As one of millions of uninsured Americans, I must find creative ways to treat the issues that plague me. Often the homeopathic remedy is healthier than rushing to the doctor for antibiotics, which is a common approach in our culture, though it is becoming less so. Were I insured, I probably would still employ some combination of hippie wholesomeness and hillbilly medicine. Though we went to the doctor when necessary, my sisters and I grew up with a “natural” approach to health care. We were not totally Appalachian, but we did employ certain gypsy remedies like brandy or whiskey for a cold. As an adult, I believe with my whole heart that exposure to germs and bacteria is healthy for the immune system. My basis for this belief is purely anecdotal and rooted in no science whatsoever. Worse than that, it’s based only on my own personal experience with no real method behind it. But let me go ahead and tell you about how my Daddy (imagine me saying that “diddy”, except not like the rapper, more like a toothless elderly woman who chews tobacco and carries a revolver) used to set food out on the back porch to keep it cold. So what? you might be thinking. People always used to do that before refrigerators were widely available. As long as the food is kept at 40°F or cooler, ain’t no thang. Except he was lax about the temperature, and not infrequently he would put a hug pot of turtle soup or cow tongue stew or whatever else on the porch when it was ~50°F outside. He would eat out of that pot for days, and encourage us to do the same. It’s FINE, he’d say. Yerbe-aright*.
My sisters eventually stopped eating the soup, but I never did. I have picked up many of my dad’s habits, often leaving food out overnight and eating from it the next day without a second thought. Food falls on the floor? That only makes it more delicious on the heels of that adrenaline rush you get as you scramble to pick it up and get it into your mouth ASAP. I’m not gross. I don’t cut vegetables on the same cutting board where I just skinned and cleaned a fish or anything absurd like that. I just eat off the floor sometimes. It’s not a big deal.
Never in my life have I had the stomach flu – “the puking flu”, where I come from – and I am thankful for this. I used to get strep throat, but in my adult life I am mostly healthy. Healthy-ish. That is, my health problems are more like GO BIG OR GO HOME than your standard cold or flu. We’ll get into those in greater depth later. I’ll be just like your grandparents, telling you every detail of all that ails me. We’ll talk about that one time when I went blind, and how that one MS drug they gave me sure did constipate me sumpin’ fierce, and could you look at this spot on my back for me cause I can’t quite see it in the mirror?
For this one disorder that I have called Cervical Dystonia or Spasmodic Torticollis, I use a combination of chiropractic care, pain medication, and professional massage therapy. I first discovered chiropractic care when I lived in Davenport, the home of Palmer College of Chiropractic. Over the years I have tried a variety of different chiropractors, all with their own unique approach to healing. Some were good, some were lackluster, and some were downright terrifying. In general, the uninsured don’t attract the cream of the crop for healthcare providers, and there is often a lot of trial and error toward getting the healthcare you need and can afford. It is a veritable tightrope walk finding that balance. Nothing reminds you of your socioeconomic status like finding yourself in a paneled exam room where cigarette smoke from the 1970’s still hangs in the air, yellowed curtains and dingy instruments staring at you sadly and knowingly. I once had a chiropractor in just such an office adjust my neck while I sat in the kind of pleather-and-metal straight-backed padded chair you might find in your Great Aunt Enid’s basement. Luckily, I have been seeing this guy for about four years, and find that he is the model for managing uninsured human beings, emphasis on the human beings part. As someone who grew up on state aid, and who has been chronically uninsured as an adult, I have rarely known high quality healthcare, and it is always a pleasant surprise when I randomly run across it.
My experience with chiropractors has been varied, and my experience with massage therapists has been exponentially more so. I have been worked on by dainty women with dainty hands, gentle men with strong hands, assertive women with a brilliant touch, and one very strange woman in an over-sized Minnie Mouse t-shirt. Not to mention everyone in between. For the most part I stick with one massage place here in town, and change up my therapist depending on who is available. But they are good, and being good usually means being busy. My gypsy nature makes it challenging for me to schedule appointments and keep them, so I sometimes find that I put it off until the pain is unbearable and I need to see someone right now. When that happens, I see a different therapist who does not work in my regular office. Such an occasion arose today.
