Hospice massage therapy: A gentle touch for body and soul
Posted by Diane Klick, Massage Therapist
I cared for a hospice patient named Bill, who was a very large man and a former horseshoeman. His wife Betsy called him, “My gentle giant.” I could see he was strong in his day, especially by his rough and calloused hands. He was fading now with the complexities of being bed bound for many years after a stroke. The right side of his body was lame and very constricted.
Betsy told me that Bill had done everything from farming to raising sheep, cattle and dairy cows — he had done it all. Both of them had been hard workers all their lives.
During each visit, Betsy spoke of her close bond with Bill and their devotion to Jesus. Betsy always smiled when telling her stories, really their stories — their past, marriage, as well as humorous accounts of horses kicking Bill.
Despite her age, Betsy was still nimble and insisted on handling all of Bill’s care. Her dedication to Bill, and Bill to her, was visible in their eyes and smiles to each other at every visit. Often it seemed they were one and the same person.
When I listened to Betsy, Bill listened attentively too, to every word she spoke. It was extraordinary.
Their hospice care team often faced challenges. Bill could often be combative. Betsy refused to give certain advised medications, and insisted on physically caring for him, although she was about half his size. She was declining in health and strength herself. She did things her way and insisted she knew what was best for her Bill.
To help this hospice patient, I found that connecting and meeting him where he was at was successful. For instance, if he pulled up his mobile good side, the leg or arm, I worked with it from there — massaging his bent leg or bent arm while holding his hand and moving with him. He clasped my hand tightly and wouldn’t let go. “Hey Bill, now we’re dancing,” I told him. At each visit, I used music, playing either his favorite songs or classical music.
We were even able to do some passive range of motion exercises and stretches, which probably would appear like child's play to any observer. But it was definitely lessening his discomfort. Bill often sighed and I knew that these were positive responses to the massage therapy.
At each session, Bill was non-verbal, but would smile and laugh. He enjoyed our physical therapy sessions, allowing access to his back, shoulders, neck and legs. I won Bill’s trust and always spoke to him calmly and moved slowly. Betsy always sat within Bill’s view and smiled in her chair, so he could always see her right next to me.
Betsy was benefitting from these sessions also. She confirmed that Bill was having “...such a wonderful day again with you!’ It thrilled me to no end to see Betsy also connecting at our sessions through redirection and reducing anxiety and agitation.
I will never forget Bill and Betsy’s laughter, smiles and pure devotion to each other.
Sometimes in listening to our hospice patients and their stories, they lead us, not the other way around. I think that’s what my therapy sessions are mostly about.
I thank the fine leadership of JourneyCare Team Manager Jama Crossman and RN Case Managers Nancy Drinnenberg and Rachel Pilipaukus, and many others across the JourneyCare teams, including the staff at our Pepper Family Hospice CareCenter. Because of their referrals, I get to work with such unique and beautiful patients.
Note: Names have been changed.
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