Image shown: Still from The Dance Back Home

Image shown: Still from The Dance Back Home

Catherine Cullinane is a Clinical Specialist Physiotherapist in Musculoskeletal Triage at University Hospital Waterford. Catherine’s poem ‘Hand Sanitisation’ was written during creative writing classes facilitated by author and poet Lani O’Hanlon as part of Waterford Healing Arts Trust’s programme for healthcare staff.

This poem was written at the very start of the pandemic. At the time there was a national shortage of PPE, it wasn’t mandatory to wear masks and the main strategies in place were social distancing, hand hygiene and limiting physical contact to only what was absolutely necessary during patient care.

As a physiotherapist the step back from hands on therapies felt strange. The hand is a symbol on the emblem of our professional body and integral to the day to day work of a physiotherapist. Over the course of your career you feel like you rely on your hands as another way to sense and guide a patient toward recovery almost akin to how one uses other communicative senses such as seeing and hearing. There was a real feeling of silence relating to ‘my working hands’ at the start of the pandemic.

The creative writing classes initiated by Waterford Healing Arts Trust provided a very welcome place to step away from work stresses and inhabit a creative space which felt healing and nurturing. – Catherine Cullinane

Hand Sanitisation.

Spirigel Complete, I dispense a cold plop
on the palms, multiple times every day.

Sometimes after work I examine them,
my hands— a crumpled map of a dried out terrain

as lark, blackbird, thrush song fills my garden,
I wish I knew their individual calls.

My hands communicate in another language, touch,
once reassuring perhaps, now a source of infection.

Arthritic patients tell me that my hands can listen,
perceive the heat of a painful joint or get a sense of its movement.

‘Oh your hands are lovely and cold’, they say
‘Can you leave them there?’ And a smile.

These days I limit hands-on examination,
stand at the end of a hospital bed loudly instructing exercises.

‘I can’t hear you’ she says
‘Watch me’ I demonstrate by lifting my leg in the air.

‘Girlie! I can’t follow you,
sure amin’t I half blind as well as deaf!’

My hands tense, then move toward hand held assistance
to help her rise from her bed.

If she wants to go home she needs to be able to walk.


By Catherine Cullinane
Clinical Specialist Physiotherapist Musculoskeletal Triage


Feature image: Still from The Dance Back Home, film documentary created with patients and staff in the Age Related Unit in Tallaght University Hospital by Artists in Residence Ailish Claffey and Deirdre Glenfield.


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