Archives for posts with tag: healing

While I’ve been following the current ebola outbreak for quite a while now (my job requires me to visit the CDC website on an almost daily basis, so it’s constantly in my face), it’s only recently that I’ve seen Americans without ties to west or central Africa becoming actively afraid of the disease. And where fear goes, exploitation follows. Scammers are selling all kinds of products to “protect your family against ebola,” from essential oils to magical water to expensive dietary supplements. Never mind that the best way to avoid contracting ebola is to avoid coming into contact with the bodily fluids of someone who has ebola—not terribly difficult to manage here in the US.

But people quite naturally want to do something when horror strikes. As such, here’s my list of suggestions of things you can do, as an average person outside of an area where ebola is endemic, to help the situation.

1. Support science education of children, youth, and adults.

If we as a people do not understand science, we will not produce scientists. We will not be able to develop cures and methods of prevention. We will be easy prey for scams. We will not know where to donate money or time or energy in order to be of service. Supporting science education might mean tutoring a neighborhood youth. It might mean pitching in for science supplies for a local cash-strapped teacher. It might mean organizing a workshop at your local library, or calling your state legislators. It might even mean logging on to Khan Academy and educating yourself. Choose the path that makes the most sense for you.

2. Demonstrate and teach compassion.

Nothing gets better when nobody cares. (And caring is different from fear.) Does picking up litter in your neighborhood on your daily walk really have any effect on something like ebola halfway across the world? Not directly. But in a world where editorials make sarcastic cracks at those who dedicate their lives to curing disease and alleviating suffering, any attempt to eliminate cynicism is a step that brings us closer to being able to act in unity with our fellow human beings.

Vickery Meadow neighborhood cleanup

3. If it’s not about you, remember that.

If you live anywhere near a decently-sized city, there are people in your area who are affected by this crisis. You have neighbors or coworkers who are from central and west Africa, who have family there, who are worried sick in ways that probably don’t apply to you. A visit, some baked goods, a word of understanding can go a long way. Listen. Listen well, and do it more than you speak. Share the burden of those who are suffering, rather than adding a burden of your own.

4. Live in a learning mode.

Medicine is a tricky practice. It involves some science, some art, and a sizable chunk of engineering all thrown together. It requires a process of study, action, and reflection that doesn’t always run perfectly on an individual level, much less on a global scale. But when we allow ourselves to internalize this learning cycle, we stop being defensive about past mistakes, and instead upgrade our knowledge and habits without shame. While most of us aren’t going to develop a cure for ebola, we can bring to a halt the spread of misinformation, even misinformation we ourselves had a hand in promoting. We can encourage habits of creative thought and concerted action that might lead to a new scientific breakthrough, or just a better experience for the families on our street.

I know that these aren’t the kinds of advice most people are looking for. They don’t particularly alleviate fear. They aren’t direct. They aren’t immediate. They’re not simple. And they’re definitely not glamorous. But when we finally conquer this outbreak, there will be another crisis to capture our attention. Perhaps another virus. Or a war. Or a hurricane. Or a messenger from outer space—who knows? We can’t possibly hope to preemptively develop exactly what is needed to handle every possible contingency. But in all of these cases, there is a shared truth: that the best preparation is a community of people who strive towards acquiring and applying knowledge for the betterment of all.

If you want to make a difference, start there.

I don’t usually talk much about my professional life here, because I have another blog for that. But there are times when certain aspects of my career push me into musings that are a bit too rambling and philosophical for that setting. This is one of them.

There’s a bit of a schism in the massage therapy profession. Really, in the complementary care community as a whole, but what I know best is the massage world. It has different names: materialists vs. spiritualists. Science vs. Woo. Whatever. And I find myself oddly placed in it.

On one hand, I’m solidly on the science side. My massage education emphasized basic science education. Our instructors had PhDs in Anatomy. I do not perform energy work or other techniques for which there is no evidence. I’m not a “healer.” I don’t “detoxify” my clients. My bosses have been physicians and physical therapists, not yoga teachers or New Age gurus.

