Author Archives: Lynna Dunn

Leap Day–and Leaps of Faith

Today is the last day of February 2012–Leap Day, in fact. And today is my last blog post after three years of doing the job. Thanks to all of you who’ve read my blogs, contemplated and commented.

I’ve been rather busy in this month of February. My daughter, Nola Grace, who was due to be born May 11th, 2012, came by emergency c-section on February 6, 2012. She’s still only 29 weeks old now, stable, but critical, and living her tiny life in an isolette in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Swedish Hospital in downtown Seattle. I know she looks rather rough to most people–tiny and skinny–but I think she’s just about the prettiest thing I ever saw :-)

I could not describe how tired I have been or how surreal this whole situation has seemed. And what occurs to me that it has all served as a reminder of how little control we actually have in this world, how plans can change in an instant, how quickly priorities can shift, and even how, yes, you can love someone at first sight.

Nola’s birth also brought the following into clear definition:

1. Life moves on for others even when you are stuck in a surreal loop.
2. People you never thought of turn up to help you.
3. People you expected to help you may rabidly disappoint you, even when they are related to you.
4. Somehow you get by, even when you are desperate for funds–I hope, usually.
5. It really doesn’t matter how clean your house is.
6. There are so many times you can wash your hands up to the elbow before your nails and skin start to dry out and flake off.

Okay, that last one wasn’t as profound, but true all the same. I’m a massage therapist, for heaven’s sake, and I haven’t washed my hands so many times a day in my whole life

My work–in this case, my work as a massage therapist–has always taken a top spot in my life and consciousness. If someone had told me I could go almost a month without thinking of work/massage, I would have laughed, but that is exactly what has happened. I’ve spent my days pumping milk for my daughter’s immune system and going back and forth from home to the hospital, looking forward to the few times a day we get to touch her. For the first time in my life, other work has to wait. For a few months at least, and maybe a little longer. We chose the name Nola because we liked the sound; we added Grace because it was the grace of God that saved her life.

My best to all of you massage therapists out there, fighting the good fight. I’m on the bench right now, doing something else of great importance. But I hope to rejoin you soon.

Insurance Envy and Other Melancholy

I am not by nature a person who covets, or who spends a lot of time envying the fortunes of others. But lately, I admit, I have had insurance envy. And I look back to the days when I was a technical writer, an educational non-profit worker, an English professor, even a Starbuck’s barista, and think, “Oh, I wish . . .” Even my childhood was privileged in that way–because my father was a doctor, I rarely even had to pay to see one, which is sort of like an insurance in itself.

Last fall, my husband was laid-off, and lost his insurance. Then we found out that I was pregnant, and I had certainly not planned on becoming pregnant until–that’s right–he had a job again and could get insurance and could get me on that insurance. In my four-odd years as a massage therapist, the only time I have had medical insurance was the first full year I worked over 26 hours per week at a Massage Envy. My pay was nowhere near what it is now, mind, but that medical insurance was a definite benefit, something that we in this field all keenly recognize. I have never known a massage therapist yet who had medical insurance on her own behalf who did not work for a large corporation. I believe that there are probably a few massage therapists working for medical clinics, etc., who are lucky enough to have this coverage provided/available, but I have certainly never met one. In fact, most of the therapists I have met who have coverage, have it through a spouse or for the younger ones, a parent.

When I found out I was pregnant, the scramble began to find some sort of financial help, and frankly, I have never been so humiliated or frustrated. I swallowed my pride, and applied for DSHS. “No,” they said, “Your family makes too much money. We might help you, though, in the event you spend more than $20,000.” Ooh, that really helps, thanks. Once DSHS rejects you, you can apply for Basic Health, or you could if that was even available right now. Instead, I was lucky enough to get state insurance called Community Health Plan of Washington, for which I pay $186 per month. In return, I get . . . well, not a lot. See, it doesn’t pay for things like sequential screening (two blood-draws, two ultrasounds), which a 41-year-old woman really needs, and which so far has cost more than $3500. Oh, and it has a $5000 deductible for what it does cover, based on the beginning date of the insurance and the birth of my baby. If my baby is born within 6 months of my insurance start-date, then the deductible is $5000. But if my baby is born 6 months or more after my insurance start-date, the deductible drops to $500. Of course, since I was almost 6 weeks pregnant when I realized that fact, and I had to apply and get rejected for DSHS first, then apply for Community Health Plan, and get accepted for that . . . well, it is unlikely she will make the 6 month cut-off. In fact, to add insult to injury, she will most likely miss it by about 1-2 weeks. After the $5000 deductible is met, I still have to pay 30% of remaining costs. The birth clinic wants it’s 30% now ($1300), just in case; so heart-warming.

