The Loss of a Healing Touch During COVID-19

January 11, 2021
Jane Biehl Ph.D.
Jane Biehl Ph.D.

Jane is a ten-year survivor of a very rare form of cancer Myelodysplastic Syndrome. She has enjoyed several exciting careers including a librarian, counselor, teacher, and writer. She loves to write about surviving cancer, overcoming hearing loss, and her hearing ear service dog, Sita.

A cancer survivor laments the inability for a comforting hand during COVID-19.

This is a story with two ideas. One is about the beautiful oncology nurses, who selflessly take such good care of us. The other is about the importance of touch. I have written several articles in the past on these topics.

COVID-19 brutally and cruelly changed our lives and what we can do. As a counselor for many years, I often found no words to console grief-stricken people, because there truly isn’t any. I would ask if they wanted a hug and found that was all I could do. When one is being faced with the diagnosis of cancer, or the death of someone close to them, people do not want platitudes. Telling people, “It will be okay,” rings hollow and untrue.

I am going weekly to receive shots from the oncology nurses, which means 52 visits a year. My admiration for these people has grown ever more exponentially. They have braved the fear of COVID, sacrificed their own safety and remained cheerful throughout this horrible past year. However, one of the most touching moments I ever witnessed when I was talking to a beloved nurse about how hard her job is because they often lose patients. I followed up by saying that they cannot even hug them now. This brave professional teared up and nodded. I saw the extreme pain in her eyes. “I can’t even do that” she whispered.

Imagine what the nurses and staff are going through, and how horrible it is not to be able to hug when there are no words to comfort a patient. The following week, an article appeared in our local newspaper about the unsung heroes featuring a nurse in a nursing home. She lamented that now caregivers are not allowed to have skin on skin contact with the residents whom they have grown to love because gloves must be worn. Often the residents do not understand why. She emphasized, however, that they can still pat an arm or shoulder, and she does.

I do understand not everyone wants to be hugged, and have family and friends who I know are uncomfortable with this. However, touch is one of the most important of the senses we have. Even the most stalwart person appreciates an arm around their shoulder or a pat on the back. We have been robbed by COVID of one of the best senses we have to show we care. We can only hope that the vaccine will allow us to be able to comfort, hug, and show our love again in an important way.

Our oncology nurses have a hard enough job without being unable to do that. And the patients are suffering the cruelest fate of all – the sense that someone cares through this vital communication.

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