Monday, December 19, 2011

Last Things

His organs were failing, and the doctors felt he had only a few days.  He was stretched out in an easy chair, soft winter sunlight warming his ashen skin.  A few cubicles down, his family quietly sobbed as they spoke to the doctor about hospice.  He didn't want to hear about hospice, so he slept on.

I asked him if he wanted a foot massage, and he smiled and nodded.  I gently removed his shoes and took his feet in my hands.  "You're like a cat in the sun," I said.  He smiled and sank back into a doze.

As I massaged his feet, I realized -- this is the last massage he would ever receive.  Barring some miracle, my massage was the last one of his life.  The thought hit me with all the force of a fall from a great height.  How could I live up to this responsibility.  I paused, my hands resting on the tops of his feet, until I felt his breathing, and I felt how calm he had become.  The sun still fell across his face, his eyes were shut and he had a small smile.  It was a moment of ease for him.  In the midst of months of worry, treatment and blood tests, here was a small moment of peace.  I held that peace as I finished the massage.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Massage Dog

When she comes to the clinic for treatment, she soaks her hands and feet in ice for hours, in order to stave off possible neuropathy from her chemo.  She speaks softly, with a musical cadence that makes me think of rocking chairs and lullabies.  She smiles when she sees me because this means "the end of ice." 

She loves to undress for her massage, but today she can't.  The cold of the ice lingers and she is unable to warm up her thin frame.  She climbs onto the table, fully dressed, and slides underneath four blankets.  She shivers, and the deep breaths she takes, trying to relax, waver with her shivering.  I spend the first few minutes just doing gentle compressions over the blankets, defining the outline of her body and gently wrapping the blankets closer to her until she stops shivering. 

I uncover one leg, wrap my hands gently around her calf to continue compressions.  She smiles in the way I know -- the smile that comes before some beautiful thing she means to say. 

"There's a dog!" she says, clearly delighted.  "A big, shuffling dog, sniffing around the bottom of the blankets." 

I pause, hands still on her leg.  "Is this a good thing?"

"Oh, yes.  It's a wonderful dog, just sniffing around." 

We continue the massage.  Somewhere during the session, the nurse comes in to check on her.  She tells the nurse about the dog.  The three of us decide the dog's name is Bennie -- short for Benedryl. 

I don't often hear about someone's visual experience of a massage.  Whether it was the Benedryl or the open mind of a lovely person -- I appreciate the experience.

This is my dad's dog, by the way.  As far as I know, he has never been present at a massage.