Meadowlark Notes Fall 2011
“Two Hands to Hold”
In 1982 I worked on a surgical wing of a hospital as a student nurse for a few weeks. One morning I was given an assignment to prepare a lady for a surgical procedure. The lady was scheduled for OR that morning where the surgeon would insert a scope into her lung and collect a tissue sample which would be biopsied to see if she had lung cancer.
I do not remember the lady’s name or where she was from. But that day she taught me two lessons that I have never forgotten.
As with any surgical patient, there are steps to be done before a patient is ready for the OR. For instance, the patient must don the hospital gown and the little blue hat. Nail polish must be removed, jewelry secured, vital signs and paperwork done.
That morning I concentrated on making sure all my hands-on nursing duties were done. Then I finally had a moment to breathe, to focus on how my patient was dealing with the situation.
That morning I did not see any friends or family members with my patient. And it was not until the OR staff arrived for my patient that I realized how terribly alone and frightened she must have been.
A look of near panic was in her eyes. Perhaps she was afraid of the procedure itself or maybe she was terrified of what the biopsy might reveal. Whatever the case, she was scared!
When the OR nurses arrived for her, I helped move my patient from her bed to the gurney for her ride to the operating room. I took her hand and held it, assuring her I would be there when she returned to her room that morning. I walked down the hall beside her as the gurney rolled along. We reached the double doors to the OR, and that was as far as I could go with her.
It was then that I saw the tears in her eyes. She looked at me and said, “I need two hands to hold!” I took both of her hands for a brief instance, but the OR staff needed to move on, so I had to let her go.
My patient was facing a potentially life-threatening situation. She was alone in a hospital except for an inexperienced student nurse, a stranger. I felt like I was a poor substitute for a family member or friend. Yet I was the only one there to hold her hands that morning as she was wheeled into the unfamiliar world of an operating room.
I have never forgotten her words, for they left their mark on my heart. I have since wondered if she was longing for some family member that day—someone to hold her hand through her scary experience. I will never know.
Perhaps you too have entered an unfamiliar world if someone you loved has died. You too may have entered a life of aloneness and uncertainties. And before long, the holidays will be here. You may face the holiday season with trepidation rather than anticipation and joy. And you, like my patient, may feel like you “need two hands to hold!”
Researchers have found that supportive touch, including holding hands, is important in alleviating stress, decreasing pain, and lowering blood pressure. Touch can communicate support. And after a death, supportive touch could be interpreted as “I’ll help share your load.”
Physical touch is very important, but other things may also help during tough times—understanding words, kind deeds, cards, and prayers to name a few. Just “being there” can also be of utmost importance! Sometimes friends and family want to help, but they just don’t know what to do.
Many years ago, my patient taught me two lessons: (1) How important it may be to hold someone’s hand, even though sometimes not literally, when the person is going through a frightening experience, and (2) It is all right to ask for others’ help when you need it.
So if you need to talk to someone or need a hug, tell a good friend or family member what you need—it’s okay. Give some serious thought to what will help you get through the holidays and leave you with good memories for 2011.
Consider who you would like to help you “share your load.” Until your heart begins to heal, let your friends and family know how they can help. Someday you will return the favor for them. So during the holidays, if you need “two hands to hold,” don’t hesitate to ask.
By Dawn Phelps, RN/LMSW