November 29, 2010

Sick for the Holidays

Once, on the morning of my first day of work as a massage therapist at a large day spa, I woke up with a cold.

Should I go into work sick? Breathing on clients, close contact, hands all over people? I did not want to get people sick. But I couldn't "flake" out my first day.

Calling in sick on your first day of work simply isn't done. I took daytime cold symptom drugs, vitamin C, slid some de-puff stuff under my eyes and went to work. I felt guilty about having a cold, but I tried my best to make sure I didn’t pass it around.

It’s different now.

Just before Thanksgiving I had house calls lined up like limos on Oscar night, before, during and after the holiday. Nice thing about Thanksgiving is that relatives and feasts and shopping tend to make people so stressed they want massages. And they don’t want to drive.

I felt a little tightness in my chest during my third massage at the office the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. I had felt a dry, tickly throat all day that I blamed on allergies and the desert winds. Now I was not so sure. I sat down at my desk and listened to my breathing. That slight, binding-like pull in the chest told me I was getting congested.

I canceled the last appointments of my Tuesday schedule and went home sick, thinking if I took enough immune-boosting stuff I could beat the sludge in my chest and the pain in my head.

Next morning I sat down in front of the mirror and looked at my puffy lids and watery eyes. Should I go to work? No way! My first client was going to have elective surgery in a week. Another client had just finished chemo, another has killer work stress and a spouse disabled by lupus.

I picked up the phone and made the calls.

It's better to be responsible about one's health, or lack of it, than expose people to the crud. Everyone understood, and they were more than happy to make appointments for another time.

These days I'm more independent, and it is better for the long-term karma of being responsibly infectious. Principles come first, as do the clients. The rest of world can spend the holidays passing the crummies around the workplace, but I’m not going to add to the septic soup.

I wonder, sometimes, how massage therapists handle this one. Is it OK to work sick? Does it depend on where you work? Where do principles go when you are worried about your pocketbook? Do you tell the clients and give them a choice? What about when you work for someone else?

November 23, 2010

What's in a CEU?

There's nothing like a Sunday morning continuing education class, and this was no exception. Massage therapists who do these classes are the true blues, the ones who take it seriously, the ones who figure they might learn something even though they went to school and have been doing massage for a few years.

This was an ethics class, and the instructor was quite pleased after asking for a show of hands that not a single therapist in the room thought it was okay to have sex with clients.

Glad that hump seemed to be over, as compared to years passed, the basic message was that paying attention counts. Do you communicate with the client before and during the session? Do you have the client’s permission? Do you acknowledge and address pain? Do you validate or discount? How about the follow-up? Do people get better? What if they don’t?

It is one of the ironies of these classes that the people who get up early to go to them are generally not the ones who need to be there the most. Self-auditing skills and curiosity were emphasized, and it seems that most therapists attending were more than familiar with the concepts.

What is the value of a CEU? For me, Sunday morning, it was to see and hear with other working therapists that trying to do well is an everyday task. That learning is life-long, a habit developed because you care and want to do better than yesterday. Perhaps it is something that can’t be taught, but it can be learned.

November 16, 2010

Inspiration Spa & Massage & Rub Emporium

While practicing our brains out in massage school, my classmates and I enjoyed designing new day spas in our notebooks and trying to frame our concept of the ultimate massage experience.

Neophytes to massage and business, we were quite earnest, quite naïve and quite unintentionally amusing.

One afternoon I very thoughtfully drew a spa layout on graph paper - trying to stuff as many rooms and amenities as possible into a fantasy 1,200 foot space. I gave it the round file treatment after I realized the corridor in my rabbit-warren spa was about 18 inches wide and I hadn’t drawn room for any toilets.

That didn’t slow me down at all, of course, given my breathy enthusiasm to bring the gift of massage to the world. The idea of a non-tacky day spa that didn’t look like a back room of a salon rolled in my head. But what to call it?

Massage names, of course, set the tone for the whole experience. Like Exhale, a name I thought I had coined until I found out it was already in use at a spa in New York. No, Inhale was much worse. What about Gasp?

I also felt inventive ownership to Massage Masters, until I realized it suggested several things that I did not want to suggest. Massage Misses was even funnier. So too Massage Mixer. Oasis seemed to be used by at least one business in every town, and way too many bars here and there.

Then I got on the task of something that begins with “A” to get first in the phonebook, a concern that seems quite retro today. Abba Spa seemed quite Swedish, but perhaps litigious. Abbott Massage too close to the temp service. Then up popped Aardvark Spa; now who would go to a place named Aardvark Spa? Biologists?

Brainstorming works best with more than one stormy brain, of course, so during my practice session at school that day I engaged one of my classmates in the name contest. If you were going to open your own spa and could name it whatever you want, what would it be?

I rolled out some of my attempts at naming a spa with unintentional double meanings. I admitted to liking Urban Spa, but it would be too low in the phone book to do much good.

My classmate thought for a while.

“I’ve got it,” she announced proudly. “Massage Muffs!”

November 15, 2010

Snow and Irony

Every week at the chiropractic clinic where I work, we have a clinic-wide meeting. And at one of these recent meetings, an interesting topic came up: What kind of plan did we have for snow days? Would the LMPs be willing to come in? Which ones? Would it be worth it even if many of the clients didn't show up? And as the group discussed the issue up one side and down the other, I sat and listened and thought to myself that if irony were an alternative universe, I was right smack dab in the middle of it.

Do you have any idea of how many clients I treat for whiplash every week? How many people out there are on PIP claims because some genius out there rear-ended them while texting? Well, if you're reading this, you're probably an LMP, and thus you know these facts intimately. And as a related question, do you remember Christmas week two years ago when it snowed bucket- loads in Seattle, and the city government failed to do just about anything to clear the damn roads, and the whole area was a death-trap because ice ruts combined with snow-stupid drivers does not a fairy tale ending make? I remember it well, and shudder every time I do (I lived near and worked at Northgate Mall, an icy holiday hell).

