Hands hold key to Reiki healing
Volunteers Jeanne Weideman, left, and Liz Tafel-Hurley apply hands and pressure to Harriet Krystopolski as part of a Reiki treatment for pain at Allegheny General Hospital.
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Martin Brennan and Faye Silver, the Reiki practitioners volunteering at Allegheny General Hospital this day in late June, start on the 12th floor, where patients await surgery.
Reiki is a centuries-old natural healing technique used in many cultures; it is said to touch on all levels of the mind, body and spirit. At Allegheny General Hospital, certified volunteers have been providing Reiki (pronounced ray' key) as a complement to traditional Western medicine since 2002. It is part of the department of integrated medicine.
On 12, a nurse has recommended Mr. Brennan and Ms. Silver stop in to see a man who, his wife said, has had a cranial bleed. Part of his skull was removed to relieve pressure, and today's surgery is to close the opening now covered with a protective helmet. Though not talking, the man is obviously agitated, his hands and arms shaking violently. He seems confused about his surroundings as he lies in his bed, but his wife says it is all right for them to go ahead and try their practice.
The two volunteers put their hands on him, their eyes closed. They hold their positions for several minutes, then, with no discernible pattern, shift positions to other spots on his upper body.
His breathing seems to slow; the physical agitation lessens.
Later, after seeing several more patients, the volunteers take a break, and Mr. Brennan, 68, of Monroeville, says there is always one who stands out above the others as someone he has helped. For him so far today it is the unidentified man in the helmet.
But other patients able to talk about the experience also do so with obvious pleasure.
Mr. Brennan has used visual imagery with them to get them to relax and be more open to the experience.
"You may feel a warmth, a coolness, a tingling sensation -- or you may feel none of those things," he tells patients. Then he instructs them to take a couple deep breaths, and to think of both a special place and some nice music to take them there. As they did with the helmeted man, Mr. Brennan and Ms. Silver, 48, of Mt. Lebanon, always place their hands upon the patients. Sometimes one of their hands hover above a patient's body. Mr. Brennan's hovering hand sometimes makes gentle waves.
Later, he explains that his hands move on their own during the practice.
Matthew Lubbert, 49, of Emsworth, who has had two abdominal surgeries over the past month, says the Reiki, which he had never heard of before, made him feel better physically.
"I felt all my muscles relax -- it was the first time in a long time," he said. "When you have abdominal surgery you tend to guard all your muscles ... [you're] tense."
Like Mr. Lubbert, many patients and some staff don't exactly know what Reiki is, says Dr. Betsy W. Blazek-O'Neill, medical director of the integrated medicine program.
It doesn't seem to matter. What does matter is the result.
"When patients are having trouble with pain control or they're anxious, nurses have learned they can call the volunteers and they'll come see the patients," Dr. O'Neill said.
"They don't know what they're doing [to the patient], but they're not hurting them, and the patient is not hitting the call light every five minutes. They're not complaining as much. They feel better."
As a result, Dr. O'Neill said, staff has been very accepting of the holistic program.
In 2006, the hospital had four Reiki volunteers and had 471 patients who benefited from a session, said clinical psychologist Barbara Jean Nagrant, who coordinates the Reiki volunteers. Now there are 13 volunteers, and in 2009, 1,284 patients benefited from a session. "So you can see that it really grew," she said.
But Dr. Nagrant said AGH would love to have enough certified volunteers to do Reiki with every patient. To become a Reiki volunteer, call 412-359-8209.
First Published July 7, 2010 12:00 am