100: Breaking the Rules

100: Breaking the Rules

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Nurses

Breaking the Rules

I follow three rules: Do the right thing, do the best you can, and always show people you care.

~Lou Holtz

My mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer long before hospitals in our part of the country had heard of “pet therapy” for patients. So when I asked at the nurse’s station if it would be possible for me to bring Little Bit, Mother’s beloved Chihuahua, to visit her hospital room, I received the expected answer.

“A dog in the hospital? Certainly not!”

“But she’s a tiny dog,” I pleaded. “Only seven pounds.”

“Doesn’t matter,” the charge nurse replied, shaking her head. “This hospital prides itself on cleanliness. And dogs are certainly not clean.”

“How about if I give her a bath before we come?”

Again, the nurse shook her head. “It’s not just that. The patients on this floor are very ill, as you know. They require peace and quiet. We can’t have dogs barking.”

“Little Bit isn’t much of a barker.” I forced a smile. “Unless there’s a cat around. And I’m betting you don’t allow cats here either.”

“Nope.”

I felt tears well up and tried to swallow them back. “My mother has been a widow for almost ten years,” I said, trying to keep my voice from trembling. “Little Bit has been her best friend ever since my dad died. They’re grieving for each other. Surely you can understand that.”

The nurse’s expression softened and she put her hand on my arm. “I do understand and I wish I could say yes. Really I do. But rules are rules. And the rules say no animals in the hospital.”

I offered a weak smile and thanked her. Then I turned and walked toward the wall of elevators, knowing there was only one solution. If I couldn’t march Little Bit into the hospital at the end of her leash, I’d smuggle her in. And I knew just how to do it.

But first, as promised, I would bathe her. No easy task with a dog who hated water, even one who only weighed seven pounds. I lathered and rinsed Little Bit twice and then rubbed her dry with a fluffy towel, hoping that once the wet dog smell went away she’d be fragrant as a flower. Or at least not as stinky as before I wrestled her into the tub.

Then I called my brother-in-law Tim.

He and my sister were going to pick me up on their way to the hospital the next day. “Wear your biggest, loosest coat,” I told him.

“Why? It’s not supposed to be cold.”

I explained my plan.

“Of course I’ll do it,” he said. “But I sure hope they don’t call the police on us.”

In the hospital parking lot the next day, Tim unzipped his jacket and slipped Little Bit inside. “Be still and be quiet,” he told her, “because you’re going to love where we’re going.” As though she understood every word he was saying, Little Bit settled in on the right side of Tim’s chest. Tim shoved his hand into his pocket so he could support her weight in the crook of his elbow and zipped up the jacket.

Then into the lobby, up the elevator and past the nurse’s station we went.

I waved at the charge nurse who was talking on the phone and paid us little mind. As luck would have it, Mother was alone in her room. She looked awful, even paler and thinner and weaker than the day before. I leaned over the bedrail and kissed her crepe-paper cheek. “We’ve brought you a surprise,” I whispered.

“Did you?” Her smile was half-hearted.

But there was nothing half-hearted in what happened when Tim unzipped his jacket. Little Bit sprang into Mother’s arms and covered her face with kisses. Tears and giggles and wags and wiggles and the happiest dog whimpering filled that bleak hospital room. Before I could suggest that Mother slip Little Bit under the covers, there was a quick rap on the door and in walked Ashley, Mother’s favorite nurse. She was kind, gentle and seldom in a hurry. But she was also a consummate professional who knew all the hospital rules.

What would she do about Little Bit?

Ashley’s eyes grew wide when she saw the tiny black dog cradled in Mother’s arms. “Well… who do we have here?”

In a voice stronger than I’d heard her use in days, Mother answered. “I bet you can guess.”

Ashley crossed the room and reached out to stroke Little Bit between the ears. “I’ve heard all about you,” she said softly. “I’m glad you came to visit.” Little Bit wagged and wiggled some more. “But we have to keep this a secret because dogs aren’t allowed in the hospital. So I’m going to put a note on the door saying you’re having private family time.”

“Thank you,” I said, not even trying to swallow back tears.

Mother and Little Bit snuggled for almost half an hour, until Ashley slipped back into the room. “Shift change,” she said. “Better get you-know-who out of here.” She handed me a slip of paper. “Here’s my work schedule for next week. In case you know someone who’d like to visit while I’m on duty.”

I gave her a quick hug as Tim tucked Little Bit into his jacket.

I whispered a prayer of gratitude for nurses who understand that sometimes, the best rule is to break one.

~Jennie Ivey

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