By Ally Ruchman, Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School
Whenever Wally and I visit the hospital, Wally gets the royal treatment. One would think that he’s a celebrity as he trots past the security guard. He is the first to receive a hello and then one follows for me. I suppose that I’m his appendage! After signing in, we walk to the elevator. Wally inevitability attracts smiles and attention from the hospital staff. When we reach Radiology, the majority of patients in the waiting room are eager to greet him, touch him, and admire his photo ID which dangles from his neck. Sometimes they even comment on how clean he smells and the softness of his fur. (Wally has to be bathed before each visit.)
Radiology is filled with patients who need a diagnosis. Scheduled X-rays, CT scans, MRI’s and ultrasounds are the tests that patients have requested. Wally and I concentrate on MRI patients, who seem to be the most apprehensive of all…the humongous size of the machine, the small hole that a patient moves through, the cold room, having to remain still in the tunnel for the duration of the test, the loud vibrating sounds that bounce in the air combined with the fear of bad news.
Once a patient has agreed to participate in my MRI study, Wally and I go to a special waiting room with the patient. Wally has the opportunity to shine and charm a patient for about 15-20 minutes before they undergo an MRI. MRI’s can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour or more depending what area is being tested. Wally sometimes sits next to a patient, climbs up into a patients’ lap, or sleeps on the floor. A visit always includes sniffing a patient, particularly legs and feet. When he smells one of his own four-legged buddies, he rapidly wags his tail or howls in delight.
One of Wally’s favorite patients was a woman in her late eighties who needed a head MRI. Her son told us that she hadn’t spoken in over a year. Evidently, she loved dogs but he was certain that it would be a waste of time for her to participate in our research project. But when I entered the room with Wally, Wally darted towards her. He planted himself in front of her feet and began licking her toes. Almost instantly, she began giggling like a little girl. The cheery sounds of laughter immediately filled the air. In an effort to cradle Wally she leaned over and lost her balance. She roared with laughter. She mumbled a few words and Wally yelped back, signaling his approval. It was almost as if he was encouraging her to break her silence. Then she began talking, words rushed out of her mouth like worms after a rain. Memories from her childhood danced into our ears as tears streamed down her son’s face. This continued for almost a half hour. As they called the woman’s name for her MRI, the son turned to Wally and exclaimed, “Thank you for giving my Mom back to me.”
Read previous entries in the Wally Diaries:
Meet Wally the Therapy Dog
Training a Therapy Dog
The Big Test
It isn’t magic…it is science!
Ally Ruchman is a junior at Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School in Rumson, NJ. She loves animals, reading, science, and traveling.