It takes an introvert to know an introvert, or does it?

Guy lying on floor says: "I have an Introvert Hangover. I'm totally exhausted from too much human interaction.

During our PALS visits at the university last week, Jelly became quite tired early on, as she often does. Despite the chaos all around her–other dogs, exam-fearing students–she lay down and fell asleep. I apologized to the student petting her at the time, telling her that Jelly often finds the visits exhausting. The student responded, “Maybe she’s an introvert.” Kids these days. They’re so smart.

I’d never really thought of Jelly as an introvert before, which is odd because I am one myself. Introverts like their alone time. They may also enjoy being with others, but they can find social interaction draining. Extraverts, on the other hand, are energized by spending time with others. They leave the party wound up rather than needing a nap. Most of us are ambiverts, falling somewhere in the middle.

Sometimes I compare myself to my extraverted friend, Ms. Bubbly (it’s Dr. Bubbly to you, but Ms. has a nicer ring to it), who is at the other end of the spectrum from me. She’s constantly running from one social event to another. I don’t know how she does it.

Ms. B always invites me to the frequent large social gatherings she holds at her home. She understands when I politely decline each and every time. She knows I’ve always found such get togethers overwhelming.

Later this month, Ms. B will be hosting her annual Hanukah party, which I have already declined. I need to save my limited social energy for two engagements we’d previously scheduled for the nights following. This means I will not get to eat any of the 12 dozen latkes she has ordered for the occasion. (You read that right: 12 dozen. She has a lot of friends.) The authentic latkes alone spur my motivation to go, but my introversion still won out. That and the potential for bruising from having to battle the crowds to get to the latkes.

Ms. B and I often go for coffee after Sunday yoga, a sign that introverts do not avoid all social interaction. They may prefer more intimate gatherings, and they enjoy solo time to regroup occasionally. When we go out, Ms. B and I have lovely visits during which we catch up on each other’s lives. I relish this one-on-one time.

I can manage small groups, so long as I don’t overdo it. Two major social engagements last weekend necessitated a day on the couch. My introversion long predated my leukemia, so I can’t blame my health. If I hang out with you, whether alone or with others, and my eyes start glossing over after a time, please trust it’s not you, it’s me.

Now that I think about it, I realize that Jelly hasn’t fallen far from this introverted tree. She prefers small groups of dogs, cowering in the bushes when larger packs approach. She, like me, assesses any situation fully before jumping in with four paws. And just as I enjoy my alone time, she is fine to amble the off-leash park on her own, stopping to greet only the most fragrant of dogs. When she is overwhelmed by a group, she does exactly what I do: she avoids the situation altogether, or she lies down and takes a nap. Like mother, like daughter.

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The Ten Commandments, Dog Edition

The Christmas celebrations started this week with a pot luck at our PALS team leader’s home. How generous of her to invite our pooches to join us. Yet the closer the date came, the more my anxiety rose.

During PALS visits, the dogs’ contact with one another is limited. They are to be leashed and under our control at all times. Jelly loves these other dogs, and is tortured she can’t frolic with them on site.

What was I thinking bringing her along to this lunch, then? Without a doubt she’d be overwhelmed with delight. All the new sights and sounds and smells and unleashed friends! Before we left, I read her the riot act. I couldn’t have been more clear. This is what I told her:

  1. Thou shalt not jump on the couch, repeatedly, despite consistent scolding. This is not the retirement home.
  2. Thou shalt not inspect any counters looking for food that someone has forgotten to place out of your reach.
  3. Thou shalt not consume any detritus in the host’s backyard.
  4. Thou shalt not steal any food from unsuspecting people’s plates. Similarly thou shalt not select the target most vulnerable to such a theft.
  5. Thou shalt not become preoccupied with other dogs’ privates. This includes but is not limited to unwanted humping.
  6. That shalt not spend excessive time inspecting thy own privates. Thou shalt save that for home.
  7. Thou shalt not rifle through the host’s laundry, nor transport any soiled undergarments for all to see.
  8. Thou shalt not howl in the house, rendering the group unable to hear one another.
  9. Thou shalt not instigate play with thy friends during the meal. (See Commandment 7.)
  10. Thou shalt not mark the luxurious deep pile carpet in any way.

Despite her briefing, Jelly broke most of these commandments over the course of our visit. Why didn’t I consider that she’d shame me? Why didn’t I leave her at home?

