God created us to connect. To comfort with contact.
He even designed our skin with 2000 to 3000 touch receptors in each of our fingertips that trigger a cascade of chemicals when they’re stimulated. Touch decreases stress and anxiety, increases trust, builds disease resistance, and helps us connect to those we care for. Infants deprived touch fail to thrive.
Researchers say we all need 8-10 meaningful touches a day to maintain our emotional and physical health.
I’m a touchie-feelie person by nature. And as a nurse, I’ve hugged and held hands, stroked foreheads and cupped cheeks.
I’d struggle in places like Liberia that have become touch-less places. Ebola is killing people emotionally as well as physically. A double-cheek kiss of greeting and skin-to-skin touch is now taboo.
Many people say they have not felt the warmth of human skin in months. Many do not shake hands or kiss any more. No caressing. No hugging.
Kelly is the Connections Director in our church. Her job is to help members find a place to connect, a place to serve, a place to belong in the body.
But for the last few weeks, she’s been disconnected. Because she’s also a first responder with Samaritan’s Purse. She’s an “Ebola warrior” who’s back on the front lines after having returned from her first round of service this past summer when she spent 2-1/2 weeks helping to run a makeshift isolation unit in Monrovia.
She’s wired for this work.
“I have a passion and a calling to go in disaster situations when nobody wants to go and people are running out,” she says.
Liberians can’t say goodbye in the traditional way when someone dies from Ebola. Normally, the body of a loved one is brought into the house for several days while family and village members come to touch and grieve. But now, after an hour and a half of decontaminating and preparing a dead body, the burial team comes to take it away.
Healthcare workers can’t release the bodies to families because they’re riddled with the virus. They can’t hold the dying or hug the grieving. There can be no skin-to-skin contact. They can only connect with their eyes and their words, try to provide human care through inhuman garb. “It’s very emotional. But really you have to stuff your emotions because you have a job to do,” Kelly says.
She’s back now helping to train Liberian staff at a new community health center. Something she posted on Facebook the other day has really stuck with me.
Part of the many challenges of being in Liberia during an Ebola crisis is that SP policy is no touching-hugging-handshakes, to not risk spreading Ebola. Same goes for Liberian staff here. So we are all deprived of human connection of hugs!!! It is harder than you think, emotionally! Part of the ever growing casualty of Ebola! My heart aches for my husband and kids!
The workers cannot even comfort each other.
They gift their skills and their hearts and their emotions. But they must sacrifice the gift of touch from even themselves.
Kelly will come home in another week or so. And so though she is skin-starved, she will isolate herself in a safe and undisclosed place for three weeks before she reconnects.
I will hug her when I see her.
In the stillness,
Writing in community with The High Calling on the theme, “Designed to Work.”