The Kidney Meridian

Chloe has been my client since early days. Meaning since before 1991, when I vacated my studio at the late lamented Spa Lady, which divested and fragmented and mismanaged itself out of business in all but a few metropolitan areas. She moved to the American Southwest over a decade ago, then came back to my turf over family issues, and here she stays.

She’s a creative worker. Meaning that, increasingly, she competes in what is referred to as the “gig economy,” aka “you’re on your own.” When you’re over sixty, that is not a good place to be.

A few months ago she hit a wall of some description, and ended up in the hospital with tanked kidneys. Long years of intrusive pain, lots of NSAIDs which are not balm for the kidneys, might have had something to do with this. I’m not a doctor. I just see people year in and year out.

Chloe is a natural spinster; meaning that she likes men but isn’t ready to let one dictate the circumstances of her life, at least not so long as he is any degree of an asshole, so she is on her own in more ways than one, the asshole issue being so prevalent. Our culture assumes that you will be partnered and buffered therefore and not have to face the world on your own. Yeah. Tell me another one. I didn’t find that place until a year ago, logistically, and that was altogether a fluke.

She showed up today, fresh off six days in the hospital, with its freight of neglect and humiliation: “I was throwing up, and they gave me pot roast. In July.” Hospital staff emptied the trash in her room at two a.m.; someone requiring a blood draw showed up not much later. The doctor doing grand rounds on the Fourth said: “I know you aren’t happy to be here on the Fourth of July, but so are we.” “It isn’t at all the same thing,” she told him. Good on her.

She was shaking, ten pounds lighter than I last saw her, when she got on the table. I suggested attention to the kidney points on the Chinese acupuncture meridians, though I have no robust certification in this art; just a value-added proposition. I keep an acupuncture mannequin so as to jog my memory of these loci. I’ve had acupuncture, beaucoup times, and it fixes things. Manual attention to these points has a track record. She went eep every time I dug into the kidney points. I honestly can’t say what I was doing, other than no harm. On either side of the matter, I did what was called for, work on the flanks and back exhausted by immobilization in a hospital bed.

I think Chloe is a year or two away from Medicare. At the worst, the US government has elected kidney dialysis, of all interventions, as the one that will always be funded. Dialysis sucks. I hope Chloe can avoid it. I hope to hell she doesn’t need expensive intervention of any other kind before Medicare kicks in, because none of us know what Congress can ram through to relieve obscenely, unimaginably rich people of paying taxes so that Chloe or anyone like her can live without worrying about being bankrupted by medical bills.

I had some arnica oil for the bruises from four IV sites.

And a homing instinct for acupuncture points.

It’s all I’ve got.

 

 

 

Chilblains

For Christmas I got a chilblain and a dying lady. Well, dead, actually. More about that shortly as it is the more complicated story.

Chilblains seem like such a quaint, Dickensian affliction that it is slightly mortifying to have one. My readers from Canada and the upper tier of the US may not see it this way of course, but please remember that I live in Virginia, which is technically the South.

On the other hand I frostnipped a couple of toes on my left foot thirty years ago, shoveling the street in snowmelt while wearing leaky boots, and they have never exactly been the same. I have learned to stick my sockfeet in plastic bags before attacking a snowdrift, thereby mostly avoiding a reprise of the lopsided, purplish toe-tip that marked that past occasion, but lately, I have been working barefoot because I can feel my weight shift at the side of the massage table more precisely, neglecting to note that as the winter advanced, I was planting said bare feet on an increasingly frigid hardwood floor for a lot of the session.

The day before Christmas Eve was cold and grey and my feet would not get warm, but preferring cold to heat on any day of the year and impatient with anything like suffocating my feet in socks or shoes inside my own house, I just put up with it, until the following morning I felt the characteristic  “I have been in the cold and now I am warming up ouch” sense on the tip of one toe, and discovered a circumscribed, indurated, reddish purple bit underlapping the end of the toenail. It took a little Net searching to convince me of what I was seeing. Who the fuck am I, Bob Cratchit?

So now I am ignominiously having to stuff my feet into little socksies and shoozies (L. L. Bean’s Wicked Good fleece clogs, if you must know) and keep them dry because chilblains don’t heal if you keep, well, chilling them.

So in the middle of that I texted Clarissa, who has come to me for fifteen years: tall, majestic, always mercilessly well dressed, in peacock-patterned tunics and looping great necklaces of chunky glass beads, too conscientious for her own good, scattered, dutiful, full of narrative of her life and work like a fire hose under maximum pressure.

