Blue Cliff College asked me to come talk to their massage students about Thai Massage a couple of weeks ago, and one of the students there asked me about doing massage at the bedside in nursing. My gut reaction, which I find myself embarrassed by, was not just no, but hell no.
And it’s not that I don’t do some bedside nursing massage. I do. I had an elderly gentleman patient approaching 100 years old who was comfortable with dying, but his family was still holding on. They wanted him to remain a full code, which is a full conversation on its own.
I imagine that when most people are asked the question, “Do you want us to use life saving measures on your mom/dad if they are dying?” They are horrified by the implications. My gut reaction is, “Well of course I do. Wouldn’t you?”
But to those of us who work in life saving measures, we have a whole other set of associated images that comes to mind: ribs breaking, blood, sputum, puke… CPR is violent. When a frail elderly patient closing in on 100 years old is comfortable with leaving the planet and the kids are holding on to that Full Code status, the nursing staff might be praying to not have to break that poor sweet man to bring him back to life when he could be headed toward that most coveted –fall asleep and not wake back up– kind of passing.
Sometimes the decision is not that clear. But often, we humans have a very difficult time letting go.
All of that is to say that when this particular patient had foot pain–I massaged his feet. And he loved every minute of it. No, we did not have to perform CPR on him. But I was afraid, the whole time he was in the hospital, that we would. These are the times when Palliative care is needed and is an amazing form of nursing.
I have helped anxious patients learn how to meditate.
I have walked them through meditations and helped them download meditation apps.
But most of our patients on the floor are not in a good mental space for massage. We treat an alarming number of detoxing alcoholics who are not at the hospital because they chose to be. The same with detoxing methamphetamine addicts. I have found that it is simply not the right combination of circumstances for massage therapy.
As a massage therapist, people come to me because they are actively making a choice to feel better, to take care of themselves. They value their health. I help them manage their pain. They are taking responsibility for their health.
As a medical surgical nurse, people come to the hospital to be fixed.
Most of them don’t want to be there, and many are forced to be there either because of self inflicted circumstances, or because the people around them have had enough and can not manage their health or addiction problems any more.
In my intellectual mind I rationalize that yes, we need touch in the hospital, and I do bring that element in–but not often.
Part of it is because I hardly have time to pee or take a break during the day, and massage or Reiki is a contemplative, slow process. Part of it is the patient population. I have patients who are perfectly capable of cleaning their own genitalia who will tell me they need me to do that for them. It’s just not the same as somebody coming to a massage studio fully aware of the sacred space that we create in the massage room.
Maybe it would be different if we had a dedicated space and set of procedures for bodywork. But as a bedside nurse in a mostly elderly male population I have not found it easy or intuitive to incorporate massage into hospital treatment.
I used to play with business models for in-hospital massage services. Massage in the hospital would be good for the staff, the family of patients, as well as the patients. But in my bedside nursing I haven’t found a way to incorporate it on a regular basis.
But it did give me pause when I found myself ashamed to admit to students that I did not use massage in my day to day nursing. I’ll have to cogitate on it.