As I’ve studied the five senses, it seems to me that most of us have foreground senses and background senses. With our foreground senses, we pay attention, we seek new experiences, we enjoy talking and learning about those senses. With our background senses, we tend to feel much less interest; we may be more concerned with avoiding the negative than appreciating the positive.
One surprise for me, as I’ve thought about the senses, is that while I assumed that touch was a background sense for me, I actually valued it very highly. How could I not realize that about myself? I’m not sure! But now I spend a lot more time thinking about the power and pleasure of our sense of touch.
One superpower of touch is its ability to connect us to other people.
For babies, children, and adults as well, in the appropriate context, human touch can lower stress, blood pressure, and pain; boost our immune system and mood, and help us to sleep better. Because being touched by another person releases natural opiates in the brain, touch practices like massage have long been associated with health, comfort, and pain relief. Appropriate touch helps to foster feelings of gratitude, trust, and sympathy. When we’re touched by doctors, we tend to rate them as more caring—and we even have better medical outcomes.
She tells a story that I keep thinking about. Here’s a lightly edited version.
When I was in the hospital, I learned that when doctors want to tell you something, they will tell you at 4:00 a.m., when they start rounds and you are sleeping, and if it’s really bad, they will send the person…the greenest and most anxious doctor in the universe.
So she’s in the hospital, it’s the middle of the night, and a doctor shows up.
He sat down, and of everything he said, all I remembered was ‘You have a thirty to fifty percent chance of survival.’ By their definition, survival meant two years of life. And everything in my mind blurred and slowed. All I could think of to say was “If you’re going to say stuff like that to me, you’d better be holding my hand.
There really is a special power in the human touch, in a feeling of a loving, physical connection.
By the way, that book came out several years ago, and Kate is going strong.