Twice a week, patients at the Barbara McInnis House, a healthcare facility in Boston, are treated to an unusual kind of therapy. They have their hands massaged. Most of them are recovering from a serious illness or injury or fighting a life-threatening disease, but when the time comes for their “hand rub,” high-tech medicine is put aside in favor of a soothing, intimate connection.
For a quarter hour, they sit with a graduate student from Simmons College who has been trained in hand massage. Sometimes they sit in silence; sometimes in quiet conversation, as classical music plays in the background. They talk about their lives and their illnesses, and in many respects, they are like other patients dealing with difficult medical challenges. Except that they are also homeless.
The Barbara McInnis House is part of a wonderful program called Boston Health Care for the Homeless (BHCHP), which provides inpatient and outpatient care to more that 9,000 men, women and children each year through its own facilities and in conjunction with hospitals, community health centers, homeless shelters and “soup kitchens” throughout Boston. The “Hand-to-Hand” massage program is only one of the countless ways BHCHP brings dignity, compassion and the human touch to the care of its patients every day.
As Don Aucoin recently reported in the Boston Globe (“Offering a Therapeutic Touch,” May 12, 2008), the idea behind Hand-to-Hand is to provide a “nurturing, comforting relationship” for patients at the McInnis House. And, “for the students who administer the massages, it is both an opportunity and a challenge. It helps fulfill the service-learning component of the Simmons doctoral program in physical therapy, but it also takes them out of their comfort zone and requires them to deal with patients who are battling issues more severe than a pulled hamstring.”
Aucoin writes that the program “is the brainchild of Sharon [Massachusetts] masseur Jonathan Goldberg, who taught the students some basics of hand massage … In Goldberg’s view, while the hand massages do bring relaxation to homeless people whose lives are inherently stressful, a more important aspect is the bond, however fleeting, the students establish with them. ‘The healing component of the massage is that caring focus,’ Goldberg says. ‘Hands are loaded; people use their hands all day long. So hands can provide a nice, easy way of connecting.’”
What Boston Health Care for the Homeless illustrates so powerfully in all of its programs is that every patient can benefit from compassionate care. In “A Patient’s Story,” which was published in the Boston Globe Magazine 13 years ago, Ken Schwartz, who had been a successful Boston attorney before he was diagnosed with advanced cancer, wrote: “I have been the recipient of an extraordinary array of human and humane responses to my plight. These acts of kindness — the simple human touch from my caregivers — have made the unbearable bearable.” People who are homeless deserve no less.
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