The Importance of Touch

I was asked to set up a clinic at a retirement residence.  The new administration wanted the foot care needs of their residents addressed.

I’m always a little nervous when I go into a facility for the first time.  I don’t know the staff, the residents, the routine.  On this first day, as I entered the clinic room ahead of schedule, there was already a line-up waiting for me.  I quickly greeted everyone and started setting up.  The group watched my every move.  It was going to be a long afternoon.

The difference between seeing a patient in clinic and seeing them in their home is time.  When there’s a room of people waiting in clinic, I can’t spend as much time with a person as I’d like or as they need.  But you do your best, right?   And no matter what, everyone gets a quick foot rub.

What sticks out most in my mind about that first clinic was how thankful everyone was.  From the looks of things, a number of residents had not received any nursing foot care in a very long time.  The administrator told me later that patients were “raving” that they had never been treated so well.  I’m sure part of it was the actual nursing procedure, but I strongly suspect that gently touching them in the form of a foot rub had much to do with their reaction.  Everyone needs to be touched and I think that a number of my patients that day had not been touched recently.

Touch is important.  I don’t mean sexually charged touch, just friendly, gentle touch that says “I care.”  The dermis layer of our skin houses thousands of nerve endings that respond well to gentle touching.  Research shows that this adds to our feeling of well- being.

The patient population I deal with doesn’t get enough touching.  Many are widowed, alone, lonely, sick, invisible – an ignored population.  A great many of them spend their days alone in solitude, with very little human interaction. But it’s not just the elderly who need to be touched.  We all need to know that we are cared for, that we matter to others, that we are loved and appreciated.

While I wouldn’t recommend taking off a person’s socks and shoes and rubbing their feet unless you do what I do for a living, or unless you know the person really well, there are other ways to touch.  Most of us  respond well to non-sexual, non-aggressive, non-obtrusive, gentle touch on the hand, arm, shoulder.  It says, “hello,” “I care,” “I’m glad you’re my friend,” “I will be here for you.”

Deo Gratias

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13 Responses to The Importance of Touch

  1. grapesgripesandgratitude says:

    Love this. I plan to visit my nonna next week (she’s in another state at a special facility for dementia patients) and it’s funny cause I wrote down to remember to take lotion so I could rub her feet.

  2. It’s great that you got to do that. Foot care is extremely hard to arrange because residents have such different feet (one numb, another sensitive etc.)and caregivers have so little time with each one.

    • Don’t I know it! I’m not sure about the situation in the U.S., but in my part of Canada, the need for nursing foot care definitely outweighs the number of properly certified nurses able to deliver this type of care. One the one hand, it’s great for my business; on the other hand, it means that many people are going without something that’s become a need and not a want.

  3. You are so right. Touch is everything, especially with those at either end of life — babies and the very ill.

  4. It’s really touching to be reminded of the importance of such a simple mood booster as touch.

    • Being a nurse means that you have to be proficient in so many technical aspects of care – all the pumps and machines that most nurses deal with on a daily basis – but as a profession, we can’t forget the person behind all that technical stuff. As busy and harried as we are, we still need to take the time to acknowledge the person and touch is the simplest way to do that.

  5. Thank you for this! It brought to mind how Jesus washed the disciples feet; touch is such a gentle, affirming thing. God bless you for your kindness to these elderly patients.

    I’d give you a quick hug but… the whole internet thing. 😉

  6. Pingback: Thoughts « jthestudentnurse

  7. Mr. V. says:

    “While I wouldn’t recommend taking off a person’s socks and shoes and rubbing their feet unless you do what I do for a living, or unless you know the person really well”…

    Yeah, taking the shoes and socks off the person sitting next to you on an airplane and rubbing the stranger’s feet probably is not the way to break the ice on a long flight. 😀

    It’s also a shame with our over-sexualized culture that today, any mention or example of touching is likely to be viewed with sexual connotations. While there are really sick people out there that we do need to be on our guard against, it’s a shame that, for example, a teacher who gives an encouraging pat on the shoulder to a student is in danger of being classed as being sexually motivated.

    • I know. I thought about that while writing this post and almost didn’t write it because of that danger. Men, especially I think, have to be careful how they are perceived – male teachers, clergy, coaches, any male leaders. It’s a shame because we lose part of our humanity when the threat and possibility of being misunderstood governs our actions.

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