November 28, 2009

Sucking Up Bad Smells

Bet you thought nothing could smell worse than burnt microwave popcorn. You know, so did I . . . until last week when one of our therapists set a paper towel on fire.

It was unbelievably nasty. And that was on top of all the industrial fire alarms in our strip going off, the fire trucks coming, and having to cancel immediate appointments due to faint clouds of vile smoke wafting through the front door. At the time, I think I might have almost preferred a nice blackened bag of burnt popcorn.

By the next day, most of the clinic was fine, with the exception of the kitchen (ground zero) and the microwave (ground-ground zero). These areas just . . . stank. We needed to get rid of the smell, but we didn't want to go too far the other way and overwhelm our clients, a lot of whom have odor sensitivities, with fake lavendar-vanilla air fresheners.

The answer? An enormous bottle of white vinegar. I had used it in the past for smoke smells, and it seemed a safe choice. So we wiped down the entire kitchen with vinegar, sprinkled the rug with vinegar, and put a bowl of it in the microwave to suck up the smell. When I took the bowl out an hour later, the vinegar smelled like burnt paper towel. So I emptied it and started all over again. It took another day and a tiny measure of lavendar-vanilla to boot, but we got the smell licked.

So if you ever accidently scorch your massage space and need a safe, unoffensive-smelling cleaner, give vinegar a try. And avoid setting the microwave on five-minute express for a two-minute pepperoni hotpocket wrapped in paper towel!

November 25, 2009

Relax your Shoulders.. and Other Urban Myths

Dear Clients: When will you hear what I say?

Parents understand this concept perhaps most. Parents can say "don’t slam the door; hang up your clothes or look both ways before you cross" about 6,000 times and it may take anywhere from 5 to 18 years for a child to "hear" them.

It's not that they don't hear the sounds, it’s just that the matrix to make those things happen simply isn’t there. It takes a great journey from ear to brain to muscles to consciousness to automation to consistency and to all the continents in between.

I see clients this way, sometimes, when they start stepping on a path that starts with basics like breathing while exerting. Tempted as I am, to say “Breathe like a person, not a locomotive,” I know it will sound just as odd as when my teacher, senior year, suggested we all start using our heads for something besides hat racks.

So my bread and butter, those who cannot relax, are puzzling a lot over what where and how and when and how many times a day and why bother….It’s so much easier just to be fixed and back on track, no changes necessary or needed. Just come back when you can’t turn your head again...

Well, those habits create therapy junkies. They are totally dependent on their therapist and can’t miss an appointment or they are in trouble. Is something wrong with that? It’s a great head trip for the therapist. And it’s not a temporary condition. Wonderful place to hang out, the land where my clients can’t live without me, especially when they are rich, famous, big wheels who pay well. My, my I am G—‘s gift to massage and humanity. Pardon me while I bevel my nails.

Of course, it is a process. It takes a thousand steps starting with one basic: It doesn’t have to be this way forever.

I like to think of it like driving. When my Dad took me out to the mall (when it was closed) he wanted me to learn how to drive a stick. Well, between the stick, the clutch, the view, the mirrors the jumpy gas pedal and befuddling brake, I felt very overwhelmed.

Now I could handle any VW with a ‘tude that says let’s see how fast this baby can go. A little bit.

Where does this journey take us? It takes me back to my Tai Chi Ch’uan class, about 15 years ago, when my teacher said, for about the 600th time, “relax your shoulders.” Easy to say, very hard to do. What did he mean? I thought they were relaxed. How do you relax shoulders, anyway? Doesn’t everyone look like they are wearing football pads all the time?

November 21, 2009

Cranberry Relish (Sans SHLOK!)

With Thanksgiving less than a week away, many of us are making mental lists of all our blessings and things we have to be grateful for. For several years now, my list has included, "I am thankful that I am a grown-up, can eat what I want, have access to fresh cranberries, and will NEVER have to eat that stuff that goes SHLOK! when it slides out of the can EVER again" Oh, the very thought of it makes me shudder. When I was a child, I rated canned cranberry relish right above aspic served on a lettuce leaf with a dollop of Miracle Whip (in other words, extremely low on the list of desirable holiday foods).

