Hospital volunteers paint nails to bring personal healing

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COLUMBIA - For some hospital patients, healing comes in a bottle... not of pills, but of nail polish.

At Boone Hospital, volunteers give patients a chance to escape the monotony of life inside the ICU by offering free manicures and hand massages. Hospital staff said by giving patients this positive and meaningful human contact, they can begin to heal wounds that medicine alone can't fix.

This nail-painting outreach is just one of many services offered through the Supportive Care Program, a unit specifically designed to care for the emotional and spiritual needs of patients. 

Doreen Rardin is the program coordinator. She said hospital patients with serious physical illnesses often experience deep emotional pain as well. She said just as a doctor treats the body with medicine, these volunteers treat the heart and mind with compassion.

"Touch is so important," Rardin said. said. "Not just touch from us, but touch from people they know."

Rardin said when the program first started, it only focused on patients who were gravely ill, or very near death. Now, the program has been expanded to provide services to anyone who is experiencing a life changing medical challenge.

"Any time you have some kind of a life changing illness, your sense of personal identity changes," Rardin said. 

Rardin said a shift in personal identity can leave patients confused, upset and lonely. She said the Supportive Care Program is intended to help heal those invisible wounds.

When KOMU 8 News spoke to Chrissy Nemeth, she had just given birth to her second child the day before. Prior to the birth of her newborn, Nemeth had been on strict bedrest for three weeks. 

Nemeth told KOMU 8 News anyone who's been in a hospital for a long time understands the monotony. She said when you are confined to a hospital bed, a little bit of pampering can go a long way.

"For us as patients, sitting in a room with four walls, we can look at that, and it makes us feel better," Nemeth said. "When you're tired of watching TV or there's nothing else to think about... you can look at your nails and say, 'Wow, those look so good, I'm so happy they came and did that!'"

Rardin said services like manicures and hand massages are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Supportive Care Program.

Anne Elfrink has been a volunteer with the Supportive Care Program for several years. She said often times the most important service she provides is just allowing patients to express their pain.

"It's not always about hand or foot massages," Elfrink said. "They just may need an ear to listen."

Rardin said giving patients an outlet to express themselves and "talk things over" is an important part of health care.

"Here, we are a person with a disease," Rardin said. "That personhood has to get fixed first. We treat their whole body. It's physical, it's emotional, it's spiritual, it's everything."