Spent part of a Sunday afternoon listening to some TED videos (if you haven’t enjoyed this free gift, register now and start learning!) I picked up on one about doctors and the power of touch.
Well, as I listened and watched, I realized how important a doctor’s touch really is. I remembered the two main occasions in my life when a doctor’s hand actually made contact with me and I knew I was in the presence of safety, care, and whatever it is that makes everything in life OK.
Of course, there were other times when a doctor examined, poked, prodded briefly, but there was nothing memorable about those moments. Once in a while, a mere touch means access to an Aladdin’s cave of strength, of the ability to carry on.
Balance is a beautiful thing, and beauty is always found in perfect balance.
There is balance in material objects – a perfectly tooled rifle or handgun; an immaculately designed water bottle; a cedar tree; an old, naked snag with an owl sitting in its topmost branches; a dog loping along in perfect happiness, at one with the world; a cat with its nose snuggled into its tail, deeply asleep and resting in a safety net of bedding.
Trust is endemic in beauty, for trust is an integral part of balance. We learn to walk, falling forward, copying our parents and listening to our own inner voices; our tiny feet hold us up for the first time and our parent’s expressions of joy and pride tell the whole story. Another human being stands upright! Somehow, together, we managed to do something absolutely right!
I have been struggling with a medical issue for the past couple of years and one of the central frustrations about it all springs from that most delicate topic, a doctor’s touch.
What is more elegant, laced with the mystery of life and healing, than a doctor’s touch?
Doctors today are mostly afraid to touch their patients, for fear of being sued for impropriety. This underlines the need for an extra female staff member in the office, someone who has the time to come and wait and observe while the doctor examines the patient properly.
Otherwise, we have no hope of being treated properly, and the result is that doctors use expensive, cold technology to diagnose us instead of the life-giving power inherent in their electromagnetic field, their human energy field, focused in the touch of their hands on the human body.
I am a Reiki practitioner and have studied energy fields quite a bit. Healing energy is not well understood by most of us, and only a few expert scientists, like Barbara Brennan or Vivian Hunt, really grasp what it is all about and how it works, and, most notably, what its potentials are for healing generally.
Mostly, my own healing work is unclear in its benefits, leaving me irritated that I don’t know exactly what is happening when I work with a client. But once, just once, something amazing happened.
A client with a broken shoulder came in, a cast in place. I did the usual chakra-based laying on of hands for her, expecting nothing amazing to happen. She went home satisfied, for whatever reasons.
A few days later, she emailed me with the astonishing news that an x-ray the day before showed that the shoulder was no longer broken, it had completely healed in the matter of those few days. She was elated, eager to share this information with me. Well, since then I have learned that broken bones respond to Reiki energy perhaps more quickly than any other body part. Many practitioners can testify to this.
During an early lecture in my student nurse days back in the 70’s, an instructor made the following comment: “Don’t be afraid to touch the patient. Sometimes, the best piece of equipment you will have is the touch of your own soft, warm, little hands.”
As a child of ten, living deep in the woods behind Whiskey Creek, I suddenly experienced awful abdominal pain. My mother, stuck away out there with no phone or car, had to send my brother to run two miles to Whiskey Creek Store (still there), to phone for the Parksville doctor, Dr. Peterson, to come quick.
In no time we heard the rumble of a car engine as good Dr. Peterson came hurrying down our rough, hand-built road and pulled into our front yard. Those were the days! Imagine your doctor leaving his practice to jump into his car and drive all that way to see a patient nowadays.
I recall him as youngish, thin, with acne scars on his kindly face. I lay on the little cot bed my dad had nicked from some logging company and pulled down my pyjamas for him to look at my tummy, which, by then, had stopped hurting of course.
Our lives in the bush were scarred with the daily anxiety children undergo when things are chaotic, uncertain, profoundly poverty-stricken, and parents speak only with rage at the system and blame for each other. As the oldest girl at home, I had the responsibility to try to make things all right, to fix everything that was wrong around me. An impossible task for any child, but one many children inherit from parents who cannot cope with life.
I recall vividly, the moment when Dr. Peterson sat down on a rickety chair beside my little bed and reached out his cold fingers to touch my bare tummy.
