By Monica M. Woodall, DO, FACOFP, FAAFP

My husband and I unfortunately experienced the nightmare we hoped we never would during the pandemic: Both my elderly parents were infected with COVID. It hit my father first and he was admitted to the hospital, followed by my mother. They both had been incredibly careful. My mother only left the house a handful of times. When they had to be out in public, they wore masks and sometimes gloves depending on the situation. My husband and I were shocked when they became ill.

My husband, who also works in the medical field, and I have been extremely careful—not only at work, but in public. We have cancelled plans with friends, cancelled vacations and worn a mask everywhere despite the looks and lack of people doing the same. We took up the mentality of behaving as if we were infected, which meant we did things like wiping the shopping carts down before and after use, and carried our own pens for signing receipts.

Both of my parents were in the hospital several weeks. My father actually became quite ill and ended up in the ICU. The hospital allowed me into his room in full PPE because they expected the worst. My mother went home first and was extremely weak. Home health was not enough to help her.

My employer informed me that if I chose to stay home with her then I would be taking two weeks off work without pay. Unfortunately, I had already been off a week before for vacation prior to their illnesses. Thus, I hired a 24-hour caregiver to stay with her and keep me posted on her progress during the day while I was at work.

My mother had severe depression when she arrived at home. It is pretty incredible how important human touch can be in healing. Because of their infection, the nurses were only allowed in their rooms three times a day or if it was an emergency. Not only did her back and neck hurt from the awful hospital beds and lack of movement, but she also had a terrible headache due to the aftermath of COVID. So, I grabbed my old OMM table from my med school days and set it up in her house. I worked on her neck several times. As her pain improved so did her depression. She immediately started eating better and getting stronger.

Because of the isolation required in the hospital, my parents most often received cold meals. My dad became very depressed and stopped eating. He lost 20 pounds in two weeks. So I—and a few heaven-sent close friends—brought him at least one warm meal daily from the restaurant of his choice. He later was transferred to rehab because he was so weak from being essentially bed bound without physical therapy for a month. We were able to visit with him when was he discharged. We hugged for the first time in a month. He was allowed one visitor per day. When he was able to see his friends and family, his healing was expedited.

As a practicing physician, I have found that there is one symptom that is universal among all COVID patients. Depression, by far, is universal, and although medication helps, I found a better treatment: human touch. The isolation and lack of human touch that occurs with the virus is epic. I didn’t truly understand the origin of the depression associated with COVID until I lived that nightmare.

Just like A.T. Still during the deadly Spanish flu epidemic of 1918, we as osteopaths have an opportunity to not only address the somatic dysfunction that occurs with this disease, but also the depression that follows, with just simple human touch. I promise it will be rewarding for both you and the patient. 

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