Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Customer Service

Since the time I got my very first job (nigh on 7 years ago), I've been working in the service industry. Apart from the summer job I got once in a doctor's office, I've worked largely in coffee shops and restaurants - both in the kitchen and waitressing. Although it's certainly not what I want to do for the rest of my life (hence spending $30,000 on my education), there are some things that I quite like about it. I like that there are regulars who come in and like to chat with you. I like that I am able to temporarily brighten someone's day by not just serving them a cup of joe or a plate of fries, but by making a quick joke or flashing a brilliant smile. I have a soft spot for the single elderly people that come in obviously looking for human contact more than they are their medium black coffee, who linger at the counter or sit at the bar and talk to you whenever you walk by.

Much as I adore these sorts of interactions - and adore them I do - I have also had to deal with people who fall into a different category. People who also come to the coffee shop to enjoy a cup, and to feel better about themselves, but do so by going out of their way to make me, the captive audience and (in their mind) inferior counter girl, feel worse about myself. Take, for example, this interaction I had only last week:

A man came in, sat at the counter, and asked for a tea with milk. I took his money, served his change, poured the tea, and put it down in front of him. He immediately gave me a look of absolute scorn and informed me that he would not be drinking it. I peered at his tea with concern. The problem? There was the slightest bit of film along the top, as often happens when you mix cold milk with hot tea. While the science part of my brain understands the problem of adding a cold substance with a tendency to curdle to a slightly acidic hot beverage, the humanitarian part of my brain understands customer service and is slightly too nice. I apologized, cheerfully said that I would put on a new pot of tea for him, and smiled widely.

I served the new tea two minutes later when the tea was ready. I put it down in front of him, smiling once more, and said something to the effect of, "that looks much better, doesn't it", despite the fact that it looked the exact same to me (because it was, after all, just tea and milk). A very dour look settled on his face.
"May I ask you a serious question?", he asks. I say that he certainly may, hoping that it's a technical question about the tea brewing process.
"You saw how terrible that looked. Why did you serve it to me? You didn't expect that I would drink it." He pauses. I wait, knowing that this is not a question that he actually wants an answer to - my years of customer service have taught me to recognize that - and sure enough, he continues. "If I worked here, I would never serve something like that."

Ah yes, that line. I smile in what I hope will be seen as sympathy and respond: "Well then it is a shame that they aren't paying you to serve their beverages."

That, certainly, was not the answer he was expecting. I can read it in his face: was I being genuine? Was I mournful that the coffee shop isn't full of employees with such insight and dedication? Was I mocking him? He just can't decide. I shoot him another smile and move to the opposite end of the store where I busy myself cleaning out the toaster.

He sat there at the counter, glaring at me, for the better part of 20 minutes. I could feel the stare, but I didn't pay any heed. Truth be told, I pitied him. All this working in the service industry has made me feel very sad for the people whose lives are so small that they have nothing better to do than hold on to feelings of resentment against people such as me, who are just doing our jobs, although occasionally somewhat imperfectly.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Christmas Pranks

This is sheer brilliance, and, if I had that kind of money to throw around, something I would totally do.

Would you drive someone insane with postcards?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Break Time at Last

I'm done exams! Nine of them in total, and I'm done. Phew. I'm officially on to term 3, half way done! It's hard to believe that in only 9 months I'll be a qualified massage therapist. Scary! The best way to celebrate being done exams? Getting a kicky new haircut using your birthday present from your awesome boyfriend! Greg got me a gift card to see the hair stylist that I adore, and here's what she and I decided to do:

I tried to get a good side profile, but it just wasn't happening. It's shorter in the back than the front, giving me, according to the stylist, a "fashion forward" look. She said I looked like Keira Knightly. Is it any wonder I love this woman? She's fantastic with curly hair and compares me positively to celebrities. Ha. It's also kind of funny going to the spa because while she's cutting my hair there's literally a stream of other stylists walking past going "oooh, look at the CURLS", "that looks so awesome!", "what a fantastic colour - natural?" and asking to touch my hair. I said to my stylist, "you pay them to do that, don't you?"

Anyways. New hair cut. Done exams. Now I work full time for 6 days straight and then I head to holiday mode! It's almost Christmas!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Blast from Television Past

As I kill time rather than study for my final tomorrow (but really, how hard can the written exam for a practical course be?), I'm remembering a kids show that I used to love. I seem to remember at one time also owning the dos-run computer game that went with it.