Only this was the year Clarissa hit the wall. Um, they said, we’ve found a recurrence of the precancer you were treated for several years back, they said. Well, no, this is cancer. Come on down to the medical torture chamber and we’ll zap you coming and going.

Strangely, when ominous signs began to manifest distant from the cancer site, no one bothered to check if it was in fact more cancer. Don’t ask me. We have the Best Healthcare System In The World ™, right?

Well, whatever, it didn’t stop things from getting to the point where she wanted work, because in bed all day long stiff sore ouch, but couldn’t get to me because oncologist says don’t put weight on your leg bone it is full of cancer and will break, so I loaded up that fucking folding table and went to her, on the only day of the week I could find the time. You just do this. One December Sunday. Then another. Then “no, family are all coming this weekend.” Then Christmas. I don’t give a rat’s ass for Christmas, and sent her a text on Christmas Eve, complete with emojis (I just figured those out), asking if she’d like me to come down her chimney on Christmas Day.

Her husband texted back just as I was about to set out the gifts that we do exchange because it is the time after all. She died late Friday evening. About the time I was cultivating chilblains. I had to read that text but motherfucking God, he had to send it. I have no words.

2016, have you no goddam mercy?

I am still wearing my fuzzy socks.

 

Phantom Japanese

No, not like the Phantom Germans of an early post here. What happened was, SmellBoy — who may have bought a clue, because he doesn’t whiff me out of the room lately — didn’t show up for his appointment. It meant I finished early, and I know he’ll pay the tariff, but it still cranks me a little. Anyway I called his cell phone, which I had captured in my own office telephone system; I love technology, you push the Save button and you don’t have to write anything down or fiddle it into the phone while squinting sideways.

The ring sounded at the other end. After a moment’s dead air I heard a recorded-sounding “Konnichi wa?” For those not into travel phrasebooks, that is “Hello,” more or less, in Japanese. (SmellBoy is Hispanic.)

“Hello?” I said back. The connection cut off.

You know those moments when you look at an inanimate object as if a snake is coming out of it? That look.

I pressed the Call button again. A perfectly normal generic “You have reached an automated messaging system” announcement began.

By the time he called me back this morning to apologize and reschedule I had forgotten the phantom Japanese guy in his phone. Or somewhere between me and it. I’ll have to ask him.

PS. For those following his recuperation, Torvald has been eating like a horse since Monday. Today he got up on the printer. I’m sure he adjusted all the settings.

 

 

 

How To Be A Good Massage Client (#9 in an occasional series)

Get Your Adult ADD Diagnosed And Treated

I don’t mean everyone. I mean those of you who have it.

If you have been in business as long as I have, you know that about 5% of your clients account for something like 90% of your missed or late-arriving (I mean insanely late, like twenty minutes out of a scheduled hour) clients. Maybe even 95%. You learned that there are certain people you will always have to call with a reminder, and half the time their phone battery is dead or their voice mail is full.

Once upon a time I did not believe in Attention Deficit Disorder. I thought of it as an excuse to profit from drugging children who were just behaving in an age-appropriate way — people have to move to grow their bodies and nervous systems, ferfrigsake, and these days they want preschoolers to sit still for hours and pass achievement tests. (Maybe that’s the reason they act like psychotic little screeching jackasses from hell whenever they’re anywhere near me.) Or an excuse by slightly older people who don’t want to be bothered with responsibility.

That was before I, briefly, out of stupidity the goodness of my heart, gave house room to a young person who could be a poster child for the diagnostic criteria. There is no way on earth that any person without something drastically wrong in their brains could possibly lose, forget, break so goddam many cell phones, wallets, key chains, appointments, identification cards — and treat every incident as one of those things that just happens, that’s life, why should it be any different?

Suddenly the intermittent problems I had had all along with my  client base sprang into blindingly sharp relief. All those people who were late EVERY goddam time until I just learned to factor that time gap into my schedule; who forgot every other time unless I phoned to remind them; who would take a live call from me at three in the afternoon about a four-thirty appointment and then forget before four-thirty rolled around. Honest injun. Some of these people were among my favorite people on earth — one a friend of thirty years that I used to trade massage with. You can imagine he did not take it up professionally.

Always the same people. And also the same people who lay on the table every time and unloaded to me about all the undone work, the unstarted projects, the missed deadlines and debilitating all-nighters in their lives.

There are beaucoup books about this shit. There are videos for people whose attention span is so fragmented that they can’t finish a book.

One of the books calls the genetic variant involved “The Hunter Gene.” Supposedly the sensitivity of ADD people to distractions would have been an advantage to early humans in hunter-gatherer days who would have responded more rapidly to the tread of prey on the forest floor. Fuck that. These people would be half way out to the hunting grounds before realizing they had forgotten to bring a spear.

