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Emotional support is kind of a vaccine in itself.
When my mom called the other day, she said it was “business,” which is usually code for having a story idea for me.
Indeed she did.
She had just called her friend Maggie McLean, who had just left Richmond Hospital.
McLean had been there for a week with extreme back pain, but what she told my mom (and asked my mom to tell me about it) was the dog and the young man with the piano.
Huh? Okay, I’ll give you a call.
“I was delighted and totally surprised when this beautiful woman, Maureen, and her little dog walked in. He just came up and put his nose on my bed and I was allowed to cuddle him,” McLean explained.
And then there was the guy in Peelings who came into her four-bed ward with a piano and sang along.
“There I was supported with my back in bed and I was singing Save the Last Dance to myself and the Tennessee Waltz,” recalls McLean with a laugh.
“I was so excited. It just lifted my heart and mood. “
Another time, “a cute little girl came in with her guitar and we sang Edelweiss.”
“Hospitals aren’t the happiest places, but they do so much to keep you happy and comfortable. People should know that, ”she said.
And that’s not to say anything about the excellent care she received from the doctors and nurses.
It’s pretty amazing – given the workload on the healthcare and system as a whole – that anyone would think about happy little add-ons like service dogs and sing-alongs.
But here’s the thing, these aren’t add-ons. I’m not a medical expert, but I’d argue that knocking a friendly dog’s snout or singing along can be just as important to recovery as medication and surgery.
We all know that feeling good is good when you are healthy, but the opposite is also true: when you are feeling good, you can get healthy.
What scared me the most about this pandemic is not that my parents could get COVID and die, but that they would die alone.
At one point my parents told me they didn’t think they should get the vaccine, not because they were anti-Vaxxers or because they were hesitant.
More because a vaccine shouldn’t be wasted on them. You lived a good, long life. The vaccines should go to those with more years to go, they said at the time.
I would agree if we talked about an organ transplant. But the thought of them dying fearfully and alone, plugged into a ventilator that can only be touched by strangers in spacesuits, is too heartbreaking.
Furthermore, that isolation can kill them – at least in part.
In the early stages of this pandemic, it made sense to quarantine people and impose strict isolation protocols, but some are reconsidering this.
Last month, the medical journal The Lancet argued that we need to put more emphasis on the harm (mental and physical) caused by isolation when weighing it against the risk of major infection.
Last night there was a moving story on CBC about a man who was extremely ill with COVID but who felt that it was the sight of his wife through a window that enabled him to come back to life.
Who knows if that kind dog and happy sing-along at Richmond Hospital accelerated McLean’s recovery.
She believes it, but even if it weren’t, this attention to her emotional health would put her in a wonderful space of joy and gratitude.
Given that we are facing a second epidemic in the form of mental illness, this type of support is a kind of vaccine in itself.