I love my baby; I don’t blame her or begrudge her this ordeal. But sometimes I get so tired of working so hard to make the world a better place, a less painful place when sometimes the world seems to care so little about me. I traded the benefits of the corporate world for a more purposeful, healing existence. And yet what benefits those were: days to be sick, and yet paid; days to get snowed-in, and get paid; medical insurance to help insure that one sweet little baby doesn’t financially cripple a whole family.

Sometimes I wonder why I, why any of us, put up with this. Many of us are highly educated, most of us are skilled and hard-working. Most of us are exhausted from working so hard that we find it almost impossible to get political, and none of us can truly afford this area; when I told my father in Arkansas–the man who was a successful OBGYN for over 30 years–what my prenatal costs were here, he thought I was kidding him. “That’s highway robbery,” he said. And it is. And how ironic, by the way, that so many people working as medical professionals cannot acquire affordable medical insurance on their own behalf that pays for more than accidental decapitation? That last part is a joke; it just isn’t very funny.

Knee-Deep in Sheets

I love clean cotton sheets–I really do. At my business, we each did our own laundry when we were still very, very small, and I didn’t mind a bit. Well, I didn’t really like the hauling them to and from the business, to the car, to the house (repeat cycle), but the washing and folding process was very orderly and calming. Well… until there got to be so very many sheets, that getting my own household laundry done starting becoming a problem.

When the sheets started getting out of hand, my employer started looking at professional laundries. Now by professional laundry, I mean places like Darcie’s, where individuals can go to use coin machines for their personal laundry, but where businesses can also drop off laundry to be washed and folded. The first one of these we went to charged us about $1.25 per pound to wash and fold our sheets. Sounds pretty cheap, right? Well, until you figure out that one sheet weighs roughly a pound, and that a sheet set is costing you about $2.50. And if you’ve basically been paying nothing while doing your own sheets, then turn around in one month and pay over $400 to a laundry for the same sheets, you can end up shocked and resentful.

Our next step would have been to get a quote from one of the larger services who deal exclusively in sheets, tablecloths, etc., and who pick up and drop off . . . cause if you’re going to pay anyway, why do all that lugging? Or to ask the landlord if there was any chance of getting washer/dryer hook-ups in the basement of our building (not likely, but worth a shot). But then we thought, hmmmm, is there anyone on the team who needs extra funds? As it turns out, our newest LMP hire still had a patchy schedule, and she was willing to do the laundry for roughly $3.50 a load, detergent provided. If she charged the professional laundry fee of $1.25 a pound for one of her loads, it would be around $10–so you can easily see savings right there. The business not only saves money, but an employee who needs the cash gets it, and these sheets and loads add up.

Now at some point, this therapist’s schedule may become so full that she can no longer do laundry for the business, but for now, I’m enjoying picking and choosing different top and bottom sheets for each massage on my massage table canvas. Maybe THAT’S actually my favorite part of doing the sheets :-)

The Sophie Pregancy Pillow: Pregnancy Prone

When I first started doing pregnancy massage, I went for the old “grab a big pillow in side-lying and slide another between the knees” method. I really hated the “pregnancy cushion system” that we had: it seemed to have about a million mysterious parts, none of which wanted to hold together in position.

However comfortable they are, though, side-lying pillows do have their limitations. For one thing, you really can’t get in enough good neck work. For another, you spend precious time switching sides and restuffing the pillows into position. And most importantly, the client, doesn’t ever get to lie face-down. In interviewing pregnant clients, I found that lying facedown was a much missed luxury, and that they would please-please-pretty-please love to lie facedown for an hour.

