In a small room in an intensive care unit at a local hospital are rhythmic sounds of medical machinery attached to a sleeping patient in intensive care for recovery a few hours after a big surgery. Surging pumps quietly deliver medicine drop by drop. Sensors attached to the ends of cords monitor heart rate, blood pressure, respiration and oxygen level.
A nurse arrives having sharp eyes that spot readings on the monitors. Skilled hands reach to adjust the settings. Expert actions flow in a single graceful motion as the nurse gently describes to the patient what is happening and why. Emerging from an anesthetic fog, the patient manages to mumble some words in acknowledgement.
The machines are connected and working. Human connection is established. Healing has begun.
This level of care feels reassuring when a medical team gives great care and shows personal interest in the patient. When caregiving becomes routine, the special human touch that heals can be dropped in the process.
A Facebook status update by a friend with chronic health problems and repeated procedures shares what it feels like to be a routine patient. The post explains, "They no longer ask if I'm OK. I guess they figure I've had it done so many times, if I wasn't OK, I'd speak up. I kind of miss the [other people] who used to work in there with the doctor. I still need TLC."
We all need tender loving care whether or not we show it. We know human connection helps healing but illness impairs our ability to maintain connections. The patient role puts us at a disadvantage. Because we like to keep our dignity, we may seem like we have no need. This is why it is especially important for health workers to promote person-to-person connection.
Modern health care is impressive. Technology and medicine are both necessary but it takes humans to turn this sophisticated system into a healing experience. The healing power of human contact is not limited to doctors.
Parents know a caring touch makes a big difference to a small child who scraped a knee. It feels good when someone cares to make eye contact with us. People benefit from kind words more than we may think -?especially folks who may not look needy.
Expert on human connection Leo Buscaglia once said, "Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around."
Positive human connections promote health in our work or play, as customer or business owner, as parents or children, or as health care professionals or patients. Most folks are good at reaching out to someone they know is struggling. However, most of us can improve community wellness by trying harder to strengthen connections with everyone we meet, and make good connections to others part of our daily routine.
Editor's note: Brian Rendel, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC, is a professional counselor at the Copper Country Mental Health Services Institute in Houghton.