‘Reach out and touch someone’

By Rev. Canon Christopher B. J. Pratt

It had been a full calendar year since I had seen my hip surgeon in his office. Now, it was Valentine’s Day, and he stood by the side of my gurney, just outside the operating room.

After checking the details regarding my identification and the expectations of the morning he decorated me with a pen mark to avoid any distractions and to ensure that he would be operating on the correct hip. It was an action which I found to be very comforting, because I did not want him operating on the wrong hip, either! Other than the preoperative nurses, who had put needles into my body to allow for the flow of medication, it was the first time that anyone had touched me, in the hospital, prior to my operation.

After the successful surgery and during the next couple of days that I remained in the hospital, my world, my personal space, was measured by the size of the bed upon which I lay. With the exception of the nurse who wrapped up my arm to take my blood pressure, the physio therapy assistant who briefly lifted up my leg to place it on a pillow, nobody touched me.

Medications were left on the table by my bedside. Meals came and went, deposited and removed swiftly, so as not to slow down the pattern of efficiency needed to make sure that patients throughout the hospital were looked after within an appropriate time frame.

Conversations were polite and brief. No outside act of compassion was permitted to sneak in and slow down the process of recovery leading to discharge. Nobody touched me.

As the time drew nearer for my departure from the hospital, questions were asked regarding how I was dealing with the medications which had been prescribed for me. Standing by my beside and holding on to a clip board to make sure that all the necessary questions had been asked and answered an individual made sure that the official requirements to allow me to go home were met. Once again, with the exception of the nurse who withdrew the needle from my body, where it had been placed prior to my surgery, nobody touched me.

A number of years ago, when I was hospitalized, the technology has not been put in place to measure my pulse by machine. A nurse actually had to touch me to take my pulse.

As a member of a hospital advisory committee in another community, I remember that we had to address a time management report that called for new guidelines to be put in place directing the cleaning and meal serving staff not to talk to patients, because conversation with patients would negatively impact the rate in which the required jobs would be done.

At the same time, consideration was being given to the concept of holistic care, looking after the total patient, body, mind and spirit. These days technology has advanced and quality health care being offered with fewer resources being provided for its delivery is the norm. Yet the needs of the patient as person, care being offered to enable the renewal of the body, mind and spirit still remains.

After being home for a few days it was possible for me to venture out to join in the worship and fellowship offered in a couple of the congregations in the Deanery of Waterloo. “It’s great to see you, we have been praying for you,” were greetings offered in conjunction with a warm embrace. Parish prayer chains and personal expressions of good wishes from friends and family reflected the fact that I had been the focus of the prayerful support of many people. I am truly grateful.

The tactile expression of compassion and affection is, in many ways, an essential step along the path of healing, with as much value as any prescription and medication.

Yet in a world where physical touch may be misread, misinterpreted, misused and misunderstood, the actual act of caring and compassionate touch appears to have been stifled and regulated out of any sanctioned health care system.

In sharp contrast to my hospital experience, I invite you to be aware of words which form a framework for the healing ministry offered by our community of faith.

Holy Scripture teaches us that in acts of healing and restoration our Lord Jesus and his disciples laid hands upon the sick (and anointed them). By doing so, they made known the healing power of God.

Pray that as we follow our Lord’s example you may know his unfailing love.

(BAS pg. 555)

The healing ministry of the Church empowers God’s people to be aware of the way in which God’s caring, compassionate and transforming love may be experienced, through the acts of prayer and by the act of touch. The anointing of the sick leaves a lasting imprint of that healing ministry which is rooted in scripture.

Years ago, a communication advertisement encouraged people to, ”Reach out and Touch someone”. Asking permission to offer that compassionate act of caring physical contact, is an essential element in this ministry.

The desire of the one who is reaching out, may not always be the hope of the one who is the focus of that gesture. Clarity of understanding, not distorted by an imbalance in relationship, is essential.

The simple act of physical touch, so fundamental to our human nature, finds its refuge in the ministry offered by the followers of Jesus, who seek to share his,”…unfailing love…”, binding up broken lives in God’s broken world.

Rev. Canon Christopher B. J. Pratt has retired from full time parish ministry,
but continues to offer priestly ministry in the Diocese of Huron. 

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