I do have some clients who up front tell me they have adult ADD. One of them doesn’t want to use drugs, so she lives a life festooned with Post-it Notes and dingly reminders from her phone. She has never missed an appointment. If you recognize a problem and decide to solve it I figure you can. There are life coach type people who will help design these little hacks and work-arounds, apparently.

Which is why I am not real sympathetic about this, it’s a little like being expected to give rides to someone who could walk again if they just went to PT but they won’t,  but WTF do I do here? Take a grown person – one whom I probably like – by the lapels and say “You have all the stigmata of attention deficit on steroids, for Christ’s sake see a psychologist or a coach YESTERDAY because your inability to manage your own life is driving me crazy?” Actually, I kind of did that with the Forgot By Four Thirty Guy, who agreed there was something to it, but that was months ago and he has not done a thing to look into it because everything else is so distracting.

If you are someone who is always apologizing for forgetting and being late and after years or even decades you are still forgetting and being late, whether it involves your massage appointment or your job, just look into this, okay? And do something about it, if the shoe fits.

And if you want an appointment with me, warn me up front.

Guerilla Marketing

I had to cut my squat workout short to get to my dental cleaning today, on account of the pollen has been so wretched that it took me till after noon to feel able to face the rack, so it sort of worked out that when I got there the elevator was busted and I had to chug up six floors.

They have this new hygienist, the one who replaced the short-lived Fullback Mary, the chainsaw murderer of hygienists. Lita is nice. She actually talks in a normal tone of voice as if you are an intelligent human being and not a small half-wit, and her touch with the power scaler could be a little lighter but I can deal with it. About half way through she jerked her hand back as if she’d been shocked and worked her fingers, and said “Sorry, I pulled something. That happened before.”

“Lemme see,” I said. “I fix stuff like this all day long.” When I explained what I do for a living she stripped off her rubber glove and let me dig around her extensor muscles, stretch her carpal zone and drill down to the interossei between the metacarpal bones. “See if that feels a little different,” I said.

“It does!” she said happily.

“Glad to help,” I said. “I fixed my chiropractor’s table with a Swiss knife once too so he could finish adjusting me.” (True story.)

She finished sand-blasting three months of Darjeeling stain off my teeth and went to get the dentist — actually he’s a periodontist, who did a porcine growth hormone bone graft on my last mandibular molar (#18, if you care) about fourteen years ago, but that is yet another story, told elsewhere.

“He’ll be in in a few minutes,” she said when she looked back in. “And he wants you to look at his shoulder.”

I am sure he was inspecting my gums and so on but I mainly remember him telling me he had this recurring pain and got dry needling and one good massage and some physical therapy, impingement, bursitis und so weiter, also there is bursitis in both hips, golf swing, worked out this morning and it’s really yelling at him.

I stood up when he was done and seized his shoulder. There is a spot on the back of the shoulder blade where the shallow rotator muscle there (the infraspinatus) likes to concentrate all its bile and venom. I think I got his feet off the ground. There was a nasty hot zone in his medial deltoid and, where I am sure he never thought to really dig himself, the usual horror show under the shoulder blade, where you have to slide it into excursion along the ribs to even get at the subscapularis muscle.

By now a large part of the office staff had assembled in the treatment room door, squeezing and jostling for a better view, and the hygienist was holding up her smartphone to get video of the entire occurrence. “Look at that expression!” said the receptionist. “They’ve all been good,” said the scheduling lady. I showed Herr Doktor how to lean forward from a seated position and use his thumb to drill up into the recreant muscle, then pointed out where it attached at the front of the shoulder and mentioned that it usually colludes with the upper chest muscles that cross the thoracic outlet. “Some people don’t have a subclavius, but you probably do,” I said, digging into it. “Holy crap!” he yelled. This was impressive as this guy usually displays such a cool demeanor that you could keep canapes fresh on his forehead.

“Gimme your card,” he said. “I gotta start seeing someone who knows what they’re doing.” As he went out the door, as an afterthought, he remarked “Your mouth looks great by the way.”

I don’t know how this all reflected on the person who gave him the other massage or the PT and so on. Anyway I dropped a fan of my cards at the desk on the way out.

The receptionist promised she’d send the video.

 

SmellBoy(tm)

My cologne-addicted client is becoming a giant problem. This is the sort of thing that defies the diplomacy of a salon hostess or elite hotelier.

