A couple of weeks ago, Luke
finally received his registration from Therapy
Dogs Inc. Things have been hectic here so we
haven't had a chance to pay a visit to Exeter
Healthcare....until yesterday [April 28, 2008].
It was a rainy, dreary day. Just perfect for a
visit to our favorite rehab center. A thorough
brushing to remove any excess fur, and a change
of clothes for me and we were off. Luke was
excited to go for a ride and when he saw where
we were going, he became more animated. We have
been here many times before so Luke could work
with the staff getting him used to all the
things he will encounter during his real visits.
Wheelchairs, crutches, walkers, and, oh yes, the
inevitable lunch cart were taken by him until
they were no big deal. Now, we would put all
this work to the test.
Luke and I walked into the facility and were
greeted enthusiastically by the staff. Most of
the people were old friends and knew Lucy and
Ben. They were so happy to see me back with Luke
and gave us the royal welcome. We started with
the short term rooms where I could get Luke used
to visiting people who could interact with him.
To my delight, he warmed to the task and
delighted everyone he met. He proved to be a
"leaner", resting his body, gently against the
patients so they had no choice but to pat him. I
watched him very carefully, looking for traits
that I would need to work out and others that I
would need to encourage. Amazingly, there was
not one negative trait that needed correcting. I
did see, however, a few I need to encourage. Eye
contact, and head resting are my priorities for
I felt comfortable enough to take him to the
"Vent" wing where people who are paralyzed live.
This is a long term care facility and some of
these patients have been here for 10 years. I
just cannot imagine having to live a life, in a
bed, without the ability to move one muscle from
your head down. The depression must be enormous.
Imagine, then, (assuming you like dogs) the joy
of a visit with a beautiful, friendly, golden
retriever and an understanding human.
My first patient was "Doug". Doug has been here
for as long as I've been visiting. He's about my
age, thin, bald, but with expressive eyes
complete with crows feet. How does a guy who has
been paralyzed for at least 10 years have crows
feet? Doug smiles! He cannot talk but will mouth
his words and compliment them with his eyes.
Believe it or not, communicating with him is
easier than you think. It's amazing how clear he
is when his mouthing a greeting and his eyes are
crinkled in a smile. He has seen Luke before but
we have not made any physical contact.
I walked into his room and said "Hi Doug! We're
His eyes crinkled and he mouthed
"How's he doing?" I read from his lips.
"So far, so good!" I replied.
I explained that because he was so new to this,
I wanted to let him look around the room and get
used to the equipment that kept Doug alive. I
showed Luke the ventilator that was making a
rhythmic, wheezing sound followed by a click and
the exhaust of air. Next we saw the catheters
and electrical cables that carried the waste
from Doug and kept him monitored by the nurses
station. Luke took all this with aplomb.
Finally, I brought him to Doug's side and told
Doug what I wanted to do.
When Lucy was alive, I would lift her out of her
stroller and place her in the bed with Doug. She
would make her way to his head where she would
give him kisses. Because of Doug's paralysis, he
has no feeling anywhere on his body with the
exception of his head. Lucy seemed to know this
and Doug absolutely loved it!
I told Doug that I was going to place Luke's big
paws on the side of his bed, next to his head so
Luke will understand that this is where he needs
to go to make meaningful contact with Doug. He
crinkled his eyes and mouthed "OK!"
I told Luke "UP!" and "Easy!" and lifted his
paws and placed them on the side of the bed. I
covered his paws with my hands in case he
reached out. Doug can't move out of the way and
Luke's claws, although short, could do some
Doug looked at Luke, moving just his eyes, and
mouthed "Hi Luke!"
Luke then amazed me by slowly leaning forward
until his nose was almost touching Doug.
Carefully, gently, he began to lick Doug's face.
Doug opened his mouth wide in a laugh. His body
shook as he laughed. He pursed his lips and made
squeaking sounds (Like you were calling a cat)
and all the while Luke kept licking. All this
took only seconds but for me, time had slowed
down to a crawl. Luke finally stopped and pulled
away. Doug stopped laughing but the smile
"Good boy!" he mouthed. Then to me, "Thank you!"
"You're welcome, Doug" I said. "I am so happy
that Luke seems to know what he's doing. I think
Lucy's there beside him, guiding him and
Doug replied "I think so too."
Not wanting to stress Luke out, I told Doug that
I would be back next week. He thanked me and as
we made our way out of his room, Luke looked
back at Doug. I could see that he liked the
visit and was sad to go.
We had been at the rehab for almost an hour and
I decided to call it a day. Luke was beginning
to pant. It might have been the heat but he may
have reached his limit for the day. We said
goodbye to everyone and walked out into the
"Not bad" I thought to myself. "Not bad at all!"