Then I got pregnant myself, which decided the issue: we would try a “pregnancy cushion system.” I avoided the awful one that I’d first been exposed to, and ended up coveting the Prego Pillow. However, the Prego Pillow retails at about $350, which was too rich for our blood at this time. Instead, we opted for trying the Sophie Pregancy Pillow, which retails for a much more affordable $129. We purchased the professional version instead of the home version, which means it’s a little sturdier and made of wipe-able material. The Sophie comes with a bag that covers the entire system: in this way, the fabric itself forms a sling over the structure for the client’s belly. However, we found that covering the system with a flat sheet and tucking it loosely around the Sophie works just as well. The Sophie does lack the built-in headrest of the Prego Pillow, but we found that double-stacking unattached face cradles works really well (the instruction videos show the use of a regular bed pillow).

Thus far, our clients are very happy lying on their tummies using the Sophie Pregnancy Pillow. If you too have been coveting the Prego Pillow or another more expensive pregnancy pillow system, give the Sophie a try instead–it may be well worth it for your practice.

Support Hose: Stodginess Never Felt So Good

Everyone has her Achilles heel: mine is actually an Achilles vein. Or veins.

Even as a small child, you could track these fine blue veins under this nearly translucent skin. By my early teens, I was getting spider veins around my knees, and the children I babysat made up games involving my legs: “Here’s a road, and here’s a road, and here’s a town . . .” It drove me nuts. I ask my doctor father what I could do to make the spider veins stop. “Walk on your arms,” he said unhelpfully. “Or you could go ahead and start wearing support hose.” Support hose! So not-sexy. I absolutely would not do it.

Well, I was 25 years younger then. And being sexy was much more important than being comfortable. Oh, and I wasn’t 11 weeks pregnant, which I am now. And let me tell you: by week 9, some of the superficial veins in my calves and around my knees were already bumpy and sore, not giving me happy visions of what they might be when I reached 39 weeks pregnant. I bought the damn support hose!

Well, not without some primary research, which can be a little confusing. The good news is, support hose–at least “medical grade” support hose, known as “compression stockings”–really work. The pain was entirely erased by wearing them during the day. The bad news is, they can be pricey, starting out at around $25 and going up to over $100. Also, medical support hose come in about four “tensions”: light, medium, firm, and extra firm. All of these tensions have numbers associated with them, and the highest tensioned hose actually require a prescription! That blows my mind, since squirming into my medium tension hose requires about ten minutes and the help of a small construction crane. Finally, they also come in knee-high, thigh-thigh, and waist-high, not to mention foot-less versions of the last two. So you have to find a happy mix of affordability, sizing, etc., though I would definitely just avoid knee-highs (talk about cutting off circulation).

Some medical supply stores will measure you to determine size, though I threw the nice store lady off when I presented her with a large thigh, extra-large waist, and queen calves (no, I don’t often get to wear the more stylish boots). But, the extra-large size ended up fitting me just fine. Actually, I have heard that you can get “custom” support hose which are fitted every inch or so all the way up the leg, though I shudder to think what those cost. My pair were about $43, and worth it, since I now have no pain and no (current) worry that my legs are going to cut short my massage work during my pregnancy.

So if you or any of your clients are suffering from leg pain–pregnant or not–due to venous issues, I HIGHLY recommend support hose. Sexy is good, but sometimes stodgy is so much sweeter.

Free Water, Anyone?

I observed what I find to be a bizarre phenomenon at the Edmonds Classic Car Show this past weekend. This is the second event we’ve participated in this summer where we have a booth and offer chair massage, gift certificates, raffle tickets, etc. As per usual, we also handed out free samples of Biofreeze, especially at the beginning and end of the event when things were slow. What generally happens when one of us asks a passing stranger, “Would you like a sample of Biofreeze, a natural anti-inflammatory?” is one of four things. The person responds:

1. “Oh, wow, that is great stuff! Can I have two?” Then they keep going.

2. “Uh, I don’t know. Does it really work?” We assure them that it does (duh, no, we give out useless crap for fun), so they accept it, eye it suspiciously and keep going.

3. “No, I don’t want it/don’t want to carry it (’cause, boy, it is heavy)/don’t have any aches or pains (yeah, right)/etc.” Then they keep going.