So when I was asked my opinion on the snow days plan, I said honestly that I thought we should be really careful on tackling bad roads when our clinic actively advocated physical health. I mean, after all, I've seen what wrecks do to the body, and I don't want to intentionally put myself in harm's way unless it's for a really, really good cause. I said I trusted my car--though I'd feel safer in a truck--but I trusted other drivers not at all. Not here. Maybe in Minnesota, but not here, especially after two years ago. And I am very emphatic that I am a hard worker and a tough woman, but I would question driving 40 minutes to do two massages that could most likely wait a day or two until the weather is safer.

And yet, I don't know. Ironic it may be, but if my job was in jeopardy, would I risk my neck (or a lifetime of neck issues) for a $25 massage? Two of them? Sometimes I think we have enough irony in our work. Many of us are gifted healers, yet we ourselves do not get the help we need. Mostly self-employed or workers in small businesses we often do not have health benefits, unless we have them through a spouse or purchase a major medical policy that is virtually useless unless we are lying at death's door. We care so much for clients that we are too exhausted to do regular trades on each other. Or we care so much for clients that all we want to do is get out and get home and clear our energy instead of staying and doing trades. Those of us who work for others rarely get to sit down and eat calmly for even 15 minutes between talking about after-care and flipping rooms.

And the list goes on and on. We are healers, and yet as creative and balanced as we work to be, help others work to be, it seems that our own healing always falls last. I don't know the answer to the problem--finances, employers, and the economy dictate choices we don't always want to make--but I know it's wrong. We preach what we preach for a good reason. Isn't the practice part of the equation supposed to be a virtue? Because if it isn't, I'd really like someone out there to provide me with some of those padded bar thingys that hold serious drivers in place... and a big ole truck, preferably with a winch.

November 8, 2010

Four In-Laws, Two Parents and One Wedding

We have minutes, centimeters, inches and cups and all kinds of ways of measuring things, but we massage therapists don’t have a great way to measure tension.

How tense is someone during final exams? What about IRS audits? Or a divorce?

It seems that if we can measure everything in life we should have some sort of gold standard for tension, especially in these days when the relative value scale of stress as expressed in soft tissue has reached new heights.

I hereby propose the FILTPOW, a measurement of muscular tension that I dedicate to a lovely client who actually has four in-laws, two parents and has just survived organizing a big wedding.

The FILTPOW measures the exact angle of stoop between T3 and C6, multiplied by the number of shallow breaths per hour and divided by the number of minutes it takes to get all the old folks to go potty and into the van and off to the church on time.

It can be lowered on the wedding day by a medicinal glass of wine at 7 a.m. or a primal scream in the safety of the ladies room, but is heightened by the arrival of the groom in a wheelbarrow.

Thus a 10-hour day reading budget lines on a computer screen would be the equivalent of .23 FILTPOWs while a trip to jail to bail out a spouse should be about 1.5 FILTPOWs. Having to post the house to make bail would raise the bar to 2.2 FILTPOWs.

Using the FILTPOW scale would help us in documenting our massages, and we can, like the folks at the earthquake tracking center, use a scale that out-Richter’s Richter.

True, some measurements such as the mile are quaint reminders of when we walked a lot and felt every step. In the modern world, a mile is a minute on the freeway, but a FILTPOW is a true measure of how much a vertebrate organism can take at family gatherings.
Well, I hope FILTPOWs catch on.

I’d like FILTPOWs to go the way of Smoots, a measurement of how many times it takes a group of friends to roll a drunken MIT freshman named Dick Smoot to get across the Mass Ave. Bridge. If memory serves, the distance was about 1538 Smoots. Thus history is made.

November 2, 2010

Word about Politics.. and Massage

It is surely obvious to most therapists in the massage world for more than five minutes that two subjects are never discussed or commented on during one’s precious break – and one of them is politics.

And I admit to being one of those massage therapists who manages to say “Mmmmm” if someone comes in all wound up because life as we know it will end Nov. 2, largely because as a group we are too stupid to get the “common sense” and “plain truth” of important matters.

It is important to think and vote, but not on the massage table. I’d much rather folks epiphanies be about the connection between use of the diaphragm and reducing neck pain, for instance, than some fear-wracked prediction of Armageddon and asteroids after the school board vote.

Indeed, this has been a fun season for folks to get all worked up about things. Times are tough, money is tight and usually busy people have more time to listen to talk radio.

One of my favorite clients, a fellow who spent the last 50 years of his life building things from the chaparral up, is convinced that we are driving over a cliff in flames. His voice not much muffled by the face cradle, he announced that all Americans should be learning a certain foreign language because that’s our new overseers will require us to speak when we serve them.

I felt that table shake, a sign to me surely that his blood pressure rose. He gave me a sample of the vocabulary he often used while building suburbs and cities. I was impressed at how he cleaned up some favorite expressions to be more suitable for mixed company, although I think we can all change the consonants in our heads without much trouble.

“What in tar-nation is going on with this country? We can’t do a darn thing right so let’s add some more things the government can royally buck up? People just don’t have any common sense!”

“Mmmmm,” I said.

Yes, it worked once again. He settled down, hopefully into a waking dream about huffing bellows and steel furnaces turning into cool mountain streams and crisp autumn air.

After his massage, I handed him a glass of water and broke my rule.

“When your Dad was the age you are now, what were his political views?”

“Heck, he thought Harry Truman was the Anti-Christ!’ he said “He did!”

“Mmmmm” we both said, in unison..