Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Hospital Visiting Dog in Beaune

Our life and duties with The Salvation Army in France necessitated travel – particularly in summer when we oversaw a series of summer camps.  There were about eight camps in all operating in a variety of sites around the country. Some of them rented fixed facilities.  Some of them rented a property and pitched tents.  Each camp was run by a certified director and followed a pedagogical program that was reviewed by the National Office in Paris and approved by the French government.  The role of the French government in approving the camp, its program and its staff meant that families could use bons de vacances, or payment coupons, issued by the French Social Services with family allowance cheques to offset the cost of registration.

So it was that we prepared to set off on our tour of France to visit the camps.  The plan was to go to the far south-east to visit a scouting camp, work our way back up through the Midi (south) of France near the Mediterranean to visit our centre at Chausses and then up to the area around Le Chambon where a couple of other camps were underway and then continue on to Alsace near the German border where another camp operated.  We would stop in to encourage the camp staff to see how things were going.  We had no illusions that our visits added much to the program, but they did, we hoped; indicate our support of and interest in the camp program and the investment of time and energy by the staff.

Just north of Lyon, on about the fourth day we stopped for a lunch break in a picnic spot on the Autoroute A6.  Beau had been unleashed and was busy rummaging about the campgrounds.  Time was of the essence. We had to get going, so Beau had to be reined in.  John volunteered to do the trick and reached out his hand as Beau tore by.  He nearly grabbed his collar, but the near miss meant that John’s finger was twisted back and, as we later discovered, broken. A detour to the hospital in Beaune, the nearest city, was necessary.  Elizabeth had been left behind at a camp to visit some friends, so we set off to the hospital in Beaune, an ancient city with some marvellous medieval architecture.

It was hot – about 36 degrees Celsius (97 degrees Fahrenheit) so we parked the car in the shade, tied Beau up to the back of the car with a dish of water and went into the hospital.  John was taken in, the hand x-rayed and the decision made to operate to set the finger.  As things inched along in true French bureaucratic fashion, Glen decided that he should go out and make sure that Beau was okay – the sun might have shifted, or his water might be gone.  Imagine his horror when he arrived at the car and found Beau gone.  The leash was hanging limp from the trailer hitch on the car bumper. Where was he?  Was he safe?

Distraught, Glen returned to the hospital, walking up to the doors that opened automatically with an electric eye.  He did not look forward to telling me more bad news on top of the difficulties that had befallen John.  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the emergency ward – curtains defining the various cubicles where patients waited for care.  From behind one curtain he noticed a furry white tail.  Then he saw a reddish-brown dog going from bed to bed.  As he continued to walk the realization hit him.  That was Beau – going from bed to bed looking for John.  Once again he dared not speak – this was not the time to call Beau in English.

Beau finished his visit without finding John – he had been moved to an operating room by then – and came out.  Glen grabbed him quickly and shepherded him back out to the car – only this time he stayed right with him for a while.

We were amazed and shocked.  But the dog seemed to take it naturally in his stride.  He was a member of the family and one of the family members was in hospital. It was only appropriate that he assume his duty as a member of the tribe.  We were unable to do a customer survey of other patients who had been visited and we got him out of the hospital before any of the staff had an opportunity to speak to us about his creative work.

As it turned out, the noble dog was ahead of the wave.  Thirteen years later in Fletcher Allen Health Centre in Burlington, Vermont, John’s first arm motion after the car accident in which he broke his neck was to stroke the dog that came to the Surgical ICU unit to visit the patients there.  The hunter-retriever makes a great visitor.
Word Guild Award

Word Guild Award

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