But I am also a person of deep religious convictions. I pray daily. I believe in God, and an afterlife, and nonphysical reality. So why don’t I incorporate these things into my work? Is it not hypocritical of me to compartmentalize my life and seal off a huge part of me daily experience from my faith? Am I wronging my clients by failing to offer them all of the tools for health and wellbeing at my disposal? Is it dishonesty to offer clients exclusively materialist assistance when I am not myself a materialist by belief?

I don’t believe so.

In fact, I don’t believe that I have removed my faith from my practice. Do I pray for my clients? Of course I do. In private. Just as I pray for all the people I care about. I choose to work in a way that exemplifies the teachings of my faith: with compassion, trustworthiness, and a profound sense of gratitude. Another tenet of my faith is truthfulness, which is why I cannot claim to offer spirit-based healing. I cannot in good conscience claim to understand or control such things. Accepting payment for them would be akin to accepting money for making the weather pleasant, or for a meteor shower. It isn’t right.

Beautiful, isn't it? That'll be $20.

Basic lovely weather package is $50, but only $10 extra gets you blooming flowers too.

It’s easy to get caught up in the sense of control science offers us. If I let the ball go, I can make it fall to the ground! If I angle this glass correctly, I can bend light! If I split an atom, I can create an explosion! Truly, it’s a lot of fun. Babies adore it. So do adults. We’re wired to control things like this in order to survive.

But if you believe in the Divine, you can’t approach it with a microscope or telescope. Revelation in one form or another might give you guidelines for how all this spiritual stuff works, but the thing about being the creation is that you don’t get to order the Creator around. Making up rules about what God must or must not do based on your personal desires is ridiculous. It’s effing the ineffable. And it makes you look foolish not only to people of science, but people of faith.

I’m not saying there are no services that faith can offer to others. I would be an awful hypocrite if I thought that. Absolutely pray for people. Lay your hands on them if that’s your thing. Anoint them with oils or chant or draw symbols on their skin or just hold them in your heart and love them. There’s nothing wrong with seeking spiritual aid on a suffering person’s behalf. But don’t take money for it. That’s like being baptized in a church and then next week receiving a water bill. 

Do I think people have things to gain spiritually from massage therapy? Sure. Being cared for with respect and compassion by another human being touches far more than skin and muscle. But it’s not my place to tell my clients that, and it’s not my job to try and make it happen. The ineffable doesn’t need my chatter to do its work. I wouldn’t believe in it otherwise.

photo credit: code poet via photopin cc

I received a card in the mail the other day. It was from Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

For the first time since I was 22, I have comprehensive health coverage.

And suddenly I can breathe.

It’s like that muscle you didn’t know you’d been clenching until the moment you’re receiving a massage. A chronic fearful itch, just below consciousness. Don’t get sick. Don’t get hurt. For the love of God, don’t get pregnant. Don’t feel worse. Don’t get tired. Don’t give in. 

I don’t have a primary care physician. I haven’t seen a physician in ages. Except for a $30 trip to the Nurse Practitioner for antibiotics and steroids (bronchitis and an inflamed lung), and a scary but uneventful colposcopy and biopsy at Planned Parenthood, I haven’t needed any kind of medicine in my life. I’ve been very lucky. But also very afraid.

Yes, I eat well. I exercise. I try to get enough sleep. All the alternative health folks tell me this is the best health plan the earth can provide. But all the broccoli in the world wouldn’t help me avoid bankruptcy if I were end up in a coma after a drunk driver smashes into me on the side of the road.

It happened at a party I attended. It wasn’t me who was hit, but it could have been.

I didn’t know how stressful it really was until it was over. Now I get the amazing chance to think about my health instead of worry about it.

The card I got in the mail wasn’t a birthday card or a thank you card. I’ll be paying thousands of dollars a year for it. But my chest is full of air and I can let it all flow out and then in again. It turns out that money can buy a slice of happiness and peace. Who knew?

aids ribbon

Today is World AIDS Day.

When I was in high school, I was one of only two members of the AIDS Awareness Club. The two of us were also in the Drama Club together, and on the editorial team for our school’s literary magazine, and best friends besides. Because of this, everyone decided we were a lesbian couple. Not sure how lesbianism follows AIDS, as they’re the least likely group to contract HIV, but that’s high school for you.

