Golden Painkiller

The dogs and I have been making therapy visits for a while now, to The Connecticut Hospice mostly, and while the work has been very rewarding, challenging, and sometimes fascinating, there's very little I can write about, and next to nothing I can include in terms of photography. I take HIPPA protections (federal medical privacy laws) very seriously, and they preclude photography except under very specific conditions.

So the photo paired with this entry is something I took with my phone when we bought new dog beds a few months ago, but I very badly want to tell the story of something that happened today.

Comet and Jax take turns visiting hospice every Thursday afternoon with me when I get home from work. Today was Comet's day. Now, Comet and Jax both have brought comfort and joy to patients, families, and hospice workers alike since they started, but there was a moment with Comet that was brand new to me.

We walked into a room and had a nice visit with the family of a patient who was asleep, and when we were finished, we turned to another patient bed, that of a man who had been shifting and grimacing while we visited with that first family. Now, my experience in hospice has taught me that the doctors are far, far more able to address pain than I ever thought was possible, but sometimes with newer patients or unique situations, somebody is still pretty uncomfortable. It wasn't clear how lucid this patient was, nor was it clear if he was in too much pain to bother around with a Golden Retriever.

However, he was just finishing with a nurse, and she pulled off her gloves and played with Comet for a moment. She asked the patient, before I had a chance to, if he wanted to see a dog. I was surprised when he clearly nodded.

I pulled Comet along his righthand bedside (our left), and he freed up a hand. He rested it along Comet's left jawbone, trying to pulse his fingers to pet. I scratched Comet furiously from the other side, as I sometimes do when he's in the right spot but the patient isn't being entertaining enough to hold his attention.

And that's where our teeny miracle happened. Comet relaxed for a moment, and then I saw this man, whose obvious discomfort was evident the whole time we were in the room, this man who never formed a word but nodded that he wanted to engage with a dog, this man relaxed.

He closed his eyes, and some—not all, but most—of the lines in his face faded away, and he just stroked the side of Comet's face with his eyes closed for a long, long moment. 

Somehow, this ridiculous, sweet, ineffable, Golden dog took more than a little of this man's pain away for more than a second. I'm sure the staff was ultimately able to make him comfortable; indeed, the nurse that took off her gloves to play with Comet may have administered the medicine that really did the job. But the pain and tension that seemed to go out of that man when he placed his hand along Comet's sweet face were so similar to the sadness that sometimes drains out of me when I come home to Comet and Jax out of a long day that I feel like I recognized it.

I've seen small miracles on a regular basis during our time at hospice, but I've never seen anything quite so magical in quite this specific way. Comet is a Good Dog.

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