Massage Tales, Oncology Massage, Thoughts on the profession

What Did You Notice?

She’s a climber, a dancer, a multi-sport athlete.* She biked to the clinic and will most likely go to a yoga class on her way home. She eats clean, but she’s not obsessed about it or anything. She will eat a piece of birthday cake or a cookie when she wants to.

She is healthy, and she is doing everything right. I say that every client is the expert on their own body. She is the expert-archetype. She knows her body so well, takes such excellent care of it, that she found her melanoma before it was much more than a spot just beginning to touch the dermis, the layer underneath the top layer of skin.

After the massage, as I hand her a cup of water, she stretches her shoulders and looks at me, earnestly. “What did you notice?” she says.

I stammer for a moment, surprised. What did I notice? She lives so fully and attentively in her body, I wonder why she even wants to know what I might have noticed. It seems more appropriate that she tells me what she noticed, that she educate me on how best to support and care for her.

She looks at me, that direct gaze, with the question still in her eyes. She wants something from me, something that I am not sure I even know how to give. She wants the report card.

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The report card is the after-appointment summary, where the massage therapist lists all the spots of tension, adhesions, tightness, or just plain wrong-ness that they felt in the client’s body. Supposedly, it is a tool to encourage repeat visits and to begin documenting the effectiveness of massage for this person.

I was trained to give the report card after a massage, even though it always felt wrong to me. First of all, every client will have extensive direct experience of their body and how it feels and functions. Even if I work with someone for years, I will only have a fraction of the embodied information each client has about themselves. Secondly, as the provider of the massage, it is my job to receive a report card, not to give one. I’m not here to rank or rate any human body. I’m here to support, to love, and to learn.

She won’t give up, though, this client of mine. It is a quality which makes her an excellent athlete. I suspect she was also a good student, since she seems to be following the same massage training book I was given years ago. That book includes the report card. This box must be checked before we can call the massage complete.

So, what did I notice?

I spread my hands wide. “I noticed your breathing, the rhythm of it. I noticed your pulse as I massaged your hand. I noticed that you move with ease.”

She raises her eyebrows, just a bit, then draws them close together. The vertical line between her eyes quivers a bit as she tilts her head to one side. There will be no demerits, no suggestions for improvement on this report card.

She keeps her quizzical expression as she leaves. I peek out my office door and I see her pause and shake her head at the bottom of the stairs.

I’ll be honest — I’m tired of the assumption that any interaction with a health care provider or wellness professional ends in a list of instructions on how to be a better, more complete human. I’m tired of leaving every doctor visit, massage appointment, or acupuncture treatment with a list of where I went wrong and how to correct it. I think some clients might be tired of that too.

What would happen if we started with the assumption that the human in our care is already complete? What if we also acknowledged that they are the expert on their own experience? And what if, maybe, we led with humility and curiosity, keeping expertise for later, after our client has had a chance to educate us?

What would happen if we threw out the report cards? I hope that on the other side of report cards is a land of real conversation and exchange of information, as equal partners working towards the same goal.

*- This client is a composite of several different individuals. All identifying information has been removed.

Massage Tales, Thoughts on the profession

Find the Sweetness

I really really didn’t want to do that massage.

 

One client* booked, right at the end of the day.  At the time, I was working for someone else, so rescheduling was not an option.  And this name on my schedule — I knew this name.  I had seen this name before.

A few months before, I saw that name on my schedule, arrived on time for the massage, and waited until 20 minutes after the appointment time.  The dreaded no-call, no-show.  I lost a couple of hours of my time and got no compensation.  (The downside of being an independent contractor.)

The day of the massage I didn’t want to do, just one client booked, and it was *that* client.  The no-call, no-show client.  I balked forcefully, and the business owner guaranteed I would be paid no matter what.  (In writing, I made sure.)  I arrived at the office to wait for the appointment.

Before I got to the office, though, I made a bet with a friend.  If the client showed, I paid him a quarter.  If the client didn’t show, he paid me a quarter.

I got to the office and waited.

And waited.

10 minutes after the appointment start time, the client arrived.  “Is this <business name>?” I sighed inwardly, said “Yes,” and started my intake interview.

The client seemed too young to have “pain all over” for no reason.  I asked about diagnosis, and she said it was something “they were trying to figure out.”  I asked, “How do you want to feel when you leave today?”  She said, “I just want to feel, you know, normal for a minute.”  Her lips pressed together tightly and her eyes trembled at the corners as she looked at me.

I started her massage and the past dropped away.  She was not a no-calling, no-showing, waster-of-my-time.  She was, is, a human being who just wants to find some peace in her body, mind and spirit.  She was, is, a fellow traveler through this life who just wants to be free from suffering.  I spent the time left in her hour with the intention of gently soothing and loving this person in this present moment.

After the massage, she came out of the room smiling.  She said little, smiled at me.  Where before the massage I felt a tightness in her aspect, now I felt flooded with sweetness.  She said, “Thank you.  I needed that.”

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Later that night, I caught up with my friend, the friend I made the bet with.  I gave him a quarter, happily and with utter contentment.

 

*–this client is a composite, based on several different experiences.  Any resemblance to an actual individual human is purely coincidental.  The lesson, however, is true.