Physical touch by your medic can be a great healer if done in the right way

doctorsIt started, as it does for thousands of women every year, with a routine mammogram, and its routine process of having my breasts — like a lump of dough — manipulated by another woman’s hands and placed, albeit gently, into tight compression. It’s never comfortable, but you get used to it because you have to.Unlike previous years, though, my next step was a biopsy, for which I lay face down, my left breast dangling through a hole in the table. Several hands reached for what’s normally a private and hidden body part and moved it with practiced ease, compressing it again into position for the radiologist’s needles, first a local anesthetic and then the probes needed to withdraw tissue for sampling.I was fearful of the procedure and of its result and, to my embarrassment, wept quietly during the hour. A nurse gently patted my right shoulder and the male radiologist, seated to my left and working below me, stroked my left wrist to comfort me. I was deeply grateful for their compassion, even as they performed what were for them routine procedures.The following weeks gave me a diagnosis with a 98 percent survival rate: ductal carcinoma in situ, a condition that is not even considered a cancer by some. The diagnosis began a disorienting parade of more unfamiliar people touching my body, from routine blood drawing to a transvaginal probe (to determine my baseline uterine condition because estrogen inhibiting drugs can cause uterine cancer), to injecting a tiny electromagnetic wave device into my breast to guide the surgeon to the tumor’s exact location.At midlife — apart from four orthopedic surgeries, three of them minor — I’ve been healthy, so my body had never before been so intimately and medically handled. Having someone puncture your breast isn’t quite like getting a cortisone knee injection.Some of the procedures, some done with a local anesthetic, were uncomfortable, some downright painful. The thoughtfulness with which I was touched — all at suburban New York hospitals — made a real difference in my ability to stay calm and lie still as needed. My anxiety, even as a middle-aged adult, wasn’t just an annoyance to be ignored or dismissed.And, as someone from a family that shows little physical affection, it was also surprising, pleasantly so, to be hugged by my surgeon when she delivered good post-op news and by a phlebotomist whose technique drawing my blood without the usual tourniquet was so deft I felt nothing.Touch during medical procedures can be soothing or traumatising. It can be gently and compassionately administered; alternatively, it can be roughly, carelessly or even, at worst, incompetently handled.“Many patients feel that being touched is important to getting better,” said the historian Paul Stepansky, author of “In the Hands of Doctors: Touch and Trust in Medical Care.” His father was a small-town general practitioner in Pennsylvania, and Stepansky saw firsthand the effect of those personal relationships. “Medicine then was all about touching, and patients welcomed their touch,” he said.“It was integral to doctoring, and partly because physicians were part of the community, medicine was about the laying on of hands.”©2018 The New York Times News Service
Source: Business Standard