The carpet proved especially appealing. While we chatted in the living room, Jelly scooted her nether regions along the length of it three times. God bless the gracious host who believed Jelly was “marking her territory”, tastefully reframing Jelly’s wiping her butt. Needless to say, I left the lovely get together with my tail between my legs.

Ms. Team Lead and I crossed paths today at another PALS visit. Because occasionally one apology, however sincere, is not enough, again I begged forgiveness for Jelly’s  misbehaviour at the party. I asked Ms. T.L. if she’d like Jelly’s doggie allowance to pay for carpet cleaning. “Oh, not to worry, that was nothing,” she responded graciously.

What did she mean, exactly? After we left, Ms. T.L. discovered a dog had peed voluminously on the basement rug. Thankfully, the carpet’s Scotch Guard made clean up a breeze. She attributed this misdemeanour to another dog in the group. I’d have been more likely to assume it was Jelly’s doing–past ill behaviour is the best predictor of future ill behaviour–but maybe it wasn’t.

Did Jelly keep her unseemly marking to the living room? No one will ever know for sure. Jelly has not had accidents indoors for years. Sure, she can heed those commandments; she simply chooses not to. I can assure you, she didn’t get that from me.

Terrier on bed with sign around neck: "I stole a little girl's ice cream at the park."

Volunteering is not without its risks

Jelly on floor with several hands petting her during PALS visit

‘Tis the season for extra volunteering shifts. We are on the University of Calgary team that visits campus monthly to help the students manage their stress. This week, the last week of classes before exams, we have three visits. Students wait for up to an hour for 15 minutes of heavy petting.

Jelly loves going to the university because the students will sit on the floor with her and let her lick their faces with abandon. They don’t even seem to mind her shedding all over their black yoga pants.

I also enjoy these visits. They remind me of how glad I am that I’m no longer in university. I must have been a nervous wreck dealing with all that academic pressure. Also, I’m thrilled that so much of Jelly’s hair is left in the university meeting room instead of in our home. Forget about trying to brush your dog; join PALS and the students will do the job for free.

During today’s visit, Jelly was looking especially adorable, and we haven’t even brought out her Christmas costume. Because she was so endearing, as I’m sure you’d agree if you met her, many students wanted to hang out with her. When I encouraged them to fondle her very soft ears, they couldn’t help but be smitten.

Of course Jelly was the subject of many photographs today, some selfies with students and some solo shots. One young woman moaned, “Who can resist those puppy dog eyes?” That seemed like a rhetorical question to me–all canines have puppy dog eyes–but I stopped my inappropriate self from addressing this with her.

Another student, whom we’ll name Emily–Emily is the most common girls’ name in the year this student was likely born–seemed especially enamoured with Jelly. She took a few shots of Jelly lying down with her tongue sticking out. Forget the puppy dog eyes; who can resist a napping dog sticking out her tongue?

While she was visiting, Emily texted her mother, “This is Jelly,” attaching a picture. She then added, “I want her for Christmas.” Emily’s mother, bless her soul, responded with a happy face emoji. Thankfully, she did not promise to wrest our dog from us to give to her daughter for Christmas.

Just to be safe, I intervened as well. I said, “Ahem, Emily, you do understand that I am Jelly’s mother (shhh, she needn’t know I’m not Jelly’s favourite mother), and that I might pose a barrier to your taking her home?” I hope we cleared that misunderstanding up. Emily and I parted on civil terms, or at least I think we did.

I will have to keep a close watch over Christmas, however. Is it possible that, rather than coming through our chimney to deliver gifts, Santa will send an elf down to steal Jelly and take her to Emily’s home? (Do elves commit thievery to fulfil children’s wishes? I don’t know. We didn’t cover this in Hebrew school.) You can bet I’ll grab that elf off the shelf (or the mantle, in this case) if I catch him tampering with my family. Some boundaries are not to be crossed.

My irritability knows no bounds

crying baby in bed

Much appreciation for the three kind and loyal fellow bloggers who liked my last post, which could have benefitted from considerably more editing. Thanks for seeing beyond its many shortcomings, you generous souls. I’ll aspire to do better today.

