This is the third in a three-part series written by Evan Chartier, a Colgate student spending his summer training to be a nursing assistant (CNA) and preparing to write about this for his senior thesis.
One of the most important senses in my life is touch. I love the feel of wind tickling across my ears as I stand on top of a mountain, the heat of a warm shower, and the sparks that fly when I grasp my partner’s hand after a long time apart. It is an essential aspect of my favorite life experiences, and a significant way in which I interact with the world around me.
In Professor Loe’s class “Sociology of the Life Course” we learned that the importance of touch does not disappear as we get older. In fact, it may get more important with age. As friends, family, and partners move around the globe and eventually pass away, and as we adapt our lives to live in changing bodies and circumstances, opportunities to explore touch can become increasingly rare. I witnessed this theory in action during the clinical internship portion of my home health aide and certified nursing assistant training class. The resident in my care –we’ll call him Steve– did not have a single visitor during my shift the entire week. Most of his siblings have passed away, he was never married, and he had no children. Therefore I was also the only person to touch Steve between the time he woke up, 8 AM, and 2 PM, when I left each day.
When I interviewed my classmates, the vast majority of them were anxious about providing a bed bath to their elder. I certainly was as well (just see my previous blog posts!). The bed bath is one of the first things that must be done for each resident, and it is a procedure that is repeated every day. Beyond the necessity to smell nice, a bed bath prevents infection, skin breakdown, and falls that often happen in the shower. We learned these important aspects of a bed bath’s preventative care properties in our textbook.
I was surprised to discover that the bed bath was also a unique touch based experience. A proper bed bath is a cooperative effort between the nursing assistant and the elder. The water should be “just right”; not too hot, and not too cold. The entire event is a repetitive process -wash, rinse, dry- that moves predictably from the face to the arms, chest, legs, back, perineum area, and buttocks. The speed and intensity of each touch must take into account both the elder’s preference and the nursing assistant’s abilities like a cooperative dance that, if too fast, robs both of a unique bond yet, if too slow, ruins the perfect temperature of the water.
I could always tell that the resident in my care enjoyed his bed bath. Although my clinical instructor quickly became frustrated with my slow pace and the hour long process, I believe that my elder appreciated the extra care. He rarely spoke, and never mentioned the bed bath. However each time that the washcloth touched his face, he would nuzzle into it the way that a puppy wiggles into a quality head rub. Steve’s appreciation of my care could be seen easily on his face, and we developed an unspoken connection as we experienced the power of touch.
See the other posts in the series here: