Hugs as medicine? Seems like an Urban Legend, but snopes.com attests to its truth… and efficacy….
At first glance the Internet story seemed too good to be true: a pair of twin girls, each weighing only two pounds at birth, struggled for life in an NICU (Newborn Intensive Care Unit). One, baby Kyrie, was beginning to thrive, but her twin, Brielle, was rapidly losing ground, until an NICU nurse, in desperation, put both babies together in the same incubator. Brielle snuggled up to Kyrie, who threw an arm around her, and the healing began almost immediately. (Read the story here, type “Rescuing Hug” into Search box.)
Inspiring and healing stories make the rounds regularly on the Internet. Unfortunately, when checked out on snopes.com, better known as Urban Legends, most of them turn out to be false.
But in this case, Barbara “huggies for your baby” Mikkelson (founder, with her husband David, of the Urban Legends Reference Pages) attests to the truth of the story, and cites impeccable references. Last word about the twins — before their parents changed their phone number to avoid ongoing media attention — was that they were healthy preschoolers.
Well, anyone who’s ever held and hugged a crying baby to soothe it knows the power of touch. Acceptable scientific evidence may finally be catching up with folk wisdom. Maybe.
A recent study showing that hospice patients with advanced lung cancer receiving only palliative care (story in the New York Times here) were more comfortable and less depressed at end of life, also showed (to considerable surprise) that they also actually outlived hospital patients receiving aggressive treatment by some three months. Many possible reasons were put forward, although none specifically cited the healing powers of touch. Yet surely the human touch available to these patients from loved ones surrounding them, instead of metallic tubes and wires and machines of intensive care paraphernalia, might be credited with contributing its usual everyday miracle.
Incidentally, hugs are not just medicine for the young. As far back as King David’s era in the Bible (1 Kings), we find this testimony:
Now King David was old and advanced in years. And although they covered him with clothes, he could not get warm.
So his servants said to him, “Let them seek a young virgin for my lord the king, and let her attend the king and become his nurse; and let her lie in your bosom, that my lord the king may keep warm.”
And they did, and the king’s life was extended for another year. The lifeline of human touch —
For those who don’t follow the links through the NYT article to the New Yorker article by Atul Gawande, to me the most telling paragraph was: “People have concerns besides simply prolonging their lives. Surveys of patients with terminal illness find that their top priorities include, in addition to avoiding suffering, being with families, having the touch of others, being mentally aware, and not becoming a burden to others.”
The Atul Gawande article in the New Yorker is first rate. Maybe there are finally enough voices being raised around the whole issue of death and dying to make a difference. In the next two weeks I’ll be posting more about the subject, including my review of Final Exam: A Surgeon’s Reflections on Mortality, by Pauline W. Chen, M.D., another important book. JB
P.S. In case the NY Times link doesn’t go directly to the New Yorker article, here’s the reference:
“Annals of Medicine: Letting Go,” Atul Gawande, The New Yorker, August 2, 2010, pp. 36-49.
When you look at the medical successes of acupressure, reflexology, and reiki, you see that touch can heal. While Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs does not mention the word touch per se, it does state that humans need to be loved “sexually and non-sexually” by others. Obviously those two loves include touching, hugging, etc. Great story about the twins!