4. They say nothing at all and either refuse to make eye contact or stare at us as if we had two heads and just offered them tickets to a nude freak show.

I find responses 2-4 odd. It’s not like there’s a catch to accepting a free sample of Biofreeze. It does have our name and number printed on the front so that they know how to locate more, but other than that . . .

Now at the end of the event, we had a lot of leftover bottled water, which we normally only give to those people who buy a chair massage. So instead of hauling it all back to our office, we gave it away, as a gesture of goodwill. And it is amazing to see how differently people behave if you first offer them a free bottle of water, as opposed to a free sample of Biofreeze. They smile and make eye contact and offer amazed thanks. At that point, they will not only happily accept a free sample of Biofreeze, they will ask how it works, they will ask about massage, they will ask for our cards . . . all because of a little bottle of free water. “Unbelievable,” I said to my partner. “that something about being the giver of free liquid refreshment makes you immediately a Person to Be Trusted, while offering a free packet of anti-inflammatory gets you worse looks than a dope dealer offering dime bags to preschoolers.”

I highly recommend, therefore, free water as a sort of quasi-marketing tool for encouraging folks to get massage. Unless your event is sponsored by Coca Cola, and Coke is selling water. That’s a possible assasination offense, but also another story . . .

I Want My Fruit Basket

Sorry to be a little late with my blog this week. The ceiling outside my office collapsed. Among other things. No, seriously, the ceiling outside my office collapsed. My grandmother didn’t die, the dogs didn’t lap up all my special massage olive butter. I was late because the ceiling collapsed. Well, actually, it collapsed after it sort of melted and fell apart because it was made of those thick cardboard panels. Which happened because the panels were saturated with water. Which happened because the upstairs-across-the-hall doctor installed a water purifier under his sink that decided to… flood the entire floor, the floor below, and also the basement below that.

Now, the business about the water purifier is murky. According to one side, it might have been improperly installed. According to another, it might have malfunctioned and split in two. For all I know, it was an AI and decided it hated the doctor and wanted to kill all humans with rapidly growing mold and mildew. What I know for sure is that it happened just before (1) a full week of massage, (2) a three-day, ten-hour-a-day chair massage event, and (3) just before another full week of massage. Oh, and wedge in spending my one day off with my associate and our husbands after the chair event lugging our entire office to an empty suite so we didn’t have to stop business. Also wedge in stripping, hammering, insurance adjustors, and huge drying fans that made our suite feel like one of the sauna rooms at Olympus Spa. Nothing like sweating to the music of hammers to really get you in the mood for a good massage.

But it was when I tripped over a drying fan (in the basement, in the dark, where they turned the power out after we had to move our storage to a different compartment), that I just lay there on the concrete for a minute resting, and said, “Dammit, I want a fruit basket.” “Why a fruit basket?” asked my associate. “You know, an apology. Given with fruit. To sweeten it up.” Sarah is younger than me by 16 years, and did not grow up in the Land of Thank-You Notes, as I did. But back in my day (boy, do I sound old), when somebody ruins your freaking day in such a gigantic way, you get a fruit basket. With flowers, maybe. Or some cheeses, nuts, and hard candies. Possibly even a bottle of revoltingly cheap champagne. “They might want to apologize, but they can’t,” she said. “Y’know, liability issues. Can’t admit fault.” “A box of chocolates?” I suggested. “A plate of homemade brownies? A nice note with a Starbuck’s GC? No? Geez.”

See, I’m not sure where saying “I’m sorry” and “admitting fault” are precisely the same thing. I ran into this whole never-say-you’re-sorry thing when I first started massaging. “You should never say ‘I’m sorry’ in a massage,” an older therapist told me. “The client might think you’re saying her pain is your fault.” What? That makes my eyes cross. If a client comes in and is in pain, and I say “I’m sorry you’re in pain,” that is not admitting fault. How could the pain possibly be my fault as it preceded me? That is simply me being–I don’t know–caring? Sympathetic? Empathetic? I am who I am and what I am, and what I am is sorry that the client–or anyone else in the Vale of Tears we call life–is suffering. Geez.

