Humans want it. Humans *need* it; without touch, human babies die.
Let's talk about what kind of touches we give as nurses:
Starting IVs. Inserting God-Knows-What into God-Knows-What orifice.
Repositioning postsurgical patients who are in pain.
Helping people get out of bed--who are in pain.
Taking out staples, removing (or placing) stitches, putting on TED hose, adjusting traction, cleaning wounds, flopping back gowns so we can see incisions.
How many of those touches don't hurt? Not a one, that's how many.
I came to a horrifying realization several years ago: that I had spent an entire day with sick people, and yet not one time did I touch any one of them in a way that didn't cause them pain. With that realization came the memory of my most kick-ass instructor: she would come into a room, introduce herself, and--without putting gloves on or flipping out--simply *touch* the person she was talking to.
You could watch their faces ease, watch them relax. Here was a human contact that wasn't frightening, didn't bring the promise of pain, meant nothing except "You and I are both human and here's my hand on your wrist." She didn't talk about what was wrong with them, or how their night was, or anything else related to them *as a patient*--instead, she talked about them *as a person*. When their kids were coming to visit, or how the food was. They bloomed.
The most important part of that whole interaction? Warm, live, human skin on warm, live human skin.
We get so scared, as caregivers, of infectious nasties and incurable what-have-yous that we glove up the very second we walk into a room. I'm of the opinion that you can always wash, use alcohol foam, and glove up *after* you've had a little skin-to-skin contact that isn't scary.
I've held hands with my patients--not often enough, but I've done it. Occasionally, at the end of the day, I'll go into a patient's room without isolation gear on (please note that I know I won't have to see anybody else that evening) just so they can see, and touch, somebody who isn't dressed head-to-toe in plastic. I've touched people who were dying, without gloves on, because everybody else was somehow afraid to--and, dammit, if you don't need the skin-to-skin contact of another human when you're dying, when will you need it?
There is no substitute for touch. There is, likewise, no substitute for touch uncontaminated by and unconnected with fear. You can't get better if you're always afraid of what the next person is going to do with you. If you have that one tactile memory of connection with another person, one that's not overshadowed by pain or the anticipation of pain, it'll make you better.
My goal as a new CCU nurse? A minimum of one human, unscary, unpainful touch per person per day. If that means I scrub the skin off my hands between patients, so be it. It might be the only warmth they get that day.
I would prefer to be Harlow's Soft Mother any day.