A viral photo—which has been described by netizens as a "heartbreaking sign of the times"—shows a patient's hand clasping two rubber gloves filled with warm water to mimic the warmth of human touch.
While the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines has signaled a not-so-distant end to the pandemic for some countries, many parts of the world are still struggling to get the virus under control. A heartwrenching photo now circulating on social media shows how dire things are even a year into this devastating global health crisis that has claimed millions of lives and has completely changed life as we know it. The photo—which has been described by netizens as a "heartbreaking sign of the times"—shows a patient's hand clasping two rubber gloves filled with warm water to mimic the warmth of human touch.
A heartbreaking sign of the times: In isolation wards where patients die alone, craving the touch of their loved ones, nurses fill gloves with warm water to simulate that comfort. They call it the Hand of God. pic.twitter.com/KAhzweRlB4— Marc Goldstein (@marcgoldstein_) April 9, 2021
According to the Independent, the empathetic gesture is believed to have been that of a Brazilian nurse named Semei Araújo Cunha in the city of São Carlos. Speaking to the local news outlet, G1 São Carlos and Araraquara, the nurse reportedly explained that she thought of using fake hands for comforting isolated COVID-19 patients at an emergency care facility in the city following the hospitalization of tens of thousands of Brazilians by Covid. "For the sake of affection, comfort, and care for the patient, it is not enough to be professional, you have to be empathetic," she said.
‘THE HAND OF GOD’ 🙏— The Philippine Star (@PhilippineStar) April 9, 2021
Separation and deprivation from human touch are only two of the most difficult parts of coping with the pandemic. This is especially true for COVID-19 patients confined in hospitals who have to be isolated from their loved ones for weeks while [...] pic.twitter.com/mpDeJBsJrN
"As we had an intubated patient, we decided to do it as a form of affection, cuddling, humanization, as if someone was taking her hand, and also to soften the extremities that were very cold, the hand was very cold," Semei added. She explained that while the lack of physical contact imposed by the pandemic has led to many people feeling alone and isolated, it is particularly bad for those hospitalized after testing positive for COVID-19 as they are forced to fight the deadly virus alone, without their loved ones by their side.
Bringing some comfort and humanity back to #COVID19 hospital wards in Brazil 🇧🇷.— Eric Feigl-Ding (@DrEricDing) April 11, 2021
Between this and the Brazilian ICU’s “Hand of God” warm water gloves, I’m at least glad doctors and nurses are trying hard to lift the spirits of patients.
"It is very sad and heartbreaking for everyone. Inpatients, intubated, without contact with family, without contact with anyone. Whoever talks, it's just by cell phone and video call, they don't have that cuddle [sic] anymore, they don't have affection. [Since] they [can't receive visitors], the patient becomes vulnerable. Like it or not, this [the gloves] helps a lot in the need because this disease is very depressing," Semei said. She revealed that she and some of her co-workers came up with the gloved hands after seeing a similar action recommended via a nursing app. The idea of the fake hands is said to have been first invented by nurse Lidiane Melo—who works in a hospital on Ilha do Governador, North Zone of Rio de Janeiro—after she was unable to measure a patient’s saturation.
Brazil has completely lost control of #COVID19 at this point I fear. And it’s going to now endangers the rest of the world.— Eric Feigl-Ding (@DrEricDing) April 10, 2021
Brazil’s South American neighbours worry a COVID-19 variant will spread quickly and lead to another wave of deaths. #sosbrasil https://t.co/Z0r4Ho0NYc
"His hand was very cold. I wrapped it in orthopedic cotton and bandage, but it did not work. Circulation did not improve. I thought about wetting his hand with warm water, but because of the risk of contamination, the idea was not a good one. I thought a little more and put the warm water inside the surgical gloves and wrapped it in his hand," Melo reportedly told a local news site at the time.
Thousands of netizens praised the thoughtfulness of the nursing staff on social media, including Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the WHO, who tweeted: "No words can express my admiration for #healthworkers on the frontlines in this pandemic and the incredible ways they are finding to comfort their patients. There’s so much we must learn from you and do to assist and protect you!" Twitter user Siva Thambisetty wrote: "I am floored by this. Our ability to be compassionate matched by our fragility- there is a lesson in here somewhere for political leaders."
Oh my goodness that is simple but genius! What a wonderful idea, pic.twitter.com/vr0hE9zAQM— Three Oaks 🌳🌳🌳 (@clmbl67) April 9, 2021
"As I receive my vaccine, I feel a mix of relief and empathy for the countries that are still suffering without a vaccine plan in sight. Let us not forget those who believe the science but don’t have the luxury of 'deciding' whether to vaccinate or not," tweeted THEshannonmassa.