“This I Believe”
The Healing Power of Presence & Touch
On the evening of July 6, 2004, my world shifted on its axis when I suffered a massive heart attack. For the next several weeks life and death played a daily tug of war over my hospital bed. I survived with the aid of heart-assist devices and was maintained in a chemical coma. What I remember of that time is a sense of awareness similar to the images and impressions of a vivid dream. The dreams (for lack of a better word) were many, varied and often very detailed, but towards the end the most overwhelming feeling was one of hopelessness. I remember feeling trapped in a dark and desperate place, physically restrained and on an uncomfortable ventilator. It seemed to go on forever and I felt powerless to do anything about it. My family tells me that during this time I appeared unresponsive, absent and sometimes agitated. It would have been very easy for me to give up at this stage. I think this may be the zone in which patients sometimes seem to lose their will to live even though medically they appear to be improving.
But there were things that broke through this fog and made such a difference. A significant memory was the healing power of human touch. The sense of presence communicated by physical touch, the comfort and love conveyed by holding someone’s hand or caressing their face is very powerful medicine. I heard voices telling me where I was, what had happened and giving me encouragement. Even though I couldn’t recognize the voices or make sense of what they were saying, I knew they were talking to me which meant they knew I was “in there”. During this time, my family sometimes put headphones on me and played CDs. Although the music took on its own weird significance in whatever landscape I was in, it was so rich and beautiful that I clearly remember wishing that I could go towards wherever such beauty existed. It was hauntingly familiar and stood in such stark contrast to the confusing and strange world in which I found myself. Even if I couldn’t always make sense of these stimuli, they had a powerful effect on me. I’d probably be overreaching to say that I decided to fight on because of all these things, but I do know that they shone light and hope into a very bleak landscape. I can’t prove it, but I believe that when life hangs in the balance, intangibles such as these can help tip the scales and create a force that pulls one back towards life instead of acquiescing to despair and giving up the fight.
If you should you ever find yourself with a loved one in a similar situation, please do these things even in the absence of a visible response. Think of it this way. In the worst case scenario, that you don’t connect, all that you have done is spent a little of your time telling them you care about them. That is reason enough even if just for you. But what I believe happens far more often is that a connection is made, love is communicated and hope delivered to someone who sorely needs it. We all need the assurance that we are not alone, that we have made a difference in the lives of those around us and that we are loved.
Within a year of the event I had recovered fully and returned to work. Even now, hardly a day passes that I don’t pause in gratitude for my family and friends who communicated that life-giving love and support with their bedside presence and by their focused thoughts and prayers.
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