Actress Doris Day once said, “I have found when you are deeply troubled, there are things you get from the silent devoted companionship of a dog that you can get from no other source.” I agree whole-heartedly with this statement and recently experienced a dose of this unconditional love from my own puppy. As many of you know, Jellybean and I are a therapy team and when my schedule allows, we participate in events along with our local KPets chapter. Jellybean is always eager to meet new people and get a few extra belly rubs along the way.
Recently, however, I was in need of some therapy of my own. My mother, who is 83, and has always been extremely healthy, suffered a heart attack. The doctors shook their heads in disbelief to discover that at 83 she was on no medication and the last time she was in the hospital was in 1960, when she gave birth to my youngest sister. I knew when she called and asked me to take her to urgent care because she didn’t feel well, something serious was going on. Fortunately I live about five minutes away from her and arrived quickly. Imagine my surprise to find her lying on the bathroom floor, pale and gray. She was still able to speak and said her chest hurt. I immediately called 911 and within 5 minutes the medics were at the door. I rode up front in the ambulance and called my sister on the way. I was scared and was trying so hard to keep thoughts of my husband’s fatal heart attack 15 years ago at bay.
As I waited to hear something from anybody, I ran into an old friend who sat with me and talked about this and that. I know now that it was her way of keeping me calm and focused. I was able to talk to my sister again and called my best friend and asked if she could go to my house and be with my puppy, as I had no way to know how long I would be gone. In the meantime, a liaison from the hospital took me back to the family room so I could wait away from the hustle and bustle of the hospital to wait for news of my mom. And then the tears started and the memories came flooding back. I could see myself standing at the phone in my classroom in total disbelief as my stepson, only a teenager at the time, tried so hard to remain composed and delivered the news that he had walked in from school to his father having a heart attack and that he would meet me at the hospital. I still am not sure how I got there, but I did. After tearfully explaining who I was and that my husband had just been brought in, a hospital liaison took me back to a quiet little room to wait. Sitting in that room, alone, waiting for my stepson to arrive and not knowing what was happening with my husband, the love of my life, was so painful. Suddenly the door opened and the liaison returned, much more solemnly than the first time I had met her. She quietly delivered the news that my husband had died on the way to the hospital. All of this was spinning in my head as I sat and once again in a little room by myself to await any news on my mother.
My sister arrived as quickly as she could. We cried together a little bit and decided we should let our brother know what was happening, as well as our sister in Las Vegas. Shortly after those calls had been made a doctor came in to update us. Our mother was in the Cath Lab. They had already discovered that she had 100% blockage of the main artery that runs across the front of the heart. The procedure to insert a stent was in process. The prognosis looked good. She had arrived quickly enough that there did not appear to be other damage. The fact that she was in such good general health was in her favor. The hospital was great, making sure that my sister and I were always in close proximity to her, as she moved from one care unit to another. As a matter of fact, everything went so well that 5 hours later, around 1:00 AM, they had sent my sister and I home so that our mother could rest in between the routine monitoring and bloodwork that would occur throughout the night.
Still a bit scared and nervous we headed to my house, where my friend, Michele, and my puppy were waiting for us. Mind you, it is quite unusual for either of them to be up at 1:30 in the morning, but both were wide awake. Jellybean immediately could sense my nervousness. She stayed right by my side as the three of us sat at the table drinking hot tea and eating animal crackers, well…. four of us were eating animal crackers. Throughout the night, Jellybean, who shares my bed, stayed pretty close as I tossed and turned all night long. The next morning, although happy to see our houseguests, she still wanted to be by me. Mind you, she is a bit of a mamma’s girl, but she was overly protective of me throughout the day and the next several as well. I found myself really holding on to Jellybean over the next few days. She eagerly sat with me and several times reached out with her little paw and laid it on my leg as if to say “Everything is going to be okay.” She even lapped up a tear or two. My mother was released a few days later and came to stay with us for a few days. When it was time for bed, Jellybean snuggled right alongside my mother until it was time for her last potty call. In the morning she bolted down the steps and headed toward the bedroom. It was almost as though Jellybean knew she had to be extra gentle with her. She didn’t pounce like she usually does, but once again snuggled up against her. And so the “silent devotion” continued in the days following. I am “furever” grateful to have a puppy that willingness shares her heart with me, my family and the children, college students, elderly and community members that benefit from her sloppy kisses as a therapy dog. I am also grateful to have such a wonderful friend, who didn’t even blink when I asked her to leave her family in my time of need.
Beverly Stiffler Smith