During my years as a nurse I became interested in alternative and complimentary methods of healing. I explored energy work as well as massage therapy. What I found on this journey was more than I ever expected and filled with uniquely rich experiences. One of them was particularly powerful……but I will come to that in a minute.
Massage has many benefits and is much under rated in my view. Here’s a list of its perks:
- Improved circulation
- Decreased muscle stiffness
- Decreased joint inflammation
- Improved quality of sleep
- Quicker recovery between workouts
- Improved flexibility
- Strengthened immune response
- Lower stress levels
- Encourages relaxation
- Improves mood
- Increases energy
- Provides a feeling of general well being
Massage therapy is often part of a medical treatment plan to help patients return to their daily activities. It is specifically used after joint replacement surgery or injuries. Here are some specific conditions that massage can help – and, yes, I saw folks for all these reasons:
- Anxiety and/or depression
- Digestive disorders
- Nerve pain
- Postoperative pain
- Scar tissue
- Soft tissue strains and injuries
After graduation from a massage therapy school and while continuing to work as a nurse part-time, I began to work part-time as a massage therapist as well. At first I worked out of a doctor’s office one day a week. Eventually I rented my own space and only accepted clients from local doctor referrals or word of mouth. And this kept me busy. Some people came once and either didn’t like it or they thought they were “fixed” and I never saw them again. Some came several times and then stopped coming when they felt better. Some folks became regular clients.
As with everything else in life there were varying opinions, misunderstandings, misinformation, and suspicion in regard to massage that I encountered on a regular basis. Despite its clear health benefits, massage has a somewhat shady association with women of ill repute. So there’s that. There’s also the fact that people generally feel uncomfortable in a situation where they are lying down and naked. Many people are not comfortable in their own skin – not to mention having some stranger touch them. I did what I could to put my clients at ease and I was always cognizant that people have beliefs and experiences that I would not be aware of but that might affect their ability to be open to massage therapy. When clients arrived nervous and unsure I was always glad for them when they were able to relax, enjoy the session, and participate in their own healing journey.
The story I wish to relay to you is about a woman I will call Gloria for the purpose of this story. Gloria was one of those people that would have never given one single thought to massage in her regular life. Gloria was a country girl born and bred. She believed in hard work and taking care of things on her own. She was not given to luxury, imaginings or flights of fancy. Gloria had not changed her hairstyle or her job since high school graduation. She went to church every Sunday and took good care of her daddy. She was capable and strong but reserved and shy. She also knew pain was a part of life and was not likely to complain about it. But life had given her more than her share and she came to me out of sheer desperation. I happened to meet Gloria because her sister had been referred to me post surgery and the sister had suggested that Gloria call me.
When Gloria called to schedule an appointment she told me that she had sustained a shoulder injury that had required surgery and many weeks of physical therapy. She also told me that her surgeon and the physical therapists were “done with” her. All these aforementioned medical professionals had told her that she had recovered as well as could be expected from her injury and that she should accept that. Gloria was disappointed with her recovery and unhappy with their prediction. In fact, I would say that she was angry – although Gloria would never have admitted that. I agreed to see her but was concerned that I could not give what she was looking for – especially since she had been released from her surgeon’s care as well as physical therapy. In Gloria’s view “they just gave up on me”.
To say that I was unprepared for what I encountered on her arrival would be an understatement. In fact, I was totally stunned. Gloria was a waif like woman who looked for all the world like a wounded animal seeking shelter from a storm. And the storm raged within and all about her. Gloria had fallen from a set of steps about four feet in height onto a concrete pad where she landed directly onto the shoulder of her dominant arm. The bone literally had been crushed and how it had been repaired at all was nothing short of a miracle, which had included surgical skill along with the use of rods and pins. Her range of motion was extremely limited. She certainly couldn’t lift her arm over her head. In fact, she couldn’t lift her arm shoulder high. The most she could manage was a few degrees of motion. She could barely lift the weight of her injured arm and mostly moved it with the aid of her other arm. The most distressing of all was that she was in tremendous pain with any movement whatsoever. Even touching her arm would trigger involuntary muscle spasms and severe nerve pain. I’d never seen anything like it. Even so Gloria refused pain medicine because it clouded her thinking. She attempted to be stoic which I suspected was her usual M.O. but when the pain gripped her she winced uncontrollably and her facial expressions betrayed her despite her best effort.
