Sunday, February 5, 2017

Cold Hands, Warm Heart

My entire life I have been plagued with having cold hands and feet. Most of the women in my family seem to have the same trouble. As a child, it was something that I gave little thought to. However, after becoming a nurse-- a very hands-on profession, to say the least-- it became something that I thought about and worried about daily. After all, I care for my patients in times of distress and touching their bare skin with my ice cold hands didn't seem soothing at all.

I've learned some tricks since those early days, just out of nursing school. I take Niacin at my doctor's recommendation and this seems to boost my circulation and ease my Raynaud's Syndrome(a condition that causes my hands and feet to become blanched and painfully cold). I have hand warmers that I heat in the microwave and keep in my scrub pockets when my hand are painfully cold. I also have learned to rub my hands together before touching a patient(except in an emergency situation, of course). Still, even with the tricks to keep my hands warmer, it's not uncommon for my patient's to occasionally wince when I first touch them. It makes me feel terrible.

When I was a hospice nurse years ago, I found that the older generation seemed to love me more for my chilly hands. There is an old adage, "cold hands, warm heart", and many seemed to think my cold hands signaled a compassionate heart. There were several older women that even went as far to tell me that they don't trust nurses with warm hands. Now, I'm not one to shrug off anyone's beliefs(especially when they benefit me- ha!) but I don't truly believe that someone's poor circulation likely is connected to their compassion. However, I've learned over my nursing career not to disregard anyone's beliefs. Nursing is a calling that leads us into a world where we live with one foot in this world and the other foot in the next world. I've seen so many things that could never be explained by science. Nursing has opened my mind to so many things that my pre-nurse self would have shrugged off. I learned during those years as a hospice nurse to accept that sometimes, something like having cold hands, can turn out to be a strange blessing.

 Yes, I said that it is a blessing(although I admit to moaning and groaning in the midst of the cold, Iowa winter when my fingertips turn a nearly permanent white). It forces me to be conscious of how my touch can impact others, both good and bad. At the beginning of each of my patient visits, I take a moment to warm my hands and my stethoscope with speaking with my patient. It forces me to slow down and remember my patient is a person, not simply a body to be assessed. These extra moments of humanity have been such a gift, to both my patients and I. My patients are my heroes and hearing their life stories have been one of the greatest blessings of my career. Those moments of simply listening, not always allowed with today's overwhelming nurse/patient ratios, are crucial to our patient's health.

These chilly hands have also been a reminder to me that human touch can be a burden or a blessing. Now, as a sexual assault survivor myself, this should be ingrained in me. However, many of my jobs in my career have been in positions with unsafe nurse/patient ratios with shifts that were a blur of nursing assessments and treatments. There have been many times in my career that time was a gift that we were never given. The patients were a haze, the memory of one blending into the next, and there were few, if any, deep connections made. I often wonder if my rushed assessments, as necessary as they were, were toxic to the patients who could have used an ear to listen, some human touch not contingent on care  and care from a nurse who wasn't breathlessly ticking down an impossible to-do list for the shift and praying for no crisis as she simply didn't have the time. 

These wintry digits have also been a reminder to me that, in nursing and life, there will be many things that I will have no control over. I was born with these perpetually blanched hands and they will likely be chilly until my death(and, I suppose, after my death. Too morbid?). It's a small thing, really, these hands and there temperature. It may seem like a silly thing to spend so much of my time thinking about. But, these hands- they touch so many in my day and I want that touch to be therapeutic. So, I take that which I have little control over and do what I can to ensure that my touch, which comes out of a deep desire to heal others, reflects the warmth of my heart.

I've always tried to do the very best for my patients. I truly have. There have been many times that it did not feel like enough. Too many times.  I keep learning and growing and allowing my heart to continue to expand. The lessons of nursing are many and can be found most anywhere- even in the blessing of these perpetually cold hands. 

~Nurse Mandi


  1. I have the same problem, Raynaud's. Always had to warn my patients before I examined them. They were mostly very forgiving. Sometimes I forgot, though, and the consequences were truly hilarious! Margaretha

  2. I think the power of touch is underestimated. Your compassion is very obviously felt by your patients <3

  3. I've never heard of Raynaud's but I have heard the saying 'Cold Hands, Warm Heart'. You obviously are a compassionate person even being concerned about having cold hands when you touch patients. That shows a Warm Heart.

  4. I have cold hands & feet too! Never thought before about the consequences of cold hands when working as a nurse! I use my cold feet to annoy my husband when he hogs the duvet! 😜

  5. I am a kindred spirit, Mandi. I used to joke with my patients that I kept my hands on ice along with my stethoscope and the bedpans. It is a difficult thing to have this affliction in such a hands on profession. I like the way you have been able to spin this as a positive and I had many patients also tell me 'cold hands, warm heart.'

  6. This post makes me believe in the adage.

  7. People always said the same thing to me about my cold hands! I don't give it that much thought currently - not mattered much in my jobs! My grandad had Raynauds though, and I wonder if it may turn out to be true of me too.

  8. Warm hands, cold heart is a myth! Well said. :)