When did we stop therapeutically touching our patients? I don’t know if there was a time or a moment that a declaration was passed that the power of touch was no longer a valued part of human communication. Did it happen when isolation precautions expanded and soared in popularity? When was the last touch for the patient, the person? Possibly, there was a diagnosis declared or a symptom rearing its ugly head and then we backed away. Perhaps it was an admission to a particular floor, long-term care or hospice and there was no longer a human touch that was part of the basic human care of the patient? It does not mean that the need lessened or that a simple touch could not be reassuring or comforting, it just means that the touching stopped. It means that those called to serve and to care stopped seeing touch as a valuable part of the care or failed to realize that it had been lost.
No one has the luxury of knowing when the last time they will ever be touched in kind and sincere way. No one ever knows when they will no longer be seen as someone who needs touch. I was at an appointment a few days ago and it was with a doctor that I had never met. When she came into the room, she stood as far away as she could from me. She did not shake my hand or even touch my shoulder. When she placed the otoscope in my ear, she extended her arm as far from my body as she could and looked into my ear from about four feet away. She did the same thing as she placed the stethoscope on my back to listen to my lungs. She made me feel worse than I already felt and not once was there a reassuring touch or a kind word.
During my time in healthcare, I have come to call that absence of touch ‘skin starvation’. I actually believe the person receiving care is starving for human touch, for kindness, for reassurance and for someone to make them feel they are not alone. Isolation is a real feeling for our patients. Perceptions are real and even the most intuitive people can be easily discouraged by our failure to provide compassion and empathy through touch.
One touch can ease anxiety, can calm growing fears and alleviate mounting depression. One touch can convey a caring spirit, concern for health and welfare and express empathy. One touch can warm a heart, wipe a tear, hold a newborn or ease a last cough. That wrinkled hand belongs to a mother, a father. That weak body is a son or a daughter. Never waste an opportunity to use such a precious gift.
Patients who feel cared for and are reassured want to be involved in their care. When fear is lessened, patients can hear more of your message and become more compliant thus having improved outcomes. Consider therapeutic touch during hand-off of care, transitions, transfers, delivery of both good news and bad as well as during introductions and farewells.