I cannot fathom why he apparently rolls in SmellBoy(tm). (An old trainer friend of mine from my former gym, who used to gallantly and tastefully hit on me now and then when he could tell I was feeling down, explained to me that there is really only one scent of men’s cologne, and that is SmellBoy; he hoped to some day give that name to a signature line of his own, with an upscale version called “JustDoMe.”) If it were just him — despite the extra $20 he’s laid on me since the outset, and the lavish praise he heaps on my work — it would be less awkward. I’d tell him to lose the stink, he’d probably get pissed off and not come back, and someone else would book the time eventually.

But no. He comes connected to one of my oldest clients, and her daughters, one of whom dates him and referred him, and their father, divorced from mom but still close to the family, whom they treat to a session occasionally. They all pay me more than I ask. I could fill a weekend with this clan alone.

You can’t imagine how personally people take it when you tell them their perfume is making you puke. (At least, in my case – so far — it hasn’t been literal.) Someone who had been coming to me for a couple of years once showed up gaudy from a ladies’ luncheon of some sort, reeking of Macy’s perfume counter, and with my eyes crossing, I asked her as she left if she could refrain from wearing scent when she came again. “I have pretty bad allergies,” I reminded her, “and it stuffs up my head and gives me a sinus headache.” I haven’t heard from her since.

After SmellBoy left the last time I washed his sheets. They still stunk when I pulled them out of the dryer, and so did the sheets that were dried with them and the washcloths that had slipped into the load. I hung them all on the porch to air for two days, then washed them again. This morning the basket still stunk; it hit me in the face when shook the sheets out to fold them.

I’m trying vinegar in the wash water now.

His girl friend must have no nasal passages left. It’s the only explanation.

 

Veterans’ Day

There are a lot of flags flying today, and occasions of what I have come to think of as “solemnity porn,” involving moments of silence and the placing of floral tributes and a soulful rendition of Taps, meant to make tears well in your eyes and confer an uplifted feeling. You know the kind of thing.

There was an interesting piece in the Daily Beast a couple of days back about an overmedicated, desperate veteran who discovered — I don’t know why it surprises anyone — that marijuana relieved his post-traumatic stress when fourteen pharmacy drugs did nothing for him. He’s an activist now, staging demonstrations at Veterans’ Day parades, reminding people that “honoring the sacrifice” means nothing if you look away from the people who are still suffering, to include an appalling rate of suicides. The Department of Veterans’ Affairs apparently wants nothing to do with him and his weed, though there is a growing — pardon the expression — body of research suggesting it might be a targeted therapy.

Post-traumatic stress disorder — I prefer to call it post-traumatic stress injury, because it’s damage inflicted on a person, not something intrinsically wrong with someone’s organism — isn’t limited to people who’ve been in combat; it’s just that combat is a pretty sure-fire way to incur it. But growing up around, oh say, gang shootings, or in a household with a baby-raper, or just with a parent who brutalizes you mentally if not physically, will all do it; car crashes will do it, or the frank medical mayhem that occurs way too often in the guise of “care.” There is a lot of it out there, and it is not just an effect of war and violence but a cause of war and violence, so every single person on earth has to give a damn about it. It is a problem that exists in the body and has to be resolved in the body, and if I had my career in bodywork to start over again I might just be going to school to the people who are working with brain wave modulation and the tremor reflex and resolution of “tape-recorded” procedural memory — Peter Levine, Bessel van der Kolk, David Berceli. What does seem apparent is that the people who treat veterans or rape survivors with talking (which often just means reliving the trauma and inscribing it more deeply) and drugs (which make you numb, which PTSD does anyway) are getting it all wrong.

Then there are artificial, political conflicts that gum things up. Stress-afflicted veterans, trained fighters wired to overreact, act out and frighten their families at a disturbing rate; they end up in the legal system when what they need is informed care, connection, a way out of it. Some veterans’ and “mens’ rights” advocates appear stuck in the viewpoint that “feminists” are villains in this context for criminalizing domestic violence triggered by combat stress. I am as impatient with them — a woman has a right to protection from a violent man even if he is also a victim — as I am with the feminists who do seem convinced that only bad bad men are ever violent. (They need to meet the twelve- or even thirty-year-old me.)

Old literature majors never die, so I am glad to mention the Philoctetes Project, which gets it right.

So does Patrick Stewart. Yes, that Patrick Stewart.

Maybe we need fewer psychologists and more theater people on this problem. Or dogs.

This Veterans’ Day, I invite everyone to skip the paper poppy and instead learn enough about trauma so that the next time your vote, your advocacy or your donation can make a difference, you will know how to make it count.