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Sitting down next to Mr. Smith, I casually asked him about his concerns. In response, he bent his head forward, and cried. As tears rolled down his face he exclaimed, "I don't want to leave her. She cannot make it without me; she needs me too much."

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Taken by surprise, I asked what was wrong. He told me that he thought he was dying and could not bear to leave his wife alone.


I spent the first 10 minutes of the visit listening to Mr. Smith's concerns. As he shared, his tears subsided. When he finally glanced back at me, I felt compelled to hug him. Following my instincts, I laid his chart down and embraced him in a quick hug. His reaction was a radiant smile. It was as if he had been given renewed strength.


As I began his examination, I noticed he was quite jaundiced and had abdominal tenderness. My mind raced at the possible causes of his discomfort and jaundice, and I realized that his condition could be serious. I sent him to the hospital for testing.


As he walked away, I remember being struck by his vulnerability. I had never had a male patient cry so openly. I was glad I had given in to my compulsion to hug him. It was apparent that he had spent much of his life caring for his wife and others. He talked of square dancing with her and of many other activities they enjoyed. He grieved at the thought of leaving her.


Although neither of us at that time knew the outcome of his condition, it was obvious Mr. Smith needed reassurance. He needed to know he was not alone. He needed to know his health concerns would be attended to, and he needed human empathy and touch.


Contemplating the energized look he had after his hug, I realized that too often I have overlooked my patients' need for affirmation through touch. How often have I had opportunities to offer a hug or a gentle hand? I thought of Christ, whose ministry was so closely connected to the healing power of touch. His touch brought life and power to those needing healing and wholeness. Appropriate touch is a gift I want to offer my patients.


Although Mr. Smith might not know, he taught me two important lessons. Sometimes patients share their hearts openly and completely with their healthcare providers. In turn, I can reciprocate this sharing through an empathetic hug, listening ear, and compassionate eyes.


As nurses, we have much to offer through quiet listening and affirmation. The ability to listen to a patient is at the heart of nursing. Lending an ear and offering a compassionate touch are important aspects of our nurturing role.


Christ sets the example for the power of touch. I want to take advantage of every opportunity I have not only to empower my patients through listening, but also to provide human touch when prompted by the Spirit of God.