Ritual hand-washing comforts me during difficult times

Even when caregivers aren't perfect, we can heal and move forward

Joe MacDonald avatar

by Joe MacDonald |

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Through the COVID-19 pandemic, we became used to washing our hands frequently. As we held them under the faucet, we believed that disease particles too small for the human eye would be washed away, protecting us from catching the virus. Many medical professionals, in fact, told us that strict sanitary practices were our primary defense against illness.

In my religious tradition, using water to cleanse the soul has another meaning. Submerging one’s body underwater indicates a transformation of the heart. We learn that what was considered dirty and unclean was now clean and whole. In the Christian tradition, we call this renewal process the sacrament of baptism.

The idea of washing away negative thoughts and feelings spills over into my relationship with hemophilia. One example occurred when I tried to access my youngest son’s port-a-cath, which was in a bizarre position right above his belt line. The port would often turn, making it almost impossible to place the long needle into its head.

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During one challenging time, I had to remove the needle from under my son’s skin. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get the needle safely into the center of the port. Struggling to access the port put us both on edge. At that moment, I felt lost and angry with myself. “Why can’t I simply do the job? I’m his father and should be able to solve the problem,” I thought.

My anger turned into fear as I stepped away from my son. The thought of not being to help my boy left me frightened and unsure. Anxiety took over my body, and I became frantic. This procedure wasn’t a game, as I knew my boy depended on the medicine so that his blood could clot. My mind raced to horrible thoughts of what could happen if I didn’t do my job. Unfortunately, it took me several moments to pull myself together and return to complete the task.

My wife helped me prepare to access his port for a second time. We walked through the process together, focusing on safe protocols by using a sterile technique to prevent infection. I went to the sink to wash my hands, still attempting to pull myself together and reset my emotions. I tried to focus and find a sense of peace as chaos seemed to interrupt my every thought. “What-if” scenarios playing out in my mind don’t help me when my boy’s life is at stake. I had to find a way to quiet the noise that took up too much real estate in my head.

As I placed my hands under the cool water, I quickly thought about the idea of purification in my religious tradition. I looked at my soapy hands, as cleansing them seemed to soothe my spirit. Then my mind turned to having a second chance to make things right. My newly washed hands were clean of the failures of the past. The water’s healing powers allowed me to breathe as I turned from the past to embrace a new chance in the present. Somehow, those failures floated with the dirty water down the drain.

While I realize that the symbolic ritual of baptism has strong implications for spiritual cleansing, I cannot dismiss the healing power of the simple act of washing hands. I found the importance of redirecting my energies from stress-induced activities to simple exercises to reset my thoughts. Feeling the calming presence of water on my palms helps me to forget my mistakes and embrace new opportunities for success as a caregiver to my amazing son.

I returned to my boy and talked with him. This time, I felt calm and hoped to share this feeling with him. Dad, son, and Mom took up the cause to make things right.

With cool heads and clean hands, I found the head of the port and accessed it easily. I heard the little “click” sound that the needle makes when it hits bottom. We received a return of blood flow, and everything came together nicely. I said a silent prayer thanking the powers that be for chances to rediscover second opportunities. I’m glad the water reminded me that all could be made clean and that a simple act of redirection can provide me with clarity.

Note: Hemophilia News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Hemophilia News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to hemophilia.


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