~ Brian Terhorst ~ 25 July 2022 ~
I spent the day at the infusion center today – The Ambulatory Treatment Center (ATC) at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital – as I do every other Monday. There, I receive life-extending enzyme infusions as a treatment for Late Onset Pompe Disease. Over the past six years, I’ve gotten to know the staff there as if we were all family.
The first few years of infusions there coincided with my last few years with my Canine Companion, PLAYA. They treated her like royalty there. And when PLAYA retired and I showed up with my successor Service Dog, COPPOLA, he inherited that tradition. The ATC crew sets up a warm blanket and a water bowl for COPI every time we visit.
Well, today, I arrived and got settled in. And COPI got curled up on his warm blanket. Just behind me, on the other side of a curtain, a young boy was having a really rough time receiving his treatment. I couldn’t see him but I could hear him. He was terrified. The infusion nurses were doing their best to calm him down and to assure him that it was all going to be okay. As they started his IV, I could hear this little guy’s anguish and fear as he cried and told the nurse that he didn’t like the way it felt.
The admissions nurse, Leslie, a person who I’ve known from my very first visit at the ATC, quietly came around the corner to where I was getting set up for my own four-hour infusion. Whenever I arrive at the center, Leslie always greets me warmly and asks how “my wingman” is doing – that being COPI. This morning, she came up to me and asked if she could borrow COPI for a few minutes. We got him leashed up again and she disappeared around the corner with COPI in his flashy blue Canine Companions vest.
Through the curtain beside me, I heard the little boy’s weeping come to an abrupt stop as Leslie introduced him to COPI. She explained that COPI is a working dog who visits the center every so often but that this was a special day because he got to visit with this little boy. The little guy immediately began to tell Leslie about his dog at home. They then compared notes on how much COPI wags his tail and how soft his fur is. The boy said that COPI seemed really happy and that he (the boy) thought COPI liked him (of course he did!). COPES stayed on the other side of the curtain for about twenty minutes until I heard them wrapping up the boy’s procedure. No more crying … just talk about dogs.
A few minutes later, Leslie brought COPI back to our spot where he curled up again on his blanket. Leslie pulled out her cellphone and showed me a photo of the little boy with his arms wrapped fully around COPI’s neck. COPI was the hero of the day today.
Even after all of these years as the handler of a Canine Companions Service Dog … I’m now with my second … I still marvel at their kind demeanor, their joyful willingness to perform their commands, their ability to help those of us with disabilities live an independent life, and just the deep friendship I’ve shared with both of my companions … but especially with COPI. Every now and then, though, things align in such a way that I’m reminded how the magic that lives under his soft black coat can easily transfer to another human being in need … well, in need of a hug.
A little while later, Leslie walked past me and thanked me for letting them share COPI with this brave little boy. I couldn’t help but thank HER. A beautiful thing happened today.