It was an experiment going into the intensive care unit that day. Even though in the past the hospital had permitted therapy dogs into almost all areas, we had never attempted taking them into this special place. Three units within the ICU housed medical, cardiac and post surgical patients, there because they required intense monitoring and attention. It was not a place you would expect to see a big black poodle!
Because we’d been so effective in other areas of the hospital, the staff suggested this experiment to see if we could accomplish anything positive in the ICU. I was accompanied on this visit by our social worker Joy, and Miga, my sweet old standard poodle. Miga was a veteran, working as a therapy dog since she was about a year old, and was much loved by staff and patients.
As we entered the medical ICU, there was a gentleman in the first bed who was obviously unconscious. His wife sat at his bedside reading and paid little attention to us as we went by to visit with some of the other folks. I was reluctant to invade their privacy. As we worked our way along, we got some smiles, albeit weak ones, a bit of conversation, one rather loud “what’s that dog doing in here?”, but nothing to suggest how effective this was going to be.
As we prepared to leave, the lady reading beside her husband’s bed asked why we were there. Joy explained that we wanted to see if the dog’s presence could be of any benefit to the patients. I asked her if she would mind if I put her husband’s hand, which was hanging over the side of the bed, on Miga’s head. She said “no, go right ahead if it will help you; he’s not responding to anything any longer.” I picked up her husband’s hand and carefully put it on my dog’s curly topknot. Not expecting anything, we stood talking with the woman, explaining our hopes for this program. One of us noticed movement, then all of us saw it.
This “unconscious” patient was gently scratching the top of Miga’s head!
Suddenly the whole ICU team was in action, now that they knew this patient was still aware of things around him!
It was one of the most exciting moments of my life, but it was time for us to move on. We had proven that these amazing dogs could, indeed, even get through to an unconscious patient.
Miga was with me for seventeen years, and her legacy lives on. She was the first therapy dog in a very successful program still in existence at this hospital. I’ve had several others since then, but Miga was a very special therapy dog.