Using the power of personal touch — as well as poetry and art — to help a patient find peace

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Throughout the remainder of his night shift, Anthony sat by the patient’s side holding his hand, composing an original poem and drawing a Da Vinci-like masterpiece. He drew two hands clasped together as one writing the Healing Commitments in blue and his own original poem in orange.

“I haven’t taken any formal training or art classes,” says Anthony, “but I’ve always loved to doodle. I like to express myself creatively. That particular night with my patient, I wanted to capture how I was feeling about the Healing Commitments. And even though my patient couldn’t communicate, I tried to capture what he was feeling as well through poetry.”

“The patient had just come out of a coma and was in four-point restraints. He couldn’t talk or communicate. He’d just squirm and was really agitated. Usually when I’m with a patient, I’m only as close as I need to be to respond if they need me, but this patient was so agitated I sat next to him and held his hand. 

“At times he’d go into a rage and would then relax, so I felt I needed to be warmer than I normally am. In nursing school, I learned that therapeutic touch can show you truly care. It shows you’re interested and empathic toward the patient. In this particular instance, it was the right thing to do.”

Throughout the night, outside of the physical touch and the patient’s expressions of anger, Anthony saw very few responses from the patient. One of those responses didn’t come until 7 a.m. during shift changes. “The last thing I wanted before turning things over was to get a response from the patient, and I finally did,” says Anthony. 

“Right before I left I told the patient that if he understood what was going on, I wanted him to give me the peace sign, and he actually did. I was pretty excited. It was reassurance that everything that had gone on that night wasn’t in vain. He did as a matter of fact respond to my efforts.”

Better yet, the same patient was transferred to Medical Telemetry, Anthony’s unit, and Anthony got to take care of him again. 

“The best part of this all is the first time I walked into his room, the patient held up the peace sign,” says Anthony. “It was pretty funny, and I was really excited he remembered. Throughout this whole experience I realized you can’t always fix a patient’s problems or make their pain go away, but there’s always a way to make a difference and help them feel more comfortable.”

Anthony told this story in response to a question during his interview for new job as a Critical Care Tech in the ED at Riverton Hospital when he was asked for an example of a time he felt he delivered a “10” in terms of patient engagement. 

“The story showed me he really understands our healing commitments and what Intermountain is all about,” says Linda Monninger, RN, Manager of the ED at Riverton Hospital. “It told me this is how he’d act as part of his everyday job, so we wanted him here. The story was powerful the way he told it, and seeing how he captured it on paper is inspiring

Here's an excerpt from Anthony’s poem:

You may not know it, 
but I am the lost and lonely poet. 
My eyes may blankly stare and my face sag long, 
but I assure you, I am alive inside. 
Just hold my hand and you will see
there is a yet fire raged in me. 
Do not give up hope my one and only friend, 
for you will find me again in the end…