One touch of nature makes the whole world kin ~Shakespeare
There was something quite unexpected in the motions of the mother, but they were exquisitely precise and very effective. She would reach and gently lay her index finger on the forehead of her child and lo and behold, the child would in mid-expression of raw emotion be stilled into a cooing baby. And another time a different but equally emotive cry led to a slow deliberative production of a milk bottle, the sight of which, brought peace to the infant. Now to my ears there was no different in the shriek or scream or cry or whatever you want to call it that the baby emitted, the mother had an answer for it. She seemed to know what the baby needed. The baby was talking to her in a language that I was not quite versed in. Amazing, I thought, how wonderful for the mother to know precisely what her infant needs are at all times? And to the mother, each cry had a meaning. There was a rhythm and pulse to this interaction, for whatever the need was, it was expressly met. The mother’s hands were always near the baby’s face and at times, if not the hands her cheek was touching the soft young skin.
Humans have a longing for togetherness, mostly. Those nurtured with an attentive mother certainly have the security and knowledge to find the comforts when in anguish. It is the human desire to be joined in limbic resonance with your parent or child, or spouse or friend. Those lucky enough find this harmony in the form of peace and comfort. Alas those nurtured under the diffident eye of a careless distraction find neither peace nor comfort and live lives of remoteness in an unsocial environment.
If you go back to the days of the thirteenth century, when King Frederick II ruled southern Italy, you would find that given the polyglot nature of his intellect, he was indeed a burgeoning experimentalist, a cruel one at that. He decreed, at the behest of his intellectual curiosity, one day that all mothers would only feed their children and blanket them for comfort but not spend playing or holding them. In other words, he banished the coddling and comforting of the infants. As recorded by historians there was an alarming increase in the death rate of children. (The information was chronicled in "Chronica" by a Franciscan monk named Salimbene di Adam. Whoa there, what happened, you ask? Okay we will get to that in a minute, while I bring you another message from the nature-nurture sponsor.
Moving on to the 1940s and beyond, in the days of the “behaviorists” you know those sorts who made a living, touting that children need not be coddled for they would turn into whiners or worse, emotionally dependent souls. Blasphemous as it might seem, it appears these behaviorists,
like John Watson, who famously said. “Mother love is a dangerous instrument,” probably were never nurtured in the first place. The drive to alienate the infant and baby’s emotional needs from those of the mother found a resonance within the intellectuals. A plethora of books were written about this unattached nature of rearing the young. “Go ahead let the baby cry. It is good for him or her,” they would say. Even today there are advocates of that including Richard Ferber, who recommends that parents should never sleep with their children. If the parents divorce later, that the children might blame themselves. How ludicrous. How very loosely dispatched a Freudian statement from a man who understood so little about himself. To consider that a child must be forced away from a parent is an abominable idea. Infants learn to synchronize themselves with their mothers. The rhythmic heartbeat and the swells of easy breathing is a source of tremendous comfort to the infant. And it is through this comfort that the child finds security. Children deprived of proximity to their parents learn to have insecurity and a deep seeded thirst of wanting. Of mother and children, James McKenna and Colleagues stated that "on a minute to minute basis, throughout the night, much sensory communication is occurring between them." The further proof of this aloofness that blinds the American household is evidenced by the fact that SIDS or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome in the US is 2 deaths for every 1000 live births, which is ten-times higher than Japan and a thousand times higher than Honk Kong. What gives? In the Asian countries where mother and infants sleep together SIDS is virtually nonexistent, let alone known.
And it all began from a false premise by the once famous Sigmund Freud who felt all angst was derived from the repressed emotional domain of the human mind and that free associative expression through transference of the repressed unconscious mind was the answer to all behavior.
While Anna Freud, his wife publicly voiced her disdain with John Bowlby’s maternal “attachment theory,” which showed a high death rate amongst nurture-deprived children, a fate similar to the unwanted foster children in Romania that were fed and dressed but remained deprived of human touch, speaks volumes against the current vogue of those and these times.
