My Inner Worlds
This post was written by my husband Matt this morning. Because I just can't.
I promise this post is about my dog, but allow me to provide some background.
My first therapist gig out of grad school was in a very rural county of the Appalachian mountains. It was rural enough that the county could compel me once per month to do a 24-hour crisis shift. That meant if anyone in the county wound up in the hospital's emergency department impaired by drugs/alcohol, or by mental illness, I would have to drive there and assess them. The doctor could override my decision (it only happened once) but it was typically my call if this person would be sent home, to jail, to a psych ward, or to a detox center.
Here's one example.
Whenever possible I like to talk to the client before I get info from family or staff, so without any foreknowledge I am led to a room with a 73-year-old woman dressed casually at about 3am on a Saturday morning. She has a pleasant smile and is quite chatty. In a sweet voice she is complaining that people should leave her alone in her own home, and let her do what she wants. "I wasn't hurting anyone. There's no reason to drag me here." Her body language is energetic, expressive. Her voice lilts and slides very persuasively, commanding a measure of compassion and respect.
Her tangents are about family who have abandoned her, friends who've died, and the lack of direction for this stage of her life. However, she always reigns that in quickly, then tries to develop a connection with me from a very rational, unemotional voice. I know she is trying to find what frequency I'm at. Am I a soft-hearted social worker? A detached clinician? How can she get me on her side? This is not a good sales person. Operating in this situation at 3am, this woman is a great salesperson. "So you see, they should just leave me alone," she says, referring to a neighbor who got the police involved.
But you don't wind up with a police officer standing outside your emergency room door for no reason.
I excuse myself a moment and exit the room to get more info from the armed guard outside. A neighbor complained of very loud music coming from the home, and found this woman singing and dancing in the middle of her living room, a glass of wine in one hand as she emptied a container of gasoline all over the floor and furniture. As the woman lit a match, the neighbor called 911 and responders arrived to find a fire slowly consuming the carpet, the woman dancing in its light. Her blood alcohol level was .360 when she arrived at the hospital -- four and a half times legal intoxication -- though she demonstrated no signs of slurred speech or loss of balance or coordination. This highly experienced drinker would have passed as simply "quirky," were it not for the small blaze about to consume her entire home - with her in it. That was the plan she finally admitted. Nevermind it might have taken thousands of acres of forest with it.
That was one of the easier and more pleasant cases. On one Christmas shift I spent twenty-four hours handling thirteen different people at the hospital. Each one requiring paperwork, endless faxes to various psych wards, and phone conversations trying to sell my cases to these facilities. I spent all week with severely mentally ill people and needed my weekends to rejuvenate, so you can only imagine my enthusiasm. I was forced into these despised shifts for about three years.
Unfortunately, just as I reinforce with my clients, a bad attitude only makes everything worse. The whole thing felt heavy, full with resentment and an internal voice that invented profane insults like nothing you'd ever heard. I had never hated a job so much. Something had to be done.
I worked through numerous solutions, including distracting myself with the Internet, writing emails, and so on, but none of it worked. Finally I discovered that my entire attitude changed if I sat still and imagined my dog Tia in my lap for a few minutes. This was more powerful than anything else I came up with. It worked every time I did it. It was impossible for me to be angry with Tia on my lap, as her lively energy and warm, loving kisses instantly brought a smile to my face every time. So that's what I did each time I had to go to the hospital, for over two years of these monthly shifts. On the rough shifts I'd have to break every hour or so and do this exercise. It made life a lot easier.
My little hero was chosen from a litter by Sarah, who identified her as the most active and playful of the bunch. This later translated into Alpha dog. She would fearlessly launch all twenty pounds of her at any dog or child within ten feet, no matter how large or threatening. Probably the Chihuahua part of her. The same part that makes her such an impossibly loving and loyal part of our pack. When Tia sits her cute little butt on you, you know you're being sat on by one of the greats.
And this is where the heartwarming tone of this blog post must end.
Eleven-year-old Tia is experiencing chronic back and kidney pain, isn't eating much, and is laying still. We could probably leave her in this body another month or so, but we don't see the point in watching someone who has been so good to us suffer day after day. We cannot do that to her or to ourselves.
The time has come to send this wonderful companion on to her next project. We send her with medals of honor, passionate testimonials, and all the love in our hearts.