THE TOUCH - Short Story by Jayshree Winters
Short Story by
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It is a fine October morning here in the U.S.A. The day is clear, skies blue, and temperature cool. The day is brisk but not yet very cold.
My office is located in a medical building which also houses a lot of other medical doctors. As I entered and parked my car in the parking area of the building, I watched initially with interest and then with a certain sadness, the sight ahead of me.
An elderly man was struggling to get out of a car. He must be in his late 70’s, early 80’s. He looked frail and gaunt. In the driver’s seat was a woman, perhaps in her early to mid forties. She was on her cell phone, talking intently, oblivious to the older man’s struggle. There was a strong facial resemblance, to which I assumed that she must be his daughter.
The struggling man finally managed to get out of the care. He started to walk slowly, hesitantly towards the medical building, his wobbly feet carrying the weight of his thin body. The daughter now gets down from the car, cell phone in her hand, still talking and briskly walked past him towards the entrance of the office. She seemed either oblivious to the older man’s plight or was to engrossed in her conversation to think about her elderly father. The young was leaving the old far behind, weak, struggling, frail, and helpless. The old man stumbled, almost fell. The daughter, momentarily distracted from her cell phone, seemed annoyed, irritated, and said, “Why don’t you look?” and went back to her conversation.
The doctor, the psychiatrist, the Indian, and ultimately the human in me was distressed. I got out of my car, walked up the old man and offered my hand to climb the few stairs to the office entrance. The old man looked at me – a face filled with pain and perhaps years of sadness. He looked at me first with bewilderedness and then suddenly his eyes filled with tears and he grasped my hand. We walked slowly up the few stairs with speaking. Not much needed to be said. We both understood each other. His daughter had already climbed the stairs many minutes ago, still on her phone, and had not even glanced back. I opened the main entrance door and let the man in. I squeezed his hand, he returned the squeeze, and I walked away towards my office.
An encounter of perhaps a minute, a touch of few seconds, a memory of a lifetime. My mind flashed back to a few years ago when I had visited a family in India. The father was sick, emaciated from the ravages of Cancer. His wife was busy making tea for me in the kitchen, while his daughter sat at the foot of his bed, rubbing his legs. The man then tried to get up and walk towards the bathroom. Like a lark, the daughter sprung to her feet and held him by his waist and walked with him every step to the bathroom, gently rubbing his back. Even in his weakness, the man smiled lovingly at this daughter. The picture was complete.
This again is not about the U.S.A. or India. It is not about the daughter who walked ahead with the phone (perhaps she had a pressing conversation to attend to) nor the daughter’s love in India. It is about the human frailty and the healing power of touch.
A recent N.Y. Times article had quoted that researchers have found experimental evidence that a touch can be worth a thousand words, that fleeting physical contact can express specific emotions.
Any animal lover knows most animals respond to touch. My own dog starts wagging her tail happily as soon as I touch her.
Certain cultures are more touchy-feely than others. Some greet family, friends, and even strangers with a warm embrace. Others greet with a light kiss on the cheek and then there is the handshake. Then there are the non-touch greetings. Perhaps increased civilization and fears of sexual harassment charges in the work environment has made us all more wary of the human touch. Once certainly cannot generalize, but, aren’t we missing out on something? Touch is one of the five human senses, a basic feeling conveying a flow of warmth from one human to another.
Perhaps there should be a national or even international ‘reach out and touch someone day’ or more ‘touch training’ from childhood. Above all, whenever appropriate, let us all use the healing power of touch for the frail and needy – they will certainly appreciate it.
Dr. Jayshree Winters is a practicing psychiatrist in New Jersey. She is a caring and compassionate physician, who is held in high esteem by her patients and the medical community. In recognition of her outstanding achievements in her field, the American Psychiatric Association honored her by naming her a Distinguished Fellow of the Association. Dr. Winters is a tireless advocate of giving back to the society. She volunteers her time to several organizations and serves on the boards of Cancer Care and Health Power for Minorities. She is also an active member of the Rotary International. Dr. Winters is a prolific writer and an eloquent speaker, with frequent radio and TV presentations. She has published numerous articles, and is often sought by the media on coverage related to social, cultural, life adjustment issues, immigrant experiences and mental health issues. Dr. Winters is a Distinguished Fellow, American Psychiatric Association, Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. She is also an accomplished psychoanalyst and holds certification in Disaster Mental Health from the American Red Cross. A graduate of MS University of Baroda, India, she completed her psychiatric training at the New York Medical College, Valhalla, New York. Dr. Winters is also an executive producer of the TV show THEDESIDOCTORS aimed at bringing some of the current medical information to the viewers