The Power of Touch
Sick with the flu, I sequestered myself in the bedroom and bathroom. With four kids, I go to great pains to make sure nasty bugs don't cycle through the family. Passing germs in our home can mean weeks inside. During my self-imposed quarantine, I couldn't hug my children. I knew the lack of contact was short-term and for the best, but still it was hard not to be able to initiate or receive touch.
I thought about our patients. Many of them are in that position permanently - unable to initiate touch. That doesn't mean they aren't longing for someone to touch them. For those who enjoyed touch prior to their medical incident, the lack of physical contact must be difficult.
I thought about the book, The Five Love Languages, and my heart broke for those patients whose love language is physical touch. The premise of the book is that each person has a primary way he shows and receives love - a way that is more meaningful than any other. If your love language is physical touch, or you are just a person who enjoys physical touch, imagine living the rest of your life without any meaningful touches from anyone.
Consider how you can incorporate meaningful touch into your therapy and see if it produces a positive response. Use common affectionate touches acceptable among friends to give patients the physical touch they may not be receiving from anyone else. Take patients by the hand when you are speaking to them, or gently rub their shoulder.
Develop a "physical touch" home program. Speak to family members about how they can reinitiate touch. A husband or child could lie beside the patient in bed. Often, once the patient is homebound, spouses sleep separately. A spouse or child (even an adult child) lying with the patient for a just few minutes may calm the patient starved for physical touch. This could be repeated throughout the day. Depending on the patient's status, it may be difficult to give that person a traditional hug. Loved ones could sit behind the patient and wrap their arms around him in an embrace, like a hug from behind. Gentle rocking from side to side may have an additional calming effect.
You'll want to find out the patient's "touch history" from a family member. You don't want to be touchy-feely with a patient who bristles at touch. But for those who speak the language of touch, you may never know the joy you bring to them by incorporating the most basic touch, or the door you open for their family to touch them in most meaningful ways. Sometimes the simplest act can be the most profound.