by Nick Lakoff, CMT
Years ago when I was still a massage student, I had an evening job as a security guard that allowed me, between performing my duties, to read and study. I worked in an office building whose major tenant was a local child protection services office. One of the areas that this branch dealt with was adoption services and administered the process prospective parents have to go through to be accepted by the state to adopt. Parents have to go through many weeks of informational seminars and workshops that are run by state employees. These employees would often leave late long after the attendees of the workshops had left.
One of these employees, I will call him John, was a very nice fellow who never failed to say hello to me and would sometimes stop and chat with me a few minutes before heading off to the garage. Very often he would see me with my anatomy and massage books studying for reviews or exams. I had told him that I was studying to be a massage therapist. One day during one of our brief conversations I had mentioned that as students we were expected to perform massages on friends and family and even clients. Although we weren’t expected to charge full fare for one of these “practice massages” they did want us to get in the habit of charging for our work since we would be doing it once we completed our studies. John seemed quite interested and asked me if I would be willing to massage him. Now I was not expecting his request but I quickly accepted and told him I would check for massage room availability at the school. A few days later I called him back and set up a time and date the following week.
The day finally arrived and somehow I started getting cold feet. Part of it was nerves of performing my first “professional” massage. The other was because I had never worked on someone John’s size. You see John, although a very tall man at 6’ 3”, was extremely overweight and would be considered morbidly obese. I never liked that term since there are so many negative connotations to it but it does convey to you the task before me. To be honest I didn’t know many people of his girth and didn’t know what to expect. It did cross my mind several times that day to call him and cancel but I shook off my fears and decided that would be very unprofessional and not a great start to my career.
John showed up at the appointed time and I went through the process of a health history and set a goal for the massage. I left the room and let him get onto the table in preparation for the massage. I had to lower the table to its lowest setting and improvise with cushions and sheets to make him as comfortable as possible. Even at its lowest level I was forced to get on the tips of my toes at times to be able to get more leverage for my massage maneuvers. Another thing I didn’t expect was that he was quite hirsute, especially his back. Despite my earlier reticence, I dove into my work and was determined to give him a great massage. During the massage another thing I noticed was that his skin secreted quite a bit of natural oils and there were hard lumps all over his body. I was to learn later doing some research on morbid obesity that it was common for lymph nodes to become severely clogged and harden – effectively impairing their function.
It was more physically challenging that I had thought and I was drenched in sweat by the end but glad I went through it. Once it was over, I covered him up and left the room to allow him to dress and for me to wash up. When he was ready I sat down with him to get some feedback from him. I could see he was very emotional and there were tears welling up in his eyes. He told me that he was so grateful that I had taken him on as a client and that he really enjoyed the experience. It was then, right at that moment that I realized the incredible healing power of touch both physically and mentally. I learnt then that you don’t choose your clientele, they choose you and each one of them will teach you an important lesson in life. No one can say that they would like to be morbidly obese and we certainly don’t start out that way. How John got to that point I still ignore but the experience transformed me and helped me overcome a prejudice I didn’t even realize I had. As human beings we all need the comfort of touch, whether it’s from a friend, loved one or from a touch professional.
Nick Lakoff is a certified practitioner in the following disciplines: Swedish Massage, Sports Massage, Reflexology, Acupressure, Myo-Fascial Release, Massage for Pregnancy, Swedish Chair Massage, Hot Stone Massage and Reiki.