Because I volunteer in a nursing home, where influenza can spread like wildfire, I scored an early flu vaccine. Shots start today for the general public, in case you weren’t aware, but some people get to jump the queue, including those who who work in facilities housing people vulnerable to infection.

Did I happen to mention they’re predicting a bad influenza season here based on Australia’s rates of illness? I thought you’d want to know.

Last week, following our PALS shift at the retirement home, I lined up with Jelly so I could get my shot. Except there was no line. The immunization clinic was set up for nursing, administrative, and other support staff, and volunteers, but no one was attending. Had no one noticed the mini chocolate bars for the newly immunized?

I sat down beside the immunizing nurse, who seemed overly excited to have a subject, while Jelly gladly endured the other bored nurse petting her. Everyone was content.

[Warning: Keep reading only if you plan to continue to the end of the post.]

The shot hurt from the moment the needle entered my arm. As she put a bandaid over the insertion spot, the nurse mentioned that many people were complaining of pain this year. Thankfully she didn’t disclose this before she inserted the needle since I am highly suggestible.

In the past, I have a sore arm for a few days following the shot, like a heavyweight fighter has punched me, but this time I thought I’d skip that part. I was unscathed until day 3, when I woke up in discomfort, trying to remember what the heavyweight champion looked like. The arm felt better after a few days, as it always does.

J. also scored an early flu shot as a volunteer at the children’s hospital. She received her injection the day my arm was the sorest. After the shot, she denied any pain on injection. She’s such a show off. To add insult to injury, nobody even punched her arm the next day. She felt nothing.

After last year’s shot, I was irritable. Irritability is a potential side effect of the shot, and I’m suggestible, remember? When J. suffered no ill effects, I immediately got cranky, but it had nothing to do with my flu shot; I was cranky because of J.’s suggestion that I am a baby. I may be a baby, but J. still shouldn’t have called me one. A loving partner knows when to fudge the truth.

You will likely react to your flu shot like J. did, i.e., you won’t feel a thing. If you’re irritable, blame it on me for telling you about my adverse reaction. You too can consider my reaction as a function of my sensitive temperament.

Maybe I’m irritable because we’re leaving for Israel tonight and I can’t decide which hoody to take. My life has no end of stresses. It’s a wonder that I can function at all.

 

Hangin’ at the hospice

Small dog on hospital bed being petted by patient

Twice a month, my PAL Jelly and I go to visit the seniors at a retirement home. Adjoining the home is a hospice, and often we stop in there along the way. Because Jelly is vertically challenged, it is hard for her to visit with people who are bedridden, but she does her best, seeking out chairs and couches so she can raise herself up within reach.

I admit that entering a hospice isn’t easy. I never know who I’ll meet and what condition they’ll be in. Others must feel the same because somedays there are very few visitors, if any. Some of the patients are so close to dying that they are not up to company.

The past few visits, we’ve been watching a dog-adoring hospice patient become increasingly frail. From the pictures hanging on the wall, I can see he was once a strong and vibrant man. On the wall, there are several pictures of him with his dog. Over time, he is having more and more difficulty moving his body and speaking clearly. Imagine the frustration of not being able to communicate easily. Despite his challenges, he greets the PALS dogs with a broad smile, even if he needs to be woken from sleep to visit.

Since this patient is missing his dog terribly and is unable to reach down to pet our dogs, we lift our dogs up onto the bed with him. When Jelly’s turn on the bed came yesterday, she was more than glad to oblige. She snuggled up to the patient and kissed his face repeatedly. He laboured with his little remaining muscle strength to raise his hand to pet her. I was moved watching his effort to be with the dogs.

While we were visiting, two granddaughters walked in to see him. One of the girls immediately started crying when she saw the dogs and bent down to pet them. She told us she had had a bad day and she was so glad we were there. She didn’t elaborate, but I was glad seeing the pups comforted her.

I tried to imagine how hard it would have been for these young girls to enter the hospice not knowing what condition their grandfather would be in that day. From one visit to the next, like us, they have been watching him die. What would they find to talk about? Would they even be able to decipher what he was saying? Could they find some way to communicate? Hopefully the brief PALS appearance facilitated their visit, which I’m sure wasn’t easy.

This experience reminded me that we bring our dogs to the hospice not only to see the patients. The staff caring for these patients day in and day out–the nurses, the aides, the cleaning staff–anticipate our arrival. The family and friends who arrive when we’re there appreciate the wagging tails as well. Some even schedule their visits when the PALS dogs will be there. I’m happy knowing that the dogs make the day a little bit easier for many of these people. They deserve at least that.

