July 30, 2012

Vamanos? No, Foldamos!

Being in the stress relief business, I tend to think I can handle anything. Hubris, I know.
Two weeks ago my mother-in-law had retina and cataract surgery and one week ago my spouse had an arterial leg bypass. Other than the Jack Skellington staples, honey is fine. Mum is okay, too.
But I did something bad. Really bad. Here I am, stress expert and I thought I could work last week. We had a daytime nurse aide, and I was on a reduced schedule, sure, but I was frazzled. Come Saturday, I had eight hours of massage scheduled at the office and my butt was dragging on the ground.
It is tough to do massage when you feel tired and un-focused. As a massage therapist, I always want to be at my best. I wasn’t feeling that way.
Saturday, when I got home at 930 p.m., I felt it. Tingling in the legs and arms, and a deep tight sensation in my chest. I had been shallow breathing all day. No, not good.
I got into bed supine, a pillow across my thoracic spine, and did the Buddha/zen breath. Easy in through the nose, filling the area behind the belly button like a balloon, easy breath, mouth open as I sighed my air out.
It took a while, but I felt better and was able to get to sleep.
Human, after all, yes. At least I have a ready-made tool kit to handle those times when I assume I am Mighty Mouse.
Sunday I tackled the mountain of sheets and towels that had built up from the week. After three hours, the man who owns the laundry saw me heading to the door with my huge duffel bags of laundry.
"Vamanos?” he said.
“No vamanos,” I said. “”Foldamos!

July 18, 2012

The Waiting Room

This week I spent a lot of time sitting on some uncomfortable vinyl chairs on the surgical waiting room at St. Joseph’s Hospital. I have been there before, waiting on friends or family and often working on medical articles for the local paper.
I thought I knew my way around, but hospitals change constantly. The winding hallways lead to the same places, but exits are gone, entrances appear, and the hospital grows around itself a building or two every 10 years.

I’d been waiting, as uncomfortably as the lady next to me, for about three hours, my little orange sticky tag on my shirt, my cell phone silenced by the hospital’s blocking system.
A worker walked by toting a cart full of papers and stopped by to see the lady next to me. You cannot help but eavesdrop in these places, there isn’t enough room not to. They started talking, and I learned the lady with the cart was a long-time social worker now semi-retired. My waiting room neighbor was a nurse who had worked at the facility for more than 20 years.
I learned that she was waiting for her husband, who was having outpatient surgery. She had been hoping to retire, but had to put that off because her husband is so sick and disabled. He was suffering from liver failure.
“We didn’t expect to be doing this at this age,” she said. “I was looking forward to retirement and taking it easy. Now I am working harder than ever.”
For just a moment the social worker touched her shoulder to let her know she understood. She did not have to say anything.
“I have so many regrets,” the waiting lady continued. “If I had insisted that he do something about his drinking earlier. If I had been more firm maybe things would be different.”
Just then an aide wheeled her husband out from the surgery. His head was hanging, his skin drawn and a mottled tan-yellow.

For just a moment the social worker touched her shoulder to let her know she understood. She did not have to say anything.

I had a glimpse of these lives, up close and uncomfortable, and I had seen, in the briefest moment, the incredible healing power of touch.

July 9, 2012

Knows to Toes

Summer fun and the Fourth of July – well this past week when a client came in with numb fingertips, a raging headache and no neck. The family had been over for the “fireworks.”

Oh, and by the way, don’t touch my hands or my neck, the client said. It’s too much.

What to do when a client is looking for relief from a massage but will not let you go near their tension?
I have seen this here and there in my massage therapy career and it is a tough one. People with headaches who won’t let you touch them above the shoulders. Or a person with old scars from back surgery warns you off the entire lumbar as off limits.
Therapists have their favorite places to go for alternate therapy, and I like toes.
Too often people are defensive about their feet, afraid of tickles or embarrassed by funny looking digits or peeling skin. But a quick pass over the toes, with the sheet covering them, and I can often get people to start to relax.
My other reflex relax favorites are the fingers and ears, but I find limited success there, I think because they are closer to the upper body and the “control” or “hands-off” zones clients establish.
Following orders, I stayed on the toes, strictly circulatory massage, for about 20 minutes. There is a lot more going on than just circulation, but keeping the boundaries with the client is important, especially after a noxious “fireworks” gathering.

As the client relaxed I was finally given permission to massage elsewhere…. Toes save the massage again.

July 5, 2012

Positioning for Success and Comfort

Most women have sat freezing in a tiny little exam room, rustling their paper gown, trying to read an old magazine. It happens at least once a year and is not fun, but part of staying healthy. It’s the gyn visit.
I’ve been there too, so when I decided to do massage with pelvic pain clients, I went about making the experience as un-clinical as possible. No paper undies, just warm, soft flannels and soothing music.
Which brings up a point. How do you massage groin muscles without, you know, being right in some poor lady’s crotch?
It’s not the most comfortable area to be working in, for client or therapist. And putting the bent knee to the side stretches the very muscles you are trying to massage. Plus the view. The client sees someone rubbing an inch from their giblets, while you get to see the client not breathe.
No, the supine lotus does not work. Nor does the bent leg supported by your leg. Or the bolster-supported femur.
Time for something a little different.
Sideline positioning for massaging the groin solves some of the basic problems such as vulnerability for the client -- and takes the stretch off already traumatized muscles.
I like to have the sideline client supported with a comfy pillow, top leg on a flat bolster and the bottom leg extended straight on the table. A simple tuck of the sheet in between  the legs and I can get at the worst offenders - adductor magnus, gracilis, etc. without having the client feel too invaded. And surprisingly, even light transverse friction on the muscular origins is well-tolerated.
Best of all, for many clients simply seeking relief from a severe leg pull, I can even do this type of massage while the client is fully clothed, giving them an extra layer and sense of security.