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Tales from the Table: Jim

New client…Health Intake sheet…to make things a little easier, I’m helping Jim thru the paperwork. He’s 70 years old.  I ask, “Medications?” Yup. He brought a list.

“Any major surgeries?”

He tilts his head asking, “Ever?”

I smile, “Sure.” Pen ready.

“Well the only one you’ll probably figure out on your own is that my left leg was amputated below the knee. But that was in 1945.”

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Imagine a massage client attaching his prosthetic leg. Never know who’s going to show up on your table.

“Oh?” raising my eyebrows.

“Yeah.” He smiles.

“Okay. Ya wanna tell me about that?”

Jim was shot while serving in WWII. At the age of 20 he was piloting a B-26 bomber. They encountered heavy enemy fire, killing one of his crew and crippling the plane. He landed in a field somewhere in Germany.

Fast forward, the Army doctors spend more time than they have to repair the leg enough to give Jim a knee. He explains he has had phantom pain in the leg and foot, that isn’t there, for 60+ years.

My mind is whirling. I have no training on phantom pain. I have no training on working with an amputee. Hell, like most people, I’ve never even seen a stump or prosthetic leg. What am I going to do?

I do what any mindful massage therapist would do: my best. It never crossed my mind to turn this client away. He’s 70+ years old. For goodness sake, my thought is something will go well in this session. And it does.

Jim is delighted with the session. He relaxes. He breathes. I ask for feedback when it comes to working the knotty tissue at the bottom of the leg. I can just feel the damaged limb absorbing the warmth, the nurture, the healing touch.

My routine includes a hold at the top and bottom of the area I’ve just been working, done after covering the body part. I put my hand where the foot would have been, palm up. I put my other hand on the stump/knee. Mentally I say, Thank you.

When presented with unexpected scenarios with clients, I look for the reason I can do the session versus the reasons I can’t. In massage school we learn to work within the scope of our practice. Now and then we do run into some true general contraindications for massage i.e. high risk pregnancy/no doctors note; actively sick with a fever; bacterial meningitis. However, most conditions that a client presents are local contraindications which means we can just avoid the area.

My hope in sharing my stories is that we will eliminate mediocrity in massage, offering excellent sessions, to the best of our ability, for each of our clients. Namaste.

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