Respecting privacy: a case example

Have you heard of Elements Calgary (formerly Calgary Association of Self-Help)? Elements provides support to people with severe and chronic mental illnesses, including people who are under long-term psychiatric care. They may have schizophrenia, severe depression, bipolar disorder, or some other debilitating mental illness. These people are often poor or have unstable housing, and sustaining employment, whether temporarily or permanently, is often beyond reach.

Elements provides a warm, supportive environment where these people can socialize with others and access services. They have access to mental health counselling, life skills and vocational training, and opportunities for social interaction.

I have never been disabled by my supermarket-variety anxiety the way these people have been by their malfunctioning brain chemistry. I admire them deeply for plugging along despite their mental-health challenges, and I’m relieved that agencies like Elements are available to them.

PALS visits Elements once a month. Jelly and I have signed up for the Elements visits for several months now. We have met many of the regulars at Elements. These people are often unable to care for a dog themselves, so they’re always grateful for a visit with a PALS dog.

Jelly and I went there yesterday for the first visit since June and were greeted by many familiar faces. One fellow was especially pleased to see PALS. Mr. Success Story shared that he was doing so well he was readying himself to return to the workforce. At one point, his illness interfered with his capacity to work, but he had made great strides in recent months with Elements’ support.

Mr. Success Story wanted us to know how much Elements, and the PALS visits, had helped him through his darkest period. I imagine that he is still alive because, when he was at his lowest, he found an accepting place where he could go. He realizes that physicians and mental health workers may refer clients to Elements without fully appreciating the good the agency does. He plans to find a way to get the word out through social media.

As you can imagine, there are strict privacy rules in an agency such as Elements. We certainly cannot share people’s names or identifying information, and I’ve been so vague that you could walk by Mr. Success Story on the street without realizing I was speaking of him. I wanted to share his story nonetheless because I was moved by it.

The same privacy rules do not apply to us: PALS members are shameless about having our pictures taken. Not knowing this, and wanting to respect our privacy, Mr. Success Story kindly asked the PALS volunteers (human and dog) whether he could take photographs during the visit. I may not like looking in mirrors, especially the side view, but I will pose for a PALS picture with Jelly without hesitation. If Mr. Success Story felt that those pictures might help him to garner publicity for Elements, we’d be in there like a dirty paw. “Snap away!” I said.

Best of luck, Mr. Success Story. You deserve all the credit for how far you’ve come. I’m glad Elements was there to help you along in your time of need.

Calling all impatient toddlers

I have bad news. I left the muffins out again for Mr. RAK, this time on our landing, but he didn’t come. He must have been spreading his good cheer to another neighbour, which is great. Upon realizing he was not coming, J. promptly put the muffins in the freezer, where they remain untouched. Anyone want a decent banana chocolate chip muffin? Let me know.

More than enough about that. Let’s move on to great news.

Since retiring, J. has been applying for volunteer opportunities far and wide. She readily jumps into one-time stints, including as PALS special events I cannot do, but she wanted a steady commitment of her own, preferably with kids. Kids love J.

Last year J. applied to the local children’s hospital, and was dismayed when there were no volunteer openings there. Because persistence is one of her middle names, along with punctual and efficient, J. applied a second time, got an interview, and, finally, a placement. She will be hanging out in the inpatient toddler playroom every Tuesday afternoon.

To prepare her for her duties, she practiced with a friend’s infant on the weekend. For four hours, this little tyke was all smiles. J. changed diapers flawlessly, and was a master with that baby’s bottle. That stint was only a warm up, since there won’t be any dirty diapers or bottles during her shifts with toddlers. There will only be unbridled fun in a well-outfitted playroom.

When we told our friend, who is sharper than any tack I know, about J.’s assignment, she asked, “Aren’t all toddlers impatient?” Well yes, Dr. Sharp, they are indeed, and I would be too if I were stuck in hospital. J. is the perfect playmate for them. She has no end of creative ideas, she can roll with the punches, and she’s fun. She can’t help it. She’ll make them relax and giggle and forget their worries, whether they want to or not. And she’ll probably make them clean up after themselves before they leave.

