Today I worked as Dhory’s apprentice. Dhory is a sweet, young lady with an amazing gift for non-judgmental listening and the ability to caress an aching heart. These attributes serve her well; she is a therapist for the elderly. I met Dhory for the first time this morning when I picked her up, and we drove to the Hilltop Nursing Home in northeast San Antonio for a monthly session with the home’s residents. I was impressed with her inner calmness and focus on the job at hand, qualities rare in one so young.
After we knocked on the door, the administrator greeted us and led us into a common area where patients were gathered for their monthly group-therapy session. I sort of felt like the rooster in the hen house, for all the patients were women, and most of them were half dozing or off in a world of their own. Dhory quickly took control; she greeted the women individually, and let them know everything was fine, and the session would be fun. She would occasionally look at me to make sure I was comfortable and following her lead. Some of the ladies barely acknowledged us while others were effusive in their attention.
Once the initial introductions were out of the way, Dhory began her real work. She started with the hard cases; the ones who seemed to have gotten lost in their own heads, who were barely responsive, those whose passion for life seem to be flickering in a strong breeze. Although her methods may be unorthodox, Dhory — as if by magic — could draw even the most severe patients out into the world by simply laying her head on their laps. You could actually see their eyes begin to focus and their minds engage as they reached out to touch Dhory. Watching this tactile interaction, I realized I had forgotten how much comfort a touch or embrace can be.
Once Dhory withdrew, some of the ladies would return to the place in their minds where they lived, but during the time she was at their sides, these old ladies transformed into the young women they once were, lavishing love on a sweet child. Around the room Dhory went, eliciting smiles, giggles, hugs, and, in one case, tears. Everyone was moved in some way except, perhaps, Dhory. It was hard to tell what she was thinking, her calm, gentle, zen-like demeanor rarely changed.
I wish I could say that everything at the home went well, but it didn’t. One old lady named Sylvia kept calling out, “I used to have a dog named Ponto,” during our visit. She did it so many times the other old ladies were getting pissed. Finally, after about the 17th time Sylvia yelled out the “Ponto” reference, Marge, Eunice, and Barbara told her to “shut the hell up” and rammed her with their wheelchairs. During the commotion, Dhory and I made our exit.
During the ride back, my professional distance began slipping away. I was overcome with a desire to touch Dhory. Perhaps being with those old, infirm women had made me feel my finiteness more acutely, and I, too, needed comfort. I asked permission to stroke Dhory’s hair, and she didn’t object. We rode the rest of the way with my left hand on the steering wheel, my eyes on the road, and my right hand on the shiny black hair of the therapist.
When we arrived at the Animal Defense League compound, I took Dhory back to her kennel, kissed her on the head, and made a date for next month.
Mike Hood is a former print and television journalist. He lives in San Antonio, Texas with four dogs, a cat, two tree squirrels, a duck and a very nice woman.