Massage for the Elderly


A part of me was hyperventilating. The month is quickly coming to a close and I had not found the time (for someone who does a lot of nothing) to go visit my Senior Citizen friends. On Monday night while I was cooking up a storm in the name of dinner, I decided this is nonsense, I had to do something. I took up the phone. I called one Home and learnt that they were short of staff and would be unable to accommodate me on Tuesday. I called another Home and they were fine with Tuesday. So yesterday I went over.

Two new faces were there. One was a woman who was perfectly fine and quite frustrated at having to be moving around in a wheelchair. Our little conversation during the massage revealed that she had heeded the request of her very loving children and had done surgery on her knee two years ago, in an attempt to deal with the then unbearable pain.

As at yesterday, she was sure that she was better off before entering that theatre. She emphasised how expensive the surgery was as well as how badly it had missed the mark. The pain that she once thought was unbearable is now most welcomed compared to what she endures. I reminded her of the need for us to be soft on ourselves sometimes. As humans, we seem plagued/gifted with hindsight.

(I told her of my mother, who has suffered from knee pains over the years and had decided to do surgery as well. One of my aunts had stepped in and advised that surgery was not an option. Pain management is usually suggested for chronic conditions, not drastic means to have the pain obliterated. My mother opted for losing some weight, which automatically took some of the pressure off her knees, which in turn caused an ease in the amount of pain experienced.)

After two years, that dear old lady’s knee is still inflamed. When I rested my hand on it, I could feel the heat radiating. She has gone through numerous brands of painkillers, and now sleep is her only refuse. While she loves to interact, she told me that she prefers to sleep, as it is the only time she is not conscious of the pain. And she still swears at the Doctor, a young man with whom she was impressed before surgery. And she swears at the Legal System for not having things in place for damages to be paid to persons who got what they did not pay for. Especially given the ‘kind of money’ her children had spent.

In my opinion she can be helped. About three treatments a week would put her in a much better position. That consistency does not come free unless it is done by family members. In the absence of which, we are still waiting for Massage Therapy to be taken seriously enough for folks to book their appointments without having to be poked and prodded. And we are still waiting to be listened to when we try to educate the public on the benefits of Massage. In her case the tissue damage is obvious, which brings the condition of the nerves into focus. I asked her about it and she told me that she has made efforts to walk, but her legs seem committed to throwing her down…they suddenly give way under her.

If my work as a Therapist is limited to physical results, I would be the most frustrated one. Thankfully there is the soulful side of things, so that the psychological benefits can be introduced. And again, it comes back to being centered and allowing that positive flow of energy to take over, which bring about an ease in the moment, and lends itself to the creation of a beautiful memory that can be reflected on.

The other new face belonged to a man who was laid up in bed with a stroke (right brain, left side affected). I introduced myself and requested permission to do a massage on his arms and legs. He consented. I did the ‘good’ hand first, then went to the other. The hand was numb, yet he clutched it for fear that it will hurt. Apart from our disjointed conversation, I told him everything I was going to do, so that he was mentally prepared for each touch and each move.

Then I went off rambling about my impression of his condition, and of all analogies, I opted for divorce. So there I was, telling him about the sense of divorce between the brain and the affected limbs, and he started crying. My goodness! What did I do? I stopped talking. When he was done crying he told me that he understood perfectly what I was saying as he has gone through a divorce…the crazy version.

I asked him when he got the stroke. He said no one has asked him that question before, and he felt that they felt he was too disoriented to answer it correctly. While he cannot remember the date, he knows it was earlier this year. I concluded that he had a severe stroke, or, whoever was his caregiver at the time, was just as frustrated as he was, so he was neglected. I have seen several persons at various stages along the stroke curve, his is the worst case, given the timeframe.

I told him he is a young man (only in his 50s) and there was no reason why he should be laid up in bed throwing pity parties and deciding how badly he should be penalised for all the wrong things he has done in his life. We spoke of how deeply embarrassing and humbling it is for him. At times there is an intense need to jump out of the situation. He is concerned with how much he is imposing on others and what they may be thinking to do to him. The thoughts range from those who may cook for him with a bad mind, to spiting in his food, to leaving him hungry, to not bathing him, to leaving him in dirty pampers, on and on.

I let him ventilate. Sometimes there is healing in just knowing that someone is listening. Besides, he knows better than I why he should deserve all the penalties he was conjuring up. He reminded me of a guy in another Home who was God’s gift to women, and who had a knack for physically abusing his wife. Parkinson’s Disease struck him suddenly and he was placed in the Home. No one visited him.

When I first met him he wanted to know how come we never met before his calamity, and whether I was treating him because I was sorry for him. I told him it is not about him at all, it is about me, I am creatively working off some karma. He was quiet for the rest of our session, but after that day, whenever I visited, he would put much effort into getting out of bed and doing his shaky walk down the corridor to meet me in the guest area. And we laughed a lot and had conversations mostly unrelated to his condition while I massaged him.

One of the Nurses had remarked that she thinks I am making him feel like a man again. I did laugh, but I also recognised the hint to limit my interactions with him. Which was fair. Attachment comes easily, and in his case, moving from no visitors to someone who talks and touches at the same time, could be have destabilizing effects when the high wears off.

The Massage Therapist will ever find himself/herself in delicate situations. It is not easy to not let ‘your good be evil spoken of.’ We can do the robotic version of massage (go in, get the job done, get out), in the name of being ‘professional.’ But on the basis that healing takes place through an exchange of human energy, we would not be doing much with that attitude. Then again, what’s with all this talk of healing? This is a business, right? I massage you, you give me my money, and you can find your healing elsewhere.

Whatever attitude we adapt, can be justified, hence no one can really judge us. But it does not matter how rough we are on the edges, or how skewed our intentions for being in the profession are, we will all find our way. The practice of massage is one of those things like meditation; it eventually brings us into balance with ourselves.

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