Day 1 post-operative was a busy day and certainly had its up's and down's. Over the course of the day, Mom saw 15 doctors including fellows, residents, members of the surgical team, physiotherapists and of course, Dr. Fehlings himself. I have to say, he knows how to make a patient smile. He came strolling into the room dressed to the nines with a big smile on, leading off with "hello gorgeous"! Mom, always quick on her feet said, "look at you all dressed up!", and with that he continued to flatter, "I had to, I was coming to see you!". He admitted he was a bit stumped by her the previous night when after surgery she was unable to move her right leg, when everything had gone so well in the OR. He explained how sometime the local anesthetic at the surgery site can 'leak' out onto the nerves and cause temporary paralysis like Mom experienced. Its very rare for that to happen but hey, we all know Mom is a rare case. Blood pressure was also problematic throughout the day, falling too low when she slept and she had a bout of autonomic disreflexia, and it skyrocketing. Luckily, in the Neuro ICU she is in more than capable hands and both situations were resolved without incident. At the end of the evening, we left for another restless night in the ICU.
Exemplary Healers, Exemplary Healing.
By: Mary Merchant
My friendship with Maureen sprang from our mutual passion for exploring and celebrating the healing powers of Animal-Assisted Therapy. Each of us has Therapy Dogs; each of us has been humbled and enriched by what these skilled healers have brought to others. And each of us has been inspired by what they’ve taught us along the way about the role of healing and healers, whether they travel on four paws or two feet. So I thought it might be fitting, in this time of healing for Maureen, to share some of these stories, tales learned at ‘the northern end of the leash’...
By rights, some of these anecdotes are really Maureen’s to tell; some belong to others, and some to me. But regardless of who ‘tells’ them, it’s the Therapy Dogs themselves who’ve created these stories, who’ve sniffed out the plots, enriched the characters, and done their level best to produce something far more important than happy endings. Healing moments are what Therapy Dogs bring to the lives they touch: a gift that each of us needs in this life, and a grace that each of us can aspire to offer others.
Maureen and I were introduced by her enchanting friend, Whinnie, a female Golden Retriever with a ‘heart as big as the Ritz’, an infectious grin at one end and non-stop tail at the other. We met over a year ago, when they applied to the Pet Therapy Service I manage for the regional hospital here in North Bay. Done deed! The two of them passed all the tests for certification as a Therapy Dog team and went on to complete their on-the-job training with flying colours (and the previously mentioned wagging tail!) Their assignments have been some of the toughest ones, working with patients in the Forensic division of Mental Health, and also with troubled teens, many battling depression and eating disorders. Versatile Whinnie lounges on the floor and enthusiastically shares tummy rubs with the kids. And she climbs up on a couch (yes, it’s allowed!) to snuggle with the adult psychiatric patients who so look forward to the affection and break in routine she brings.
Whinnie’s true skill as a healer, however, is in relating to people who are under tremendous stress. Hospitals being the slow-motion crisis zones that they are, this includes not just patients, but also staff and visiting family members. On two recent occasions, she’s shown special concern for physicians who stopped for a moment to admire her. Each time, Whinnie came over to the doctor and gently pressed against them in her version of a hug - going so far as to sit right on the feet of one of them, making sure their visit would last. Each doctor remarked on Whinnie’s uncanny accuracy in identifying them as having - in the words of one - ‘a truly awful, awful day’... On another occasion, a hospital visitor, struggling with who knows what bad news or painful emotions of her own, met Maureen and Whinnie in a hospital corridor, and noticed Whinnie looking at her very intently. Without a word, she threw her arms around the dog’s neck, and began sobbing into her fur. A few moments later, the woman pulled herself together, asked Whinnie’s name, and thanked her for being there. Then walked away, still trouble laden, but now, with at least some of her emotional burden released.
Therapy Dog owners are often told “It must be wonderful to see all the smiles these dogs bring!”. Yes, it is. But it is the tears that are infinitely more precious, and arguably the most healing.
Some Therapy Dogs have a special gift for lifting hearts as well as healing them. Ramsay, a Shetland Sheepdog who might be considered ‘terminally cute’, is a specialist in delighting elderly hospital patients, ladies especially, who adore having him sit in their laps. Recently, one of Ramsay’s most fervent fans asked that he attend her 99th birthday party, held at the hospital. Ramsay proudly supervised the celebration - and graciously sampled bits of cake - from his privileged spot in the birthday girl’s lap. He visited her faithfully throughout her remaining months of life, gazing at each other with a look that transcended species, transcended pain, transcended illness and life drawing to an end. Together they were healer and healed, wholly engaged in the dance of life.
Therapy Dog Ellie Mae, is a Basset/Beagle cross - a happy combination of breeds justly famed for their scent detection skills. But sweet, persistent Ellie also sniffs out fear - and knows just what to do about it. When she first started visiting ‘J’. a mentally handicapped patient, his only words were an anxiously repeated refrain: “Doggie bite? Doggie bite? Doggie bite?” Despite his fascination with dogs, there was a persistent fear and hesitation that blocked any kind of close contact. Numerous Therapy Dog teams had worked with him over many months, but his crippling anxiety persisted. I wish I could tell you what Ellie did that made a difference. So does her handler/owner. All we know is that now, when he sees Ellie - ‘J.’ is wreathed in smiles. And all he says is ‘Good doggie, good doggie’. And then the two of them take a walk down the hospital corridor together, J. proudly holding on to the leash while Ellie goes in search of interesting smells.