(aka: A Better Goodbye by Leslie Bean)
For many years I worked at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center where pet visitation was prohibited.
I begged, pleaded, and cajoled to have the rules changed, but always got back the same answer — NO!
So, I resorted to sneaking in the tiny furry ones for our patients who were never coming out. At least they, and their beloved pets, could see each other one last time.
One morning, the Head Nurse on one of the units paged me to let me know that the parents of a 28 year old man were insistent that they HAD to bring his 14 year old Yorkshire Terrier to visit him, as he was dying.
She wanted to warn me that they might complain about her to me, because the parents did not seem to accept the nurse’s explanation of the rules. The parents did indeed come to my office. They were not angry. Their grief had taken them past that. They were at the point of accepting what they could see so clearly was happening, although they were deeply sad.
They explained that their son and his dog had been inseparable since he was 14 years old and they brought her home as a puppy. The dog was back at the motel, where they had been living for the past two months while their only child was receiving experimental treatment for stage IV Lymphoma.
The dog was grieving as deeply as they were, and was not in good health herself. They didn’t raise voices, or threaten. They stated their case with their hearts, which were breaking. Before they finished, I asked them how big she was, and if she was noisy. I found out she weighed 4 pounds and never barked.
We plotted a strategy, and before long, Dad had returned to the motel and brought the dog to me outside the hospital. I explained to the little dog that she would need to hide under my jacket and be very quiet. She looked up at me with big brown eyes that blinked with great wisdom and understanding. Tucked away from sight, we hurried through the halls and up the elevators to the young man’s room. I instructed the parents to stand with their backs to the door of the room, blocking the natural view of those entering.
The patient was very, very weak. His bed elevated his upper body at 45 degrees. IV tubes and an infusion pump dominated his left arm. When we entered the room, I placed the Yorkie on the bed on his left side.
Her whole body trembled with happiness and she made tiny cries of joy as she quickly moved up to his neck and buried her nose under his chin. Her little tail was wagging so hard.
Then, this young man, who had been semi-comatose for days, very, very slowly and laboriously, lifted his right arm and moved it painfully across his chest to rest on his dog, as he just as slowly turned his head to her.
A tear trickled down his cheek. My composure was gone. It is a scene I will never forget. The sight of absolute love, reunited.
There was nothing else in the world that mattered to them, or frankly, to me, at that moment. The expression on his face, along with his parents, and that amazing little dog, are forever burned into my heart.
Before I left I told them to call me immediately if anyone challenged them. Moreover, I’d take the dog back out to the car myself when they left. I dropped by to visit the nurse and reminded her of a few things she “owed me” and told her I was cashing in. Then I paged the physician in charge, who also owed me some “favors,” and made certain he was aware and free of blame.
The patient rallied the next day, after having spent several hours with his best friend the day before. He and his parents were able to talk for the first time in days. The dog rallied, too. They said it was the first she’d eaten in three days.
When I visited again, the young man was alert, and the dog was sleeping peacefully, curled between his shoulder and chin. There was a peace in that room that had not been there before.
The next day, in the wee hours of the morning before the sun rose, the young man breathed his last breath. When his parents left, they hugged me until I was certain my ribs would break, and we all cried together. They told me that for as long as they lived I would be in their prayers. Those couple of days were the best hours they had with him in weeks. They had said their goodbyes.
Later, I learned that little Yorkie, too, died on that very same day. Like her beloved master, she slipped away. I know they went together.
Several days later my boss called and asked me about something he needed and before he hung up he said, “I know about the dog.”
“What dog?” I replied.
“I know about the dogs. Could you just let me know ahead of time when you do these things, so that I’ll be expecting the calls, OK?”
With a huge smile on my face, I said, “I can do that!”
It was as much a sanction as I’d ever get, and I was grateful for it.