I'm taking a break in my "Why I Am Well" series to discuss touch therapy, which I think is very important. Perhaps its effect became most obvious to me when my mother was repeatedly in the hospital, about 18 months before she died.
I had begun realizing that the more she was in the hospital the more disoriented she became. I already knew she had dementia, but for her it was initially more of a problem with her memory. Yet, this one time in the hospital, she clearly wasn't herself, and I really got scared. Although I was in her room visiting, she kept on saying over and over, "I need to call Susan on the telephone, and tell her I'm here." And while she knew who I am, explaining that she didn't need to call me wasn't helping.
What made matters worse was that no one was able to tell me why she was so disoriented, or what I could do to help her. The first few nurses were of no help; neither was her doctor. And a friend of hers who was visiting, and is a peer counselor, made matters worse when he said, "I think she's just not going to come back from this."
Don't you just hate people who give you such bad advice during a crisis?
What I have learned about myself is that during a crisis I intuitively know what to do. So, I brought my chair right next to my mom's bed, and began massaging her hands while talking to her in a quiet voice. I said stuff like, "Hi, mom, I'm here with you. You don't have to talk about calling me because I'm sitting right next to you. Why don't you close your eyes and relax (she clearly was agitated) and let me tell you about some of the things I love most about you.
"When I was a kid growing up, I always loved it that you wrote your column called Speaking from Cheviot. Do you remember how we used to feel like celebrities when we went into restaurants and to plays as well? I always was so proud of you. And do you know I think the reason I knew I could become a writer was because you never made it seem like a big deal...I loved all the poems you wrote my entire life...(and I began reciting a few I know by heart)."
Anyway, you get my drift. They key was to remind my mother of the things she used to do--memories that might click in--and bring her back to me, and at the same time stoke her hands so that she relaxed. Within about ten minutes, she became less and less agitated so I asked if she would like me to massage her head. When she agreed, I started doing that and talking less. After about 20 minutes passed, she opened her baby blue eyes, lovingly looked at me, and said, "Susan, honey, I'm so glad you're here. How did I get so lucky to have a daughter like you?"
For people who don't realize the value of touch therapy, I beg to differ.