Best friends and best medicine

Randy Riley - Contributing columnist

A few years ago, a good friend of mine was scheduled for some extensive outpatient surgery. To save him and his wife any more anxiety than they were already going to experience, I volunteered to drive them to and from the surgical center at Miami Valley Hospital South.

Having worked in healthcare for over 30 years, I knew how stressful the experience would probably be for them. So, I drove them to the hospital. On the way, I made sure we chatted about everything except his surgery.

We let our conversation drift from topic to topic. We laughed as we yakked our way from Wilmington to the hospital.

Things tensed up as we settled into the waiting room. My friend was called into the pre-op area. His wife went with him. I grabbed an old magazine and started flipping pages.

A short while later, Jean came back into the waiting room. She said the surgeon told them that it might take about an hour. They would let us know when he was taken into recovery.

We settled in. Like everyone else waiting for word on their family member or friend, we spoke in hushed tones. We whispered quietly. It was a tense time. Every person in the waiting room had the same worried expression on their face. People pretended to be interested in the old magazines.

It was quiet. There was a worried feeling in the air.

After about 20 minutes, the door at the far end of the waiting area opened and two ladies entered. They were wearing volunteer smocks and each of them had a leash in their hand. The dogs they brought in also wore volunteer vests. They were K-9 volunteers — specially trained service dogs.

The effect on those of us in the waiting room was almost immediate. Worried expressions were replaced with smiles. People turned to see the two dogs as they wagged their way from person to person.

People who had quietly waited — keeping their own anxieties within themselves — reached out to stroke one of the well-behaved dogs.

The first one appeared to be a standard-sized white poodle. The other looked like a yellow lab.

Their tails dusted off the tables and old magazines as they worked the room. I’ve seen some goofy-looking, Photoshopped pictures of dogs smiling, but this was real. It was in their eyes. They smiled with their eyes and their wagging tails.

They found a way to connect with every person in the waiting room.

After a few minutes, the volunteers made their way to where Jean and I sat. As they approached, I noticed that we had switched from talking in whispers to talking in normal voices. We also smiled.

The entire room was now talking in normal tones and volumes. Smiles became chuckles that could be heard moving across the room.

I started talking to a lady a few chairs away. Before the K-9s arrived, we hadn’t even noticed each other. Now, she wanted to tell me a story about a dog her family had once owned.

It was a white poodle. She smiled and laughed as she remembered. I told her about our goofy little Jack Russell, Puchi. The entire room started to smile and even laugh. The tension in the room had not just dropped; it had disappeared.

The human and K-9 volunteers wandered off to visit more waiting rooms, but even after they had left the smiles remained. Instead of being a room full of worried strangers wrapped in our own concern, grief and fear, we were friends — chatting, laughing and sharing stories.

We all continued to wait for word from the surgeons, but the waiting was easier. Time passed more quickly. Instead of a room full of strangers, the K-9s had left us a room full of friends.

If laughter is indeed the best medicine and if dogs are indeed our best friends, then our best friends had just given us a huge dose of the best medicine we could have received.

We were more relaxed, more calm and, as a group, we were better prepared for whatever news the surgeons might deliver.

God bless our furry, K-9 friends.

Randy Riley is a former Mayor of Wilmington and a local resident of more than 40 years.

Randy Riley

Contributing columnist