Elizabeth Wabnitz quietly walks into one of the back rooms of the endoscopy suite at University Hospital (UH).
"My head kind of hurts," the nurse says, kicking off her tennis shoes. "It will feel good to lie down for a spell."
Judy Bowers, also a nurse at UH, lays a soft, white hospital blanket across her body and goes to work, placing her hands on Wabnitz’s feet, legs, arms and face.
Within 30 minutes, Wabnitz’s headache is gone.
"This is the second time I’ve had Healing Touch done," she says. "It just really helps to relax and center me."
Bowers, who has been a Healing Touch practitioner for over six years, says she could tell that Wabnitz was having some head pains, but not because her colleague told her.
"I felt it," she says. "When you hit problem places on people, the energy feels like a bump in the road. It’s like running your hand through water and then all of a sudden hitting pudding."
Now, Bowers has been recruited to use her talent and passion for this Healing Touch therapy to help UC researchers find out if it can help calm patients undergoing minor procedures.
Healing Touch is a series of techniques that balance energy for wholeness within a person’s body, mind and soul. It is an energy therapy that can be used in conjunction with other traditional medical treatments.
Nathan Schmulewitz, MD, the lead author of the investigator-initiated study and assistant professor of digestive diseases at UC, says people undergoing procedures often have problems falling asleep because of stress.
Schmulewitz specializes in endoscopic ultrasound (EUS), a technique for imaging and accessing deep structures in the chest and abdomen which are near the GI tract. EUS is used as a screening tool for cancer or other suspicious polyps.
He says if a patient is unable to fall asleep with intravenous sedation it might be necessary to use stronger anesthesia, which is expensive and often not covered by insurance companies.
“In addition, stronger sedation can prolong recovery for the patient and can cause slight amnesia following the procedure,” Schmulewitz says.
This study is looking at whether coupling Healing Touch with mild sedation prior to an EUS procedure can help relax patients, avoiding problems with anesthesia and making the procedure run more smoothly.
Bowers first got involved with the study after helping Schmulewitz, who was having a hard time getting a patient to fall asleep.
“He found me in the hall,” she says, laughing. “He told me, ‘Do that thing you do.’”
Since then, Bowers has administered the therapy to over 40 patients involved in this study.
“By restoring balance within the energy system, you create an optimal environment for healing,” she says. “This is complementary medicine, not alternative medicine, so it can be easily incorporated in a medical model.”
Although there are many healing touch therapies, this study is only looking at three: the Chakra Connection, which facilitates movement of energy from one energy center to another, Magnetic Clearing, which clears the field of congested energy, and Mind Clearing, which involves a light touch on the face, head and neck.
Bowers has done Healing Touch on a number of her colleagues at UH and has had very positive feedback so far.
“The response has been tremendous,” she says, noting that she would like to start a volunteer Healing Touch program at UH.
“Not only can it help ease those undergoing minor procedures, but it has been helpful with chronic pain, post-operative pain and chemotherapy side effects.”
As part of the study, a third party calls the patient two days after the procedure is completed to ask a number of questions about how Healing Touch affected the patient during the EUS and recovery.
The results are being analyzed, but Bowers says she’s observed some fairly positive responses while administering the therapy prior to EUS.
“Some of the patients are asleep before they even receive the intravenous sedation,” she says, noting that she stays with patients throughout the procedure in order to continue sharing her energy with them and maintaining the balance.
Schmulewitz says if the results are positive, this could be an inexpensive, effective way to reduce costs and improve care at UH.
“It will be a fairly easy way to enhance patient care with acceptable and specific means and without increased risk of injury,” he says.