The human needs are rather simple. People want to be loved, touched, feed and to feel safe. If you were raised in a home where this was normal, you will not be able to understand how some people actually crave the human touch.
As a nurse you touch other people multiple times in your day to day routine. You feel the texture of the skin, feel for a pulse, in general conversation touch someone's shoulder or hand. The touch can be great comfort to some people. Then again, it can feel like a knife slicing through the skin.
Your skin is your largest organ on the human body. On a grown man it covers about 19 square feet and weighs about 8 pounds. A piece of skin the size of a quarter contains more than 3 million cells, 100 to 340 sweat glands, 50 nerve endings and 3 feet of blood vessels. No one is exempt from needing to be touched. Humans need to touch and be touched, just like we need food and water. The connection between touch and well being is far more than skin deep. From the moment of birth our tactile sense is being stimulated. ~ According to the New World Encyclopedia ~
There was a young male patient on our unit that was a frequent flier as they are called. He was sexually preoccupied and stared at the female staff as if he was undressing them on a daily shift to shift basis. Due to the discomfort he had given the staff, he was given as little extra care as possible. One of his favorite things to do was invade your personal space. My personal space is a lot larger than some peoples'. I do not want someone to stand any closer to me than arms' length. When they step in closer than I am comfortable with I will step back or put my hand up to stop them. This male patient really enjoyed stepping into the staff's personal space and laughing about doing so.
I was sitting in a chair talking to another patient on the hall when he came up to me very quickly and was going to get in my face. My reflexes kicked in before my brain took over. With me in a sitting position my foot went straight up in the air and landed in the middle of his chest pushing him backwards as I jumped to my feet. In uncertain words that flew out of my mouth, he was told to stay out of my face. It started him as bad as it did me; he had made me mad. He knew he had crossed that line with me and tried to apologize. I was so irritated with him I did not respond to him but instead walked off.
He was raised in a rough household as a child and basically raised himself on the streets. Once he was on his medication for a few days he was like a small child craving attention. In order to have a conversation with me very stern boundaries were placed on him. He agreed to stand at a certain distance and not to place his hands on me. He was not known to have very clean personal hygiene. He would stand in the hall staring at the staff with his hands down his pants, then want to reach out and touch your arm.
This patient stayed on our unit for over 6 months this time. He lived in the same town, on the same street, around the same people all his life. He was in his 40's. After many failed home visits and no supervision at home, he always landed in trouble with the law then back into the hospital. The courts stepped in to provide him with a guardian to monitor his well being, which this time meant he would be placed in a personal care home in another town.
The day he came back from court he was scared to death. He was standing at the desk as usual, but this time I stopped and looked at him differently. His face read different than normal. He told me about court and that he was scared as a tear fell down his cheek. I tried to reassure him that his family could come and visit and maybe they would let him go home for weekends. He spoke with a trembling lip, “Mom does not have a car and my brother is in jail.” What do you say to that?
When the morning came for him to leave at 9 AM he walked up to each staff and told them thank you for taking care of him. He had never done that before. He was really scared; we had become his family. I was headed toward the door at the end of my shift and he walked with me. He stuck his hand out to shake hands and this day I reached back and grabbed two fingers, shaking his hand. I said, “You're gonna be ok. It's a nice place.” We replaced a smile. When I got to the door he hollered “Hey!” I stopped and turned to see what he wanted. He smiled a big smile with only one tooth hanging out of his mouth and said, “Thank you for touching me.” I swallowed hard, smoked and went out the door. The tears did not fall until I hit the time clock and headed to my van.