After my initial intake and a careful examination I agreed to do what I could but I couldn’t promise her anything. I walked out of the room to allow her to undress the best she could and get onto the massage table. As I stood outside the door I was awash with fear and doubt. I could not think how I would even begin to touch someone so broken and in such obvious pain. I closed my eyes, gave myself up completely to the All That Is, and breathed silently, “please, just don’t let me hurt her.” When I walked back into the room she was sitting on the table because she could not lie down without triggering severe muscle spasms. I propped her up with pillows. When her spasms had calmed and she seemed fairly comfortable – or least what was possible for her – I moved to her head and laid my hands gently on her head mostly because I couldn’t think what else to do. I stilled myself and from that stillness I breathed a prayer that had no words – for there were none to be found.
Neither are there words for how I moved forward. I can remember placing my hands above her injured arm – above it, not touching, just feeling its erratic energy and the heat radiating from it. More wordless prayers poured from somewhere and the session continued. What actually happened is – even now – a mystery to me. I had the profound knowing that this poor soul’s heart had been utterly broken and I had a sense of holding something fragile and sacred. When I came to myself I noted that the allotted time for our session was done. My face was wet with tears that I did not know I had shed. And I saw that tears were streaming down Gloria’s face as well. Somehow I understood these tears were not from physical pain.
I told her quietly that our session was over and asked if I could assist her to a sitting position before I left the room. She nodded “yes” and I helped her sit up. I asked if she was okay and she nodded once again “yes” although she continued to weep. I stepped out of the room to allow her some privacy. When I returned she was wiping tears that seemed to still be falling and so I just stood still and quietly. After a little while she said, “I need to tell you something.” And from that place she proceeded to tell me that she had a son who had died from a brain tumor the year before. He had been a young man, barely twenty years old, bright, handsome, and full of energy. She had raised him as a single mom and they shared a close bond. When he got sick she cared for him tirelessly until he had died in her arms. Although this was the first I knew of this sad story it did not surprise me and I understood the knowing that had come to me of her broken heart. But I did not say this to her. Gloria sat quietly for a minute and then spoke very slowly and carefully, as if she were trying out the words to see what they sounded like, “I know this might sound crazy but while I was on your table I saw my son. He came toward me and wrapped me in his arms – only they were wings.”
I gave her a minute to hear her own words and then I said, “That doesn’t sound crazy. It sounds like that is exactly what needed to happen.” And Gloria agreed.
After that day Gloria came regularly for over a year and little by little she slowly improved. First the painful muscle spasms stopped happening. Gradually her range of motion increased – inch by inch. She shared each bit of progress with me gleefully and we rejoiced together. Gloria was gracious in her praise of my work but I knew – as sure as I had ever known anything in my life – that her rehabilitation was not my doing. I was only a conduit through which this healing was being given.
Gloria arrived one day in December and after her session she announced, “I have a present for you.” Then she handed me a beautiful Thank You card with a gracious sentiment and her signature. I read the card through tears and when I looked up she said, “The present is inside the envelope.” I opened the envelope wider and there inside was a slender, rectangular piece of folded paper – the paper was the kind people use for making grocery lists. As I unfolded it, Gloria said, “I made a list of all the things I can do now that I couldn’t do before I came to see you.” The list read:
- Mow my grass
- Rake the yard
- Sweep the kitchen
- Mop the floors
- Put my canning pot on the stove
- Stir a pot of soup
- Reach up into my cabinets
- Reach onto the top of my refrigerator
No gift could have held more meaning. I was humbled by her gratitude and by the simple grandeur of her gift. I knew that she saw herself as healed and whole. I also knew I wouldn’t be seeing her again.
I receive a Christmas card from Gloria every year and she tells me that she is well which makes me glad. I will never forget her. She taught me more about healing than any course in nursing school ever could.