Pete Ingvarsson sat beside the woman as she absorbed the heartbreaking news. There was nothing more doctors could do for her child, who had been airlifted to Mayo Eugenio Litta Children's Hospital after an accident. "The family was in shock," Ingvarsson, a volunteer with Mayo Clinic's Caring Hands program, tells us. Just a few minutes earlier, the mother had said yes to his offer of a hand massage. Now as she listened to a doctor explain an unimaginable future, the warmth drained from her hands. As Ingvarsson continued the gentle massage, the woman closed her eyes. "She was trying so hard to be strong, and she was finally able to rest," he says.
It's moments like that, though difficult, that Ingvarsson finds most rewarding about his work with the program, which provides hand massages to patients and visitors. "It's a small way to remove some of the stress people are feeling," he says. "I was glad I could be there for her in that moment."
There have been many moments like that since Ingvarsson began volunteering following his retirement, when he and his wife relocated to Rochester to be closer to their daughter, a nurse at Mayo Clinic. Each Thursday, Ingvarsson visits patient rooms and waiting areas throughout the medical center, offering hand massages that provide a comfort that words often cannot. On Wednesdays, the former teacher volunteers in Pediatrics, and tells us he's grateful for the opportunity to stay connected to kids by building relationships with some of Mayo's youngest patients.
"As a teacher, you always think back on kids whose lives you've impacted," he says. Now his impact extends to parents as well. Like another mother keeping vigil beside her child's bedside.
"She was at the hospital alone because her husband had to stay back home to work," Ingvarsson tells us. He'd just begun giving the woman a hand massage when the child experienced a grand mal seizure. Ingvarsson left the room while a medical team tended to the patient, but he stopped back later to see if the child's mother wanted him to continue the massage. She did, and "after about 10 minutes, the words just poured out of her," Ingvarsson says. Sometimes what patients and families need most, he's discovered, is someone to listen — a gift he's grateful to provide.
In addition to patients, Ingvarsson also listens to the health care providers he encounters during his volunteer shifts. Ingvarsson tells us he's been struck again and again by the "sense of empathy" he hears from the doctors, nurses, therapists and other caregivers who show an unwavering devotion to their patients. "Just to be a part of that, to feel a part of that healing mission, has been very meaningful to me," he says.
If you'd like to lend a hand (or ear), you can learn about volunteer opportunities at Mayo Clinic here. Then we'd be grateful if you left a comment below before using the handy social media tools atop this page to share this story with others.