February Back Page: Now – THAT’S the rub!
BY BRUCE STEINBERG
Ah, advertisement disclaimers. Those legalese-packed warnings at the end of TV and radio advertisements, spoken by someone with a mouth shot full of Novocain, babbled at some minimally required volume and maximally permissible rate, intended to blur past our sensibilities with the verbal equivalent of one-font print.
For example, during a TV commercial for a wonder-drug meant to improve liver function, you’ll at first hear the drug’s wonderment set to Mozart music, visuals set in soft-focused scenes of nature, with handholding and other moments of human happiness. And then in the end, if you listen carefully, you’ll make out all the ways the wonder-drug will cause shortness of breath, diarrhea, migraines and other maladies, including death. At least at the autopsy, the pathologist will note: But doesn’t the liver look nice!
Especially with our health, it pays to be skeptical, to question, listen, take notes, research and be your own best advocate. As my article in this issue on Betsy Hearne Claffey showed, such an attitude within Betsy and her family proved itself a main ingredient in her surviving one of the deadliest cancers.
During my interviews with Betsy and others on her story, I had undergone my own arthroscopic procedure to repair a meniscus tear and was still in post-op physical therapy. Betsy sometimes interrupted my questions, asking me about my knee and recovery progress. I finally responded, “You survived pancreatic cancer – the comparison is the proverbial molehill versus your Mount Everest!” Still, Betsy made it clear that the patient’s attitude, in either case, should be the same.
She’s right, of course, and I was skeptical most of all about the benefits of the massage therapy I received during my physical therapy. I mean, c’mon, mushing a person’s flesh around actually has a benefit, other than the transitory feeling of guilty pleasure?
Betsy referred my skepticism to her own massage therapist, Jean McManus, whose business is The Island Therapeutic Massage in Urbana, Illinois. With over 30 years of massage therapy experience, Jean passed therapeutic massage course training in Oregon, trained and taught for the Neuromuscular Therapy (NMT) program led by renown massage therapist Paul St. John, as well as worked and studied with Doug Nelson, who founded Precision NMT. She also trained with and became an assistant teacher for vascular surgeon Dr. Victor Krylov, who instructed courses in Manual Lymphatic Drainage Technique. Jean understood my layman’s skepticism and then used Betsy’s case as an example of what professional massage therapy can accomplish. Noting the deadly serious nature of Betsy’s situation, her pancreatic cancer, the Whipple procedure and the resulting frailty and longtime inactivity, Jean knew she had a lot of work to do. Before the diagnosis, Betsy had been Jean’s client for more typical reasons, such as pain caused by posture issues from long days working at a desk.
“When Betsy came back to me,” Jean said, “at first I had to go very slowly, working the tissue.”
And, as Jean made clear, Betsy’s scars were deep from the Whipple procedure.
“A massage therapist’s scar work aims to soften the scar tissue, to make it more pliable,” she said. “If the scars are deep, like Betsy’s were throughout, they move as the person moves, limiting the range of motion and, even worse, rub against internal organs and other tissues.
“A good massage therapist will palpate carefully, especially around scars. You go to the point of resistance of the impacted tissue and no further until the tissue softens and I can work it a little more, being careful not to overstress the tissue. Also, I taught her, as I do my other clients, how to do scar work on her own.”
Betsy discussed Jean’s massage therapy as well.
“She’s a genius with her hands,” Betsy said about the results she’s experienced under Jean’s care. “It’s as simple as that.”
Upon reflection, I have to admit that my post-op physical massage therapy left me with a nearly immediate increase in my knee’s range of motion. Five days after surgery, I was up on the roof blowing leaves out of the gutters. Hey, it’s a ranch house with a modestly pitched roof. Ten days after surgery, I was roller-skiing and not hurting during and after. Along the way in my physical therapy, I asked questions, paid attention to the answers and adopted what I was taught to my regular exercise routine. No doubt, having a cocky attitude toward massage therapy and other PT work, simply because of a life steeped with silent sports activities, would have proven detrimental to recovery.
From the molehill of arthroscopic knee surgery to the Mount Everest of a fight against pancreatic cancer, nothing is certain with surgery. But the process of asking questions and paying close attention to the answers, rinse and repeat, at all steps along the way, cannot help but be one of your best friends in a medical situation.
And now, here at the end, all disclaimers to the otherwise are not needed.