Last week, J. spent her first shift hanging out with the one toddler who was available for playtime, a little girl J. described as a bit shy. No wonder. This youngster hadn’t been in hospital long, and the disruption of a hospital stay, including sleeping away from home, must have been stressful. She was improving every day and was headed home soon. Before she left, she had time to play with J. Thank goodness, since J. would have been heartbroken if no one wanted to play with her on her first day.

I’m not sure who had more fun, J. or her little playmate. They spent most of their time shopping at the make-believe grocery store, until the girl suddenly realized she had to go. She told J., “I have to pee.” J. responded, “Well then, let’s go find the washroom.” To J.’s surprise, as they approached the playroom door, this shy one put her hand out for J. to hold.

Not all J.’s stories will be happy ones, yet I know there will be many sweet moments like this one. I can’t wait to hear what happened today. I know the kids will have fun. I hope J. does too.

 

Child's pretend groceries in two baskets

 

The luck of the draw

Toddler sitting on sidewalk with little puppy kissing his face

I love my PALS visits with Jelly. I get to go to new places and meet new people and watch them adore my dog. Of course I love to tell them funny stories about her, but I don’t go on and on about her because it’s not all about us, especially during these visits. I have to find other topics of conversation instead.

I’ve long accepted that I’m terrible at small talk. Getting-to-know-you conversations are hard for me in general. I was particularly stumped at a PALS outing last week.

We had volunteered to visit a special nursing home. The residents there are hard-to-place older folks who would not otherwise be accepted into seniors’ homes. Many are alcoholic and/or mentally ill, and many once lived on the street. The alcoholic residents are given controlled amounts of alcohol at regular intervals. Without access to alcohol, these people would likely continue to live in poverty on the streets. The residence’s goals are to reduce these people’s run ins with the police and their need for emergency health care.

I’ve been in many seniors’ homes with Jelly and this one was more run down than others I’ve seen. (Imagine the challenges gathering funding for a place like this.) So were the people there, many of whom were socializing in the common area when we arrived. Still, this special residence gives them a roof over their heads and three meals a day, access to laundry facilities, and on-site medical care. There are significant daily supports in place, so they don’t need to be trying to survive on the streets anymore.

I didn’t know what brought these folks to this residence and my asking them would have been inappropriate. Of course I wondered about their pasts, though. Sometimes their mental-health issues were apparent, but others simply appeared poor and downtrodden. I hope my discomfort wasn’t obvious, but I felt even more awkward than usual finding common ground for conversation.

I often fall back on one strategy when I have no idea what to say. On all our PALS outings, people can choose to visit with the dogs or not, so those that do attend are clearly dog lovers (or cat lovers who are willing to accept second best). Their interest in animals gives me an easy inroad: I ask them about their experiences with dogs. That breaks the ice, probably for me more than for them. People love to talk about their dogs–I can relate to that–even if they may be sad recalling better times in their lives.

On this visit, our dog conversations reminded me that our lives may not have been all that different at one point. These people weren’t born mentally ill, although they likely were harbouring bad genes that would reveal themselves later. They likely lived with family when they were younger, just like I did. But at some point, poverty or mental illness or addiction derailed their lives. I expect they’ve had bad luck, while somehow I did not. Life is truly unfair.

I’m glad this special residence can provide these folks a home. Everyone deserves at least that, no matter what.

The problem with dogs with balls

Terrier with tennis ball in its mouthJelly and I have been heading to the off-leash dog park most mornings. Whenever we go, I am struck by the number of people who are fixated by a tennis ball. Their dogs are excited to be at the park not to see their compatriots but to chase that ball relentlessly, drop it at their owner’s foot, only to chase it again. These dogs live to fetch.

Bassets and fetching? Not so much. If I threw a rabbit, they’d run after it. Bunny chasing is in their blood. Ball chasing? Forget it. Jelly has learned to ignore dogs with balls because she knows they will not be interested in playing with her.

I’m getting off track. It’s dogs with the other kind of balls, the kind attached to their bodies, that pose the problem. Jelly can spot those dogs a mile off. She doesn’t run much at the park anymore, except when she sniffs out an unneutered male. Then she’s emits a whimpering cry unlike no other and chases relentlessly after that dog until I manage to snag her, leash her, and take her away.

