Sunday, November 21, 2010

Just Another Day in Paradise

- One therapist worked an entire hour on his client's foot. (Not "feet", "foot".)
- Another spent an hour on one knot in a runner's calf.
- And yet another had a guy who wanted a two hour massage but couldn't handle any more pressure than what you might apply when squeezing a new tube of toothpaste. My friend said it was like petting a cat for a couple of hours!

Those are but a few of the more "out there" experiences of a massage school intern. Mine haven't measured up to that degree of oddity. But I certainly have stories to tell.

One day three women came for the beginning a "girls' day out." What made them interesting to me is that they were obviously from a Pentecostal background -- long hair, no makeup, skirts rather than pants. My client was the mom and said she'd had a massage before. I'm learning that doesn't always mean what you think it means. Some have had a chair massage in a mall or airport. Some have had a friend rub their shoulders. But not all who say it mean they've gotten naked on a table and had someone apply the pressure!

Mom was apparently suffering from some bad knees and warned me to be careful. I could see her discomfort as she walked down the hallway and I explained what she needed to do to get ready on the table. I used my standard instructions, "Please disrobe to your comfort level and then lie on your back, face up under the covers."

When I got back into the space, I saw she had followed the instructions perfectly. However, her level of comfort was to keep her RED bra on and put the covers under her arms. So the first sight I saw wasn't something I was expecting from someone so conservative in their outer attire.

I smiled when I did the first bit of pressure on her neck and she ahhed with such abandon. When she added, "You have a nice warm, firm touch" I knew she was going to enjoy the experience so much more if I could relieve her of a bit more clothing. I suggested she pull down the bra strap and she quickly complied.

As I continued, I prayed. Everyone on my table gets a blessing of some kind. Some times I focus on their needs outside our "walls" throughout the entire experience. Some times I wait until the end and wait for a word to pray into them. On this Mom, I prayed throughout. So when I made it to her knees I was only partially surprised to feel a heat coming out of my hands and into her aching joints. I don't know if she felt it but it was a real phenomena. By the time I completed her front and was rolling her over, she was pretty much under the spell of total relaxation. So when I mentioned that the back massage would be that much better with the bra strap un-buc ... she had it off before I finished my whispered suggestion.

The smile on her face when she was restored to her conservative attire was a sweet reminder that our work goes beyond the physical.

A second out of the norm experience came when a woman came in as a walk-in and my friend and I were in the reception area at the time. My friend looked at me and held up her little finger. The reason was because the woman was not much bigger than that. Seriously, she may have weighed 80 pounds. My friend whispered, "I'm afraid I'd break her." In a few moments, I learned that the woman who shared my height but was less than half my weight would be my client.

I tried not to stare as I asked about her concerns. She didn't want anything done to her scalp, face, or feet. AND she wanted a light touch.

Without being able to demonstrate on you, I'll just have to say that imagine you are trying to find a lost contact on a tile floor. You don't press very hard, right? That's the degree of pressure she wanted. I had to ask three times to make sure I got it right.

My thumb and forefinger would wrap around her upper arm with room to spare. Her calves only required one hand to be completely engulfed. Her thigh fit into my cupped palm.

When I got to her back it was a bumpy road -- literally. Her ribs protruded so much that there was no true way to do effleurage because there was no way for a long, smooth stroke.

I wear a bandana around my head because I usually have to worry about dripping sweat on folks. This time I worried that if I kept tearing up I'd be dropping those. I fought - with limited success - the worried and stressful responses her appearance generated because I believe that my emotions can be felt through my hands. And I prayed like never before.

I had no idea how she liked it. She only acknowledged at one point that her arm was tender because of "so many needles". Otherwise she said nothing and never explained why she was the way she is.

At the end of the 50 minutes I felt a real sense of urging. So I bent down and whispered, "I have a crazy question. Have you ever had your ears done?"


"They say it's like a full body massage and I know you don't want your scalp done but I thought you might like it. It's kind of Eastern!"

