And Finally - The Power Of A Visit

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News October 2017

I recently read about a study done with monkeys that may have profound implications for the future of health care.

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The Power Of A Visit

A 2015 Brigham Young University study found loneliness and social isolation to be just as big a threat to our overall health and longevity as obesity. Additionally, I recently read about a study done with monkeys that may have profound implications for the future of health care. An American psychologist named John Harlow used wire and wood to create inanimate surrogate mothers for rhesus monkey infants. Each infant became attached to its particular mother, recognizing its unique face and preferring it above all others. Next, Harlow presented the infants with a clothed mother and a wire mother. In one situation, the wire mother held a bottle with food and the cloth mother held no food. The circumstances were reversed in another situation. Overwhelmingly, the infant macaques preferred spending their time clinging to the cloth mother. Even when only the wire mother could provide nourishment, the monkeys visited her only to feed. Harlow concluded that there was much more to the mother–infant relationship than milk and that this “contact comfort” was essential to the psychological development and health of infant monkeys and children. It was this research that gave strong, empirical support to the idea and importance of love and mother–child interaction. This made me think there’s actually a proven medical benefit to visiting veterans in the hospital or at home.

Making An Effort

When I’m at a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital and I hear that someone I know is an inpatient, I make every effort to swing by and visit. I remember being an inpatient and looking forward to the physical therapy visits, not just because the muscle work felt wonderful, but the human contact was therapeutic as well. The most popular doctors, nurses and therapists are the ones who come in smiling with a caring, concerned and loving attitude. The physical and emotional connection provided to the patients is beneficial. When I think of all the visits I received from my wife, family, friends, veterans, church groups and hospital volunteers, I can only be grateful for all the community has done. I understand why patients at a VA hospital want their Wi-Fi, televisions, group movie nights and barbecues. It’s all about the feeling of connection, to each other and to the outside world. As I wrote this article, I came to the insight that this may even be the reason I compose this column each month. This column provides me a connection to all of you, and it’s a wonderful feeling when I stop by a VA hospital outside my hometown, someone looks up and asks, “Hey, are you that guy who writes those PN articles?” For that, I’m indebted to all our veterans. I even enjoy those who say, “I’ve got a bone to pick with you,” because even though someone disagrees with me, I enjoy the opportunity to exchange in a dialogue with someone who has a different point of view. Even though we’re both paralyzed veterans, our similar experience does not guarantee similar opinions. Yet, the conversation is energizing and enlightening. Even in disagreement, I relish the connection.

The Connection Counts

“No taxation without representation!” Remember that phrase? It’s basically the phrase that started this nation and the reason given for the Boston Tea Party, the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution. 

I’m wondering if part of the thinking at that time was, “You can’t take my money if you don’t even bother connecting with me.” Maybe that’s a bit far, but then I think about the monkeys, and maybe the idea isn’t so amiss after all. I mean, if death can result from no live connection with other living beings, maybe war isn’t so far off the mark. Folks who end up in the hospital alone have it tougher than we can ever know. I make this plea to all veterans out there: When you’re at your local VA hospital, take a few minutes and swing by the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) office and inquire if they know of someone who could use a visit. 

I suggest all of us who are going to be inpatients should simply put the word out to our local PVA office that visitations to our room would be welcome and appreciated. Those who want their privacy — and I know from personal experience there are occasions when alone time is needed  — should also let the PVA office and floor nurse know. That way no one will intrude. Otherwise, let’s all make a commitment to each other to help our fellow veterans get through some rough times, even if it’s just a visit saying, “I’m thinking about you and hoping you get well. Can I get you some water?” A mojito would be nice if it’s my room. Remember, it’s not the water but the connection that counts. In the near future, my friends, it’s going to become part of medical care.

Scoba Rhodes is a U.S. Navy veteran and author of  Rules of Engagement: A Self-Help Guide for Those Overcoming Major Personal Trauma.

The opinions of the author do not necessarily reflect the position of Paralyzed Veterans of America.


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And Finally - The Power Of A Visit


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