I no longer ask the owners, “Does your dog have balls?” I can tell by Jelly’s squeals and rapt attention that the dog does indeed, whether or not his wares are on display.

I often tell the owner that Jelly is very fond of intact males, which begs their question, “Is Jelly spayed?” What do you think? We adopted Jelly from doggie jail. Dogs don’t get released from jail until their reproductive parts are removed, thereby ensuring they do not add to the unwanted-dog population. “Yes, Jelly is fixed,” I respond, “although I’m not whether Dr. Animal finished the job.”

I say this because recently I learned that when girl dogs are spayed, only part of their parts are removed, ensuring that they cannot reproduce. But other parts remain, leading dogs like Jelly to be tormented by their desires for the rest of their lives. No wonder girl dogs, spayed or not, just want to have fun.

When these incidents occur, I bite my tongue rather than telling those ballsy owners, “Why must you bring your unneutered dog to an off-leash park?” (Jelly is not the only dog tormented by dogs with balls. Balls breed fights, and puppies, although any owner who brings an intact female to the park deserves a very large litter of puppies 58 to 68 days later.)

After an incident like this, we head to the balls-free zone of the park, where Jelly can frolic in peace. Those other balls may fly overhead, begging to be fetched, but Jelly ignores them.

During this week’s PALS visit at the retirement residence, Jelly and I crossed paths with a visitor who had brought along her dog with balls. No, I couldn’t see them, and they weren’t neon yellow, but Jelly quickly became entranced. Everyone nearby was tickled by Jelly’s relentless interest in this dog. I immediately pulled Jelly away from this dog before her squealing escalated to howling in the echoey hallway.

Jelly may be a doggie senior, but some days she acts more like a teenager with a crush. They say hormones can rage at any age. If you don’t believe me, join us at the park one day.

 

Volunteering by proxy

Calgary Stampede midway crowded with people

That’s me in the top right corner.

I must apologize for not writing yesterday, especially since I know how you hang on my every word. I spent the day carousing at the Stampede grounds. Just kidding. I’d rather sleep than watch adults young and old embarrassing themselves in public.

Stampede is a time for reckless alcohol overconsumption. With that comes an increase in philandering, and of course, STIs and unwanted pregnancies, despite the local campaign to “put a condom on your cowboy.” Not surprisingly, divorces spike following the week-long party. Stampeding sounds too risky to me, so I hunker down at home instead.

J., on the other hand, plans two visits to the grounds with our good friend, Triple D. They will be there from supper time until midnight both nights, but they won’t have time for drinking or philandering; they’ll be selling lottery tickets for fancy cars. They are volunteering for this task in support of PALS. J. noticed that PALS was seeking people for this fundraising event, and not only did she volunteer for two long shifts, she signed up Triple D, who is known for always making time for a good deed.

When I became a PAL, I learned that, in addition to our regularly scheduled visits, I’d be expected to support the organization in other ways. This included, for example, interviewing new recruits, helping out on the multi-station dog-assessment day, or attending fundraising events with or without my little pal in tow.

Most of these activities involve longer hours than I have the stamina for, so I pass. I do my part by volunteering for one-time visits–last week’s parade is a recent example, although that day felt more like a gift than an obligation–on top of our regularly scheduled visits with the old folks.

The same is true for Calgary Blood Services. I can’t donate blood, so I feed soup and cookies to those who can, and try to encourage healthy others to donate in my stead. I’m grateful to J. for persisting in giving despite her fainting after her second blood donation, and to my dear friend known affectionately as Spongebob (for reasons that will remain a mystery to you) who donated for the first time last month with no ill effects. Anticipating the milkshake he’d be buying on his way home probably helped him through the itty bitty pin prick.

Maybe I shouldn’t say that I pass on the volunteer duties I can’t fulfill since the truth is that I pass them on to gracious and willing others wherever I can. I wish I could volunteer myself, but I know my limits. A 6-hour sales shift ending at midnight–assuming I did not sleep through the chaos like Jelly did at that parade–would knock me out for days. I also know that the screening interviewers at Canadian Blood Services would laugh at me if I tried to donate blood despite my leukemia. I know what my limits are, and that there are some things I can’t do, however much I wish I could.

Kudos to those folks, J. et al., who donate their time or their gift of life (blood, that is) in my stead. Their generosity makes my heart sing, and I’m not the heart-singing type.