Massage Therapy  with Dee Hiatt, 
Hospital Observations
Summer, 2004
I appreciate hospitals. I appreciate the struggle to deliver safe, effective treatments to medically compromised patients. I appreciate the complexities of the treatments and of the patients. I appreciate the chance to bring massage therapy into hospitals.

Iíve been in hospitals as a patient, as a respiratory care practitioner, as a lung health educator, and as a massage therapist.

Lately I have been teaching students at the Connecticut Center for Massage Therapy how to work with medically compromised patients and have gone with them as a supervisor during their clinical rotation at Norwalk Hospital.

Last May I lived at a hospital for three days and then at a Hospice facility with my dying brother and his amazing wife.

Here are some observations:

Hospitals and their staff want patients to get well as safely and quickly as possible.
I donít know any massage therapist that wishes otherwise, including me. I work with the staff rather than in opposition.

Medical staff members are likely to cheer when they hear a massage therapist is present.
A physician stepped into a Norwalk Hospital elevator last fall with me and the students from the medical massage therapy program, read our badges, and happily exclaimed, ďLock the door.Ē

Massage can give patients much needed relief from pain and stress.
I have seen the changes as Iíve massaged patients. The patients who received from the students in the medical massage program this summer overwhelmingly indicated reduction in pain and stress. One patient in the cardiac intensive care unit asked his nurse the next day, ďPlease, please, can I have another massage?Ē

Patients are more susceptible to infectious diseases because their defenses are low and because there are so many more infectious diseases in the hospital that can be spread from patient to patient.
I have to watch my infection control practices carefully to protect the patients and to protect myself.

Slow massage techniques seem to work well and even slower ones seem to work better.
It has taken me a long time to learn how to slow down. A simple stroke given slowly and mindfully has the potential of being absorbed well, especially by a body that is under duress.

Patients are individual in their massage needs.
I donít know how Iím going to work with a patient until I meet the person. One emaciated patient liked firm compressions; another sturdy patient liked only the lightest touch; another patient did not like any strokes but did well with acupressure.

A few Connecticut hospitals offer limited massage therapy to patients. Funding seems to be the major difficulty in offering more massage.
Often the funding has to come in the form of grants.

Massage therapy is not the answer for all patients.
I did not give my brother a massage during his last days. I did kiss him on the forehead, feed him, and tell him I loved him. He was lovingly touched and cared for by his wife, his family, his friends, and the medical staff. Formal massage was simply not necessary.

Hospitals lean toward allowing patients to have family and friends with them. Visiting hours tend to be flexible and the welcome to families and friends generous.
My sister-in-law and I were able to stay several nights in the intensive care unit with my dying brother. We slept in two recliner chairs that were squeezed on either side of his bed. I was impressed by the generosity of the staff.

Lives are saved in hospitals that would otherwise be lost. Major improvements can be made in patientsí health that would not otherwise take place.
Years ago my life and my unborn sonís were saved in a hospital. Two years ago I was given new hips that have allowed me to walk with ease.

There is much in hospital care that is still not possible or is imperfect. Medical treatment is an art and a science that is always in transition.
I no longer expect hospital treatments to be perfect. But I do trust that its practitioners, like massage therapists, want to do the best they can with what they currently know.

Who will care for the caregivers?
How about each of us every time we can?
© 2004, Dee Hiatt
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