Caring with Creativity

There is a small contingent of women in Rocky Mount who have not only been answering the knock on their doors — but swinging the door open wide with compassion, generosity and love.

The knock has come from Nash UNC Health Care employees looking for tangible items to provide comfort for patients experiencing anxiety and fear in the hospital. The women holding out their hands to help include a long time devoted volunteer at the hospital and a group of women at First Presbyterian Church in Rocky Mount.

A fidget blanket is a small lap blanket that provides sensory and tactile stimulation for the restless hands of someone scared or anxious, or someone with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, ADD or an autism spectrum disability.

Last summer, Nicole Gibson, a nurse on the third floor, took the idea of providing a fidget blanket to patients that could benefit from their use to Paula Bush, Director of 3rd floor. In turn, Paula worked with Leslie Spencer and Amy Winham in the Office of Patient and Family Experience to help make the idea a reality.

“I could see where some of our patients could really benefit from having something to do with their hands,” Gibson said.

Winham and Spencer began knocking on doors to find resources to provide the fidget blankets to patients at Nash UNC.

Nash UNC Health Care volunteer Toni Melton was the first to help make the blankets, using materials donated by Nash UNC volunteers and employees. Melton, with the help of her mother, created many blankets since the project started last fall.

“When I learned about this project, it seemed like the perfect fit for me,” Melton said. “I enjoy sewing and this is a way to do something helpful for patients.”

Winham said as word of the blankets began to spread among staff, she knew she needed more than just what the hospital’s volunteers could make. Winham talked to Frances Guerry from the First Presbyterian Sewing Circle and got the group a sample of a fidget blanket.

Guerry said she had worked on a fidget sleeve for a relative before and knew the value of offering something with a calming effect to people with dementia or autism.

“I knew first-hand how comforting a fidget blanket could be to a patient and to the family members who are trying to keep their loved one calm in a hospital setting,” Guerry said. “It can be hard.”

Bush, who was also instrumental in getting the idea of the fidget blankets turned into a reality, said she’s seen how hard it is for caregivers to see their loved ones upset in the hospital.

“It breaks my heart when a family member apologizes to us for how their loved ones are acting or feel ashamed of their behavior,” Bush said. “We all know it’s the fear and the sensory overload taking over and it’s not really the way this person would act. When we can provide the fidget blankets, we are offering a way for the patient to calm down — and sometimes the patient’s family, too.”

Several sewing circle volunteers, including Pam Gragg, Laura Dudley, Deborah Coffee and Guerry, said they feel that creating the blankets and giving them out to hospital patients is like packaging up the love of their church and sharing it outside of its walls.

The group gets donations of fabric and items to stitch on the blankets from church members.

“We’ll put out the word at church what we are in need of and it appears,” Gragg said.

Most of the blankets are designed by Dudley and the group shares in the sewing responsibilities.

“It’s a group effort,” Coffee said. “We love the fellowship we have with each other as we work on the blankets.”

The group said they send the blankets out like a love letter to someone they don’t know. Dudley said the blankets are made with love and care, as if they’re making them for a family member.

Dudley said that while they don’t get to see the patients who receive the blankets, it doesn’t matter. “No matter who they are, they are our family. That’s how we think of them — as family, and we love them.”