Being a massage therapist, I of course lean towards healthier foods: things that are more often fresh and less likely to go SHLOK! when served. However, like most massage therapists, I spend a lot of time in sessions and not near a computer or a shelf full of cookbooks. So when I don't have time to dig out my Williams-Sonoma Thanksgiving cookbook, I usually access a neat little application called Epicurious from my iPhone. This year, I found a delicious-sounding recipe for cranberry relish that calls for fresh and dried cranberries and ruby port, and another whose secret ingredient is dried mustard. Epicurious allows you to flip through a list of recipes, save recipes as favorites, or put a recipe's ingredients into a shopping list. Try Epicurious, especially if you think you're a confirmed cranberry relish hater. Trust me, a hot bubbling poppoppop is way more comforting than SHLOK!

Happy Thanksgiving All!

November 15, 2009

The War of the Table

Nobody would start a war over a table, right? Well, wars have started over less. In this case, the possible storm brewing involves an electric lift table, the only one in the six-room massage business where I work.

When I first began working there, I was afraid I had become too spoiled with electric lift tables to ever be able to live well without them. But as it turned out, I didn’t like the energy in that particular room, and energy matters more to me than electricity when it comes to massage. I also had the sneaking feeling that as the business grew, so might competition for that particular room and table. So I chose another room to work in, removing myself from any future territorial struggles, and brought the table way up high, the way I like it for my height and my back.

Unfortunately, I appear to have been right. The one electric table — originally installed in the largest room to be available to clients with mobility and other issues — is now being vied for by two or three therapists. As long as these people don’t work the same shifts, all is well. But if, for example, they overlap, there is a problem. Yesterday, one therapist was running over slightly, and the therapist waiting to inherit the electric table for the remainder of the day almost started her own massage late because she was unwillingly to work on a “regular” table.

Being a team-player, I’d like to think of a solution to this issue so that everyone can be as happy as possible. Some of the therapists who prefer the electric table, cite back issues as a problem, and that’s understandable. But buying five more tables is a terrible expense, and not likely to happen. Perhaps one more, or one more at used price is an option. I’m really not sure. I have my own physical issues, but as long as the table is at the height I need, whether the table is electric or not doesn’t really matter to me that much. If any therapists out there have had to address the electric vs. non-electric table issue in the workplace, please comment on how you would handle it.

November 11, 2009

What Is More Professional?

Lots of therapists like to say they are not salespeople, that they didn’t get into massage to sell anything and they don’t like to “sell” anything to a client. I never understood that. A therapist is always selling their skills and benefits of massage to clients.

When I was doing training for a large day spa, some therapists would bristle at the idea that they could or should sell anything. Selling was sleazy and unethical – not something a professional would do. A high position, easily defended with high ethics.

Conveniently, as it turns out, they had a built-in excuse for not taking their training seriously or making an effort to educate clients. They scoffed at learning about add-on spa treatments or products as some sort of foo-foo fluff. I wanted to know why, if we had treatments for jet lag or gels for neck pain why it was more “professional” to keep them a secret from the clients.

Is it sleazy or unprofessional to sell products to clients? What about selling your services to clients? What about tips? Is it okay to accept more than the quoted price for a service? What would a professional do?

When trying to figure out what a professional should do, should I ask a plumber, a surgeon or a doctor of philosophy? What about the owner of a day spa or a server at a good restaurant?

I don’t presume to have the answers to these questions, but I do know a little something from experience that I think has helped me negotiate through the minefields of being a therapist.

When I worked for a gynecologist, I occasionally had the option of accepting a tip. My pay was based on the time spent with clients, many of whom had severe chronic pain syndromes. Some were very happy to be out of pain and offered tips. I asked the doctor what he thought about tips.

The doctor’s wife was from Hong Kong, and he had visited often with the family. In that part of the world, he said, it is expected that families would tip their surgeons. Tips came in the form of gold, usually. It was considered the polite, respectful thing to do for a job well done. Hmmmm. Some customs are pretty interesting.

On vacation in Oregon I stopped in to a small, very well-presented day spa and looked at the brochure. On the back, the owner had printed that their workers were not allowed to solicit or accept tips because the owner has always considered tipping “unprofessional.” It didn’t say the estheticians and massage therapists had gotten together and decided that, it said the owner didn’t allow it.

I spoke to a client in the parking lot who told me she always tipped, secretly, to avoid getting her therapist fired. “Imagine expecting people who work for a living to refuse tips!” she said.

Perhaps deciding for others what is professional and what isn’t just isn’t professional?

November 8, 2009

Trade Ya!

