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The Hospital Dog

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The following is a shortened version of a note sent to The Observer last week by a friend of the Times who is in the midst of saying a long, sad goodbye, but who has been comforted by an unlikely angel. It was just too pretty not to share:

There aren't many bright spots, sitting in a hospital room on cold, dreary winter days, watching your father die by inches.

Day after day, I come to the hospital, sit in my dad's room at a little desk by the window and read news on the computer, hoping I can escape for a few minutes from the living hell my father is trapped in at the moment. The window in the room faces the entrance of the hospital, so I sit and watch people come and go. The ones coming in are usually slumped over, either to shelter themselves from the wind or cold, or weighted down by the burden they are bringing in. The patients leaving are usually a bit happier, just thankful to be going home.

It was on one such gloomy day that I was looking out the window for something, anything that could distract me, when I began to pay closer attention to The Hospital Dog.

I had seen this stout little black and white dog around town on several occasions, always wondering why an owner would let him run loose that way. But after several days here at the hospital, I began to wonder if this was his home.

The Hospital Dog is here every morning when I arrive. He usually lies in a patch of grass, waiting for hospital employees to walk across the street to a designated area to smoke. He will accompany them and sit patiently, hoping for a pat on the head or a treat of some sort. Even on the days when he gets neither, he sits like a gentleman guardian until his friends have used up their break time and go back to work.

I have seen him go up to groups of people, gathered around the entrance of the hospital, and sit politely on the perimeter of the circle, just in case someone needs the comfort only petting a puppy can provide. He seems to know this. More often than not, he is ignored. The people leave in their cars and he goes back to his spot on the grass, waiting for his next mission. I have come to know him as the most welcome sort of minister — there if you need him, not imposing if you don't.

Shortly after discovering The Hospital Dog, I began putting a bag of treats in my car. When I arrive in the hospital parking lot, I say "Puppy" in his direction. He bounds from his location and comes to sit politely a few feet away so not to invade my space, but to let me know he is here for whatever I need. He always appears so grateful when I pull out the bag of treats and give him enough to sustain him through the morning.

Each day when I get up before daylight and get dressed to come sit with my dad, I have a sense of impending doom that sometimes overshadows my day. I can't help it. Even though I had a tutorial in this, watching my mother die three years ago, I wasn't a good student and the lessons I learned from that seem to escape me now. It is as though I am learning it all over again, knowing the final exam could be days away.

But at least now I know that no matter how difficult the day, how horrible the sights and sounds around me might be, I can walk out the door to the little grassy spot and there will be a black and white dog, waiting to let me know tomorrow is a new day and I must make the best of the challenge I have been given ... just like he has done.

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