Saturday, June 30, 2007


Sure, I volunteered at the local soup kitchen a few times back in high school, but lately the only charity I've been doing is when I donate my stack to a no limit hold'em opponent by overplaying AQ, or generously payoff a river bet knowing I'm almost certainly beat.

However, we're now doing a weekly gig at St. Vincent's hospital to take advantage of Oscar's healing powers - visiting patients with our therapy dog, hoping to put some smiles on people's faces. I went for the first time this week, with both Oscar and Mrs. Dynamite.

Since I spend a vast amount of time at work talking about my dog as if he was my son, my colleagues were eager to know how the first visit was. I tried to explain that, in a word, it was "hard." You see, it's not like we're just fulfilling requests of people who have asked to have a dog come visit them and are expecting us. Each week we visit one floor of the hospital, armed with nothing more than Oscar's smile and list of patients which contains only their name and how many days they have been in the hospital for. The difficult part is that many of these patients are quite sick, are not expecting you, may be sleeping, and you have no idea how they are feeling, or if you should interrupt them - or even if they will want to see you when you DO decide to wake them up.

To make matters worse, each patient is supposed to sign a "release" form acknowledging that they have approved the therapy dog visit - but it's really awkward to have to ask these patients: some very sick, some elderly, some non-English speaking, some suspicious, some illiterate - to sign any kind of release - as I fear they are already wary of people trying to take advantage of them or to sabotage their rights.

Now, as a poker player and a person with good people skills, I think one of my strengths is reading and reacting to people. In the hospital however, it's very hard to tell when you peek in on a patient who has their eyes closed if they will be happy to see you and your dog, or if they will be annoyed that you've just woken them up after they finally managed to fall asleep despite the pain of their recent surgical incision.

Still, we managed to navigate our way throughout the floor - taking a few early rejections in stride, and basking in the graciousness and smiles of several patients who acknowledged how Oscar brightened their day. Oscar did not rip out any IV's, despite his attempt to play "bedtime crazy time" with one woman who asked that we put him up on her bed (this is his favorite game when we get in bed at night - he spins around like a mad man, barks, and pounces at me while I pretend to hide under the covers). Oscar is still getting used to all the medical equipment - and his size is a little awkward - he's just small enough that it's awkward for the patients to lean over and pet him, and just big enough that we have to be very careful who's lap we place him on - especially knowing that many of these patients are surgical patients - but not knowing the nature of their surgeries.

One woman asked us "What made you decide to do this?" I explained to her that Oscar made people smile - no matter who saw him, or where we were - and we just wanted to see if we could spread that happiness around to people who might need it.

"Well, you put a smile on my face," she confirmed, as Oscar licked her hand.

until next time,

1 comment:

Mr Subliminal said...