I hold patients’ hands. It’s just what I do. Big hands, small hands, calloused hands, manicured hands, I hold them all. Why? Because every hand deserves to be held, especially when that person is about to undergo general anesthesia for an operation.
Sometimes patients ask me if they will wake up. Sometimes they cry. Sometimes they make jokes to mask fear or uncertainty. Sometimes they say nothing but smile silently through their surgical mask. It is astonishing what a simple gesture of comfort can do.
In Vietnam, I held every hand too, including one so badly burned, I wondered how I would hold it. This patient had suffered severe upper body burns from a gasoline fire. His left hand was contorted, inflexible and scarred in deformity. His fingers were frozen, his wrist locked in flexion from thick contracture scars.
It didn’t matter. I held his hand anyway. It wasn’t easy. I could not interlock my fingers in his, or easily offer a gentle squeeze to let him know he mattered to me. He may not have been able to even feel my touch but I held his hand anyway. It was important to me and the right thing to do.
Volunteering in Vietnam on a surgical mission was also important and the right thing to do for 27 other pairs of hands. These collective hands were nothing short of amazing. They held scalpels, placed IVs, tied sutures, administered anesthesia, cleaned instruments, made custom splints, wheeled beds, typed daily operating room schedules, hauled supplies, carried children and performed a myriad of other tasks. They were hands that woke up eager to help and hands that went to bed tired. The end result of 56 hands working together – 74 life-improving surgeries for people suffering with burns and deformities, and a lifetime of memories for the hands that gave selflessly of their skills and kindness.