Monday, November 26, 2012

Tea Truth

Yogi tea is doing a much better job than fortune cookies at capturing the exact mood of the day:

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Is it Medicine?

In the lounge at the school where I teach, someone posted an article with this headline:

"Not Just Relaxing, Now Massage Wants to be Medicine"

This kind of pissed me off.  It seemed patronizing to me, written in the same voice you would  use to say, "Oh, look at the kitty sleeping on the pillow! She wants to be people."  The headline struck me as another example of people failing to understand the real physical and psychological health benefits of massage.  Even with all our hard work, education, and growing acceptance of the profession, too many people think of what we do as "rubbing up on people," or something similarly frivolous.

Today, AMTA of Illinois started a discussion on their Facebook page.  The question was whether we thought there should be a separate career path/certification for medical massage (as opposed to relaxation massage.) my first thought is that this would be a great idea.  I envision massage therapy as a 2-year Associate's degree program, and medical massage as a 4-year Bachelor's. If we want to be taken seriously for the real health benefits of our work, we need to take our training seriously.  Our entry level needs to be higher, with deeper understanding of anatomy, kinesiology and pathology.  I say this with the complete awareness that my education, and that of the students I teach, is not up to these standards.

If we "want to be medicine," though, we need to act like it.  First, we should read and perform research.  We all need to become familiar with the scientific process and the rules of evidence as part of our basic education.  If you are a massage therapist, and you see an article about massage in the popular media, you should be able to trace the information to its source and evaluate its impact on your practice.  Example: a recent article in the New York Times talked about a study suggesting that massage does not clear lactic acid from the muscles after exercise, but does have a beneficial effect on inflammation.  I found the study, and found that while the conclusions were intriguing, the sample size was small and limited (<30 healthy, college-aged males.) Its findings were not, therefore, directly applicable to my work with a frailer, more diverse population -- yet.

Second, we need to get our professional act together.  We need to stop accepting a certain level of "flakiness" as part and parcel of the massage therapist personality.  Show up on time.  Be mindful of session start and end times, and for Strunk and White's sake, learn how to write.  I realize I may appear a little old-fashioned in that last point.  I will continue to insist, though, that business emails should follow the same rules of grammar and diction as business letters.  Further, we should endeavor to learn to speak to clients in language that is compassionate, appropriate, and instructive.  While it is fine to talk to our clients in laymen's terms, or even to use humor and metaphors to illustrate an area of concern ("Your shoulders love your ears so much, they can't be separated"), we must follow that up with real information.  ("Your levator scapula muscle elevates your shoulder.  It attaches here.  Notice what you feel like when I work in this area, etc.")

Third, we need to unite.  Massage therapy can be a lonely profession, especially if we work for ourselves.  You spend most of your time working alone with your clients, and while that builds a rich and rewarding therapist-client relationship, it does not enhance your professional soul.  We need to make getting involved in our professional organizations a priority.  If we can't attend conferences or serve on committees, we can take time to chat with other therapists over coffee, or exchange research with each other over email.  We don't work in a vacuum, as much as it feels like we do.  The way I work with a client affects that client's view of all massage therapists, for good or ill.  Regular contact with other therapists helps us form the terms by which we define our profession.

And finally, we need to maintain our unique compassion and mindfulness with our clients.  I got into this profession because I wanted to work directly with people.  I wanted the leisure of an hour or more to really focus my attention on an individual and work with them to find their wellness.  We use touch as our primary tool, which makes our connection with our clients unique.  We need to cultivate and respect that connection, and reinforce it with knowledge.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Goodbye. I Love You.

Today, I am breaking up with my massage therapist.  She has been my massage therapist for about six months. I met her while I was in school, and kept in touch lightly over the years.  A few months ago, she announced that she was going to strike out on her own.  Around the same time, I was trying to find someone I could trust with my neck.  It seemed like a perfect match.  I respected her knowledge, and I always felt calm in her presence.  I needed a consistent therapist, and she was ready for consistent clients.  Perfect.


Every time I saw her, I felt immensely better; more grounded, more aware of my body and with a renewed commitment to taking care of myself.  I even started to notice that my own work improved after a session with her.  But, not too long after we started, scheduling started to become an issue.  She would have to cancel a session because of her other job or family needs.  I would have to cancel for the same reasons.  We would reschedule, of course, with no hard feelings and a true mutual understanding of the demands of our profession.  I told myself how nice it was that we could be honest about our needs, and trust each other to be compassionate.

Soon, though, I realized that the "every two weeks" we agreed on was more like "every month" or longer.  I was willing to deal with this, maybe fill in with a massage from my workplace (where I got a discount) every once in a while.  Yesterday, though, was the end.