I was good and I was kind and I never missed a beat after the ceiling fell in. I faked it ’til I made it, but sustained faking it takes energy, which I am low on at present. What would help, would be a nice apple. In a fruit basket. Which could even appear anonymously, wiped of all fingerprints. No one would ever “admit fault,” and yet I’d know exactly where it came from, and get that comforting feeling that come from knowing an involved human regrets the unavoidable extra efforts this entire ludicrous incident has involved.

Hearing and Understanding: Communicating with Deaf Clients

By the time he was a young man, my father was already hard-of-hearing, particularly on the left side. Being left-handed, he thinks that a lifetime of holding shotgun and rifle stocks to the left shoulder and firing without hearing protection was the largest culprit. In any case, by the time I was in my late teens, my interpreting services were more and more required in social situations. Very naturally, my father had become a face-watcher and a lip-reader, but if approached from behind (especially behind and left), he often could not hear (and appeared to be ignoring) the speaker. Speakers talking too fast or using a different dialect were also a problem, so I became very handy at restaurants and on vacation. If he couldn’t understand something, he simply looked at me questioningly, and I repeated or translated the statement/question. My face and my dialect were easy for him: he’d been reading me for years. Now, I’m 40, and my father is pretty much deaf without his hearing aids. Upon getting them, he said it was nice to hear birds again, but not so nice to listen to my mother shuffle around in her bedroom slippers, which he said sounded more like a herd of elephants sliding around the kitchen.

I tell this story to illustrate that I am sensitive to hearing issues, or at least I always thought I was. In the last year, I worked at a clinic were I had a regular client who happened to be deaf. And I was rather horrified one day when another therapist friend pulled me aside after observing part of my post-session interview and teased, “For God’s sake Lynna, he’s deaf, not stupid!” Apparently, I was gesturing too much, and exaggerating by speech too much. I was mortified, largely because I was afraid that my attempts at being helpful had back-fired on me, and my client was probably going home after each session thinking, “What a wacko . . . “

So I did some research. I had been gesturing a lot to help clarify my message: was that wrong? Survey says: not necessarily. Gestures are welcome when communicating with deaf people. After all, people with “normal” hearing use gestures all the time in conversation. HOWEVER, gesturing should be precise and kept at minimum. For example, pointing at the gravy when asking, “Would you like some gravy on your biscuits?” Too much gesturing is just distracting and may confuse the issue instead of clarifying it.

Should I speak slowly and hyper-enunciate? Survey says: only to a degree. I had been worried because my dialect (South Eastern US, etc.) is very different to that spoken in the Seattle area, and that can change the way some words are framed. BUT, according to several sources, one should simply try to be as clear with a deaf person as one would be with a hearing speaker from another region/dialect. Which means, if a hearing person would think you sound condescending or strange, a deaf person could interpret that same speech behavior that way as well.

The only other universal suggestions I found for communicating effectively with deaf people were (1) write things down legibly if you cannot express concepts well enough through speech (which I do) and (2) be mindful that facial hair does not block your mouth/lips (I don’t have any). And I might add, I guess, (3) give yourself a break. My mortification smacked of perfectionism, but I well know I can never be perfect. I believe my client knew my intentions were pure even if my approach was muddy.

Dear Mommy Dearest

An Open Letter to All Mothers Who Find It Necessary to Bring Their Small Children Into Massage Rooms:

Dear Mommy Dearest,

First, let me say that I know I grew up in a simpler time when most mothers were “homemakers” and “had time” for their own full-time childcare. I was lucky enough to have one of those mothers (though I doubt I felt lucky at the time) who fed me regularly, restricted my television time, and put me to bed by 7 or 8 pm (even in the summer time when it was still light outside, curse the woman!) And I know that you probably have to work outside the home and suffer from the stresses of a modern world that taxes you in ways that women were never meant to be taxed (this letter is to you, after all, because as it is in laundry detergent commericials, men don’t seem to figure much in this topic.)

But please, do whatever you can to avoid bringing your child to your massage, at least if the child is under ten, and incapable for any reason, of somehow amusing herself quietly and appropriately. Find a babysitter for two hours: your mother or mother-in-law, perhaps, as they are most likely to dote on your kids for free. Or a sister, a friend, an old widow lady down the street, a trustworthy teenager (whose own mother you know and so wouldn’t dare misbehave.)

