Mar 16th 2008

Double-dogging Helen and Warren

Posted in Other

March 16, 2008 – Helen was unable to see the dogs yesterday, but Warren called today and said Helen woke up and said she would love to try again, so we double-dogged her, bringing Izzy and Lenore. The alternate dog visits were short, about 10 minutes each, and then a break. Helen laughed and she and Izzy go into a secret world all of their own, sharing secrets and memories and a lot of affection. She brightened visibly during the visit, became much more energetic.
  These two Hospice dogs pack quite a punch, taking turns staying with Helen, and also visiting with Warren.
  Helen was exhausted, reacted sharply when the dogs – first Lenore, then Izzy – were brought up on the bed and I asked Helen why dogs affected some people so dramatically. “It’s simple,” she said, “it’s because they’re nice.”
  Helen and Warren both said they had dogs all of their lives, and it’s interesting to see how both start smiling and laughing the minute the dogs appear. “You get the sense they really love you,” she said. ” And that matters.”
  I was struck again by the different styles. Izzy makes eye contact and establishes what seems to be a personal relationship. Lenore lies close and still and offers affection and comfort. A rambunctious, inquisitive puppy, she remains still when she is near Helen, and that is important. Helen and her skin are sensitive, there are tubes and medical equipment, even food around. I wouldn’t have thought Lenore could be that quiet, but she is.
  When Lenore is put on the bed, she turns around and faces away from Helen, or other Hospice patients, which is typical of Labs. Izzy, a border collie, uses his eyes, as border collies do when they work, and faces the patients head on.
  Helen was struggling this weekend, and Izzy and Lenore made a difference, and to Warren also, who seems energized by the dogs, and has also bonded with Izzy. This is Lenore’s third visit to Helen and Warren, and when she was done visiting, she curled up by the door and slept. Lenore is getting it. Helen asked us to return as soon as we could.
  I am learning a lot working with Hospice. It is immensely satisfying helping people die the way they want, and in comfort. I am learning to listen. I am learning that you can help, even when outcomes are predetermined, and assurances are pointless.  Some things won’t get better, but they can be  powerful, loving and peaceful.
  I am understanding that the dying don’t need or deserve to be shunned, and they can leave the world in comfort, and with dignity and choice. Warren is battling heroically to give Helen her wish – to stay at home – and Izzy and Lenore are helping shore both of them up. It is always a pleasure to see these two working breeds show their stuff, and live up to their great potential. It is a privilege to share some of life’s most intimate moments with these extraordinary people.
  Helen and Warren are entering a new phase in their experience. Warren has asked for and is getting more household help and working with Washington County Hospice to care for Helen, and for himself. He has ordered a medical recliner. Volunteers are visiting more regularly so that he can rest during the day, since he gets little sleep at night. The couple, much devoted to one another, is tired, determined, at peace.
  We had this moment today: Helen was short of breath, and she asked to lie next to Izzy, who put his head on her stomach and lay still while she stroked him, and she asked me to read to her, and I saw her close her eyes and smile when I read this poem,  by Yeats. Lenore had her head in Warren’s lap, and he is smitten with her, as I am.
   Helen said this had joined her list of favorites. Warren said he loved it also.

                                        “To a Young Girl”

                                   “My dear, my dear, I know
                                    More than another
                                    What makes your heart beat so
                                    Not even your own mother
                                    Can know it as I know,
                                    Who broke my heart for her
                                    When the wilt thought,
                                    That she denies
                                    And has forgot
                                    Set all her blood astir
                                    And glittered in her eyes.”

                                           W.B. Yeats