Fight or Flight
He has a mysterious and troubled history that he will never be able to share with me. Even if he could, I am not certain that he would; I the fear memories might be too painful.
In the presence of both exciting and frightening circumstances, his posture changes immediately and it is held in purposeful pose for as long as he deems necessary. I never know how long this will last: sometimes only a few brief seconds, sometimes minutes.
Each pose is a the flip side of the the same coin. When happy and confident with excitement, he looks almost regal while leaning forward, weight on this toes, head held high, and his shoulders pinned back. But when he is scared and frightened, the inverse is true as he leans back on his heels and his head falls forward collapsing under his slouching spine and falling shoulders. Amazingly, he is a shape-shifter; postured one moment as mightily venerable, but as a meager vassal the next .
In each instance, the tension in his nervous system is palpable as all of his senses become hyper-vigilant, increasingly sensitive to what he sees, hears and smells.
With the senses flooded, he begins to drown in intense focus, constriction and tautness; he shuts me out and there is no way to reach him…except through touch.
It is only my touch that can garner his attention, and sever the strong link between external stimuli and instinctive response.
Sometimes I get it wrong. What may have worked last time, might not work the next. A touch that is soothing today may be frightening tomorrow, despite similar circumstances from one day to the next.
All I can do is take an educated guess, be as non-threatening and gentle as possible, and keep trying until I get it right. I will get it right, eventually. I always do. Eventually, his focus is redirected and that link is broken. He becomes more aware of my presence and the security that accompanies it as he slowly begins to move away.
As we continue on our walk (his leash in my hand) his posture remains unchanged, still holding itself in an unnatural isometric until the glorious moment when he shape-shifts once more.
It is in that moment, when he thrashes, twists and turns fervently while uncoiling and seemingly bringing each muscle throughout his length to its isotonic potential, that I wonder if he feels warmth too.
Regardless, it is my touch starts him on a path of kinesthetic fulfillment; his own instinctive movement is what makes him smile and prance down the sidewalk afterward.
*It is this daily ritual with Keitel that reminds me every morning of the power and limitations of my touch; how it can only serve my patients as a catalyst. It provides a unique (and often out of context) sensory experience in an otherwise stressful situation, nothing else.
To some, this is a disappointing revelation. I, on the other hand, understand that it as remarkably powerful.