Following the Spirit's Tug, from the End of a Leash
"I can come back another time." I stared at the top of her head while she scribbled something down on sticky note, answered the phone, mumbled something in medical speak that I couldn't understand, and then finally glanced up at me.
"Can I help you?"
Frustration flushed my cheeks. Even my normally well-behaved therapy dog, Brave, seemed agitated. He pulled at the end of his regulation 3 foot leash.
"Brave, stop," I ordered quietly, trying not to draw attention to his behavior.
"We are a pet therapy team with Pet Partners," I began to explain again. "We come to The Medical Center on a regular basis to visit the patients. I just finished up on the pediatrics floor and thought maybe there were a few patients that might like a visit up here."
The nurse looked bewildered. "There's a dog in here?"
"Yes, he's right here." I picked up my restless pup to show her.
"Oh, how cute! I need some therapy!" Half the nursing staff swarmed around the chest-high counter. They surrounded Brave and began cooing over him. But Brave would have none of it. Between their knees, he still tugged toward the opposite side of the hallway.
"I'm sorry," I said. "He's not usually like this."
Across the hall, a patient's door stood open. All I could see were his sheet shrouded feet, and a somber woman keeping vigil at the end of his bed.
"Well, I don't really have any patients right now that need a visit," a nurse in burgundy scrubs stood up. "I wish I did, but two of mine are asleep and the other is receiving a treatment right now."
"Again, it's okay," I told them. "I know you weren't expecting us. I just wanted to check."
As the hallway cleared and nurses returned to their duties, Brave continued to pull toward the open door.
"Puppy, I don't know if they want a visit today," I told him. I couldn't make eye contact with either woman and I didn't want to invade their privacy. A nurse sat in the doorway too, blocking a full view. She turned.
"Go ahead and go in there," she said.
Following Brave's lead, a bit hesitantly, I entered the room. The woman looked up and I noticed a second sitting at the head of the bed.
"Hi," I said not knowing what else to say. "We just thought you might like a doggy visit. We're a pet therapy team."
Brave kept pulling, tugging me deeper into the room, the air thick with foreboding, unknown and fear. Finally, the younger woman leaned forward.
"Hello there," she addressed Brave but didn't look at me. "You are so beautiful! What's your name?"
I stepped into my usual role of playing Brave's ventriloquist, interpreting his tail and answering questions posited to him.
"I'm Brave," I told her. "We just came in to see if we could cheer anyone up."
Almost magically, her face pinked, wrinkled and smiled. "Mom, look! There's a puppy here to see Daddy! Oh I wish he were awake, he'd love to see you, Brave."
It was like the Tin Man in, "The Wizard of Oz", Mother, the woman near the head of the bed, came to life next.
"Oh, how adorable!" She leaned forward and touched noses with Brave, giving him a taste of her poppy red lipstick. "I'm so glad you're here. You're just what I needed today."
The room buzzed around me with cuddly conversations, memories of old family pets and comments about how much Daddy would love to meet the dog. Finally, the mother spoke to me.
"He fell two days ago. It was actually our dog that found him. We searched and searched, but he'd fallen out in the storage shed. The dog kept insisting on going in there. When we finally opened the door she ran straight to him and wouldn't leave."
I recalled just moments ago when Brave couldn't forget about that open door leading to a sick man who wasn't even awake. To the exclusion of all other attention, he had wanted to meet this family so badly.
The daughter reached for her father's hand. "Daddy, Daddy, can you wake up to see the puppy?"
I set Brave on the side of the bed, carefully avoiding IV's, tubes and bandages.
Thin eyelids opened. I couldn't help but notice his right eye bulged and both eyes looked glassy and unfocused. His hand had a once-strong look, meaty with a few dirt particles wedged under his finger nails. As suddenly as slow can be, he reached toward Brave's ear. There was no dexterity in the touch, no caressing, no cognition between his fingers and eyes. Instead, his fingers fluttered like a butterfly unsure where to land. Then, just as slowly, the hand withdrew.
I felt disheartened. I so wanted to see his eyes light up like his daughter's. I wanted him to speak and place both hands on the side of Brave's face, lean in and get a kiss. I wasn't sure if he even knew we were there. I looked up at his wife and daughter prepared to shrug and hope out loud that we'd at least brightened their day.
The daughter's cheeks were dewy; she licked a tear from the corner of her lips. "Oh, I'm so, so very glad you came," she whispered. "That's the most Daddy has moved since the accident."
I looked back at the figure sandwiched between mountains of white pillows and tangled in webs of medical equipment. Even I could see the faintest upturn of his mouth.
Brave and I had to leave. We were pushing the time limit for Pet Partners volunteers. But as we left the room, Brave trotted willingly beside me. His job was done, and I was reminded that often we may not know the good we do. But when there's a tug in our spirit, or at the end of our leash, it's worth it to lean in, follow the lead and see what God's doing. Sometimes, it's a miracle.
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