The more the world becomes "high tech," says Dr. Lynn Fraley, the more the world needs "high touch."
And yet, in the rush to provide the very best care to patients, modern medicine often overlooks the value of a simple back rub or a foot massage."I consider touch the most undervalued, most effective tool we can use," notes Fraley, a nurse and behavioral scientist, who was in town recently to instruct local nurses in a workshop at LDS Hospital.
As a practicing nurse in the San Francisco area, Fraley has had many chances to use touch with her patients - to relieve pain or anxiety, and sometimes to provide something that is hard to measure in terms that modern medicine understands.
There was the case, for example, of the woman who had been hospitalized for complications of pregnancy. When the woman suddenly went into a seizure, five nurses descended on her and began medically appropriate procedures.
"I decided, `I'll just do a foot massage on her and hope no one complains,' " recalls Fraley.
A few minutes later, when the woman was able to talk, she told the nurses that she had felt "almost out of her body" but was aware of having her feet touched. "It helped keep her grounded," explains Fraley.
There are many different kinds of touch that a nurse - or a lay person - can use on someone who is sick, says Fraley, who researched touch while working on her doctorate in the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley. In addition to standard massage there is a whole catalog of "body work" techniques, including acupressure, orthobionomy, lymphatic massage, rolfing and Feldenkrais.
The important thing is to try some form of touch, she says. "Just take it for granted that some form of massage will feel good."
In addition to lessening pain, says Fraley, touch can also speed healing and reduce postoperative complications, with fewer or no drugs.
"Touch is a care measure that is cost-effective, non-invasive and efficient," she says. "And there are no adverse side effects."