In college, I became an HIV Prevention Peer Educator. Basically, I taught sex ed to college students. As a student who wasn’t having sex, this was a particularly hilarious position. (Someone once called me the Virgin Sex Goddess. Best nickname ever.) My teaching partner was known for being a bit promiscuous, and he and I made a great team. Once a student complained that her boyfriend refused to wear condoms. I asked her why she’d waste her time on a guy who didn’t respect her health. My partner showed her how to put a condom on another person with her mouth. His method was probably more effective.

For my biology class, I decided to research the specific ways various HIV drugs worked on the cellular level. I spent a lot of time talking to the only other kid in the class who was really passionate about his project. (It was about mushroom farming, which is very cool.) Nobody else knew what to do with us.

When I lived in Malawi, around 15% of the population was HIV+. In the afternoons I’d sometimes walk to a nearby orphanage and play with the babies there. Some of them had not been tested yet. Some had. It was surreal, realizing how differently the futures of those babies would go, all based on one tiny virus.

In massage school, I completed my internship at a local nonprofit, working with HIV+ clients (and sometimes their stressed-out social workers). I was amazed at the diversity I saw. For some, being HIV+ was their entire identity. When they said “we,” they didn’t mean people in general, or the two of us, or even gay men. They meant people carrying the virus. But others nearly exploded over with the joy of being alive. I couldn’t dream of being so healthy, or living so fully.

Now, I work in a tiny, not-for-profit clinic where around 1/3 of our clients have HIV. I’m lucky to understand the side effects of their medications (peripheral neuropathy is particularly unpleasant) and to have enough knowledge to be sensible, compassionate, and unafraid.

I when I was 16 and hanging posters in my school’s hallways, I didn’t know I was building a career. I just knew that I was a teen who cared, and that care followed me around for a decade until I found a place for it in my professional life. If you’d asked me then what I would do when I grew up, I couldn’t have predicted any of it, and the question wouldn’t have helped me at all. But if you asked me, “What will matter to you?” I’d have given you a short, decisive list. It’s the same list now.

Maybe that’s a better way to prepare young people for the world they will inherit. Build the skills around caring, rather than trying to convince people that they ought to care more about their skills.

photo credit: Mister F. via photopin cc

Three years ago, before Jef and I knew we’d end up married (but were starting to think we might), we were driving west on Clifton Avenue in Cleveland when we suddenly had to stop. There was a barricade in the way. And music. And lights. And drag queens. One look and we knew we had to stop and find out what it was all about. So we parked and walked towards what was clearly a fantastic party.

We’d stumbled upon Dancing in the Streets, a fundraiser for the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland. Now, a few pertinent facts about me:

  • I cannot resist an opportunity to dance. Any style, any time.
  • HIV/AIDS advocacy has always been a central issue for me, since high school.
  • “Dancing in the Streets” by Martha and the Vandellas is my theme song.
  • I’m a really good dancer. So naturally I wanted to show off in front of this potential spouse.

So we donated, entered, and started to dance.

The sun went down. The DJ kept playing. We kept dancing.

There was lightning in the distance. But the DJ kept playing, so we kept dancing.

Rain poured. People were running for cover under awnings and in nearby bars. But the DJ kept playing, and dozens of us were still dancing, in the middle of a summer thunderstorm.

It was like that obligatory wet sari scene in every Bollywood movie ever, and it was absolutely magic.

To this day, both Jef and I consider it to be the best date either of us has ever been on.

That was 2009.

In 2012, I went back to Dancing in the Streets. Same corner of Clifton, just where Cleveland turns into Lakewood. But there were differences:

  • The stage was smaller.
  • Cleveland’s new food trucks were parked nearby.
  • The weather was perfectly clement.

And at a little after 7:00 in the evening, a drunk driver crashed into the barricade, hitting five people. Two would die.

Two days later, Jef and I attended a candlelight vigil for Mitch and the other victims. Not because we knew the victims (although Mitch was a friend of a friend), but because the event itself had connected us. Mitch chose to come down to an event in order to celebrate and support life in the face of difficulty. We made that same choice on that same day. It made us part of one community, one family. And while that might seem a flimsy connection to those who prefer to focus on more traditional bonds, there is nothing stronger in this world than the power of choice.

