“For most of the world, their dogs have waited their entire lives for this — to have their whole family together for an indefinite period of time. For my two therapy dogs, they are desperately waiting to hear the words, ‘It’s time for work. Hop in the car! Let’s go to the hospital,’ so they can go back to doing what they love most: visiting patients.
Right now is a difficult time for them as they patiently wait for me to open the closet door that holds the magic bag, their hospital work bag. Each week, Oscar and Ollie take turns visiting the children and adult patients at Wolfson Children’s Hospital, Baptist Medical Center, and Baptist MD Anderson in Jacksonville, FL. They anxiously wait by the door to see who’s turn it is and sit perfectly still with their tails wagging until one sees the other getting their name badge and bandana placed around their neck.
One jumps into the car, while the other has a meltdown whining at the door. It’s time to go make patients smile!
As we walk through the hospital, each person we pass becomes transfixed as they see this magnificent dog parading through the halls so very eager to be pet. We walk into rooms and make smiles appear that have been lost for weeks. Furry high-fives are given to those with great test results as well as a congratulatory signal to the end of chemo, and paws are met with hands as canine and human pray together.
See, these dogs aren’t just four-legged friends, they are one of the greatest symbols of HOPE. Their red and green bandanas are the universal sign of happiness throughout the hospital. And at a time like this, it is needed more than ever.
For many patients, their rooms are flooded with flowers and family. For others, a therapy dog is their first visitor in months. And for my dogs, well, they make every person feel like they are theirs. Dogs evoke feelings and make progress happen, even when the world stands still for some patients. Ollie makes patients laugh with his snaggled-tooth grin and silly wave goodbye, and Oscar reminds most people of every dog they ever had. Tears will flow, stories are told, and as we leave the room, peace is felt. Every day, they impact someone. Whether it be the nurse that lost a patient, who hugs them so tight as she cries into their fur or the doctor who just needed the confirmation of a quick pet that, yes, he was doing a good job, or the family member who’s been staying bedside in the hospital room for a month and needed the distraction of a dog doing tricks to remind them of the world outside. These loving canines have been there through it all.
Between Oscar and Ollie, they have been serving the hospital systems in Jacksonville for over 4 years, and with that time comes some extraordinary moments many will never forget.
In the first year of Oscar’s service, he was still such a pup. At just a year old, he was so full of spunk and energy. The nurses couldn’t wait to hear him jingle down the halls with his bells on to ring in the holiday cheer. But on December 24, 2016, the halls were a little dimmer on the oncology floor. After spending Christmas Eve in the hospital while recovering from complications of major brain surgery, I had always vowed I would let the dogs visit as much as possible during the holiday season, and Christmas Eve was no different. Our job was to spread joy, but no one was smiling. Oscar was greeted at the nurse’s station by somber stares with just a wrinkle of a smile.
I asked what had happened and a nurse explained, ‘There is an elderly woman in the corner room who has stolen all our hearts with her wit and charm, but she won’t get to see her family for Christmas. She won’t make it until the morning.’
It was Oscar’s first-time experiencing death so intimately, but they knew he was just what she needed. As we jingled through her door, we stood by her bedside. The nurses turned down the ventilator so she could whisper to me. Oscar nudged his head under her hands, and as she gently stroked his fur, she looked at me and said, ‘Thank you for coming in, dear. You remind me of my daughter and her beautiful dog. You look just like her and so does your sweet pup. I’m so glad you came to see me. I feel like I’ve seen her now, and I can rest my eyes for good.’
As she spoke these words, I gently smiled while my heart beat out of my chest. I replied to her, ‘We are so thankful to be here, to spend Christmas Eve with you. It’s Oscar’s very favorite thing to do.’
She paused from petting and looked up at me, she said, ‘Can he pray with me?’ I said, ‘Of course.’
Oscar sat back on his bottom on the slippery hospital floor, without making a stir. He put his paws on the bed as she held them tightly in her lap. She began silently praying, and Oscar and I joined her. After she was done, her soft eyes glazed on me as she continued to hold Oscar’s paws and with silent tears streaming down her face, she thanked us. She said, ‘My whole family is at my daughter’s celebrating Christmas right now, and I know they didn’t have the money and couldn’t afford to fly back and see me. It would have ruined their holidays and made them broke. I didn’t want that. I told them I was fine and that I was just in the hospital and should make it out, but I couldn’t make Christmas and to not worry. My grandchildren would have been so sad to miss presents in the morning. I couldn’t hurt them; I couldn’t make this time about me. So, thank you. Thank you for being here and celebrating Christmas, for praying with me, and for giving me the chance to say goodbye to my daughter and her beautiful dog.’
As her words became slurred and she gasped for air, one of the nurses standing in the doorway rushed in to turn her ventilator back up. The nurse, with tears rolling down her cheek, gave Oscar the biggest hug and kissed him as she whispered in his ear, ‘Thank you for granting her Christmas wish.’
These are the moments that can’t be shared in our hospitals right now, and these are the memories that can’t be made. During such a scary time in our country, theses hospitals are missing these boys just as much as they miss them.
So, for now, we wait.
I let them out to play and take them for long walks, but there is still a void. It is for the protection of them and for all the healthcare workers that they are not there right now, and yes, it makes complete and utter logical sense. No questions asked. But think for a minute. Where is the sign of HOPE in these hospitals right now? I honestly don’t know. But I pray there is something else that can take their place since the living, breathing, tongue-hanging, tail-wagging version of HOPE is on hold.
I know the world is looking forward to the day we can all go back to our regular lives. The ones before this pandemic of COVID-19. However, while we are quarantined and there is an abundance of time, let’s remind ourselves to not be selfish. Our days will go back to something, even if it doesn’t resemble the ones before. But for all the healthcare workers, hospitals, and patients… they need our prayers and help because currently, their HOPE is missing.”
For those that are worried about their canines and the COVID-19 pandemic, visit the American Veterinary Medical Association where current information and answers to your questions can be found.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Melissa Kurz, 34, of St. Augustine, Florida. Follow her journey on Instagram here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more stories from Melissa here:
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