Monday, December 08, 2008

Small Comforts...

Recently, Eddie and I, along with Frank, registered to volunteer for People Animals Love (or PAL). This is a therapy dog organization that visits nursing homes and group homes for the mentally ill, providing them with comfort and compassion.

We got into this quite accidentally. Eddie actually signed himself and Frank up without us first knowing about it. But since it was such a nice cause, we decided to go ahead with it.

Eddie was registered as Frank's handler, and Frank himself was registered as a bona-fide service animal. Once Frank passed his evaluation, the three of us were allowed to visit a local nursing home in Leesburg. November was our first visit, and honestly, it was quite overwhelming for all three of us. We had to quit early--after about 40 minutes of visiting with the elderly patients in the home. It was just too much emotion for the first trip.

Yesterday was our second visit, and this visit went great. Much better than last time. Eddie (and Frank and I) are getting used to seeing the very old and very sick people. Some of the people are SO sick... it's really sad. It takes some adjustment to seeing people laying prone in their beds, in their nightclothes, mouths agape, tubes in their noses... there's no dignity in extreme infirmity.

But the residents do love to see us. One old black lady with not a single tooth in her head was SO animated and happy to see Frank! She just went on and on about him! Frank would sniff her face, and she'd sniff him back, mimicking him, and then cackle with laughter. "You checkin' me out, ol' Mr. Dog?" More laughter.

Another old Russian lady was so overjoyed to visit with Eddie. She just kept stroking Eddie's hand and as we left, she offered him a clementine and made us promise to come back. And then she said, "And an orange for Daddy too. Take one Daddy."

We met an old man who had obviously just arrived, who bitterly said, "I'm getting the hell out of here in February... I can't stand this goddamned place." (That was sad, because I doubt he is leaving anytime soon.) I tried to be as cheerful as possible, and as we left, I wished him a Merry Christmas. That's when my eyes fell upon his Hebrew Bible sitting on the nighttable. Dammit! I screwed that one up!

There was one lady who was surrounded by at least ten of her family... three generations of people present, the youngest girl about Eddie's age... one of the happier rooms.

There was the retired Army colonel who spoke with Eddie in his Army command voice, "Son, what are you doing here? Do you take care of that dog? Do you feed him?"

There was a lady who was probably no more than 50 years old, but badly palsied by Parkinsons or something. We had to lift her hand to place it on Frank. And her roomate just stared at us blankly the whole time, and I should have walked over to her, but I was afraid, and I didn't, and now I regret that.

There was another lady who was also maybe in her 50s, but grossly obese. She was completely lucid, so it was really sad to see her in there. I wondered why she was there.

There was the old white-haired lady in the hallway in a wheelchair who kept saying, "I hate goddamn dogs" every time we walked by... ("Just keep walking, Eddie.")

Finally, there was the sweet lady who told us the same story of her dog three times in a row, one right after the other, right after the other. How her mother never liked dogs, but her brother brought home a box of dogs one day, and her mother let them keep one of them as long as they kept it outside. But one cold winter night, her brother and she came home and didn't see the dog outside. They got worried and ran upstairs, and the dog was in bed with mother. Her mother said, "Well, it's too cold outside for that dog!"

This was a great experience, but it also weighs on the heart. It's such a sad end to what must have been full and happy lives.

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