Yes, I cried at the vigil. Not so much for Mitch, but for the pain of those who knew and loved him. I recognized a lot of faces from Dancing in the Streets that night. Some had come with him to the event, as his friends. But many others were like me, people united only by a choice to come, to support, to celebrate, and to dance.

Dancing is the epitome of vitality. Every part of you moving, breathing, beating, full of life. I’ll be back next year, to support the living and to honor the dead. For the HIV+ clients I treat weekly as a massage therapist. For Mitch, killed at 27 by a drunk in an SUV. For community and family and survivors and friends.

I promise I’ll be back.

And that I’ll be dancing for you.

The Gaps in Us

The God of my dream has narrow hands—
He is a violinist, perhaps,
or a scholar who never sleeps.
This God slips His fingers into spiderweb cracks
in sidewalks, plaster, linoleum floors,
memories, teacups, clay,
in between the ribs at odds in my chest.
The bones should feel stranger, I think,
as God lifts us up by the gaps in us.

The other day was bitter cold, and I was walking back from the grocery store with a bag of tomatoes (love how you’re always lacking that ONE ingredient just half an hour before your company shows up) and trying to remember what it felt like to have feeling in my nose. Behind me I heard a clatter and a shout. I turned around, to find a man down on the sidewalk, clearly in pain.

“Oh my God, are you okay?”

“No. I think my foot is broken.”

I had nothing with me but a bag of tomatoes. I hadn’t driven, and I had thrown my wallet into my canvas grocery bag rather than carry my purse, so no phone either. Still, the guy was well-dressed, he looked like the type to have a phone.

“Is there someone I can call for you?”

He took out his phone and called his friend who was waiting in the pub next to us.

His friend came out to help and another woman stopped as well.

What was running through my head:

Stabilize the foot, get him in the back seat of his buddy’s car, and have him drive to the nearby Urgent Care Center, where they could take an x-ray to find out whether anything was really broken.

What actually happened:

The friend called 911 for an ambulance while the woman ran into a nearby Italian restaurant. The manager brought out tablecloths to help keep the man warm while we waited for the ambulance to arrive. The friend took several pictures of the icy sidewalk with his phone. The manager of the Italian restaurant collected his contact information to give to the owner of the shopping center. I tried to say encouraging things but mostly stood around like an idiot. The ambulance arrived and took him to the emergency room of his preferred hospital.

Why the vastly divergent plans of action?

It didn’t occur to me until afterwards: of course the guy had medical insurance. The idea of calling an ambulance for a broken ankle seems excessive and strange to me because it would set me back a month’s wages, which could be better spent on rent and tomatoes.

Which was the better plan?

Playing it safe and getting professional help ASAP? Or not wasting the time of EMTs who could be out responding to a heart attack instead?

I’m not sure, but it’s the mental divide that intrigues me.

What kinds of attitudes about health and medicine are being fostered in the US among the insured, the recipients of Medicaid, and the uninsured working poor? How much does this change with a change of status?

I know I do a lot of stupid things because I’m uninsured. I don’t get regular checkups. I haven’t seen a dentist in years. On the other hand, I’m obsessive about eating well, staying active, flossing, and resting when I’m ill. I can’t afford to be in poor health, so I do everything in my power to stay spectacularly healthy. I’ve never overused antibiotics because I’ve never gone in for a prescription. I’ve never “asked my doctor” (my doctor? what doctor?) about drugs or procedures I didn’t need.

I’m glad one person got the treatment truly was needed, and immediately. I’m glad there are multiple ways in which the process of getting treatment can occur. I’m glad that there are a lot of ways we can keep ourselves healthy, both those involving medical professionals and those not.

And am I ever glad I didn’t break my own ankle, and end up unable to work, unable to pay, and unable to discover any viable path through the disaster zone of our broken healthcare system.

Please walk carefully out there!

The Adobe People

The adobe people walk out their doors as one—
singing—as soon as it rains, rolling the earth
between blunted hands to patch an eye,
a knee, replace a missing toe. Ruddy-brown
coils and eager youth surround the dressers of hair,
and lovers carefully repair the private consequence
of passion. The creases of a season’s hungry cries
are smoothed from the cheeks of the young,
a gesture as much of hope as love. The adobe people
are gentle in this, the mercy-season, laughing
in the knowledge of their perpetual undoings,
in the knowledge of all broken flesh restored.