As his fingers touched me, I was imbued with an instaneous sense of being in the presence of One who would make everything okay. Of finally, at last, having found a healing presence. The mere fact of being immersed in his energy field…probably radiating outward from his physical body to a distance of about five feet, and the field from his heart chakra would have been radiating for as much as half a mile or more…just being immersed in that field, this child experiened immediate relief from stress, from the aloneness of its huge family burden. From a distance too huge to imagine, a sun rose and shone warmly on me, on me alone, rising for one person only, just me.
His fingers probed delicately. There was, now, no pain for him to explain. He gently took my mother aside and prescribed, perhaps, cod liver oil or some other type of laxative. Most likely.
That moment stands out in my memory alongside one other such moment, when I was much older but not in much better emotional shape.
As a young woman of 19, I had given birth for the first time, only to give my child up for adoption. I was in no position to care for it or pay for its upbringing, my common-law husband being an alcoholic and a professional burglar, albeit occasionally, a proper welder when he took a notion to work.
My mother had always warned us not to have children, as it was the end of all life for any woman. I, like all good children, believed my mother. So it was easy to sign the adoption papers well before the actual birth took place. Good common sense, right?
Then an epiphany occurred. This sensible girl gave birth to a real human baby. The labour was awful, painful beyond words, and I used many four-letter words to the world around me as each unbearable contraction tore my back apart. Nothing had prepared me for labour, there was no pre-natal course in those days.
Then I fell into that stupefied sleep all new mothers fall into, and woke up to a different world. I was a mother. I had given birth, worked hard, produced this wonderful little human being. I wanted to see my baby.
I had forgotten all about the adoption papers, signed at a point in my life when my heart chakra was all but closed. I had expected no emotion to mar the cool, mental-control attitude I had entered adult life with.
As the nurse told me that I could not see the baby and no one would listen to me or let me rethink my decision (a good thing probably), I wept in screaming anguish for hours as my heart chakra finally opened, awash with years of pent-up heartache and fear.
Next day I went home, but first my wise and experienced general practitioner, Dr. Pendleton, came in to check on me. I lay under the bedclothes, having surrendered to the powers that be and given up all rights to this tiny bundle I would never see. I lay quietly, ready to get up and go “home”, if my life at that time could be called by that name.
As he stood at the foot of the bed, far from my reach, far from any point where he might be affected by my grief and shock, keeping his distance, he could not shut down his compassion entirely, and reached out and took hold of my foot, clutching the blankets around my foot and squeezing it just for a moment.
In that moment, I understood his grasp of the powerlessness of our poor human efforts to develop and learn, coming to grips with adult life in all its terrible complexity, in a world without moral or emotional support of any kind. He was as helpless as I was, and this I understood at that moment. We were briefly joined in one vivid field of mutual compassion for ourselves and each other, and another moment was created that, for me, was unforgettable.
There has been so very little touch, touch that was not also, at the same time, reaching out to grasp and take for its own resources. Sometimes, the absence of touch has driven me almost mad, at one time during my marriage to my second alcoholic. For anyone married to an addict knows, there is no place lonelier than a life with an addict.
However, anyone who marries addicts does so only to try to fulfill what has become a life purpose…fix everyone in sight, and keep finding people to fix. A thankless task if ever there was one. In all my life of trying to fix people, I never once fixed anybody.
As I prepare to undergo surgery once again, I have to trust these doctors. One I have met, only once, and the other I have never even met. Amazing that we trust absolute strangers with our lives this way, but we rely on the oversight process of course to ensure they are all really good at what they do.
In recent years I have had doctors who avoid eye contact, avoid all touch if possible, who do not want to listen to anything a patient has to say, and who do not want to talk much to the patient either. I have had doctors who holler and yell, I have been insulted and diminished by doctors who are overworked, feel underpaid, have too much paperwork to complete, and who are definitely not enjoying the profession their mothers wanted them to pursue. Clearly, we are expecting too much of medical people and they are beginning to reach saturation point, the point where the power of healing touch has long been forgotten.
I feel very sad about the state of the medical world nowadays. Our nurses are better trained than ever, often having to have university degrees. Our doctors have to go through God knows what kind of demanding exam situations in order to be licensed, and yet no one wants to touch us, look at us, hear us or talk to us. Where exactly has society gone wrong?
And, more to the point, can I personally trust these strangers with my fragile body while I am under anaesthetic? Well, the surgeons and OR staff don’t have to talk to me or listen to me, unless I snore, and they don’t have to make eye contact. But I sure hope they keep an eye on me…!!