Thursday, October 31, 2013

* Happy Halloween, Brookside !


Tonight is Halloween and 150 costumed kids will troop over to Brookside Nursing Home and receive candy from the 70 residents who will sit in their doorways on the three hallways and hand it out, just as if they were still living at home.

The Town's Fire Department has raised money to give away two bikes and, to be eligible, the kids have to be at the Nursing Home and safely off the autumn-darkened  and narrow streets of my Vermont hometown for the evening.

In other words: Everybody Wins: 

Kids, the elderly; the Fire Department; and Brookside Nursing Home.

I know this first hand because every Thursday my Basset Hound, Nemo, and I go over and say hello to the residents.  

As we were leaving today we saw the Director of Recreation (who has been there for four decades !) and another staff member taking the bikes out of the nursing home's patient-transport van.  I joked, "You don't have residents who are going to ride those bikes do you?" and they explained the upcoming event to me. 

The staff is decked out in costumes for the day and the entryway and hallways are all Halloweened Up.

There's even a tiny fake graveyard in the entryway garden, with tombstones, ghosts,  and all.  

Laughter is the best medicine.

And kids.

And dogs.

Nemo D. Keane, M.D. 
(Medicine Dog)


Sunday, May 5, 2013

* Nemo, The Medicine Dog

Dr. Dog

Nemo D. Keane, ESQ., M.D. (Medicine Dog)

YANA: A Report to Interested Parties

Doctor of Woof-ology

The cognitive challenges of many residents in a nursing home make "breaking the ice" an awkward and oftentimes fruitless effort.

Enter Nemo, the Medicine Dog.  

My Basset Hound (Nemo) and I have been visiting the same local nursing home every Thursday morning for the past several months since we began YANA. We missed only one Thursday when the flu had shut down a wing of the home.

Our mission is to greet as many of the 57 residents as is possible.  Nemo manages to break the ice and engage those with severe cognitive and communication challenges, where I alone would simply be a stranger in their midst trying awkwardly to communicate.

Nemo doesn't need to explain why he's there: he just wags his tail and nuzzles up to be petted. And the residents doesn't have to try to engage him in conversation, although often many do manage to utter a phrase of pleasure or delight.

Our visit to all three wings and the cafeteria usually takes an hour, from (9:45 to 11:00 AM). Sometimes we go into individual rooms; many times we meet folks in the hallways or in the cafeteria at "coffee hour" which begins at 9:30.

This particular nursing home has an amazing feature: On a sunny day, the place is flooded with sunlight through windows on all four sides  of the building at once (is this even possible  ? ! ), almost as if the world is trying to invade the place with its own big smile.

Nemo has been a godsend to me in this effort.  I'm afraid I would not have been able to break through the social and cognitive barriers without Dr. Dog at my side.

Anyone who has a dog and would like to join the Medicine Dog team, should contact me at

Friday, January 4, 2013

*In Memory of Albert Meade

Anonymous Poem Posted at Brookside Nursing Home

361 Campbell Street
White River Junction, VT  05001

January 4, 2013

Brookside Nursing Home
1200 Christian Street
White River Junction, VT 05001

Dear Director:

My name is Paul Keane and I recently retired from Hartford High School after 25 years as an English teacher. 

Ten or fifteen years ago I volunteered at Brookside  and met an 86 year old Vermonter named Albert Meade who grew up on a farm that is now the Fat Hat Factory in Quechee. 

I was moved to write a poem about Albert after he died called “The Mayor of Camel’s Hump.”  You can see it by typing this url into your browser search window:

Inspired by Albert, I recently formed an organization called YANA (You Are Not Alone) dedicated to assuring that no resident of an extended care facility goes more than a week without a visitor.  Type this url into your browser search window for YANA’s blog:

I would like to pilot that program in your facility since that is where I met Albert. The pilot would involve only myself for the first few months, but might attract other volunteers thereafter who I would train.

May I meet with you please to discuss the possibility of offering YANA’s services?