Why should you do this? Well, you may have learned to “tune out” your own child, but unfortunately, no one else has. If your child is banging a toy fire truck into the wall, other clients as well as your therapist might possibly be disturbed. If your child leaves the room and locks the rest of the office staff out while they are at lunch, people might get angry. If your little girl is crawling under the table and putting your bra on her head as a hat, while singing the Barney song, your therapist might not be able to concentrate and may even become nauseous (surely you don’t want a strange woman throwing up on you.) If your little girl wails and sobs softly for the first 15 minutes, then holds her breath and releases it periodically for the rest of the session (punctuated with high-pitched farts), and it is 9 pm, your child is probably tired and hungry, and PROBABLY SHOULD BE AT HOME IN BED. Have you ever been stared at suspiciously by an angry child for an hour while you attempt to perform a skilled task? It’s creepy, lady. It’s just plain creepy.

If you miss your child’s presence so much, just leave her at home and ask your therapist to bring her dog. I have a dog named Suki who will gladly jump on the table and attempt to lick your brain through your ear, bark at faint noises, chew your socks, and maybe even try to wear your bra as a hat. Because while good discipline might help, no force in nature is going to inable a two year old to sit motionless and quiet for an hour, unless that child is on animal tranks.

Thank you sincerely for listening: and please take this to heart. We will all have a better session without your child, God bless her cute little Gap-Baby-jeans-wearing butt.


Your Hardworking LMP

PS: If you fit the above description, restaurant servers probably hate your guts: eat with one eye open.

Thoughts on Therapeutic Massage

A few months ago, I wrote a blog defending the merits of working for a chain like Massage Envy. I got quite a few positive comments–more than I thought I would, actually–and one remarkably negative one. This last comment opined that nothing “therapeutic” could possibly happen in a 50 minute massage, and that to say so would be taking advantage of the poor, dumb therapists and clients who believe that. Well, lady, I don’t know who died and made you Goddess of Massage, but let me tell you this: I’ve got better things to do than sitting around with my thumb up my butt, going through the motions, and if I didn’t believe what I do for a living made a tangible difference in clients’ lives, I would have hung up my holster and gone home a long time ago. But the following I have, and the progress I’ve seen, keeps the fire burning under me.

As I’ve shared before, I have two jobs: one is at Massage Envy, the other is a private business I work at with a friend of mine. While I prefer the later, I appreciate the former (for reasons I stated in the previous blog.) Moreover, I don’t find that work to be absent of any therapeutic benefit, and I will explain why. First, all definitions of therapeutic include basically the following words: “of or relating to the treatment of disease or disorder by remedial agents or methods” and “providing or assisting in a cure.” And no matter where I do it–or whether it is accomplished in 50 or 60 minute sessions–I believe my massage always treats disease or disorder and assists in a cure.

Yes, I prefer to work in longer sessions. But does that mean I can’t accomplished anything in a shorter one? No. Do people usually have the time and money for the 3-4 hour sessions our hands tell us they need? Can we undo the affects of years of stress and over-work in an hour? No. That’s why people come back and follow treatment programs of multiple sessions.

Or, if for any reason, a client cannot afford an $85 session, does that mean the client does not deserve massage and should not seek touch through a $40 session? Uh, no, I hope not, because all our belief in touch would seem somewhat hypocritical and useless at that point. Do I have the right to say what is therapeutic for any individual person? No. I personally don’t get much out of light touch, but there are clients who seem to “take up their beds and walk” after getting little more than petting. Does that mean these super-sensitives are not experiencing healing? That the absence of pain and depression is only in their heads? Yes and no, because a lot of pain and dysfunction are LITERALLY IN OUR HEADS, meaning they derive from nerves and the brain’s processing of information.

I will say it again: there are good therapists, mediocre therapists, and poor therapists. I’ve seen poor ones making a lot of money per session, and good ones making little. And I’ve seen it the other way around. But when it comes to therapeutic benefit, even chair massages can be helpful, and that is really saying something in my opinion. So if you’re out there–anywhere–will powerful skill and pointed intention, you are working in some aspect in therapeutic massage. Don’t worry too much about the Goddess of Massage: I hear it’s a self-appointed position.