Caring Hands Experience Turns Into Volunteer Opportunity for Paul Ray

Paul Ray was so inspired after staff helped calm his nerves just before surgery that he's now a part of the Mayo Clinic Volunteer Services program called Caring Hands, which offers patients hand and arm massages.

Every Monday night, Paul Ray wheels his Caring Hands massage cart around the waiting room of the Emergency Department at Mayo Clinic Hospital — Rochester, Saint Marys Campus, offering to give arm and hand massages to those waiting for emergency medical care. He doesn't have to dig deep for a sales pitch. He just tells his own story.

"Last August, I was working at home and had violent abdominal pain come out of nowhere," Paul tells us. "The kind where you double over and you can't straighten out." At the Emergency Department, imaging tests showed Paul had been born with a birth defect he had not known about. "They discovered I'd been born with a partial twist in my small intestine," he says. "It had turned into a total blockage."

Paul would need corrective surgery. "I hadn't been in a hospital for a long time, and certainly not for anything this severe," he says. "I was anxious." His anxiety would only increase once a surgical team placed him on an operating table. "I remember an OR nurse saying, 'Mr. Ray, you're breathing too fast. Your blood pressure and pulse are elevated. We need you to take some deep breaths to try and calm down,'" Paul says.

That's when Paul felt someone begin to massage his hands. "I only heard his voice. I never saw him," Paul says. "He starts massaging my hands for a few minutes and the nurse says, 'OK, one more deep breath and your blood pressure should be back down to normal.'"

That deep breath is the last thing Paul remembers about his surgery. "I woke up in my recovery room — it was that smooth and that fabulous," he says. "I remember thinking, 'This is the way surgery is supposed to work.'"

When Paul asked a member of his care team about the hand massage he'd received in the operating room, they said it was inspired by Caring Hands, a Mayo Clinic Volunteer Services program that's been providing calming arm and hand massages to patients like Paul since 2006. So when he recovered from his surgery, Paul decided he wanted to join the program. "During my interview with Volunteer Services, I said I wanted to do Caring Hands in the Emergency Department because of what happened to me there," he says. "The value of that service, I can pass that on to others."

And for the past year, he has. "Everything I need is on my little four-wheel cart," Paul says. "It's easy for me to park the cart where everybody can see it in the waiting room, and then I just start walking down the aisles explaining who I am and why I'm there."

Patients who opt in to the 15-minute hand massages are often also in need of someone to talk to. "Many patients will proceed to tell me their life stories and why they're in the Emergency Department," he says. "I'll start listening and to some extent I'll feel their pain. Some of the stories I hear are amazing and some are of course heartbreaking, but they're all told by really nice people."

Really nice people who just need a pair of Caring Hands to hold. 

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