Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Touch Therapy

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.


Gianna said...

a friend of mine was in the hospital several years ago and he was semi-conscious. The nurses came in and were alarmed because his blood pressure had skyrocketed and he was getting agitated. Like you, I simply acted. I took his head in my arms and hands and stroked his hair.

The nurse who was monitoring his blood pressure looked up at me and said, oh please, keep doing that his blood pressure has just dropped dramatically.

I have lots of other touch stories, but my husband is calling me!

Jazz said...

I think touch is incredibly important. And as a culture, we don't do enough of it...we are all so concerned about our "space" and our "rights" and our "privacy". Even when we are well. I'm sure there are a lot of kids out there who don't even get a hug every day.

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Gianna,
Yes, touching has been shown to lower blood pressure as well. It's amazing how many things we intuitively know how to do in order to help the people we love.


Wellness Writer said...

You're so right. I talked with a teacher friend who said that teachers are now so concerned about law suits that many of them don't hug elementary school children who are crying.


catatonickid said...

Oh, what a beautiful story, Susan! Thank you.

And of course you're right. This made me think of the couple of years I worked in aged care. It's the simple gestures that really count. Being there for someone, in as many ways as possible.

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Catatonic Kid,
Yes, it is simple gestures that make a huge difference. And it is knowing within that we know how to heal ourselves and others.

All of the hospital equipment in the new wing in which my mother was located didn't make up for a shortage of nurses, for people who didn't treat my mother with respect (because she was old), and for doctors who couldn't have been bothered (again, because of her age).