Monday morning found me at the hospital with severe abdominal pain, and as I dragged Rally’s vest over his head and led him into the Emergency Room, I was grateful for the high degree of training that kept Rally calm and composed. A man in a wheelchair wearing an oxygen mask looked ready to faint dead away; a husband and his wife were huddled on the plastic benches nearby looking nauseous and clutching barf bags. A young gentleman was clutching a bloodied bandage to his hand and staring at us with wide eyes. The room smelled of vomit and misery. If I were a dog with a dog’s sense of smell, I would have probably bolted for the door but Rally followed me amicably to the nurse’s station.
Fifteen minutes later we were admitted, taken into the an examination room. Alex was with me; he settled down on the straight-backed chairs while Rally curled up on the floor. The nurse came in to draw some blood, and at first didn’t notice Rally until she moved around the far side of my bed. Putting in an IV, it took another nurse nearly five minutes before he realized Rally was in the room. I wasn’t sure whether to be grateful of Rally’s presence or resentful; staring at Rally, the nurse spent a good ten minutes fruitlessly trying to locate a vein and insert an IV in my forearm. Everyone brightened visibly when they saw Rally, and while he sniffed curiously at their feet, he remained calm and content to remain on the floor.
I noticed that while the nurse was drawing my blood, she was very nervous and kept glancing at Rally. “Will he bite?” She asked, only half joking. “Will he attack me?”
“Of course not!” I exclaimed, but I was not truly surprised by her hesitation. I had heard too many horror stories about “service dogs”. Curious, I asked if the hospital saw many service dogs accompanying their owners. The answer; “not many real ones”. Surprisingly, it seems that owners will slap a vest on their poodle and drag the poor animal into the hospital, claiming they are service dogs. Needless to say, the hospital environment is very stressful for dogs-much less ones that haven’t been trained and exposed to the myriad of smells, sights and sounds. Their owners are likely in agony, being poked and prodded and having blood drawn by white-coated strangers, and the dog is expected to sit still and remote. It seemed like a steep order for an untrained dog, and yet the staff admitted they could do little to discourage the stream of “service dogs”. “It’s frustrating,” my doctor sighed, “but what can we do? If owners claim their dog is a service animal, then legally we are obliged to take them for their word.”
A few hours later Rally became uncomfortable, his hip achy from lying on the tile floor. He settled down at the foot of my narrow bed with a groan of delight, where he remained for the rest of our stay. He watched the third X-Men movie, meant the various doctors and nurses and technicians who cycled through my room, and watched the hallway outside of my room.
As it turned out, I didn’t have appendicitis but rather a mild inflammation, so after a hefty dose of morphine for the pain and instructions to rest, we were discharged. Leaving the ER, a nurse stopped us, noticing Rally.
“I just want to thank you.” She said, “I had a patient who wasn’t doing so good, and then she saw your dog walking past her room and she perked up. Thank you!” That made my day!
On the drive home I thought about Rally’s unwitting influence on people around him. Dogs are incredible creatures; when navigating malls, airports, movie theaters or grocery stores, whenever people see a dog they usually light up. Humans share an incredible bond with animals, especially dogs, and I was glad that even though the hospital visit was far from pleasant, at least someone’s day had been brightened by seeing Rally.