I Stared At Death Today – Therapy Dog Travels

note: all names have been changed

I stared at Death today.   Not like the Grim Reaper was coming for me or anything – I didn’t narrowly avoid dying – but I was certainly as close to the presence of Death as I’ve ever been this morning.   It was a bizarre feeling – so what do I do?  I write a  post about it, in this public journal and thought experiment I call my “blog.”

This morning Mrs. Dynamite had some business to attend to in Boston, so Oscar and I went on our weekly therapy dog visit to a local nursing home, leaving Mr. Griffey (and Benny) at home.   As I hung up  my coat and chatted with Dana,  the woman who runs the therapy dog program at this facility, I dropped Oscar’s leash, since he had spotted one of his regular resident pals who was working on a puzzle across the rec room.  As Dana showed me a new list she’d made of residents who would like to see the dogs, Oscar’s friend picked up his leash and walked away with him, toward her room.   This resident, Alice, lives two doors down, and she loves to see Oscar and Griffey every week.   She lets them jump up in her bed, gives them treats, and tells us tales of the dogs she used to have.      Dana asked me, “Is that ok?” as we watched Alice abscond with my pooch, but I had a wide smile on my face as I marveled at how Oscar knew exactly where he was going:  to her room, to get treats.

I caught up to Oscar and Alice a minute later, after explaining to Dana that I’d better get in there before she fed him half the box of treats… Oscar was up on his hind legs, doing tricks for Alice, as she stuffed treats into his mouth.   But it was Alice’s roommate that caught my attention today.   The residents in the facility where we visit are in various stages of old age.   Some still get around on their own with no help, some use walkers, some are in wheelchairs, and some are bed-ridden.   Alice’s roommate, Jane is in this latter category – she doesn’t get up and around much, but just last week she’d clearly shown some non-verbal interest in seeing Oscar, and I’d brought him over to her bed so she could pet him as Alice had played with Mr. Griffey.   This week, however, I was staring at death, and it felt weird.

Have you ever watched someone die?   Despite being in this facility on a weekly basis, and observing people who were in vegetative states, I’d never seen anything like this.   Alice’s previous roommate, Pam, in fact, was in a largely vegetative state, but some of our most amazing therapy dog moments happened when she seemed to miraculously snap “out of it” (or: “into it,” as the case was) and show signs of life if she caught site of Oscar.   Her daughter, Deb*, was frequently visiting Pam when we’d show up with the dogs, and was in absolute awe when her mother, in reply to my rhetorical “How are you today?”  as I lifted Oscar up near her site line, replied our of nowhere, loudly: “Good!”     Pam almost never spoke and hardly moved, but seeing Oscar had motivated her to blurt out a response, and to try to move her arm to pet him.   Deb just shook her head and choked back tears, as she thanked us profusely.   We thanked her back – for allowing us to come to visit, which the dogs legitimately enjoy doing, and for allowing us to share the experience.

Pam died several weeks ago, but despite repeatedly seeing her in less-than-stellar states, I’d never felt like I was standing there as she was dying.   Today was different.

Jane was dying, and it was plain to see.   She looked similar to some of the “vegetative” patients you’ll see in any nursing home, only distressed.  Gasping. Moaning.   There was a hospice nurse by her bedside, punching numbers into some sort of computer/monitor device, and Alice muttered to me, “my roommate is dying…”  “Ummm, yeah – I’m sorry about that,”  I replied, impotently.  “You and me both,”  Alice said, as she put her hand on my shoulder, and leaned over to give Oscar another treat.

I briefly pondered placing Oscar in bed next to Jane, but decided against it.     But the hospice nurse – I was immediately mentally adding this job to “list of jobs I could never do.”   What a ridiculously difficult job.  You think your job sucks?  Imagine going to work every day and watching people die.   Fuck.  The nurse looked at Oscar and I said, “you can pet him, you know – he’s for everyone, not just the residents.”  She bent over in her seat and petted Oscar until he looked up at her, staring at her and wagging his tail.   She put her hands around Oscar’s face, smiled at him, and turned to me to say, simply, “thank you.”  But I’d done nothing – Oscar is the magician who can temporarily make death, sadness, worry, boredom, apathy – or whatever else is ailing the residents he visits – disappear…  I’m just the chauffeur – making sure he gets where he needs to go so he can work his magic…



Related:  Death – Therapy Dog Travels

No, I won’t Steal A Bus For You




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