Hospice Volunteer Helps Palliative Patient with Therapeutic Touch
"Relaxation, guided imagery, creative visualization and gentle music can be very valuable in helping Hospice patients get to a peaceful, healing place within themselves."
Looking back over the 21 years I have been involved with hospice patients I see, in my mind’s eye, a whole cavalcade of patients, many of whom I can recall vividly whilst other have been gently erased. I have gravitated to the more spiritual side of the hospice mandate – and by that I do not mean religious – I wouldn’t presume to. So, I combine therapeutic touch/soothing touch with spiritual support and awareness and it has become my way of being with patients – but, it has to be initiated by the patient, not by me.
By the same token, I can usually sense or "pick up" the patient’s openness and desire to explore that part of themselves and it becomes deep, in many cases quite wonderful the difference that occurs. I may visit a patient several times before they start to mention the spiritual side of their process of living and now, of dying. By touching their body using Therapeutic Touch to feel connected, truly connected to another person merely by being in the same space with them – to be where they are, leaving oneself, one’s ego out the equation including the desire to "fix" them. Listening is the primary goal, allowing them the space, the opportunity to tell you freely what they have on their minds and – eventually, what their deepest fears are.
Guided imagery and creative visualization plus Therapeutic Touch creates an opening, and one becomes aware of the "shift" that happens within the patient. The relationship is then on a more meaningful footing. Sometimes, asking about their dreams can evoke a response and often they will say something like "do you know, I dreamed about an old buddy of mine a couple of nights ago, who died in the war and I haven’t thought about him for years" – or – "my grandmother was in a dream I had last week – she was so happy to see me and so was I to see her; I keep thinking about her ever since." These kinds of responses open up some very good discussions I can have with patients and can become a trigger for exploring that dimension.
Relaxation, guided imagery, creative visualization and gentle music can be very valuable in helping patients get to a peaceful, healing place within themselves. A perfect example is of a patient I served at Cotton Woods three years ago. The Nursing Staff had suggested Therapeutic Touch or something similar might make a difference to her wellbeing. She was a "difficult patient" according to the staff, very prickly, very short tempered because of her dire illness... which was M.S. She had been an RN which meant she really knew her prognosis and all the ramifications ahead of her. I went to her room with no preconceived ideas how, or if I could be of any help but, I was willing to try and connect if she would allow that to happen. I had my tape recorder to play some quiet music to help the atmosphere if nothing else. "She doesn’t like to chat" I had been told, so, I gave a brief suggestion about relaxation and soothing touch and she grudgingly said she would try it and see if it helped. I told her she would probably fall asleep, that I would leave the room quietly, which was what happened and I tiptoed away... no chat, no thank you, no please come again.
I was pleasantly surprised to hear via the staff a couple of days later, the patient would like me to return. So I did, and mentioned guided imagery and creative visualization. She was interested but sceptical. I asked her what she used to do for recreation. She readily talked about the horse she had reared since a very young foal. I asked, "What’s his name?" "Equinus," she said, and I exclaimed "What a perfect name for a horse – the Latin" she looked at me with different eyes.
In that moment began months and months of a deep relationship. I would guide her at each visit with visualizations of leaving her wretched body – leaving the room she was confined to and going for a ride on Equinus... free, happy, full of health, joyful, imagining the feel of him, the smell of him, the creak of the saddle, the pure joy of exercising him in the fresh air and sunshine. It literally transformed her and made her last month’s bearable.
Her partner, whom I met only after she died said to me, "Have you any idea the enormous difference you made? It was such a blessing for her."
I treasure moments like these and the patients I have been privileged to serve during these past wonderful twenty-one years.