Saturday, April 25, 2009

Pet Therapy

I volunteered at the hospital today for the first time since Dad died. It felt great, although I only had one really satisfying visit. One of my favorite nurses asked me to talk to a patient who was feeling very spiritually disconnected. I spent a long time with this person, who's had a very difficult life, has an extremely challenging medical condition, and feels profoundly stigmatized and rejected. "I feel like there's a huge black hole inside me."

It turns out, though, that the patient loves dogs. (Indeed, during the early part of our conversation, I thought the patient's dog -- at home with a friend -- was a human child.) I said to the patient, "I want you to close your eyes. Imagine that hole. Now imagine that dogs are streaming into it. Does that help?"

The patient, grinning, said that yes, it did. It helped a lot.

After that exercise, we worked on finding an image of God that would work better for this patient than the standard Jesus-in-a-bathrobe portrayal. Just so you know, it turns out that God is a tri colored Australian Shepherd puppy.

Works for me!

The doctor came in at that point, so I had to leave. The ED was out of stuffed animals, but I went upstairs to Pediatrics and -- with the help of a friendly and obliging nurse -- found a beanie-baby puppy. This one was a Pug, not an Aussie, but the patient appreciated it. "Pugs are great too."

The ED nurse thanked me repeatedly. "You rock! I knew you'd be able to help!"

Meanwhile, the waiting room was full of little kids. I went out there with a bunch of crayons and coloring paper, and discovered that a woman had come in with a baby chick. She explained that she has thirty of them, but this one was getting picked on by the other chicks, so she separated it from them. I never figured out what she was doing at the hospital, but she let some of the kids hold the chick, showing them how to cup their hands around it to warm it, and they were absolutely enthralled.

I crossed the room to offer crayons to two other kids who were waiting with a cranky parent. The parent, who was the patient, explained that they'd been there forever. "Don't bother to give them crayons. I'm just going to leave. I can't sit here anymore!"

I went back into the ED and told the nurse who'd referred me to the dog lover, "Hey, there's a woman out there with a baby chick!"

The nurse squealed. "That's so cute!"

But when I told another nurse, she scowled and said with a glare, "Chickens are disease-bearing animals! No one should bring a chicken into the hospital!"

Oh, crumb. Had I just gotten the chick owner in trouble? (Although I'd been wondering about the germ factor myself.) "It's a very small chicken," I said, thinking hey, at least it's not a rattlesnake.

"It doesn't matter! Chickens carry diseases! But I'm not out there, so I'm not going to do anything about it."

Still toting the crayons Cranky Parent had turned down, I went back out into the waiting room, wondering if I should tell everyone to wash their hands. Should I pass out hand gel? Should I call security to eject the Baby Chick of the Apocalypse and its person?

Cranky Parent, transformed, was cradling the chick and beaming down at it, while the two kids looked on happily. I gave them the crayons.

"You just couldn't resist the crayons, huh?" Cranky Parent said with a chuckle.

"I like giving out crayons," I said. And so I do. Since CP was in a good mood now, I decided not to be the Handwashing Police. If this were really a public-health emergency, Nurse #2 would have charged out there, right? And it looked like CP was now going to stay and get medical care. Yay!

In other news, yesterday I met with a doctoral student who, among other things, is studying social work and interning at one of the psych hospitals in town. I told her about my work in the ED and about how I'd love to work with psych patients. During my shift this morning, I got an e-mail from her saying that she'd spoken to her supervisor; they've recently hired a part-time chaplain, but they'd love to have someone volunteer to talk to patients on weeknights.

Cool! Of course, I don't know if they'll want me when they find out that I'm neither ordained nor a CPE grad, and then there's the time issue: I don't have time for everything I'm doing as it is. But I've wanted to do this for so long that I'll probably at least try it, if they'll let me.


  1. chickens are hardly hotbeds of disease, especially if well-kept, and especially not a chick. In fact the chick was in more danger of catching something from one of the kids.
    I wonder how old the nurse#2 was? My mom was always in a tizzy about not letting us pick up feathers because of bird disease-- but I later realized that was because of the 1918 flu pandemic/bird flu and the lasting impressions it had left for the next couple generations.
    sounds like you had a great day, and I'm glad.


    I stand corrected

  3. Oh, dear. :-(

    Should I do something about this? Call the hospital? Or did I do enough by telling the nurses?


  4. No info here about the chick. LOVE the Aussie pup. No coincidence that "dog" spelled backwards is... you know...

  5. Hi, Terri! Yes, the patient and I discussed that. :-)


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