“I Want Too Hold Your Hand” by Corinne Viens.
Abstract: Dermatologists perform many minor surgical procedures on patients who are often anxious and/or needle-phobic. The simple act of holding a patient’s hand during the injection of local anesthetic has a calming and therapeutic effect. This essay is the personal experiences of a professional hand holder and her reflections on this service to the patient.
Keywords: minor surgery, surgery, anxiety, needle phobia, hand holding, comfort, dermatology
In the dermatology office where I have worked for nearly twenty years, I often hold the hands of patients while the doctor administers the local anesthesia prior to their procedures or, if they are exceptionally anxious, during the procedure as well. Over the years, I have held the hands of men, women, young and old, from all walks of life including college professors, nurses, and even construction workers! Their secrets are safe with me.
We have often talked about doing a study on hand-holding. I am sure that scientific studies must have been performed, but I can only speak from my personal experiences. There is definitely something to be said for the difference that human touch makes. I cannot tell you how often I am thanked for this gesture. Some of these patients, probably most, have never met me before the office visit, yet they willingly accept my hand and hopefully feel the comfort that is intended.
Most patients comment on my “cold hands” and I like to think that I have the warm heart to go with them. Maybe that is my secret weapon to distract them from the sensation of the needle, but it is certainly what I hear most often. Women seem more willing to take my hand than men and are actually much stronger on the “squeeze meter.” I think that men are more concerned that they will hurt me if they squeeze my hand too hard.
I am not exactly sure what may be happening during the experience but I believe with all my heart it makes a difference. Maybe the patients feel like they are not alone in what might be a scary experience for them. Certainly, some people are needle-phobic. Maybe they are trying to transfer the pain out of their body or actually are intently concentrating on holding my hand to distract themselves.
It may seem like such a small thing, but I have come to realize how much holding patients’ hands means to me, too The feedback I get from patients is amazing. Sometimes, people that I would least expect make sure to let me know how it helped them during their procedures. Often people take the time when leaving the office to express their gratitude once again. Others who have returned for further procedures have looked at me and said, “You are going to hold my hand again, aren’t you?” With busy and tiring days in the office it’s that smile, or wink or “thank you” that often makes my day. I am so glad to offer this small “service”, but I cannot really call it that because it honestly feels quite natural to place their hand in mine and offer comfort in some way.
I have a lot of stories that I will always carry in my heart, but I recently had the most moving hand-holding story yet. A young woman from Brazil came in needing a lesion removed. It was obvious that she was quite anxious. She spoke very broken English, but smiled nervously when I stood by her side and offered her my hand which she grasped through the entire procedure. No language barrier there! As the doctor proceeded with removal of the lesion, she began to recite what I assumed was a Portuguese prayer over and over. When the procedure was finished she sat up on the exam table and when she stood, she came over to me and said, “Thank you, hand of angel”. My eyes filled with tears as no one had ever expressed their gratitude to me in that way for a simple act of compassion.