She agreed.

Halfway during the ears (and I did it the way my mentor taught me) I realized why I had felt the urging to do it.

That was the only time in the entire massage she got to be treated as normal. Her ears could handle the "normal" amount of pressure with no problem.

Afterwards, as we rode down in the elevator, she said that part of the massage was the most amazing.

That's when I saw it -- a jeweled pink ribbon pin on her lapel.

If cancer was indeed what had gotten her to that state, the massage should never have happened. Massage increases circulation so the cancer cells have that much more speed in moving around the body. The only time massage isn't contraindicated is when the patient is already terminal. But my client didn't check the box on the intake form asking if there were any medical conditions to keep her from receiving a massage, so I gave her what she wanted.

When I showed one of our receptionists the small amount of pressure she had required, the rather expressive woman declared, "That's not a massage! Why did she come here?"

"To be touched," I replied and, in that moment, the rightness of it all seemed absolutely clear.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Hurry Up and Wait -- The Details

I've been slow to post many details about massage school. In the first weeks of class, we were told of the need to respect client privacy and not even acknowledge a client when out shopping unless they said hello first. But stories keep landing on my table -- inspirational, humorous, and curious ones. So, while I haven't settled on how much I can and cannot say, and of course, names are out of the question, as a storyteller, I am compelled to say something.

Today, I'm tackling the subject of "hurry up and wait."

Our course is divided into three sections. First we hit the books. Next, (and where we are now) are our official days of internship with 50 "hands-on" hours required and most of us adding another 70 due to the need to cut costs of tuition. Lastly, we will go back to the books and practice tests so that we can pass what the state puts before us.

Most of my cohorts and I have heard similar comments about massage:

"How do you deal with the nastiness of feet?"
"What do you do about the big guys?"
"What's it like when you roll them over and see a hairy back?"
"What if a guy ... you know ... gets aroused?

The reason I know my cohorts have heard the same questions is that we have lots of time to talk. When more than 25 people are available for massages and you're depending on walk-ins to get the hours, we spend a great deal of time chatting. Supposedly, we are to wait in a small 10 x 10 room until the front desk calls to say we have an appointment. But (refer again to the above note on how many of us are in this program at this point) and you can easily deduce that space might be limited in what is known as the "intern room." Since you will rarely see me on a crowded elevator or on the escalator at a huge sporting or concert event, I take my slightly claustophobic self down to the cafe and set up a make shift office.

With my Mac, wireless access to email (but, curiously, not Facebook or YouTube), and a discount that ensures I'll have something to drink throughout the day, I'm good to go. I'm trying to keep my bills paid, so the time for freelancing is of great value.

However, I've learned not to count on long spurts of productivity. Inevitably, if I arrive at 8:45 a.m. and am set up by 9:15 -- with both my massage table and makeshift office ready for action -- I've got a visitor by 9:30. That small intern room starts overflowing downstairs to the cafe fairly quickly. That's when the storytelling and laughter begins.

We compare how many hours of actual massage we've accumulated. We wait to see who had the biggest surprise -- "I worked one hour on only a calf." "My young client moaned the whole time." "I got 'shooshed' by one of the instructors because my tapotement (tapping) was too loud." And we keep waiting for the receptionist to peek around the corner and call one of us away for an actual appointment.

Some adjusted their hours as soon as we realized 9 to 5 wasn't going to net us many massages. Though our class schedule is set, our massage schedule is adjustable. I now go in at ten and stay until 7 or 8 p.m. Mon-Thurs and add Sunday afternoon for good measure. Saturday is THE day to be there but my freelancing and volunteering usually have me booked. Plus, back to back (get the massage humor?) massages are hard on me now that I appear to be dealing with a pinched nerve.

When we do get a client, we're off! We make our way to the reception area where we are given the intake form. That's the source for finding out any issues, what degree of pressure is desired, and whether we are giving a 30, 60, 90 min or 2 hour massage. HINT: 90 min is perfect. Two hours means the intern is trying to fill the time. 60 min means you're going to miss out on something and especially if you have an issue. After 50 hours thus far, I can tell you, everyone has issues!

