Many years ago, I worked night shift in a critical care unit. After giving patients their medications, completing my nursing assessment, and answering any questions, it was routine to ask "Would you like a back rub before you go to sleep?" If the patient consented, and many did, I would get some lotion, rub it on my hands and then massage it in to my patient's back. This wasn't a long massage, maybe it took all of maybe 2-3 minutes, but it was helpful to patients for alot of reasons—therapeutic touch being a big one.

Recently, one of our nurse advocates has been working with a patient who's been hospitalized for almost two weeks. She was diagnosed with cancer and has been receiving the start of treatments prior to going home. During her stay, not one nurse has offered her any back rubs. In fact, it was only after we suggested to the patient that she should ask for one that the nurse complied.

During this same admission, she has been getting washed each day at the bedside, what I used to call a 'bird bath.' She has been unable, until recently, to shower. But, boy did she want one! So, calling in to the nurse's station, we spoke with her nurse and asked if the patient could get a shower today. The nurse responded, "Well, she's been washing at the bedside."

Yes, and she'd like to shower today.
We were able to "convince" the nurse to help the patient complete her shower. The patient said "It was a joy" when asked about the shower. Her spirits lifted and she felt brighter. Who doesn't love a shower after 10 days of bird baths?

I wondered how many other patients, who might like to shower, are not offered one while they're hospitalized? And how many patients are not being offered a simple back rub?

Though I'm fully aware of how our healthcare system is changing, particularly the in-patient world, how hard can it be to offer a patient some basic human touch and a little hot water?

Next time someone you know has been in the hospital a while, think about asking for a back rub for him or her.