A critically ill patient, a beloved dog and a determined nurse
When Asante nurse care manager Ann Marie Cottini placed a routine phone call to her patient, Jack Berard, she knew immediately something was wrong.
The 64-year-old Berard had been recovering from complications related to a previous cancer surgery. Typically chatty, on this day he was gasping for air. He had a cough and chest pains, he told her; he was so weak he couldn’t walk to the kitchen to eat. He could barely use the phone.
Cottini pressed him to call 911. Berard refused. She offered to call for him. He declined. Puzzled, she asked why he didn’t want to go to the hospital.
“I can’t leave my dog,” he told her.
Care managers see these circumstances often. Patients who live far from a doctor’s office; those without support systems or friends who can step in during a medical emergency; and sometimes, patients whose main source of support and mutual dependence is a beloved pet. It’s the job of Asante care managers to help patients navigate life, whether they’re recovering from a hospitalization or coping with a chronic illness.
“I really want you to go to the hospital,” Cottini told Berard. “If I can find someone to watch the dog, would you go?”
Berard knew he was “going downhill fast,” as he put it, but would agree only if Daisy would be cared for. The spirited terrier has been Berard’s steady companion for nine years. She moved with him from the Santa Cruz mountains to his current home in a remote part of Grants Pass. She lay by his side as he recovered from bladder cancer surgery. She even learned to “dance” from Berard, a former professional dance instructor who brought Daisy to conventions all over the country.
“I’d tell the hotel that she’s a service dog because she’s my best friend,” Berard says.
Daisy helped him through the loneliness that set in when he moved to Oregon, and the depression that followed the loss of his dancing career. Berard has performed and taught ballroom, Latin, country and swing dance since the age of 19. At one time he was co-owner of the largest dance school on the West Coast, Dance Boulevard in San Jose.
For him, dancing was more than an art form, it was a way to lift the spirits of the people he taught. But cancer put dancing on hold, and then came COVID.
Cottini and clinical resource coordinator Patti Cook tried to find facilities that would take Daisy on a temporary basis. Local shelters didn’t board, and boarding facilities required payment. Finally, Cook found an organization, the Toby Fund of Wolf Creek, that connects pets with foster families.
Cottini broke with protocol (“We usually don’t go to patients’ homes”) and drove to Berard’s house to pick up Daisy. Suspecting that Berard’s respiratory symptoms were caused by COVID-19, she donned a mask, gloves and face shield and waited outside until Daisy emerged from the house. After swabbing the dog with sanitizer wipes she headed to the handoff point where someone from the Toby Fund would be there to bring Daisy to her foster home in Wolf Creek.
Meanwhile, Berard was taken to ATRMC, where he was diagnosed with COVID-19 and a urinary tract infection. In his medically fragile state, delaying treatment any longer could have turned deadly. Not only was he coping with COVID and complications from his earlier cancer surgery, he had suffered sepsis in the past, making it more likely to contract a bloodstream infection again.
He was hospitalized for two weeks and steadily improved, while Cottini got regular updates on Daisy, who had captured her foster parents’ hearts and part of their bed.
When Berard was finally discharged, Cottini picked up Daisy at the rendezvous spot and drove her to Berard’s house.
It was a joyful reunion. Now recovered from COVID, Berard is grateful for the medical care he received, the efforts of his care manager and that Daisy was in good hands during his hospitalization.
His goal now is to regain his health and return to dancing.
“I pray every single day that I can lift spirits again,” he says. “I don’t think God’s done with me on this earth.”
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