Personal information obtained on therapy visits is confidential. When applicable the name/location/sex/condition of persons visited may be changed to protect privacy. However, the interactions, conversations are true and did occur as written.
Gopher, Chad, and Carla are all volunteers. They do not officially represent any institution that may be mentioned.
Working with rescue and in therapy work I have often seen and heard the comment, he or she is 'just a dog'. There are poems and countless blog entries on how people reflect on this seemingly cold comment of being 'just a dog', and I share their sentiments, but today the day before Thanksgiving I am thankful to have 'just a dog'.
Not too long ago, Gopher and I were doing our rounds after completing one ward we paused to give Gopher a drink of water before proceeding on to our next ward. As we paused a family member came to get some water and asked about Gopher and what he was doing there. I explained he was a therapy dog and making visits to patients and family. That she could certainly pet him.
She asked if I could come back to the ward we just left to see her family member who was being treated. I said yes and returned.
We had skipped this room on our rounds as the door was closed, curtains draw and the lights were low. As as a therapy team in these situations you move on and do not wake a resting patient.
The room itself was a typical hospital room, with the low lighting it took a moment for our eyes to adjust. The stress, fear and anxiety that hung in the room was palatable. The room was full of family that had been there in the uncomfortable silence typical of hospital rooms where conversation is often difficult, and on the bed our patient.
A man not too old and also not too young. His hair was nearly gone and he was frail, a mere shadow of the man he had been when healthy, a sign of his prolonged illness and toxic treatments. His respiration was harsh and the well known button to deliver pain medication was clutched tightly in his hand. He was steadily pressing it to no avail as the soothing drugs are delivered intermittently no matter how many times it is pressed.
"Phillip, look what we have for you, there is a dog here like yours."
The patient opened his eyes, and a smile graced his face. "Can he lay up here with me."
"Absolutely, let me grab a cloth." I grabbed some linen and placed in on the bed at his side. Gopher without cue placed one front paw then the other and slowly scooted forward bringing up his hind limbs one at a time, never standing on the bed he placed himself laying down next to the man. He leaned into him and placed his head in the center of his chest and looked him right in the face.
Our patient smiled, and put his arms around Gopher. He began petting and scratching all over. His respiration slowed and he released the pain medication delivery button and replaced it with a mound of golden fur.
The awkward silence in the room broke.
"Hey Dad, remember when....."
"Yes, I remember that, he is so much like our dog, but much calmer."
Hey Dad, when you get home we should..."
"Yes, Phillip I know he will be happy to see you and then you and the boys can..."
"That would be great, this guy is so calm, has he always been this way"
"No", I replied, "When he is at home he is a typical active Golden, he is only calm here because he knows his job and likes it so much."
The conversation between the patient, family and myself continued but only for a few moments. I noted that Phillip began to fall asleep, after the second head nod and startle. I thanked him for letting us visit he and the family that was now surrounding the bed petting and jovially talking about their dog, what was going on at school and more said their goodbyes. Gopher got a big hug from the patient and gently left the bed. I grabbed the linen and tossed it in the hamper and left.
I had closed the door and was a few feet down the hall when it reopened and one of the family came to me, "Thank you and Gopher so very much for stopping and the work you do, we haven't had that much fun in weeks, bless you both."
So this Thanksgiving as I gather with my 'extended' family and reflect on the many blessings I am thankful for, I will remain thankful for my 'just a dog'. As in those few moments my 'just a dog' transformed Phillip from 'just another suffering patient', to a dad, a husband, an uncle, a son and allowed this family to be 'just a family' and not that family with the ill son, ill father, with an uncertain future.
Thank you Gopher, even though you are 'just a dog'.
Many blessings to you and your families, and I hope that Thanksgiving Day will allow you to be 'just a family' and the time to be thankful to be just that.