Touching the Lives of Patients

NorthShore Massage Therapist John Chamness

John Chamness recently went to see a 98-year-old NorthShore Hospice patient whose two daughters were in the room when he arrived. The daughters were open to taking a seat in his portable massage chair, where he worked on their shoulders and neck for about 15 minutes. Then their mother agreed to let Chamness gently massage her feet, as her hands were encumbered with an IV line. “That feels so good,” the patient said to Chamness when he finished. One of the daughters quipped: “Mom, it took you 98 years to get your first massage.”

Chamness travels between NorthShore Hospitals to bring stress and anxiety reduction to hospice patients who are interested in the free service, which is funded by generous donors of the program. “Watching the patients go from being anxious to letting out a sigh of relief, closing their eyes, breathing more deeply, feeling OK about themselves for a moment is amazing,” says Chamness, who is a massage therapist and integrative bodyworker with NorthShore’s Integrative Medicine Department. “I am so blessed to be able to offer this to hospice patients and families.”

Integrative bodywork is more comprehensive than massage therapy simply for relaxation, going beyond muscular issues and including specialty techniques such as acupressure, craniosacral therapy, reflexology and other modalities. But for hospice patients, Chamness keeps it simple. “It’s not a problem-focused visit,” he said. “What I hope to bring is comfort and relief to people who may find themselves in a place they would rather not be.” 

Chamness starts the session by simply talking with the patient, giving them time to get used to the idea and to him—and, if agreeable, he often starts by massaging the person’s feet or hands. “With just 10 to 15 minutes of massage therapy, I will see the patient’s breathing even out as they relax. They may fall asleep, or just close their eyes and enjoy the connection that touch brings.” He also frequently works with family members to help them cope and relax in the hospice environment. And occasionally, if time allows, he works with Hospice hospital staff. “I like to find the time to help staff. They give 110 percent all the time, and their jobs are stressful and physically demanding. A little compassionate touch helps them help their patients.”

“I am so pleased that John has been bringing relief and comfort to the families and patients who are in hospice at NorthShore,” said Leslie Mendoza Temple, MD, Medical Director, Integrative Medicine Department. “I appreciate the thoughtfulness of the donors who made all this possible. Their contribution has literally touched the lives of dying patients in a unique and profound way.”

The best part of Chamness’ job, he says, is to be in the moment with the patient and do what he can to help. “Everyone is happy to see me, and I have no problems to solve. Being able to give compassionate touch to someone dying alone brings a deep and profound connection and joy. Hospice patients are immensely grateful for this once-in-a-lifetime gift.”

NorthShore Hospice also offers music therapy, a child life specialist and bereavement support and is aided by volunteers who may visit with patients while a loved one runs errands, drive patients to appointments or provide help with household chores. NorthShore would like to expand the massage therapy service to patients who are in their own homes or nursing homes, said Thom Dennis, Bereavement Services Coordinator for NorthShore Hospice.

If you would like to help NorthShore Hospice expand its partnership with Integrative Medicine to offer services to patients who remain in their homes, please contact Denise Rehberger, RN, Hospice Manager at 847.475.3002 or Kate Chappell, Director of Philanthropy, at 224.364.7211 or kchappell@northshore.org.

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