Over time, I have been slowly settling into my visits as a volunteer with hospice. I am feeling my way through it all and getting more comfortable with my people and my assignments. My assignments change as people die, but typically I am with someone for several weeks and/or months. My anxiety tends to rear its head when my 40 lb. dog’s services are requested. We had such an incident last week. Effie was personally requested for a patient. My first in home visit. Stay with me.
Now in the six months I have been a volunteer I have never done an in home visit. I am one of those people who asks a lot of questions like: Who are they, is the home in the hood, is it safe, who will be in the house, what is their nationality, will someone be there with me, what if the patient has a medical emergency etc. I could freak myself out if I tried hard enough-it doesn’t take much. Deep breath.
The reason I get anxious with Effie is she has a “tiny” issue with riding in a car. I have remedied it quite well by crating her when we travel. She is now generally quiet in the car and becoming a good traveler. That being said when we arrive on location, it takes a few minutes to “settle” once she missile launches from the car! We walk a bit and then go into the facility.
In this case, I received a voice mail from the Hospice Volunteer Coordinator asking me to call her asap as she had a special request. Apparently there was gentlemen under our services who had requested that our nurse assist him in dying. Clearly this is illegal in GA. He was severely depressed about his condition. He had a massive heart attack in his 50’s followed by several strokes. He has some mobility but very little heart function. He lives with his daughter, her husband and their four children. Our volunteer coordinator visited the home to assess the situation to see how we could help. On the wall of his room was a picture of a dog. It was a rescue dog. (a border collie-how a border collie ended up in rescue is beyond me)
For 12 years the dog went everywhere with this man. Let’s call the dog Ollie. Ollie was this man’s lifeline after a terrible marriage plagued with addiction, infidelity, divorce, illness and anything else bad you can imagine.
Ollie was bitten by a snake, and had to be put down due to the venomous bite. The man was devastated. Shortly after that event, he had his heart attack and strokes. Our Volunteer coordinator asked him if he would be interested in Miss Effie visiting him. His face lit up and he said yes. His daughter said even if it is for 10 minutes please ask her come. Therefore, the 911 phone call to me with the special request. Special request because they are located 45 minutes from my house with no traffic. When she asked me I said you realize this is 45 minutes from my home. She said “I know, I am asking you to step up and help this man”. That is all it took. She had me at “I am asking you to step up”. The ultimate challenge question. Will you step up?
I called the daughter to set up the visit. She was very nice and appreciative. We were going Friday at 9:30. I talked to Effie about it all day Thursday.
Previously, at the in-patient facility, Effie and I were visiting an Aids patient. Effie kind of got spooked and “took on” the illness. She started gagging and began to vomit in the room—talk about embarrassing. We ran out of there into the parking lot where she was completely fine. I discussed it with a Shaman and it was suggested to “tell her she is visiting and doesn’t need to take on the illness”. So I did that; I told Effie not to take on the disease—we were there to engage, bring joy and a diversion. After that talk we were set and ready to roll.
We left the house and drove out to someplace in Georgia I had never been. Thank Goodness for Waze. We pulled up and got out. We took our little walk and then rang the bell. The daughter was awesome, so nice -so welcoming. We toured the house while Effie got familiar with her surroundings. She was a little hyper but okay. We went upstairs and entered the room. The man was small and able to sit up on the hospital bed. Effie immediately went to him, jumped on his bed and licked his face. She put her face directly into his chest and began to nudge him. The smile on this man’s stroke ridden face was beyond a sweet moment for me. My little 40 lb. dog brought joy no human being could even begin to bring. The unconditional love of an animal is profound. Animals capable of sharing that love are special indeed. Effie is truly such an animal.
We spent an hour and a half with these folks. We talked a lot about their family and all the things they have been through. Part of my job as a hospice volunteer is to support the family which is why I was there. To the point, it was Effie who was called for this one, I was simply the driver.
The man’s right hand is clenched shut due to the strokes. Effie stuck her nose (snout) right in there and tried to pry his hand open, licking it the entire time. She also licked his ears, his eyes, his face and he actually LAUGHED. His laughter was sweet to my ears as I watched my beloved Effie help this man in a way I could not. His eyes watered and his daughter’s eyes watered. It was a moment in time, a picture in my mind’s eye I will not forget.
As we talked some more, I learned many things about their family. My patient is a Muslim. He left Iran during the revolution in 1979. The revolution was when the Shah of Iran whom the US supported, was overthrown by those in support of Ayatollah Khomeini. It then became the Islamic Republic on April 1, 1979. The Iranians approved a new Theocratic Republic Constitution whereby the Ayatollah became the Supreme Leader. Now the country was under the guidance of a Religious Scholar. It was then my patient came to the US, attended college and started his new life.
His daughter, her husband and kids, even though she has an Immigrant father, supports Donald Trump and they are fierce about it! (Not that people who support Trump cannot be Immigrants). The husband is a bow hunter and a gun hunter –they have strong “Family Values”. They support Trump, the NRA, God and Country. I could not engage as I normally would because I am a representative of Hospice, therefore I am Switzerland. Translated, I am neutral. Ugh.
When I was heading to my car, her husband commented on my “magnetic bumper sticker size signs” that are placed on both sides of my car. Showing my “Clinton/Kaine” support, on my Toyota Prius no less with my Standard Poodle Effie. Uh huh. You follow me? We are a very unlikely pair; Effie/Jan with the family, Muslim father, Trump supporters and NRA fans. I’m just saying.
Sometimes joy comes from Unexpected places. But it is joy nonetheless.
A dog knows no politics, no religion, no race, no prejudice, no NRA, no car type, no orientation. Maybe we could all learn a little something from our animal friends. Maybe we could all learn about giving and accepting love from unexpected places; while respecting each other in the process. That would have integrity.
I end with this Poem from Rumi, my favorite Persian poet. This is really about a man reaching out to God in his pain and angst, waiting for a response and seemingly receiving none after the cynic points it out to him. The idea is this: it is the longing for the connection that is the connection. Rumi compares it to a dog moaning for its master. The whining and longing of the dog for its master is the connection.
Maybe that is why people under hospice care who are very ill are so open to seeing a pet volunteer. Because their grief and sadness over their illness, their condition, their fear is what calls out for connection. Isn’t that what we all want from each other and from Spirit? Connection? Effie helps with the connection. Effie is the love dog, the conduit so to speak.
Rumi has such a powerful ending, see if you agree.
One night a man was crying,
His lips grew sweet with the praising,
until a cynic said,
"So! I have heard you
calling out, but have you ever
gotten any response?"
The man had no answer to that.
He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.
He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls,
in a thick, green foliage.
"Why did you stop praising?"
"Because I've never heard anything back."
you express is the return message."
The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union.
Your pure sadness
that wants help
is the secret cup.
Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.
That whining is the connection.
There are love dogs
no one knows the names of.
Give your life
to be one of them.”
Until next time.