Massage improves more than sore muscles
After having a very relaxing and healing massage a few days ago, I began musing on the importance of human touch. Studies on infants have shown that skin contact is necessary for health and even survival.
Massage can be beneficial in many ways other than promoting circulation, especially for the elderly. With the elderly living alone the lack of human touch is a very real problem.
During my nursing career, daily "backrubs" were routine for patients. I often felt as if healing went down through my fingers as I concentrated my energy and attention on the process. Sometimes silent prayers would accompany my actions.
I can think of several instances when I felt as if touch was vital. One was when a semiconscious man was brought into our Intensive Care Unit. He was a vagrant found under one of the freeway underpasses. He was moaning with pain from stiff joints. I rubbed his bony knees, feet, and elbows with lotion. My hands were warm. He sighed with relief and thankfulness. This was during a night shift. When morning came, I saw movement as I was rubbing his back. As I looked closer, I saw a multitude of lice running away from my hands. As much as I wanted to stop, I knew that this touch was important to this man, so I continued. He died later the next day, but I think I was able to give him some relief and a feeling that someone cared.
Another time that I thought human touch was vital was when I was working on a respiratory unit. HIV was just being discovered and we didn't know much about it or how it spread. We only knew that it could be deadly.
Patients were put in isolation and gowns and masks were worn. Any contact was with protective gloves. A young man was grieving over the loss of his muscle strength and his usual life. He told me he had dreamed that night of climbing a mountain and feeling the sun on his face again. When he awoke, he was afraid and despondent. Somehow, I just knew that he needed a human touch. The protective barriers were nonverbally shouting "you are unclean."
I thought that taking off my gloves to give him a backrub with human touch was extremely risky to myself but very necessary and maybe even vital to this young man. I took off my gloves and gave him a caring touch backrub. He looked into my eyes and tearfully thanked me.
A year or so ago, I found myself isolated and depressed. My answer to getting over that was massage. Since that time, I've had a weekly massage.
We are very fortunate to have a wonderful Adult Community Center in Lake Oswego. Massages are given there at a reduced rate. The masseuses seem to have a desire to help the elderly and are non-judgmental to working on bodies which are no longer perfect or beautiful.
My massages have been helpful in returning joy, in healing my knee after surgery, and in relieving stress. On one occasion after the loss of someone in my family, my masseuse sensed my grief and gave me a facial massage. I felt as if her hands were those of my mother, when I was a child, comforting me.
Massages that provide human touch may seem like a luxury, but I propose that they are a necessity for the elderly.
Esther Halvorson-Hill is a member of the Jottings group at the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.
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