You can reach me on my cell phone at 802-***-****


Paul D. Keane
M.A., M.Div., M.Ed.


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

* The Mayor of Camel's Hump

The  former Meade farm in Quechee, now the Fat Hat Factory.

Meet the Mayor of Camel's Hump, 86-year-old Albert Meade, who grew up on the Hartford farm which is now The Fat Hat Factory.
My friendship with him, which began in my visits to Brookside Nursing Home more than a decade ago, inspired the creation of YANA.

The Mayor of Camel’s Hump

A poem in memory of

Albert  Meade

raised on a farm

 near  the 200-foot-deep

Quechee Gorge




Gulf Bridge at Quechee Gorge

 Gulf Bridge at Quechee Gorge
The oldest surviving steel-arch bridge spans a scenic location over the Ottauquechee River at Quechee Gorge in Hartford, Vermont. Constructed in 1911 for the Woodstock Railroad, this deck arch bridge spans 285 feet high above the gorge. 
Image courtesy of Robert McCullough


It is January and snow is falling.
A letter from your niece tells me
you have been in the ground since
August, after 86 years above it.

An authentic Yankee, pitchfork and cow pail,
growing up tending the earth;
now its dark harvest.


Once when grown you saw a barn
burst aflame from hay stacked too
green, in vernal combustion.
House - - woodshed - -  hen house - - barn,
hitched together, perpendicular to the
road , pulled out like an accordion;
they stopped the barn from taking the house
by tying ropes around the hen house and
pulling it down with a Model-T Ford.


The railroad was your spaceship. Its gleaming face
would shake your house as it roared by the front
of the farm. Such speed and power and majesty
were wonder to a boy who four miles to and four
miles from school, would walk, sun or snow.
Boys once greased the tracks on the hill outside
your farm, and that Black Behemoth slid back down
the slope a several times before it made its way
on through to town. Old men now admit they were those
boys, and though you know their names and speak them
with a smile, no admission comes from your mouth.


A mile from home that track bridged a gorge 
200 feet deep. The track was one mile shorter to town than
the only road, and you obeyed your father’s command:
Never walk across that gorge. At least in daytime you
obeyed, when others could see. And, besides, walk across
that gorge you could not: there were no railings on that
bridge, just rails.


But crawl you could on hands and knees, and did;
holding the rails for dear life, edging out across
the gorge with river so far below. And so it was
one black night halfway across the bridge, crawling
on hands and knees; you came up against another - - -
head-to-head - - - coming from the other direction,
crawling and holding those rails tight:
Your own father.

Was he come looking for you late to home, or just
taking, in reckless shortcut, the route to town
he’d forbid his boy to take, knowing all that
gravity and impulse can do to flesh?


You grew up and never married those 86 years and
said to the younger listener once, “Don’t make
my mistake and wait too long” about choosing a wife.
There was no sermon or self-pity in that sentence,
just saying how it was with you.

When you were 82, twenty times in one season you climbed
a mountain, sixty miles upcountry, till other climbers
dubbed you the Mayor of Camel’s Hump.

strength waned and slight confusion set in.
And so,
the nursing home.

But later a reprieve - - -
when strength returned  - - - to a kind of dormitory for
the infirm, where you could walk outside your mile
each day, whittled cane, tentative steps now.

Then the river gorging through your veins came
head-to-head with some blockade:  Paralysis.
And, like Lincoln, a night of labored breathing:
The feet that made you mayor of the mountain stopped
now, halfway across the bridge.


The other side wanted you more than this one
And so, stepless, you stepped over, not crawling
This Span.

Once you told me calmly about assisted death, “The
Bible forbids taking a life.” You never quoted
Scripture and didn’t then, just a simple The Bible
Says, kind of statement.

You would wait calmly for Nature to do her work.
But you did not fear to say the wait had grown
lonely and monotonous.

It was a hard wait, like
watching grass grow into hay.

Paul D. Keane


I met Albert while volunteering at a local nursing home. We became friends.