I’ve been a fan of trading since I was a kid watching Little House on the Prairie on our rabbit-eared television set. Doc Baker might not have been paid a lot by his patients, but he ate a lot of home-baked goods and probably never had to go to the grocery store. On the other hand, you grow up and realize that money is still quite useful; Doc Baker got way more chickens than pie; and slaughtering, plucking, and cutting up chickens can be rather time-consuming, not to mention horrifying to many urban neighbors.

Still, I like to trade. I like knowing I have something to trade that people want. When I was an English professor, trade was slim. Not many people actually want their grammar corrected, and seldom do they sit down and write a book one can offer to edit. But massage therapy is a different story, and it feels good to work with my hands for some tangible good or service.

The first trade I ever did was for art. I sent that painting back to an old friend in Arkansas, as a gift and as repayment for the $200 that came out of her small budget to help me while I was in massage school, financially reeling from a sudden divorce, and literally wondering if I was going to be able to eat again in the last month before graduation. It was called Rose Garden Princess, and I propped it up and admired it for the few days it took to save the tip money to mail it. Every time the light changed, the painting changed. I was so proud of it and myself.

The most recent trade I did involved a puppy we’ve named Ike. Without trade, we could have never come up with the extra money for a pet right now. We love Ike, even in the pain of potty-training him. He’s sweet and bright, a special little guy who is worth way more to me than the dollar amount on the five or so massage hours I gave for him.

Sometimes I dream a little too big and think of all the things I could get if I had more of me to go around (like perhaps a little maid service!) But I believe that when I think like that, the miracle of trade becomes a burden. So instead, I just try to keep myself mentally open to potential trade relationships; I know that if trade is the answer to a need, the opportunity will come to me.

November 1, 2009

Massage and Alcohol Abuse

At first, I wasn’t sure that Melinda (not her real name) was drunk. I mean, my eyes, nose and my intuition were sure that she was, but it’s not like the front desk was going to be able to give her a breathalyzer test—though she certainly would have failed had she been forced to “walk the line.” And though I was adamant about the fact that we were not required to treat someone under the influence, for very good reasons, the massage client management was more silently adamant that we not turn anyone away unless that person was some physical threat to the therapist or any other people nearby. But I was a new therapist, working hard to get my feet under me, and so I knuckled under more easily than I might normally have.

On the other hand, maybe that wasn’t it at all. Or certainly not all of it. Because, you know, no matter how tight I held to the boundaries, she reminded me of my mother. Little, fine-boned, too skinny. Probably drinking more than she was eating most days. Bitter, yet an odd sort of innocent, trusting me. Physical and emotional pain just seeping out of her along with silent tears that seemed to flow sometimes in rhythm with the massage that was like balm for her. She was so much happier, so much clearer after a massage. And I realized in holding the boundary that my child self took a lot of comfort in being able to provide this relief for Melinda. I wasn’t a helpless kid anymore, trying to respond to needs I couldn’t possibly meet or breaking down and hiding in my room in an attempt to keep my own spirit from being drained away as well.

Not to say that I completely ignored my role, my responsibilities, or the drinking itself. On the one day she tripped and almost fell into the arms of me and one of the front desk staff, I took her to my room and asked her if she’d been drinking. She said she had had a few glasses of wine, because it was her birthday, but that’s all. I told her I hoped she wouldn’t take it wrong, but massage wasn’t good for someone who had been drinking, and all I could give her was a very light Swedish. She accepted that without argument as well as my suggestion that perhaps her husband could drive her home.

After a while though, knowing massage would not be able to help Melinda if she did not address her addiction, I went to a friend of mine who was a long-time recovered alcoholic, told her the story (sans names), and asked what she thought I should do. My friend had discovered in her first years of sobriety that lack of alcohol had allowed her body to heal and made her pain less. My friend suggested I share her own story (sans names) with Melinda so that Melinda would see the benefits of getting help in a non-threatening way. Ironically, though, on the eve of being ready to do that, I switched jobs and did not see Melinda again.

In a way, I was relieved. Melinda’s drinking brought up some very bad memories for me, not to mention putting me in an ethically sticky spot in regard to my job. In a way, I was grateful. I believe I was able to do massage for Melinda in a way that not everyone could because I understood her so completely in some ways. And in a way I was sad. Because relieving pain, giving people hope that pain does not have to be a constant in their lives, is why I went back to school at 36 to be a massage therapist. And I was also sad because I believe that pain will always exist where active alcoholism is a factor. I’m not sure I did exactly the right thing in the way I handled Melinda, or that I would handle the same type of situation the same way if it happened again; all I can say is that I certainly tried, and tried with the best intentions I could muster.