We then greet the client and have the time it takes to walk 50 feet to the elevator, ride up one floor, and walk another 50 feet or so to find out more about their needs, explain where they can take a restroom break, tell them to turn off their cell, and go over the procedure so they aren't too alarmed when we start working on their forehead the minute we get into the mostly quiet massage room.

"Mostly quiet" refers to the fact that there are only curtains surrounding each table, those curtains are on rings, those rings make noise every time you open the entrance to your space or hit the "wall" with your hip. Also we've got "soothing" music (if you don't count the track that is mostly static), men snoring, therapists whispering instructions, and plastic bags of laundry being collected and new bags being opened (you know that sound).

We take the client to the space, explain where to put clothes and that we need them to get "under the covers and face up" and then leave to let them get comfy. Those few minutes of waiting are usually filled with getting some info down on their intake form and adding them to our collective list of clients so that our hours are accounted for. I have the additional pleasure of getting my bandana tied. You see, I'm a sweat-er and if not properly attired I will drip.

Then, hoping my client has already closed his/her eyes, I enter Ninja-like and begin with breathing together and the face. By the time I've done the neck and shoulders, I've got my stride. Arms, legs, and back follow. We conclude with the scalp.

If I've done my job well, the client has a drugged look on his/her face when emerging from our curtained habitat, clothed and ready to evaluate me. I walk the same path back down to the reception area, leave them with the evaluation paper, and thank them.

Then I'm back up to the second floor to change the sheets on the table, check to see if any laundry needs to go to the collection area downstairs, and finally back at my makeshift office in the cafe.

And it's hurry up and wait all over again.

More on those round the table conversations in the next post . . .

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Celebrate Good Times, C'mon

For the last three days, we've been celebrating my friend's birthday. On the actual day of her birth -- Thursday -- the plan had been to make beef bourguignon, a dish we'd done together before and had enjoyed the effort of trying to follow Julia Child's instructions.

I took the cast iron dutch oven and a cake pan by her house before heading to massage school. She was also doing her mother's chocolate cake recipe (an enterprise that another friend and I had attempted once, and only once, for her and one, we now agreed, for which we would always offer our support but never again attempt its complexity). The idea was that she would get off work a bit early and I'd meet her at our girlfriend's house as soon as I completed my last massage of the day.

When I walked in, something hit me. I wasn't sure what it was but I knew the situation wasn't what it should be. I dove into the fray and added fresh rosemary to my chopped potatoes and since they were going to need to roast at a higher temperature than the beef, I asked what the timing on Julia's recipe was going to be.

"I don't know," she said. "I haven't taken a look yet. Let me see."

Reading aloud, she got to the source of my concern. "3 to 4 hours."

"We'll be doing takeout tonight," I replied.

Fortunately, we are all quite affable in the kitchen so in the middle of the laughter we found the Thai takeout menu and ultimately enjoyed some spicy delights while smells of beef broth, wine, luscious beef and vegs wafting throughout the dining area. I didn't stay for the unveiling of only the first step Chef Child's French cuisine. I had an early start to my Friday but I did get to taste it on Saturday evening.

Friday we enjoyed a taco bar back at our favorite kitchen with games following. Friends around the table laughing at each other's foibles with dominoes and Rummy tiles emit sounds that energize my soul.

After a half day on Saturday in a board meeting, I ran a few errands and then met the birthday girl at my house. We had a sleepover planned. First we'd finish the beef dish, then we'd hook up with a massage school friend, attend an art show and finally, she'd be treated to a birthday massage.

All went off like clockwork.

At the end of the night, as I said goodbye to the massage therapist who had been deemed "unbelievable," I realized that even the reality of few funds can't keep creative women from a good time.

Celebrate? You betcha! Wonder what we'll come up with for the holidays?