Rene Spitz determined that these children had a 40% mortality rate when contracting measles vs the general population was limited to a 5%.
The stalwarts in their field of behaviorist discipline continued to form and shape human destiny for a few generations. The result of course is what we see today, a rising tide of sociopathic behavior. Emotional and human deprivation leads to insecurity, lack of empathy and the “me” syndrome. Reading this, a few will have snarky thoughts right about now, while others will go hmmm and still others will look deep within themselves. And that is the purpose of this discourse, isn’t it?
As history has a way to reach the present, plodding through time and incorporating into its vast tomes, we now arrive at the moment about five years ago. The winter light had abated and the glow of the sun more radiant. The shadows had lengthened and the winds of change had turned brisk outside with a mix of cold and warmth. Funny, how you remember these moments. They are ever so fresh, each entangled moment, a repository of emotions.
I had walked into the intensive care unit to see a patient. He had undergone chemotherapy and had his immunity decimated by the drugs. There were posters outside his private room, claiming that he was an infection risk and that all must take appropriate precautions. The man was in his seventies, still quite robust in his physique, but with all the tubes emanating from him, that was hard to see, but for the discerning eye. I put on the blue terry-cloth skullcap; the large wrap around blue clean paper-gown and put on a set of white paper booties. I looked around and found the nurse behind the desk, hide a smirk. Yeah that has happened so many times before and since. So here I am suited and my mind plays a trick. I found myself imagining that I was hovering inside the patient’s head- looking back at me entering the room. The restriction of the wrist “supports” felt confining, you know the sort that we put on the patients to protect themselves from themselves. I felt the endotracheal tube and the sore throat with the active ventilated air being forced into my chest in rhythmic swells. Oh yes in that mangled moment of fictional reality, I was there and what did I behold was this man dressed in blue paper overalls, comical in looks, scary in intent and detached in being. entering, this technologically littered room of modern machines replete with bells and whistles announcing the slightest inadvertent movement I made. This man was like an alien. All I could see were his eyes yes they were dark. He made some comments about me and then examined my chest with his stethoscope, and with his gloved hands he pressed on my abdomen, all the while peering at responses evoked by me. “Good, so far so good,” he said. I tried to lift my hand but the restraints held my wrists. “You have a question?” he asked. I tried to nod, but my neck would not move. He waited a little and then reiterated, “You are improving” With that, he turned around to walk out of the room.
At that moment, my thoughts and imagery came back to me. I was draped in that blue uniform and he was my patient. I turned around, in a totally discombobulated mental strain and finding the chair, sat down next to him. I could see his eyes brimming with tears. Oh the isolation of it all, he must feel, I thought. I pulled the chair closer to his bed and unrestrained his hand, “Mr. J, I am going to untie your hand, please don’t try to pull the tube out.” He nodded.
With his hand unrestrained, he grasped my gloved hand and then let go. It was sudden and quite alarming. I looked up to him and then his hand, his fingers were scattered in a gesture of “what’s the use.” And you know how moments beckon you to do things that are involuntary and unpracticed, I got up walked to the sink, washed my hands again and then without wearing any gloves, I sat down and held his hand. Tears came streaming out of his eyes. I pulled the facemask down momentarily and smiled at him. Comfort knows many emotions, they are all instantaneous, unrehearsed and come from the primitive, nurtured emotional treasure chest of time. I must have sat there holding his hands for a long time, it seemed, yet when I exited the room, only fifteen minutes had lapsed.
The next day, I arrived back at the unit to find the room empty. I asked for the patient and the staff nurse said, he had died in his sleep. Oh the horrible images that streamed across my mind’s eye were unrelenting, until the nurse reached back from the desk and produced a notepad and on it in shaky capital letters, the kind you see when a patient with Parkinson disease replete with tremors tries to write, were these words, “Thank you for holding my hand.”
“We all can’t decide what that means, can you?” The nurse asked.
The neural connect to the brain happens through all our senses. None are stronger or longer lasting then the feel of a human touch.
Creation ~ Michaelangelo