It is, in fact, my 13th anniversary as a licensed massage therapist in the state of Florida this month, which is October. As I was reflecting on my career path the other day, and the interesting twists and detours that it has taken, I remembered a story from the very beginning. My very first job as an LMT was working for Disney's Vero Beach Resort, which is not in Orlando. It's outside Vero Beach in Orchid Island and serves as a time-share property for Vacation Club members. Since it was a pre-existing resort built by some kind of tycoon in the early 1900's as a beach getaway, it had a flavor all its own. Not a typical Disney building or atmosphere. Their spa, which is a term I use lightly, was literally a cleared out maintenance storage room, right next to the giant pool pump enclosure. That was in 2003. Since then, the spa has been completely built, decorated, and staffed up to Disney's impeccable standards. Back then, however, it was just 1 room with 1 cramped massage table and a little boom box for CD's.
My massage school, Space Coast Health Institute had a contract to keep one licensed therapist on duty during all the working hours. I was cleared to start work as soon as I received my printed official license in the mail. I literally checked the mail every day after I passed the state boards, and called them the day it arrived to put me on the schedule for the following day.
You may or may not know that Disney is quite a progressive company, in HR terms. They were one of the first big name corporations to award health and life insurance benefits to same sex spouses- way before it was legal to have a same sex spouse. These progressive policies drew many gay Cast Members (what Disney calls their employees) as well as gay guests to show support by voting with their dollars. As to be expected, the gay population of Orlando grew quickly which is why there are several gay pride events in and around Disney. Which brings us to massaging a foursome of lesbians on the beach.
In October of 2003, there was apparently a gay golfing event in the Vero Beach area, and several of the players were members at the resort. One lady in a foursome of friends was having a lot of pain after the round of golf that morning and signed up last minute for a massage. She was not expecting me, a male therapist, to be the one doing the massage, but her pain persuaded her to give me a try. I was warned in school that there would be biases against males, so I wasn't too shaken.
|Totally random picture of women golfers.|
So I get her in the treatment room (maintenance closet), and the first thing she tells me is that I have to yell at her face so that she can hear me. Literally, YELL IN HER FACE, or she can't understand me, because she had major ear surgery to remove several tumors off of her auditory canal and nerves. She had huge hearing aids in both ears. As a massage therapist, it's kind of expected that we are meant to be soft spoken and that we generally tread lightly in our mannerisms- that's part of the job that I've never had to think about- I'm a quiet, introverted, non-assuming kind of person all the time, so YELLING IN HER FACE to convey any kind of information was really odd for me.
Second, she explains that her neck and shoulders are really tight. She wishes I could just pull her whole head up and away from her shoulders (what I now know is called Cervical Traction), but "Don't do that, because it will hurt like crazy," she said emphatically. Ok, so now I know what I can't do...
Third and last direction from the YELL IN HER FACE intake interview, she explains that she gets really bad headaches constantly, all over her scalp, because after the ear surgery, the Doctor "Sewed my ears back on too tight."
Yep, you read that right, her EARS WERE SEWN ON TOO TIGHT! My first week as a massage therapist- no other professionals to consult with, yelling at an older lady in pain, in a closet that smelled like chlorine fumes. They definitely never told us what to do in this case, in massage school. All the client told me was that I couldn't really touch anything or it would hurt, but please massage me because this stuff hurts. Huh?
I fall into my training and YELL my scripted directions to her- explaining how to undress and get on the table in between the sheets etc. I leave her there to get comfortable and frantically try to figure out what I'm going to do. I re-enter the room in a few minutes and find her still fully clothed in khaki dockers, a flannel long sleeved shirt, and a member's only jacket. She might have taken her shoes off, I don't remember. All the skin I have access to is the off limits neck and ears that I'm supposed to be massaging without massaging it. She's facing down now, so communication is even harder, because she can't see my expression or lips if I say anything, so I don't.
Thankfully, I had spent many weeks participating in public events doing massage outdoors on fully clothed clients, to get my required practical hours, so I had some techniques to get started on this hour of complicated therapy. While my hands started moving, so did my heart and mind- praying as fast as I could. I have no idea what I did for that hour, but when the time was up, she stood up from the table and was genuinely relieved. She said she felt great and was really thankful that she could get the appointment.
That's the day I realized that it didn't matter how much or how little training you have, if you don't have your heart and soul in it, your work will not bear fruit. I'm still grateful that God put that particular lady in my path so early on in my career- before I could get cocky with my pile of certificates. To this day it's kind of a mantra for me, "My ears are sewn on too tight," when I have a difficult client who needs my compassion, in addition to my years of nerdy technical know-how. It helps me think beyond my own needs, and to focus on what's really important.