Monday, July 28, 2014

Things She Wants

My new client, Ada*, was in the earliest stages of a degenerative illness which affected her short term memory and her ability to make decisions.  She moved just fine and had no physical symptoms other than what was normal for a woman of her age.  I met Ada as she was walking down the hallway and introduced myself.  I suggested we go into her room, and she squinted briefly -- "Where is that?" -- but relaxed when I showed her a doorway with her picture posted next to it.  

We walked into the room, and she wondered aloud where I wanted her to be for the massage.  I pointed to the closest of two beds.  Ada shook her head and said, "Oh honey.  That's not my bed.  I'm not going to get into someone else's bed . . . unless Brad Pitt is in there."  

We laughed together as I helped her to her actual bed, apologizing for the lack of Brad Pitt contained within.  I thought this was going to be fun -- like my other client who had to give up cigarettes, booze and sex.  

The thing about short term memory loss, though, is that each thought that comes across the mind has to be dealt with, immediately.  Shutting off the mind for deep relaxation requires concentration and focus.  At her current stage in the illness, she had neither of these things.  A devilish grin over her joke, quickly turned to skittish anxiety when she wondered how long she would be staying "in here."  Then that morphed into tear-streaked sadness at her lack of family and friends who could take her in.  In short, she was all over the place, and I couldn't redirect her for more than a few seconds at a time.  

I left her in the care of one of the life enrichment staff -- a gentle, patient woman who walked her down the hall towards a resident social hour.  Myself, I left feeling defeated.  I used to think it was my gift to be able to adapt to people as they are, to sit in their space and bring quiet to them.  I couldn't do it with her.  I fell for the easy, funny moment and forgot to look just underneath at all of her humanity.

*--name and identifying details have been changed

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Butterflies, Google, Music and More

I have been thinking a lot about the things that draw clients back to me.  More and more, I am seeing the importance of the things that are not the actual massage.  Here are a few things that have come up lately:

Sheet Handling
A client said to me: "I feel so cared for.  And when you are moving the sheets, it feels like a team of soft butterflies working together.  Other massage therapists do all this pulling and tugging."  She comes back to me because, among other things, she feels like the draping is just as relaxing as the massage.

Internet Presence
A new client said: "I Googled your name and everything.  I know you used to work in senior care, and you started this career later in life.  I saw the YouTube video about oncology massage so I felt comfortable that you would know what you were doing."  She went on to apologize for "stalking" me before the appointment.  I assured her it wasn't stalking, it was smart research.  And I was glad that what she found created a sense of comfort.

Just Being Around
Another new client: "I have meetings close to here every week, so I can just come in for a massage right after." I am in the office when she has time.  It's that simple.

Amenities and Equipment
"Your table heater is always even.  I don't feel any cold spots on this table."  When your equipment is worn out or cheap, your clients can feel it.  I am realizing that I have to spend the money on the good stuff.

My go-to music is a blend of classical pieces, but I started putting together a more varied library after a client told me the music made her tense because one of the pieces was something she had to practice often during her hated piano lessons.  

My knowledge and hands-on skills are still vital, but I am paying more attention to all the surrounding things as well.  Massage therapy is a science, an art, a business, a design project and a calling for me.

Monday, July 7, 2014

And When She Was Good, She Was Very Very Good

For a while, I had the absolute honor to be Lila's* massage therapist.  Lila, a retired musician, might be called "feisty" in some circles.  She has Lived, with a capital "L," and while her current life is not exactly what she hoped for, she still finds some way to grab every day by the ears, sniff in its face and say, "Hi there.  I'm Lila.  What do you have for me?"

Lila is an alcoholic who stopped drinking 30 years ago.  She was a multi-pack-per-day smoker who stopped about 5 years ago.  She was getting ready for surgery to correct a prolapsed bladder.  While I gently massaged around her sacrum, Lila said to me: "I don't drink anymore, I can't smoke, and my bladder is falling into my vagina so I can't have sex.  What vices are left anymore?"  I thought for a minute before responding, "I don't know.  Guns, maybe?"  Lila laughed her (ex)smoker's raspy laugh and relaxed into the massage.  

I spent hours in continuing ed talking and learning about geriatric massage.  We spent a lot of time talking about the person, work with the person, the person comes first, be person-centered.  But, in truth, nothing we talked about allowed for a person like Lila.  A woman: white of hair, stooped of spine, wrinkled of face, and alive with humor, wit and sensuality.  We still have trouble, in our person-centered hearts, giving up the "age-appropriate" trap.  More Lilas are needed, stat.

*--Name and identifying details have been changed.