Friday, May 1, 2009


I feel very strongly that as human beings we truly all require ... indeed, crave the sensation of touch ... even the most ‘untouchable’ of us. Studies have shown that orphaned infants deprived of touch will literally die, in spite of being given food, medication, and other comfort measures. I remember once hugging my mother-in-law, this was before we knew she was dying of cancer and frankly there were times when she was not very “huggable”. This particular time, though, I was getting ready to drive back home after a morning of shopping with her. As she walked with me to the back door, I glanced over at her and saw a very frail, lonely-looking woman, shoulders rounded forward, no smile, even her eyes appeared dull. I stopped at the door threshold, turned and wrapped my arms around her snugly. Her rigid frame melted and clung to me and I swear she ‘purred’ ... it was audible, a soft, throaty sigh. I witnessed a miracle of sorts then, when she finally stood back, for I was the one who broke the embrace. Her face was soft, there was a shy smile on her lips and her eyes were aglow with life. She remarked, “That was nice, I really needed a hug!” It was difficult for her to ask for one, so many people are embarrassed to request such a ‘personal’ thing ... a hug, the touch of another being.

Hugs are second nature for me, I am a 'people person' ... my husband has been known to say I am the only person he knows that could have a meaningful conversation with a lamp post! And so in my nursing practice I would greet patients and families with a hug. These hugs, this form of greeting, were sincerely given and almost always gratefully accepted. I would first offer my out-stretched arms; this type of hug is usually an “A-frame” type, where just your upper bodies would press together for a moment. It was the exception when someone did not want a hug or to be touched. On these rare occasions, I didn't have to be told, one could sense the unspoken message; the body language, the facial expressions, the invisible barrier stating “don’t get too close!”.

Studies have also shown the difference animal therapy makes with individuals. Watch patients in a nursing home when a dog lies it’s head in the their lap. Autistic children respond to riding on the back of a horse. Blood pressures are lowered when stroking the head of a dog or cat. Police officers carry teddy bears in their cars to use with small children; in trauma cases, domestic abuse, etc. Whether it is a kitten, a Golden Retriever, a horse, a teddy bear or another human, it is touch that connects us together.

Perhaps there is no more important time to touch as when someone is dying. I was called to the home of an elderly dying woman late one evening. This woman was much loved by one of our hospice volunteers and my immediate supervisor. Although, she had no family left to grieve for her, these two woman were present. The health care aide had bathed the woman, changed the linens, given the patient mouth and skin care … she was unresponsive. It was obvious to all that she was not in pain. Her breathing was becoming more shallow and irregular. Everything that could be done, had been done ... so we waited. Hospice teaches us to talk with the dying, even when they are unresponsive … we feel that they can still hear us and we encourage family and friends to communicate. My supervisor and her friend sat quietly, talking among themselves. I stood looking at this small frail body lying there ... alone .... and found myself going to her bedside. I sat down on the edge of the bed and took her cool hand in mine. I quietly repeated Psalm 23 while I stroked her brow with my other hand. I had been told in advance that her religion was very important to her. I looked up to see both women crying as they watched me. My supervisor remarked that she hoped when she was dying someone would care enough to touch her in such a loving manner. The woman died several hours later, but not before both women had taken the opportunity to hold her hands and tell her goodbye.


Bz said...

So true about touch ...makes sense why opposites often attract. Though it may have taken her time to show it, I know grandma felt lucky with you... and she was.

Bz said...

Ha! Clicked my last comment before I could go back and tell you what my word veri was...
It was "frets"- hugs help when someone 'frets'.

Bz said...

Oh! AND love the fresh new face-lift you've given your blog. Looks Great!

Tatersmama said...

When I was nursing, we were discouraged from *touching* patients unnecessarily... but that was something that I just couldn't comply with.
I'm a touchy-feely sort of person and if it benefits us all... why not?

And followers.... I can't find your "followers" and I want to !!

Fruitcake Sandy said...

Followers ???? Help Bz, now what do I do? I absolutely 'love' (is that allowed in Blog world?) 'Tatersmama' could it be that we were twins separated at birth ... or could it be that I've just found another soul out there that was given some lemons in life and made the best lemonade ever! :>)