This story is originally from April 2021
During the pandemic, hundreds of thousands of people had to be alone in isolated hospital wards with no physical contact with family or friends. Many of those people died that way – scared and alone. In Brazil, one of the hardest-hit countries, some nurses came up with an idea to make those isolated patients feel a little less lonely. They created a fake hand to give them some comfort during a scary and difficult time.
Isolated Patients in Brazil Comforted by Fake Hand
The pandemic that had the whole world in its grip for the better part of two years was a difficult time for thousands of people. For many, it meant losing people they cared about without being able to say a proper goodbye or be by their side in their final moments. Brazil was one of the hardest-hit countries and saw thousands of isolated patients struggle with loneliness all while battling for their lives.
In April 2021, a Nurse in Sao Paolo saw first-hand how difficult this isolation could be for their patients. Nurse Semei Araujo Cunha first noticed that one of her patients had particularly cold hands. She was attempting to warm the hand up and improve circulation. (1)
‘The hand of God’ — nurses trying to comfort isolated patients in a Brazilian Covid isolation ward. Two disposable gloves tied, full of hot water, simulating impossible human contact. Salute to the front liners and a stark reminder of the grim situation our world is in! #MaskUp pic.twitter.com/HgVFwOtg2f— Sameer ‘Sadiq’ Bhat (@sadiquiz) April 8, 2021
That’s when she had the idea of using a technique invented by a nurse in Rio De Janeiro that uses surgical gloves. She filled two surgical gloves with warm water and tied them together, sort of like two hot water balloons. Next, she enclosed the patient’s hands in between the two gloves. Beyond helping to improve circulation to the patient’s hands, it was also a big comfort to them because it felt like someone was actually holding their hand.
Almost Like Human Contact
Human beings are incredibly social creatures and human touch is very important for us all. From the moment we are born to the moment we day, physical human touch comforts us in many ways. A pat on the back, a hug, or even just the squeeze of the hand can go a long way. Often when patients are dying of terminal illnesses, medical professionals encourage family members and loved ones to take that person’s hands and gently squeeze them. They may not be able to communicate, perhaps they aren’t even really conscious, but that small act still brings them some comfort and helps them know that they are not alone. (2)
The isolated patients during the pandemic could receive none of that. They suffered alone, and too many of them died that way. The fake hand, or as some have called it “The Hand of God” helped many isolated patients feel as though someone was there next to them, holding their hand.
“As we had an intubated patient, we decided to do it as a form of affection, stroking, humanizing, as if someone was taking her hand, and also to soften the extremities that were very cold, the hand was very cold,” said Cunha. “It is not enough to be professional. You have to be an empathetic human, letting the heart speak is good.”
Read: Visiting My Deceased Father on Google Street View
The Original Idea
The nurse who first came up with this idea was Lidiane Melo in Rio. One of her isolated patients was struggling with their oxygen saturation levels. His hands were also very cold. Wrapping his hands up didn’t seem to be working, they needed something with heat. She first thought of putting the patient’s hands in warm water but decided against it because of the risk of contamination. That’s when she wrapped his hand in the two gloves.
She posted about it on social media saying that she hoped that it felt like someone was holding his hand. The post quickly went viral and thousands of people commented how wonderful of an extra touch it was from the medical professional. Thousands more commented saying that it was equal parts heart-warming as it was heart-breaking. The thought of isolated patients suffering and dying alone is a difficult one.
The Importance of Social Connection
Loneliness and social isolation is a big factor in health and well-being. This doesn’t stop when someone is sick and in the hospital. According to the National Institute on Aging, adults who are lonely or isolated are “less healthy, have longer hospital stays, are readmitted to the hospital more often, and are more likely to die earlier”. Connection is critical for human health. It may also help people heal – which is why what those nurses did for their isolated patients during the pandemic was so important. (3)
If you know someone who lives alone, reach out to them. Go visit them. If you know someone who is in the hospital and are able to visit them, go – you might help them with their recovery. Finally, if you, yourself, live alone, take action to create human connection. Seek out group activities that you enjoy, schedule time each day to stay in touch with friends and family, use technology to your advantage, stay as physically active as possible and try adopting a pet to help feel less alone. There are so many ways to get involved in your community to get you out of your home and in contact with others. Go out and get involved – for your spirit and your health.
Keep Reading: ‘There’s no way I can pay for this:’ One of the largest hospital chains has been suing thousands of patients during the pandemic
- “Isolated Covid patients comforted with ‘fake hand’ so they don’t feel alone.” Metro. Siba Jackson. April 16, 2021.
- “‘Hand of God’: Moving photo of nurse trying to comfort isolated patient in Brazil’s Covid ward goes viral.” Indian Express. Trends Desk. April 11, 2021.
- “Loneliness and Social Isolation — Tips for Staying Connected.” NIH