I have had a rough few weeks.  We dealt with the death of a beloved pet, I have started teaching in addition to my other jobs, and a few of my most beloved patients have died.  Our session yesterday (rescheduled from two weeks before) was going to be me getting back into caring for myself.  After weeks of stress eating, poor sleep and sporadic exercise, I was going to take the time to reset myself.  As I walked to her office, I thought about how I would express my needs for the session to her.  I looked forward to her getting it right away.  I savored the upcoming gift of 90 minutes of time away from the world.

I got to her office,and the door was dark.  No problem.  Sometimes she ran late.  So I sat in the hall and waited.  10 minutes after my appointment time, I sent her a text message.  10 minutes later, I left. I made the decision to find a new massage therapist this time.  I need more consistency.  I was surprised by how shattered I felt when I realized I wasn't going to get a massage, and decided I was done with all that disappointment.

So, I am breaking up with my massage therapist.  I love her as a friend and a colleague, and I hope we can keep that relationship alive.  I need my massage therapist to be more professional.  I need to respect myself enough to demand that.  I am often frustrated by the amount of flakiness that is accepted in this profession.  It does us no good, and we need to present ourselves as the wellness practitioners we are.

But it is going to be so hard to find someone I trust to work on my neck.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Word Oops

I am a language snob.  I like the way words go, and it makes my skin crawl when people put them together in ugly ways, especially in writing.  But, I am also a collector of misspellings, grammar errors and other language faux pas which make me giggle.  Here are three of my most recent favorites, one for each workplace:

At the spa we have a handbook outlining specific protocols for body treatments.  One of these protocols advises us to begin every treatment by washing our client's feet in a "silver bowel."

Come for the sugar scrub, stay for the C. Diff. Colitis.

At the school, the administration has printed up a FAQ sheet for new student representatives.  One of the issues addressed is that of the student lounge amenities.  The students have no coffee maker available in the lounge, the sheet states because the "plumping is inadequate."

Not only is plumping inadequate, I would say, but also inappropriate.

At the medical center, we have a reference sheet listing various drugs and their side effects.  Today I noticed that many drugs list "hepatits" as a serious side effect.

I guess it would be pretty serious if your breasts turned yellow.

*** **** ***

Any favorite word oopsies out there? I'd love to add more to the collection.

Monday, November 5, 2012

In which the Author Loses a Pet

On Halloween morning, my husband and I made the difficult decision to put down our best cat ever.  He had rapidly declined over the course of a week or so, refusing to eat and becoming more and more  jaundiced.  I was not ready for the heavy waves of grief that came over me in the first few days.   I would notice something -- his favorite blanket, the empty spot in the sun, a clump of his fur in the corner of the room -- and dissolve into flat-out, nose dripping, "boo hoo" sobs.

I felt the grief physically -- fingernails scratching the inside of my stomach, a weight in my chest.  This is not a metaphor.  Something heavy took up residence behind my sternum, used my heart and lungs for ballast, pulled them until they pressed so hard on the pericardium I thought it would burst.

I used to complain that every morning he would brush against my legs just as I was getting ready to walk out the door.  The truth is, though, that there was joy in the few minutes of brushing fur from my trousers before I stepped out.  Like a brush of lipstick on a cheek or a sweater bunched up from a tender embrace, this was a reminder of a private moment left on me as I moved into the public world.

He was just a cat.

He was not just a cat.  He was a test, and a promise, and proof that human beings will do loving things for no other reason than the rightness of it.  I knew when he came to live with us that someday we would see him die.  It is fine to know this rationally, philosophically, and even to joke about the day.  When the day comes, though, and the talk is as real as watching your companion slip away as you scratch his head and sing his nicknames, the heart makes its own reality.  It takes away your strength, blurs your vision and forces you to breathe.  It is all well to understand with the brain, but the heart know you must also stop and feel.

Here is when I knew that our life with this cat would be a great love: Shortly after he came to live with us, we went abroad for several weeks.  A trusted, cat-loving friend came to our home every day to feed, water, and nurture him.  Still, our absence made him so nervous that he pulled out all the fur from his neck.  When we got home, he rushed up to us, bare neck and furry face.  He was healthy and well-fed, but he looked like a tiny demented lion.  As he rubbed his head on our legs and purred, I knew that for him, we were everything.

Our acknowledgement of this responsibility made it somehow easier to make the decision to put him down, and infinitely harder to say goodbye.  I hope the years that his life was in our care were well spent.  Was I compassionate? Was I kind? Did I protect and care for that life, and did I make it better? I sincerely think I did, and that I made the right decision to usher that life out of the world.  And I desperately wish I didn't have to.