Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Touched By An ...

It's often parked there. Alongside a local city park. Like a hospital clinic on wheels, except with friendly staff, it brings health care to people who need it but may fear it, may avoid it, may not understand it. Often the van staff are on the street simply chatting with those who pass by. Joe and I were carrying hot dogs freshly dressed and ready to be eaten. We were headed to a place where Joe could sit and I could park. It is a great place to people watch.

As I passed by the van I glanced in and saw a woman, sitting, twitching. She looked fearful. I couldn't hear what the guy said to her, but she looked up at him and hung onto his words with a desperation that I could feel out on the street. He slowly placed a hand on her shoulder, a small act of kindness. She covered her face and started to cry.

We had our hotdogs and before we finished I saw her leave. Her face was clean and fresh, the tracks of her tears were long gone. I never saw her go in but I'd bet she was walking taller when she went out. Whatever happened in there wasn't just care, it was magic.

I'm critized by some as an anti-touch guy because of my work contained in the training 'The Ethics of Touch' in which I lobby, strongly, for appropriate boundaries and appropriate touch between care givers and care receivers. But what I saw was so respectful. His touch respected boundaries, and for a woman who probably had her boundaries shattered over and over again, that respect probably mattered as much as the reassuring touch.

For several days I have thought about that simple gentle touch, the complex genuine need, and how they came together. Thank God for those who bring care to work with them, they don't have to, it must cost them, but they do it anyways.

She was touched, and, oddly, so was I.


Kate said...

Ive heard touch can be an important component in care when used respectfully. I am kind of touch squeamish myself and don't like to be touched. But I do like what it represents - a nonverbal show of caring that can sometimes be hard to convey in words.

Jen said...

I find this such a difficult issue- my son is 13, non-verbal, and has lived in a group home for 7 years. He is very physically affectionate as well as very physically active, and needless to say the group home has appropriate (and needed) guidelines on touching for their staff.
While I fully appreciate the need for it, I wish that there was some way to ease them up a bit for people who love appropriate touch. His favourite worker used to wrestle with him when he was younger, and needless to say that didn't last long. Too bad, because it was far and away the highlight of my son's day when they would drag out the wrestling mats. While I fully appreciate the value of their guidelines on touching (especially when it comes to my son's safety, and most especially now that he's going through puberty), it's still a bit sad that the only chance that he gets to wrestle now is on his weekly home visit. Fortunately he is allowed to get hugs when he requests them.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Jen, could you write me privately at daveandjoe@hotmail.com because I'd like to make some suggestions for you regarding your comment.

CJ said...

This is an issue for me, too.

I am an affectionate person and most of my clients are kids who view me kindly.

Karyn said...

Dave and Jen,
I would love if you would share your suggestions. I struggle with this issue. My son is 20 and lives in a supported living arrangement. Touch is very important and reassuring to him. David has down syndrome, as well as PTSD and related anxiety from early years of abuse (before finding our family).

Jen said...

Karyn- I'm not sure that I'll have any great solutions for you, but if you'd like to email me at jen@blei.org I can tell you about some of the things that we've done in the past.

Stacy said...

Fantastic story. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:
"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 a potential to turn a life around."