Tim Grady Photo

My client's stories...it is I who have been touched.

Story #1: A gift for a gift ...a story of faith.

Upon visiting the In-Patient Unit (IPU) at Norton Hospital in Louisville for some volunteer work, I entered a room occupied by a patient and his wife. The room was spartan, no sign of family memorabilia or keepsakes. The patient, a man in his early sixties, was sitting on his bed while his wife stood looking out the window. I introduced myself as the massage therapist and asked the man if he had any areas of concern he wanted massaged. He indicated he was having trouble with his neck. I informed his wife that the massage would last up to an hour. She asked her husband if she could get him something, and he asked for a milkshake. She left us.

While working on the man's neck we talked a bit. He told me he was a blue-collar worker his whole life, working with his hands in construction type jobs. He had been diagnosed with prostate cancer months earlier, and it had quickly spread. He confessed he didn't get regular check-ups and that this was the result ...a hospice room in a hospital. After working his neck, I began to massage his hands. I've always been fascinated by the character found in people's hands. The image of Michelangelo's fresco in the Sistine Chapel came to mind...God's hand reaching out to touch Adam. To be touched by God... aren't we all? What stories lie in a man's hands?

The hour flew by and his wife returned with that milkshake. I put away my lotion and washed up as he started sipping on his shake. As I was getting ready to leave he asked me, "What do they pay you for this kind of work?" I replied that it was volunteer work and that I did not get paid. He sipped from his milkshake. "They must pay you something," he pried, revealing his blue-collar, hard working, a day's pay for a day's work mentality. I asked him how he felt. He said he felt pretty good and started telling his wife how the massage had helped loosen his stiff neck muscles enabling him to move more freely. I told him that his feeling better was my payment. He sipped more on that milkshake.

He said, "That's not right, they should pay you something." I said, "Well, I'll tell you what. Whoever gets to heaven first, whether it's me or you, when we meet up, you can buy me a milkshake." He drank more from his cup and said, "I don't think I'll ever get there," meaning heaven. Just then his wife, who had been staring out the window during this parting exchange, walked over to his side and said to him, "Honey, you can get there. All you have to do is be sorry for your mistakes and sins and ask for God's forgiveness." He resumed sucking on his straw. I could see that our conversation about payment had led to a much deeper and more important subject of faith for this couple.

After a long pause and another sip or two, the patient finally said to his wife, "Well, I am sorry." Upon hearing that, the wife's face broke into a smile wider than the Cheshire Cat's in Alice in Wonderland. The Lord works in mysterious ways! As the couple shared this intimate moment, I made my way to the doorway. I stopped and turned towards him and said "Chocolate," letting him know my flavor preference for our heavenly reunion. My patient died two days later. Inspired by witnessing his reconciliation with God, I adopted Michelangelo's "Hand of God Touching Adam" as my logo. Now, many years later, I am a prostate cancer survivor myself.

 

Story #2: Just one word can make a difference.

I received a request to provide a massage in a nursing home for a female with full blown leukemia. I arrived to find her slumped over in her wheel chair, tired, and medicated. The nurses had issued the massage request days earlier, so I knew she was expecting the massage. I introduced myself telling her I was going to give her a massage, but she continued to slump in the chair and only replied, "Hmm." The request called for some slow-stroke work to the legs and back, so I had to move her off the chair and into bed. Her reply to that was also "Hmm."

I began to lift her up but she went completely dead weight, and I began to lose my grip. She responded with a louder "Ohhh." I reassured her that I was holding her and let her know that I was placing her on the bed. After a few anxious moments and a sore back of my own, she was on that bed lying on her side facing the only window. I gently opened the back of her gown to expose her back and took note she was wearing a diaper. As I started to rub her back with lotion, she moaned "Ohhh." I asked her if I was hurting her, but she did not reply. I again started rubbing her back and again she moaned "Ohhh."

I was concerned, as I didn't want to harm her. I double-checked the massage request to make sure it said back massage and it did. Just then a nurse, to whom I had spoken earlier about her own massage therapy training, entered the room. I told her that I wasn't sure if I was hurting the patient or not. I asked her if she would kneel by the patient's head and ask if the back massage felt all right. I started the massage once more, and the nurse asked the patient if it felt okay. But the patient only moaned "Ohhhh." I continued lightly, and the nurse again asked the patient how she felt. This time the woman, taking a deep breath, let out a glorious "wuuuunderfuuuulllll"! It was the first and only word spoken by that patient all day, but I could not have hoped for a nicer one. I completed the massage, knowing her "Ohhh"s were sounds of joy.

 

Story #3: Who, or what, will be your angel... a story of love.

A hospice patient was having a difficult time accepting his situation. He was fighting a killer disease ...AIDS. He had an amputated limb and was struggling with the abandonment by his lover of many years. The massage request focused on relieving his pain, especially in the head and neck. He was developing poor posture as his head and neck muscles were weakening. His head was becoming too heavy for the weakened muscles to support it. The prognosis for the patient's life expectancy was two to three weeks at best.

I first worked on the patient at the IPU, and then he was moved to a nursing home. His room was filled with angel photos and dolls. Control was an important issue with this patient. For example, any time he requested a massage, he would consciously find things to do in his room to delay his appointment. I would just wait patiently, knowing his condition. But as time went by, a significant change took place. He received a pet cat for a roommate. The cat was a soothing presence. The affection and dependence that developed between them gave the patient the motivation to keep going. The cat seemed to fill the gap left by the loss of his lover. The patient lived long enough to eventually accept his fate. The angels came and took him away. His "angel" cat was adopted by one of the caring nurses and surely the blessings continued.

 

Story #4: Sometimes things don't work out as hoped for.

Offering and giving massages to hospice patients and caregivers since 2000 has been a very humbling and blessed experience. I consider the massage work given to hospice patients and caregivers over these past eleven years to be sacred work. As I approach my 500th volunteer hospice massage, I truly am honored to have been able to provide some comfort, some relief of pain and anxiety, but most of all to let patients/clients and their families know that each and every one of them is loved, respected, and being offered compassionate care and comfort.

Of course it does not always work out the way one hopes…

Recently, a requested massage for a caregiver was given. After the hour long massage, the caregiver asked me if I would work on her mother, the hospice patient. I said that I would be happy to. As I entered the room, the patient was awake and relaxing in her hospital bed. I introduced myself as the hospice massage therapist and asked her if she would like some massage work. She replied, “I don't want no man rubbing on me”.