To say that my massage experience thus far has been rewarding is to put it mildly. I’m so thankful to be able to use my massage therapy skills here.
Just this week, I was able to massage a new person, let’s call her Natalie. Natalie used to work at Hands of Hope and has recently come back, so I hadn’t spent much time with her yet. As a way to check in again with everyone once again, with the new year, I went around to any of the Hands of Hope producers who haven’t received massage therapy from me yet and offered it once more - or for the first time, to Natalie.
Natalie took me up on the offer and explained that she has had some back pain for the past month - which I wasn’t surprised to hear because she has a limp. I only spent 15-20 minutes with her in a chair massage session, but she was already feeling much better. The next morning, she told me happily (and perhaps pleasantly surprised herself) that she slept well - with no pain - for the first time in a long while.
Until this point, I hadn’t interacted with Natalie much the past several weeks because it had been so busy at work. In fact, due to the hectic schedule, I hadn’t massaged anyone at Hands of Hope recently.
Natalie said that now her lower back pain had moved to the other side of her back. I was happy to hear that… One of my teachers in massage therapy school said that if your client is complaining of pain/discomfort in a new area, that’s a good sign! It means that the pain in the old spot is no longer a major issue - and that you have helped them.
There was an instant change in the connection between Natalie and myself. Our eyes met several times throughout the following day, and I could tell that she regarded me in a new light. It’s very fulfilling to see that kind of change in any patient/client. On top of that, with people here who have so little and couldn’t afford massage themselves, I’m so grateful to help in my own small way.
With the patients at the Care Center, it’s also fulfilling work. One of our patients, John called him 'Sam', has cancer that is no longer treatable, as well as an ostomy bag. Shortly after he arrived a few months ago, John deduced from what we were told about his medical history, that he may be coming to the Care Center to spend the rest of his remaining days on this earth.
But I momentarily forget that because Sam is such a charismatic, delightful person to be around. Even though he has to walk around with a cane or more recently a walker, he consistently helps with the other patients. He has the biggest smile, and he’s full of cheer. He also brought a ton of energy and necessary volume as a singer and drum-player in our patient performance of Jingle Bells over Christmas - actually, not only at the performance, but at every single rehearsal before then (of which there were many - perhaps too many to count!).
Due to his cancer, Sam has had some lymph nodes removed, so he has some pain related to his lymphedema (swelling due to an inability of the lymphatic system to drain properly). It also gives him pain and discomfort. After some online research, my previous knowledge of it, and consulting with a colleague who specializes in this area, I have performed some basic Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD for short) techniques on him. With great success! He instantly feels some relief, and if I’m understanding his Thai correctly, generally feels better for a few days following the MLD treatment.
Unfortunately, as was to be expected in his situation, Sam’s condition is worsening, and now it's becoming more about pain management and palliative care. He spends a lot more time in bed. I wanted to give him a massage earlier this week, but he was sleeping in his bed with the covers pulled up over his head. I didn’t want to disturb any sleep he might be getting - which is probably a brief respite from his pain - so I didn’t get to massage him after all.
I’m trying to prepare myself for the (most likely) inevitable. I only hope that I can get in a few more massage sessions - to ease his discomfort a bit - before then.
Later in the week, I was able to get a massage (well, actually, a MLD) session with him thankfully, and he agreed to my new treatment goal with him - to have a session with him once every 7-10 days ideally. After the session, I cried a little bit - trying to prepare myself. I was glad that I didn’t cry in front of him! And I’m heartened by the fact that I’m doing something to ease his pain just a little bit.
I have been thinking about how I’m glad that I came to Nongkhai for our volunteer year at this stage in my life. I’m almost 6 years into my professional massage therapy career. Due to my knowledge and hands-on experience, I’m able to make thought-out and effective treatment plans for more complicated patient cases - like Sam's.
It doesn’t hurt that I have someone on the inside - my husband, being the thorough and observant RN that he is, gives me regular patient updates whenever I ask for them. It’s important that I make informed choices about the patients and when/if/how they can receive massage, bodywork, or energy work.
In massage school, there was a saying that went around (I think it originated from Bob King - the founder of my massage therapy school - who unfortunately has passed away since) that once you do 1,000 hours of massage, you will have an idea of what you’re doing.
I surpassed that number long ago, but then I recently read Malcolm Gladwell’s quote that, “in an incredible number of fields…you need to have practiced, to have apprenticed, for 10,000 hours before you get good.”
I think there is truth to both quotes. I had an idea of what I was doing as a LMT (licensed massage therapist) as I surpassed my 1,000 hour mark. And now I’m getting even better, as the hours of hands-on massage therapy experience, reflection, research and education, talking with colleagues and listening (both verbally and nonverbally) to clients/patients continues to add up.