Medicinal Hugs


I have a patient named Cathleen Hoat, a 70 year old woman, who looks exactly like Mrs. Claus minus the red outfit. She has  been coming to me for several years, and by all intent and purposes, she is a good patient. She always keeps her appointments, follows my instructions to the the letter, and greets me with smile each and every time we meet.

I call her my “little ho”. She laughs but I’m sure she has no idea that I am referring to a ghetto whore. Unfortunately, Cathleen hates having her blood drawn. In fact she goes into hysterics every time I tell her I need to draw blood.  Inevitably, after much arguing, she gives in. Lying back on the exam table my assistant Juan has to hold her hand as I stick her gently in the vein. By the way she carries on you would think we were performing surgery on her without anaesthesia.


Before Cathleen leaves, she reviews her “problem list”. Then when she is sure that we have discussed all her issues for the day, she begins her ritual before exiting my office. Digging into her purse she removes a plastic bag filled with Hershey Kisses and presents each one of my staff with a Kiss. (I refuse to eat her chocolate so now she brings me in a small plastic baggie filled with cut carrots). Finally, before Cathleen departs, I must hug her. Yes, I said HUG.

Cathleen is a firm believer in the power of hugs, and she has instructed me on the variety of hugs that exist. The first is when she hugs me and I accept her hug. The second is when I hug her back, and the third is when we hug each other at the same time.

As a doctor, I am adversed to this kind of maudalin behavior. I grew up Italian where we had to kiss and hug every relative when we entered a room. Gay men too, enjoy hugging and kissing when they meet, particularly the Italian ones. I’m not so keen on all this affection especially after I’ve been treating patients with viral and bacterial infections all day however, I do oblige Cathleen.


The Official Hugs Book, written by Martha Bolton, states that hugs have a healing affect. Just watch an injured child’s tears dry up in the circle of a mother’s embrace. And watch an old man barely clinging to life suddenly light up with renewed strength and a will to live when his estranged son walks into the room and embraces him.

Apparently my “little ho” knew something I didn’t. Regardless of how I feel about hugging patients, it does feel good when Cathleen puts her chubby arms around me and presses her bussoms against my chest. Maybe she really is Mrs. Claus?

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