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The Gift of Touch

This past summer my ninety-year-old father was hospitalized for a broken hip. He was not getting much touch as his nurses were over-worked, and he developed a MRSA infection which meant no one was supposed to touch him without wearing plastic gloves. In addition his hearing aids were lost, and perhaps most challenging was the fact that he was brain damaged from an accident forty years ago. When I got to his hospital room his legs were blue from the knees down, and his feet were ice cold. He was sleeping but seemed agitated. I went to work on his legs and feet and back. He never woke up but when I left him he was sleeping with a peaceful look on his face. The next morning his feet were warm and his legs and feet were a healthy color, and he was in good spirits.

Due to several complications he died several weeks later. But during those weeks, at my insistence, he was graced with caring and loving touch from his immediate and extended family, and his entire Quaker meeting. We in turn were graced to be sharing that sacred time with him.

Many people suffer from touch deprivation including people with AIDS, people with cancer, hospice patients, infants in Neo Natal Intensive Care Units, especially those who have been abandoned by their parents; people with injuries and amputations, the not very visible part of our population that is challenged with physical abnormalities; people recovering from addiction; victims of physical and emotional abuse who find it difficult to trust any touch; those suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome including victims of natural and man made disasters and even car accidents; and many veterans returning from Iraq, suffering from the wounds of war.

You can start with those closest to you–your family, your immediate circle, and your pets. My teenage daughter reminds me constantly that she needs massage to loosen tight muscles after an extremely hard work out, or to help her get to sleep when she is over-excited.

Besides the emotional comfort of caring touch, massage therapy oxygenates the cells which increase endorphins, the body’s natural pain killers. It increases flexibility and movement in joints and eases stiffness and pain in arthritis sufferers, and gets the “chi” or life force moving, which helps us feel vitalized. Healing touch reduces or eliminates stress related headaches; eases digestive disorders and chronic muscular pain including fibromyalgia; improves body image and speeds healing after surgery; and improves the immune system. By increasing circulation, massage is invaluable in preventing bedsores that are so problematic, and too often life-threatening for the immobile. It relieves agitation in Alzheimers’ patients; enhances blood pressure and pulse in geriatric patients; and helps women with all phases of the childbearing year.

Massage therapy comforts and relaxes children with attention deficit disorder, those with autism and people with many forms of mental illness.

As vital as food and water is to our survival, so is touch and giving from the heart.


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