I heart Thursdays. They’re the one day a week when I can completely put everything in my life on hold, and take time to focus on others.
Each Thursday, Frankie (my dog) and I visit Barnes-Jewish Hospital. We’ve been making our visits every week for about a year and a half. I can honestly say it’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done, and I feel incredibly fortunate to even have the opportunity to do this…not to mention to have a dog who’s incredible enough to put a little glow on the cheeks of each and every person she passes by.
For the first few months of our visits, we stuck strictly to the 15th floor, aka — the psychiatric unit. It can sound scary, but the moment you witness fearful, lonely eyes transform into an unbridled smile…you get it. We’ve seen so many amazing things that I wish I would have started writing about it from the beginning. We’ve had a patient who was too sad to speak, except for the days she saw Frankie. We had a girl who laid in bed with tears for days, until the day Frankie jumped up with her and gave her a reason to laugh. We’ve taught people who only ever knew of dogs as fighters, that their true role in life is to be loved. It’s been amazing.
And then one day, after a few months on the psych unit, word of our visits got around. It could have been our feature in the BJC Newsletter, or maybe just the fact that it’s kind of hard to miss a 75 pound dog on your way up the elevator. Whatever it was, we soon got a call from a cardiac unit begging us to come make a difference in an ill patient’s life. She was an elderly woman who wasn’t doing well. We only saw her for a few weeks, but the visits were very special to us. I’ll save the story for another post, because it’s worthy of its own. But that visit was what brought us down to the heart unit, which we’ve now been visiting for over a year.
About a month ago we were asked to see another patient. One who has had probably the greatest impact of all. She was a heart patient. A young one. We were told that she had been in the hospital for over 6 months, just waiting for a transplant. So, without question, Frankie and I went to go see her. Before I even met her, I saw her door..filled with magazine cut-outs of happy, smiling dogs and cats (my kind of girl :). We walked in, and she was beautiful. She’s in her 20’s, and got married last summer (which I think meant even more to me since I did, too). Her mom was always there with her; her husband was usually at work when we got there. There was an extra bed in the room for her mom. She had already gone through a transplant 10 years earlier. She was now hoping for her second. She would sit in her bed, and Frankie would lay down beside her. She couldn’t get up because it was too hard on her 20-year old heart to walk around. She told me all about her dogs and cats at home, and how much she missed them and wanted them to snuggle up in bed with her. She told me how she’d always wanted to be a vet and how she used to save the wildlife in her yard, including a baby bunny who she’d found wounded, and she nursed him all the way to putting Neosporin on his cuts before bandaging them up. She was so strong. Six months into her marriage, at a time in her life when her biggest concern should be what time she’s getting off work or where she’s taking her next big vacation, and she was sitting, confined to that bed, always with a smile on her face, telling me how neat it was that she could see the 4th of July fireworks from her hospital room window. The last time I saw her was 3 weeks ago.
I was out of town the week after that. When I returned last week, I was told, “We called up to her floor. She’s not there…She got a heart.” I can’t tell you how amazing it felt to hear that. Clearly, it was too soon for us to go visit her. I was hoping today we could at least find out where she was to send a card. But, today, she was no longer in the hospital. I will find out more next week, but we believe that means she went home. I’m so excited for her. She’s finally home. Where a beautiful, young girl belongs.
I keep describing this as “amazing.” It really is. I’m also lucky. It’s an experience that I would never, ever give up. If we miss a week, I can’t wait to get back. Whenever I leave, I feel this sense of comfort in the thought that maybe, just maybe, I made a difference in someone’s day.
I couldn’t do any of this on my own. I need to give credit to my friend, Ashley, who is a nurse at Barnes and gave me the lead that led us to our visits. And Shelly, who is the social worker/activity therapist who selflessly walks from room to room with Frankie and me on each visit. And Purina, my employer, who sponsored a group of us to get registered through Delta Society to become Pet Partners.
I plan on writing many more posts about our pet therapy experiences. If you’re interested in pet therapy, let me know. It’s easy, and worth it. If you know of a place that could benefit from some visits, let me know, too. Delta-St. Louis has a facebook page you can check out, too.
Frankie (Bella and Sugar in background) at the Children's Home Society Carnival
Thanks for listening to me. This is my longest post yet, but one that is probably closest to my heart…and definitely a part of my “living room.”