Mr. Lewis was one of the finest patients I’ve ever had. Polite, well-spoken, always a gentleman. He lived alone in a small apartment at a retirement community. Since his wife passed away, he was more involved in group activities. He loved reading and watching the news. But his motivation and strength to do things, or even to get out of his apartment, decreased significantly since he started to battle brain cancer several months ago.
His illness had progressed to the point that the doctor had recommended end-of-life measures. Mr. Lewis cognition hadn’t been affected by his cancer, and he seemed aware enough of his poor prognosis that he agreed to sign up for hospice services.
I was Mr. Lewis’ hospice social worker.
I looked forward to my visits with Mr. Lewis. I loved being in his cozy, impeccable apartment. His conversations were delightful, rich in details of his successful career as a financial adviser, and full of happy stories about his wife and son. He and his wife travelled to several countries once they retired. His son was a teacher, and lived just a few miles from Mr. Lewis’ apartment, so father and son visited often.
During a visit, I noticed Mr. Lewis was unusually quiet. His eyes lacked the brightness he normally sparked. His dull expression alarmed me.
“Mr. Lewis...” I drew close to him. “What’s wrong?”
“I lost ‘Buddy.’” He said, with lifeless words.
I’d recently learned that his beloved dog and companion of sixteen years had been very ill, and Mr. Lewis’ son had taken the pet to his home.
“He had to be put to sleep.” Mr. Lewis said in a broken voice.
I encouraged him to talk about ‘Buddy’ and after shedding some tears, he showed me pictures of his loving pet, and told me a couple of humorous stories involving Buddy misbehaving.
I admired Mr. Lewis strength to deal with so many losses. His wife, his health and now his dog.
A few days after that, as I was heading back to see Mr. Lewis, I stopped by the Hallmark store and got a stuffed animal. I hoped it might resemble ‘Buddy.’
“I have something for you, Mr. Lewis.” I grabbed my bag and retrieved the gift.
Mr. Lewis’ eyes brightened and his lips curved into a gleeful smile.
“That’s so thoughtful of you. Thank you!” He placed the new ‘Buddy’ next to him, on the couch. Then he engaged in a conversation about his recent palliative radiation treatments.
I noticed there was no mention of ‘Buddy’ in the conversation. I pondered whether my gift would be of any help.
That new ‘Buddy’ looks too inert for Mr. Lewis, I thought as I glanced at the stuffed animal.
That week I thought of Mr. Lewis and worried about him feeling lonesome. In his condition, I knew the idea of getting another dog was a chore that Mr. Lewis was not in any capacity to assume.
Then another thought crossed my mind.
I rushed to the pet store, and purchased a Betta fish, fish food, a large glass bowl and a few accessories.
Mr. Lewis will have a live pet, an easy to take care of, and a source of relaxation, I thought.
Mr. Lewis’ eyes lit up like a sun as I produced the gift. A broad smile blossomed on his face. The entire visit was about settling ‘Little buddy’ as he called his new pet. We read the care instructions and prepared every detail meticulously. The bowl sparkled with life as the new pet fish started to bounce up and down, gracefully waiving its shiny red fins and tail.
“‘Little buddy’ is greeting us,” I said, pointing at the small creature.
“He sure is!” Mr. Lewis exclaimed. His eyes shone with an expression of joy.
P.S. Thanks to Patti over at The New Sixty for reminding me of this story as I read her lovely post The Perfect Pet. Something quite interesting she mentions is: "It is a known fact that watching fish will calm you and lower your blood pressure."