“Can I Have a Pain Hug?”


A hug can’t wipe away all of our pain, but it can help. And while meaningful touch can’t chase away all of our fears, it can cure so many of them.

Isabel was a sensitive young woman, suffering greatly in a diabetic/med-sur unit. She was in so much pain that she would cry regularly to the nursing staff, pleading for painkiller injections. Yet the medicine therapy she was on and her own physical condition precluded her from receiving too many shots despite her cries. The risk for infection and internal bleeding was too great.

Finally, after Isabel’s continual badgering of the nurses on every shift, the senior nurse in came in to talk to her. Nurse Heath was a thirty-year veteran of the wards and a reserved, capable teacher. She explained to Isabel, logically and practically, the potential dangers if they gave her too many shots. She also assured Isabel that the other nurses were trying to protect her, rather than harm her, by not administering too many injections. Isabel listened intently, and even nodded understanding.

Her mission accomplished, Nurse Heath was preparing to leave when Isabel stopped her.

“If I can’t have my shot… can you give me a hug?”

Not thinking she had heard right, she asked, “Excuse me?”

Isabel repeated, “Could you give me a hug for the pain… please?”

Caught off guard, the stately nurse said, “Well, okay,” and put her arm around Isabel’s shoulder. But then, it was as if God had spoken to her and said, “For goodness’ sake, Ida, that’s not what she asked for!” Then Nurse Heath put her arms around Isabel and gave her a really good hug.

Isabel burst into tears.

“All this time I thought the nurses hated me. I’m just hurting so badly. Whenever I need a pain shot, can I call you and get a hug instead?”

Nurse Heath assured Isabel that she could get her hug whenever she needed it, and even wrote down on her medical Kardex under medication: “Pain hugs for Isabel, upon request.”

Isabel died a few months later at the age of thirty-four. But before her death, whenever she was admitted to a different ward in the hospital, or when the nights became too long, she’d call Nurse Heath for her “pain hug.”

A hug can’t wipe away all of our pain, but it can help. And while meaningful touch can’t chase away all of our fears, it can cure so many of them.

If we want to be people who give blessings to others, one thing is clear. Just like Isaac, Jacob, Jesus, and Nurse Heath, we must include meaningful touch in our contacts with loved ones. It’s one of the key elements of the Blessing.

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