Hugging It Out

I am a hugger. I get it from my grandfather.

As you can imagine, this entry definitely goes under the personal category.

I didn’t really become a hugger until my late teens. It takes a certain amount of confidence in Western culture to touch someone you just met or don’t know very well. We like to walk around in our assigned space (3ft x 3ft minimum) and are offended when someone unfamiliar encroaches on it. I think it has to do with our “stranger-danger” upbringings, and general fear of rejection and the unknown. Oh and lawsuits.

I can distinctly remember the first two times I found myself hugging strangers.

The first time was after a car accident as a teenager. I had been driving through an intersection when a van pulled out in front of me resulting in a head on collision. The airbags deployed and when I could finally see again I jammed the car in park and jumped out into the street (in the days before I knew about cervical fractures). I could see the van that hit me, crumpled, on fire, about thirty yards away. There was a red puddle forming near the driver’s side door. I immediately concluded that I had just killed someone. Of course the next logical thing to do was start screaming. Everything started happening really fast. My most prominent memory from among the sirens, uniforms, and onlookers, was being pulled up onto the sidewalk by a couple about my parents’ age. The woman held onto me as I sobbed like a baby. I don’t even know if she said anything. I never knew her name. She had big boobs. They were comfy. I felt a little better. After being checked out at the hospital I learned that the red puddle I saw was just transmission fluid and everyone was fine. Yay. I still wish I could thank her for that hug.

The second stranger-hug happened on public transit. I was travelling back to university via Greyhound and had a very lovely chat with my seat companion. She was a middle-aged woman, nicely dressed, on her way to visit her family. It was her first time travelling alone, ever. By the time we arrived I had learned about her recently deceased husband and her career as a nurse, and she knew all about my grades and my fights with my mother. It was one of those spontaneous and deep conversations that weaves inspiration and energy into life. When it was time for me to get off, I felt an urge to hug her. I awkwardly asked for her permission. I could tell from her face she was moved by my token of companionship. It was the perfect ending to a brief encounter.

Now, as a medic, I find myself hugging even more often. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t go around surprise attacking people with bear paws. But I don’t cross my arms in protest or cringe if someone looks like they need a little shoulder action either. I have been hugged by daughters whose mothers have died. I have been hugged by wives whose palliative husbands may not come out of the hospital again. I have been hugged by little kids because they thought it was cool to hug someone in uniform. I have hugged my partner on bad days. I have hugged offenders and victims. Why? Because I care I guess. In my paramedic student syllabus this type of patient care interaction is even referred to as “therapeutic touch”- because it’s therapeutic.

However, there seems to be two vastly different schools of thought.

I was once told by a senior male medic that hugging patients/family members on the job is totally inappropriate. Worse than calling an elder “sweetie.” Unprofessional. Out of bounds. Unnecessary exposure to potential sexual assault charges. And unfortunately he is right- and historically more so for my male coworkers.

However, during my preceptorship I also witnessed a senior female medic doling out a hug to a woman at fault in an MVC. After the call she said, “For me, that’s what this job is all about.” Helping someone doesn’t always require a medications or a cape. Maybe it’s a motherly instinct thing?

Of course I think you have to be smart about this type of behavior, like anything else. If someone looks to you for a hug, it’s better to have it out in public where there are witnesses (your partner)- in case they were to ever cry wolf. You also have to use reasonable judgment regarding what is appropriate and what probably isn’t. Hands above the waist- duh! Choosing to hug also has to do with personality. If touching people isn’t something you would do in your life outside of work, don’t do it at work either. It’s awkward and you probably haven’t honed a good “read” on the principles of interacting within other people’s designated space bubbles. Space bubbles. What an image.

Early on in my career I committed to never becoming a “cookie-cutter medic” (See entry titled Rookie to Rookie). Part of that commitment means being true to myself. And I happen to believe in the value of hugging it out. Because sometimes I need a hug too.



Ps- For the record, I totally love this video campaign…I’m such a mush!

PPs- Mush does not equal sissie. 😛


5 thoughts on “Hugging It Out

  1. Here’s a hug from me, because I haven’t seen you for so many years. But, it sounds like you are really doing well and I am proud and happy for you.

  2. Hey Vanessa. Couldn’t agree with you more. While we need to be wise about who and why and where we touch, to eliminate it altogether out of fear and discomfort dehumanizes our interactions, often at times when touch is the most needed and most effective communication of caring. I can’t help but think that technology has contributes dramatically to loosing touch with the value of direct human contact – we text and email and Skype and think how much more effectively we communicate. But nothing replaces touch. Never under estimate the value of a sincere hug. Wish you were here for me to demonstrate. Blessings, Pat

    • Thanks for reading Pat! Totally agree with you- the fear of touch coupled with the loss of conversation may lead to a very sad/frustrated generation. You will have to save a hug for me next time I see you. 🙂

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