Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities


Laura White
Rochester, Minnesota, United States


I have long been ambivalent toward my prematurely wrinkled hands. This is a combination of my mother’s distaste for her own mitts – I am so sorry you got my hands – and the various comments of others referencing “old lady hands” and similar sentiments. My self-hand-concept has been historically unglamorous. I have regarded them as a relatively insignificant appendage.

And sometimes I look at people’s hands – my patients’ especially – and I wonder. What moments have these crafted? Whom have they held? What tears have they dried? What meals have they prepared? What mechanical failures have they repaired? What combinations of telephone numbers have they dialed, and did the person at the other end answer? Whose hair have they ruffled in adoration? Have they folded in prayer? Have they cursed the sky, cursed those who have injured them? What surfaces have they touched? Have they made a wave pattern to the tune of music? Have they slapped together in approval? Have they slapped a human face? What knots have they untangled? How were they positioned when the initial diagnosis was presented?

And I love these people’s hands. I respect them. I respect what I cannot, and will not, know about them. I want to hold them in my own, to squeeze them, to palpate the grooves and lines specific to them, to kiss them and thank them for all these things I cannot and will not know they have done.

I think of all the hands my own have touched. I think of all the tears they have been privileged to dry, the shoulders of friends they have braced in comfort, the chins they have tilted up to prepare for a kiss, the arms of elderly they have supported, the hair of children they have tousled, the knots they have unknotted, the pages they have written on, the books they have clutched, the chopsticks and knives and glasses of wine they have lifted in the company of people I love. I think of these and I do not feel ambivalent toward my hands, however wrinkly they may be. I am not sorry they look like my mom’s. And I think these hands may be just about one of the most remarkable things I have ever seen.



LAURA ANNE WHITE, BSN, RN, works on an inpatient adult oncology and hospice unit at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. She received her Bachelor of Science from the University of Texas. Her writing and artwork been featured in the online blog Recovering the Self, A Journal of Hope and Healing, Hektoen International, and The Intima. Opinions are her own.


Spring 2018  |  Sections  |  Nursing

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