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  Way up High

by Diane Blackman

We arrived for the visit as usual, a little early. Still someone was there before me. She spotted my "Friendship Foundation" T-shirt and introduced herself, and her dog Willa. I returned the introductions of my dog Oso, and myself. Oso and I had visited this hospital, Children's Hospital, many times before but hadn't seen Willa before.

It was a beautiful warm day and they were waiting on the low stone wall in the sun in front of the hospital. Looming high above us was the hospital with large picture windows overlooking the street. We talked while waiting for the rest of the group.

Children's has the strictest policies of any of the facilities that we visit. Everything is strictly controlled. We always wait outside until our site supervisor arrives. When she arrives we can move into the lobby while she checks in with reception and gets our daily visitor's passes. Then we wait for a staff member to come down from the playroom and escort us upstairs. Wherever we go in the hospital we are always accompanied by a staff member.

On this day Sarah, a slightly built young woman with a sunny disposition, met us outside and told us that today there would be no room visits. There was a child who had been badly bitten by a neighborhood dog, and they didn't want to risk traumatizing him. So our visit was to be restricted to the playroom. Usually we started our visits in the playroom, then went on room visits as requested by individual patients. On at least one other occasion that I could recall that routine was changed to avoid conflicting with patient needs.

So far this visit was unremarkable. Patients had been told that we were coming and they began showing up at the playroom. Several already knew Oso from previous visits. Some of the younger children were fascinated by this large black dog with coarse shiny hair. Oso is like putty in the hands of a small child. When one is reluctant to approach him I have him lie flat on his side on the floor. Then I place myself so that my body blocks most of him from the child's view and I pick up his foot and offer it to the child. In most cases the child pets the foot. I can then move while the child holds his foot. Oso's complete relaxation, and lack of movement, usually wins them over. One of my favorite mental pictures is when the tiny tot stands next to Oso, clinging to his hair for support, and they stand the same height - shoulder to shoulder.

The playroom supervisor came into the room with a bemused smile on her face. It seems that one patient, Tony, had a room behind one of those large picture windows facing the street. He had watched us arrive and was eagerly waiting for his promised room visit. He had not been happy when told that the room visits were canceled. He must have been a very persuasive young man, we would visit after all. When asked which dog he wanted to visit with he said "all of them." There were four dogs that day. He was promised a visit, one at a time, by as many of the dogs as remaining time would allow.

As we took a circuitous route to the patients room the playroom supervisor explained that she had spoken to the mother of the child who had been bitten by a dog. The mother was not bothered by the idea of the dogs in the hospital, and had even considered encouraging her son to visit with them. That allowed the modification of the room visit ban.

When we arrived Tony, a young man of about 15, was seated on a pullout bed next to the window. His girl friend, Cathy, was on the main bed in the middle of the room. They were delighted to see Oso. At the invitation of Cathy, Oso hopped up on the bed. As he did so Oso got a good look out of the picture window. The transformation was comical. He practically stood on his tiptoes. His ears came to full attention. He had never seen such a sight. There in front of his eyes were little tiny cars on the street below. Little tiny people strolled down the sidewalk. He stood like a statue at the amazing sight. Everyone laughed.

Tony invited Oso over to the window. Of course Tony invited Oso over to cuddle. Oso, however, was still fascinated by the view. He could hardly turn his attention away. Finally I told him to down, and he reluctantly did so. With the window out of his immediate view Oso turned his attention to Tony. It was truly a picture. He curled up and plopped his head in Tony's lap. Oso and Tony cuddled. Cathy, Tony and I talked. When the visit was over we returned to the playroom. As usually we were escorted out. As I passed the low stone wall something made me look up. Way up high Tony waved to us from a window.

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Copyright © 1996, Diane Blackman     Created: 1996     Updated: April 10, 2006    

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