8 March 2024

A touch of gentleness in critical care

At the beginning of last year, critical care nurse Carmen Diaz saw an advertisement from the charity Touch of Gentleness, which trains volunteers to give therapeutic hand massages.

They go into care homes and addiction recovery centres to provide hand and foot massages for people who wouldn’t normally get to experience them.

A touch of gentleness in critical care

Carmen loved the idea but due to her busy workload couldn’t commit to being a volunteer. However, it occurred to her that massage could be beneficial to her patients on the critical care unit at Conquest Hospital. Carmen contacted Helen Prosper, who leads Touch of Gentleness, and she thought providing hand massages in the unit was a great idea.

“Our critical care patients experience high levels of physiological and psychological stress due to pain, mechanical ventilation and anxiety, as well as feeling powerless from being socially and physically disconnected. Many, unfortunately, are also near end of life.

There have been numerous studies showing the benefits of a therapeutic hand massage and how it can reduce anxiety and promote calmness, help lessen pain and promote sleep. Some report it can even reduce heart rate and blood pressure. All these factors can go towards improving the patient’s physiological and psychological wellbeing and aid in their recovery.

“We offer arm and hand massages (and sometimes back and feet also) when time allows, often in the evenings, to help alleviate their pain, promote calmness and aid a good nights’ sleep. A massage can also help soothe their aching muscles. Besides the physical health benefits, giving a therapeutic hand massage to our critically ill patients is a way of connecting with them, letting them know that the care we provide for them is not just about drugs, therapies and treatments, but it is also about showing care and compassion in a way that makes them feel valued, safe and special.

“So far we have provided two hand massage workshops for colleagues, who were interested in providing therapeutic hand massages to our patients, and we are organising a third one soon. We are so pleased to now have a team of 20 critical care nurses, including critical care technicians, who are able to provide therapeutic hand massages to our critically ill patients.

“This initiative has been going since last summer and we have received really positive feedback, with patients saying “it made me feel human and safe”, “it really makes a difference” and “it gave me the boost I needed”. Comments like these make our jobs even more fulfilling and rewarding.

For Valentine’s Day last week, Karl Pasamanero, staff nurse, arranged a session for colleagues at Conquest to drop-in for free hand massages. Karl said: “The Touch of Gentleness project has been wonderful for our patients in intensive care so we wanted to bring more awareness of its benefits by offering free massages for staff. Our jobs can get stressful sometimes and it is so nice to be able to give back and show each other some care. The response was fantastic – we had more than 40 people show up for the hand massages and hopefully this made their Valentine’s Day special.”