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.

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