October 2, 2012

Earning My Keep

“There's a time during your massages,” said a client with MS, “when I'm completely without pain. It's amazing, because that never happens. Not even on the pain meds. I get to remember what it's like.”

Then she added ruefully, “It ends exactly when you start working on my calf.” A perennial problem area, lots of spasms. Her point, I think, was that this area was so bad that the pain was insuperable there. But I remembered that moment too: it was the moment when I became anxious that I was just giving a fluffy superficial massage, and reckoned I should do some real work and fix something. Earn my keep. I had shifted then from extremely light work – just stroking, really – to work that, though most clients would still find it irritatingly light, was identifiably massage.

A blunder, I think. My guess, in the light of what we're learning these days about persistent pain, is that any minimal improvement I may have induced in the calf will have been trivial compared to the benefit of walking her nervous system through the experience of being without pain. That's the important thing I have to offer. Valuable in itself, in the moment, and probably the most effective intervention I can make in her hyperalgesia. The next time I get anxious about earning my keep, I hope I remember that. I'm not a body repairman: I'm someone who talks to nervous systems. That's my job, and I'd do better to stick to it.