a therapy dog is entirely by choice and no matter how great I believe Gopher is, it is not my job to force him on any person. When I say Stan never appeared too interested in Gopher you might misunderstand what I mean. In the months that I would know Stan he always came by and petted Gopher and said hello at least one time during a visit.

When I came to visit I would often see Stan early on in the visit. He would come over and say his hello’s and then be off to take part in one activity or another. I was never offended and very pleased that Stan took the time to say hello to Gopher and give him a pet. He never stuck around like some of the kids often do and sit or lay on the floor petting Gopher sometimes for the entire duration of our visit. He simply said his hello and left, always seeming to be on an itinerary, when he was feeling well.

On days when I visited and he was not feeling as well he would sit in the same room I was in with Gopher, without his customary hello and pet. His mother and I would ask if he wanted to see Gopher and he would simply shake his head no, but always looked at Gopher and gave him a weak smile.  Occasionally Stan would stop and talk with me for a few moments, never an extensive discussion, but more than sometimes being just the ‘other end of the leash’ I am used too and happy to merely facilitate Gopher and not be acknowledged. That means I am doing my job, keeping Gopher safe and allowing his visitors to have a little taste of home or a friend to talk to for a few minutes that is what I am supposed to do.

The months went by and Stan continued his routine, on good days he gave his pat said his hello, and went about his day, or on the bad days just sat in a chair and looked at Gopher. That was the extent of their relationship. Gopher always wagged as Stan approached, but he is a Golden and I have yet to see him not wag when approached by anyone who might give him a pet or a treat. The winter of Stan’s arrival faded into, spring, and then summer. Stan’s bad days became fewer and farther between so I could only presume that he was improving, or the treatments were being given at lower and lower doses.

Stan came up to Gopher at the beginning of August, but his routine had altered. He sat down, and began to stroke Gopher along his neck, back even his snout. Gopher always eager for pets did not seem to notice the change as much as I did and merely did the ‘Golden lean’ putting as much love into Stan as he was getting in pets. Stan did not say a word and the two stayed in their respective positions for fifteen minutes. Then Stan turn, sitting on his knees, and looked Gopher right in the eyes, leaned forward and gave him a hug, it was while hugging Gopher that I heard Stan speak for the first time on the visit. He said, “Goodbye Gopher, I’m all better now and get to go home on Friday. I know I won’t see you again, you made things less scary, thanks for being my friend.” Then Stan stood up told me goodbye and walked away.

I was shocked, I never thought Stan disliked Gopher, I knew he liked him, but I never thought Gopher meant that much to him. Goes to show how little I know about what Gopher and I are doing. Thank you Stan for teaching me that lesson, Gopher and I will miss seeing you

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Happy Birthday!

Gopher celebrated his third birthday this week, with a special cake made for him by his Uncle Drew and Aunt Mindy. Gluten free to avoid any allergic reactions. He is one loved and spoiled boy. Here he is enjoying his cake.

More adventures to be posted soon!