You may or may not have ever had a professional massage, so I’ll tell you a bit about what it entails. You meet with your therapist, which usually involves the two of you standing awkwardly in their massage room with you telling them about what you are experiencing. Even if you have seen this therapist before, unless they are really good they won’t remember every nuance of your body. They do not have a chart like a doctor where they can see your history. So you might have to explain for the umpteenth time some very pertinent aspect of who you are and the kind of specific work you need. The therapist will then leave the room to allow you to undress to whatever level you are comfortable with, and get situated on the table. This moment is typically fraught with panic as you hurriedly shimmy out of your clothes and try to gingerly fold them in such a way that your bra with the sweat marks and your underwear with the holes and the period stains are completely hidden from view. This is assuming you are comfortable enough to get bare-assed naked. I am, and I do. After you’ve solved the clothing sitch, you hoist yourself onto the massage table, usually starting face down, and squirm into place under the sheet or towel they have provided for you. All of this happens like you’re Tom Cruise from Mission Impossible because you know that the therapist is going to be coming back ANY MINUTE and nobody wants to be caught butt nekkid floundering onto a massage table.
The massage itself can go down in a variety of ways. Some therapists try to make small talk with you while you’re face down on their table. Others make strange bodily sounds or cough on you as they massage you. Some heed your requests and do exactly what you asked for in your brief consultation. Others completely disregard everything you said, go rogue, and do whatever they want. The fact of the matter is, at this point you are face down with no clothes on letting a quasi-stranger touch your nude body. If there were a picture next to the word “vulnerable” in the dictionary, it would be some poor unclothed sap with their face squished into the hole of a massage table, side-boob in every direction, a tiny towel barely covering their derriere. You are defenseless, unless you think you might be nimble enough to hop off the table and wield your stained undergarments as a weapon, should a threat arise. This assumes you don’t mind standing fully erect whilst in your birthday suit.
One advantage of struggling with SPD is that I have been peeling off my clothes since I discovered and learned how to use my opposable thumbs, rendering me shameless about my naked body. While many women recoil at being nude, I associate it with being comfortable, a state in which I seldom otherwise find myself. When I was younger I was a bit timid about being entirely without clothes in the presence of a massage therapist, but it did not take long for me to kick that shyness. My backup massage therapist is an older man, someone I have been seeing off and on for more than five years. Despite the longevity of this relationship, and despite my general state of comfortability, I still struggle a bit with being sans clothes in his presence. He has never been anything but professional with me, yet I have to swallow diffidence every time I visit him for some reason. I made an appointment with him today so that I could go straight to his office this evening after work. Probably due to lack of sleep, poor nutrition, no exercise, grief, stress, and carting around a sixty-pound mutt, my body has been terrible lately. I have put off making this appointment, hence the sudden ohmygodcanyoufitmeintonight?! situation. I was so miserable when I arrived at his office that I shucked my clothes without a second thought and hopped onto the table. The first half of the massage was standard, with him working on the areas that I had specified. It was mostly relaxing, save for his frequent coughing and throat clearing. Then we reached the point of turning over.
Most people associate a massage with being face down the whole time on a nice table like you see in the movies, perhaps in a flowing white tent on a beach somewhere. This is probably the case for a typical massage, but when you are having neuromuscular work done, typically you have to turn over at some point in the middle of the massage. This is so the muscles can be worked from a different angle, and so that the therapist can work a variety of muscle groups. Usually this rollover is done while the massage therapist holds up the sheet or towel that has been covering you, shielding their eyes from your naked body and allowing you to maintain a modicum of dignity. I have executed this move dozens, if not hundreds, of times. Every time I have been successful. I am the Nancy Kerrigan of massage table rollovers. I do it with grace and precision, and I stick the landing. Or at least I did. Until today. During the first half of the massage, fatigue had overwhelmed me and I had begun to doze off. I also wasn’t entirely privy to what his plan would be since I had asked for very specific work and was uncertain whether this work would necessitate having me roll over at all. Suddenly the rollover was upon me and I was unprepared. He began to lift the sheet, and wanting to be the champion of massage table rollovers, I got ahead of myself. It happened quickly, but there was a brief moment where I was halfway shifted onto my back, and halfway still on my stomach, and OH LOOK! THERE’S MY BUTT CRACK, UNSHIELDED BY THE GARB OF SAFETY THAT IS A FUNDAMENTAL ASPECT OF PROFESSIONAL MASSAGE. There is no choice in this situation but to close your eyes and pretend it didn’t happen. Suppress the urge to have a conversation, to call yourself out about your bare bottom having just been all up in his grill. We got through the rest of the massage without incident, I paid him, and went about my merry way. Lately I have been trying to say aloud once a day something for which I am thankful. Today, I am thankful that I took a shower this morning.
*I realize I make my dad sound like a total bumpkin. However, hick though he may be, I must point out that my dad is no nitwit. He is one of the smartest people I know, and is also Good at Stuff. He’s probably smarter than and better at Stuff than your dad. Almost definitely.