How I Use Push Hands in the ER:
A Surprising Benefit of Tai Chi in Hospitals (1)
By Greg Hooper (Professional Member of ATCQA)
By that time I had been practicing Yang and Wu (alternating) Tai Chi every day for 22 years. And I have also been practicing push hands ("Tui Shou") though not nearly as often, with other Tai Chi people.
People starting out in security work in a hospital are always unprepared for how
physical in can get in dealing with people. Even my previous work, providing
protective assistance and relocation for victim-witnesses, wasn't usually as
physical with people.
About ten years ago I decided to take an opening for a security officer position in a hospital for the steadier and "safer" work it would provide. Much of my time is spent in "the busiest emergency room in Sonoma County," California, according to ambulance medics in the area.
Security staff are most often needed to "physically manage" out-of-control psychiatric patients or panicking but still big, strong dementia patients that are a bit much for the nurses to handle. And at times we also have to go "hands on" with angry relatives of critical patients; domestic-abusers trying to get into the treatment rooms of their victim spouses; "narcotic seekers" not getting the prescriptions they want; and the occasional people injured in gang fights along with their "family members" who bring them in.
My first disturbance call, ten years ago, was very foretelling of how Pushing
Hands would wind up being surprisingly useful in this job.
This first "hands-on" call I responded to involved a 55 or 60-year-old male
psychiatric patient who was "big, strong as a bull and totally nuts." He was
running through the halls thinking that the police or CIA was coming for him. At
one point he ran into an elderly female patient's room, looking around and then
moving toward her bed, as it looked like he was thinking about getting to the
window there. She lay there frozen, and the other responding staff, including
the only other available security officer at the time, didn't know what to do.
They just stood in the hall looking in with 'calm' but quietly panicking faces,
fearing that fighting with him in there could throw people against the bed and
injure the elder patient there. But they also feared what might happen to her if
they did nothing.
I instantly thought, "I'll just do 'pushing-hands' with the guy to keep him away
from her and the window and maybe he'll just wear out doing that we with me."
While thinking this, and while others were distracting him with calming talk, I
was already moving fast and managed to get in front of him before he got too
close to the elder patient's bed and window. As he tried to continue in that
direction with me now in front of him he extended both his arms toward me in a
manner to push me aside. Without resisting his push as he expected, I 'emptied
out' and pulled his push instead of resisting it (a sort of 'roll back'). I did
this with my left hand behind his leading right arm above the elbow and my other
hand somewhere also on that forearm. This caused him to slightly fall forward
(to come 'out of his root,' or to 'float') toward me a bit off balance. I also
rotated that right arm around his front twisting him toward his left. But before
I could use his teetering off balance to push him back toward the door, he more
forcefully spun his other (left) arm back around toward me to push me from that
direction. I repeated my first action now in the opposite direction with that
arm, teetering him again toward me and spinning him the other way. But this
time, because of his greater force, as I first pulled his push before spinning
him, he 'floated' more off balance into me and I was able to push him several
steps back toward the door (mind you, he was pretty big). I heard gasping sounds
from the staff at the door.
He looked at me with wide-crazy eyes and then ran out into the hall where the
staff moved out of the doorway. There, a big psychiatric nurse and another male
nurse caught him just outside the room. They tried to get him down on the floor
for a sedative injection in the thigh. But he seemed rooted to the spot.
Reacting in a push hands like way again, I went up to his front, placed my
right hand around the back of his neck with my forearm resting downward in front
on his chest and pulled the back off his head toward me, tilting it forward so
that he was suddenly looking down at the floor. At that moment he 'lost his
root,' or, his 'heaven and earth axis' broke, and he easily went down with the
nurses cushioning his fall. We held him for the injection and talked calmly to
him until he voluntarily went back to his room. He also gradually started
thinking more clearly and became apologetic.
I then saw a reaction from the nursing staff and the other security officer
there that I would wind up seeing quite often for the next ten years, to the
present time. They don't know exactly what I'm physically doing with
out-of-control patients or disruptive visitors. They just shoot these quick
smiling, quizzical stares at me. There is almost never time for them to say
anything more than thanks. But it's not hard to tell that they were in fear, and
they really mean the thanks. Those fearful moments actually come and go quickly
and often for them. But even years later, those people that my push hands
made the difference for still shoot me those same slightly staring, curious, but
I've done that exact same, 'roll-back, rotate and push' thing with other
disoriented or panicky patients an almost countless number of times in different
kinds of situations since then. Sometimes, even older female patients can be
surprisingly strong in their panicky, disoriented states, trying to leave, or
move in a dangerous direction. But it would also be dangerous to push this type
of patient back since they may fall. So I just stay in front of them doing the
roll-back and rotating thing toward one side, then the other. After several of
their failed attempts at trying to charge through or around me they just tire
out. That is when we can just talk to them again about cooperating with the
staff trying to help them.
(Interested in reading more about how Greg applied Push Hands in his job? Please go to
or the 3rd article of this series).
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