This article was originally published by the Saskatchewan Health Authority on March 31, 2022.
It’s a little jar that holds a lot of love.
Shortly after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020, a Sharon Ham, a long-time nurse on the palliative care unit at the Pasqua Hospital in Regina, decided to start a Hug Jar in her unit.
Inspired by the story of a British nurse who was giving little knitted hearts to ICU patients as they weren’t able to have family visitors at that point, Ham used the same knitting pattern and filled a jar with little “hugs” and took it to work.
Though palliative patients were allowed to have visitors for compassionate reasons, Sharon and her coworkers started giving the hugs to their patients, placing them on their chests or in their hands or to their family members when they needed a “hug.”
Soon, Sharon couldn’t keep up to demand for the hearts. She recruited her daughters, her mother and her aunt to help her and made hundreds. And her cousin, a teacher, got a leadership class to start making hearts as well.
Still, demand grew. The unit’s regular volunteers, who hadn’t been able to help as usual, were recruited to knit and crochet. Just one of the volunteers, who is in her late eighties, has knitted thousands now.
The hugs provide love and comfort at a time when faces are covered and the close contact may pose a risk to those with fragile immune systems.
“We sent one of our nervous patient into surgery,” explained Sharon. “I placed a heart in her hand and told her she was loved and to give it a squeeze and know she had people loving her.”
The operating room and recovery nurses were made aware of the significance of the little heart in her hand and made sure she kept it. After some time in the orthopaedic unit, she came back to the unit and Sharon was her nurse again.
“She told me her stories about this heart’s journey and how it helped calm her knowing that others were rooting for her. She would give it a squeeze and would feel better,” Sharon reported.
The hand-made “hugs” continue to provide comfort and support long after the families leave the unit. Several bereaved family members have shared what a source of comfort and connection to their special person the heart became.
Hugs have been shared with Pasqua ICU and emergency departments as well. If you would like to volunteer to make hearts, contact Marlene Jackson at 306-766-2384.