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Health Care for the Whole Person

Huntington Hospital nurse brings a program of calm and new techniques.

has been blending a mix of holistic care techniques into its more standard treatments of patients in a program designed to heal the entire individual.

And the person leading the charge, or, perhaps more fittingly, guiding the way, is Judy DiBartolo, an RN and board-certified holistic nurse.

Holistic care means taking a mind-body-spirit approach to improving a patient's health. Techniques can include massage, integrated imagery, deep breathing, meditation, and soothing conversation, among others.

With integrated imagery, DiBartolo said, an individual "focuses on positive thoughts, listenings to a healing CD and places mental images in ways he wants his life to improve.

"Anxiety is imagery," DiBartolo said. "It's thoughts we play in our minds, over and over, and we keep replaying negative thoughts. When we use this, we encourage people to shift the thought process to the positive."

DiBartolo grew interested in holistic nursing about 20 years ago when she saw an ad promoting a traning course  that read, "caring for ourselves, caring for others." At the time, she was experiencing stress as health care practices were changing and she thought about leaving the profession, feeling depleted spiritually and mentally.

"It's a way of being," she said of holistic care. "It's a way to live your life. It's not about modalities. That's how it started and it grew."

From her own experiences and training, she has persuaded other of the value of holistic care as scientific evidence began to stack up. "The doctors looked at how people's emotional state affects their immune system," she said. She said that studies had established that patients who had received holistic care were often able to leave the hospital sooner and with less need for pain medication.

And it helped that Myrna Myers-Laque, vice president of nursing at the hospital, was in her corner. "She welcomed the program," DiBartolo said.

While working her regular medical-surgical job, she gets consult calls from others on staff, often to ease the anxieties of pre-surgery patients. 

Their worries can be addressed with several approaches, including aromatherapy, a change in lighting or a soothing tone or even an understanding glance. The hospital has added a "quiet time" in late afternoon, turning down the lights and working to reduce the noises found in any busy institution but especially difficult for people trying to heal.

"We can change everything for a person," she said. The practice can "bring back the artistry of nursing care that we've lost to time pressures. My dream is to help nurses remember how to connect with patients."

Living a healthier life goes beyond a stay in a hospital, she said. "There's a frenzy in our lives--our minds are so full of noise, about what we have to do.

"People should just take a few minutes to quiet themselves down in their own space."

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