Does anyone else miss Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

Friday, November 30, 2007

Just Like Monica on Friends

It had to happen eventually. Every massage therapist has at one point or another had to deal with it. With one of them. I suppose I'm lucky that my first happened while I was in the safety of the college clinic with my supervisor a mere towel-throw away.

We have very established rules and guidelines for this sort of thing. If you are unsure or uncomfortable about anything at all, you throw a towel out from under your cubicle curtain and your supervisor will check on you. If you feel at any time unsafe you leave, you talk to your supervisor, and they will (depending on the issue) find someone else to treat your client, treat your client themselves, or kick your client out of the clinic. Really, given all this, it was very lucky that I was at the student clinic for tonight's...experience.

My client arrives and I greet him in the front lobby. We walk back to the treatment room, and into my cubicle. He espouses stories about his hip and gluteal pain and problems. I do some basic postural assessment and orthopedic testing. I decide on a course of action. I explain my plan for treatment to him. He okays it. I leave. He gets on the table.

At this point I talk to my supervisor about techniques for the condition he presents with, she gives me some tips. I wash my hands. I announce myself. I reenter the cubicle. I arrange the pillows. I undrape his leg. I do some light compressions on his right glute. I begin with the knuckle kneading....and it happens. He lets out a sound. Not a polite expression of his enjoyment and comfort, but a full out loud right-from-the-bottom-of-his gut moan. The type of moan that, had it been sounded from your teenage bedroom, would have sent your parents racing up the stairs sure to find you in mid-coitus.

Oh. God.

Okay, wait, I'm a professional. I can handle this. Think back to professional development last term. I ignore it. I continue with the massage, and it continues to happen. After ten minutes of continued moaning I hear a choking sound from beyond the curtain where my team leader is sitting at a table with my supervisor. I hear muffled giggling. Someone is desperately trying to keeping from laughing uproariously at the moaning and now running commentary coming from my client. Because, yes, as if the moaning was not enough, he's decided to throw in delightful phrases such as "oh yes, just like that", and "don't stop doing that".

It's like a really tacky porno with absolutely no sex.

My supervisor calls out from beyond the curtain, "Haley, are you okay in there? Do you need any help with anything?" She clearly is concerned that my oh-so-verbal client has nefarious ideas or plans. I reply that I'm fine, because as simultaneously awkward and hilarious as the situation is, I am 110% sure that the 54 year old man lying on my massage table has no intention of giving off any sexual vibe. And, as it turns out, I am right: after an hour of moaning he gets off the table and leaves like any other client. Some people just let go of stress in different ways than the norm, and I am professional enough to allow him his safe space.

Of course, as soon as he leaves I burst into laughter and have to hop up and down shaking off the creepy residual feeling. My supervisor catches me in mid shake-off and smiling and shaking her head says, "well, I guess you know that he really enjoyed his massage".

And I suppose that's rather satisfying, isn't it?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Who Sent You?!?

Clinic outreach again today at the nursing home. I had a woman who only spoke Spanish the first block, which was a stretch for my limited Spanish vocabulary. Compound this with the fact that she has Alzheimer's and isn't always completely lucid, and you make for an interesting time. The following is our conversation. Me speaking in Spanish is red, me speaking in English is blue. All of her speech was in Spanish.

Hi, my name is Haley, I only speak a little Spanish, understand?
blank stare
Is it okay if I massage you? (Let's face it, that phrase is beyond my translation capabilities)
blank stare
Have you any pain?
blank stare, followed by a shift of the head so she was looking away from me, and falling asleep. After about 10 minutes of massage she woke, obviously confused, with rapid breathing and wide eyes staring at me.
It's okay. You're okay. I'm Haley.
She looked puzzled. I wonder, is this language barriers, or the Alzheimer's? She went back to sleep. Ten minutes later she woke up again, obviously upset.
You're okay.
Her forceful reply: "Who sent you here?
Your family.
Her reply: "Get out."

Teehee. She wasn't angry or forceful, just to the point. I cheerfully quipped a "See you later" and headed out. Now I wonder, was she just done with the procedure, or does she dislike her family? "My family sent you? Get out!" She still got 20 minutes of her allotted 30 minutes of massage, so it's not the end of the world.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Minutes Jam-Packed with Hours

This week has flown by. Greg and I went to a wedding last weekend for one of the guys that he used to live with. It was a great weekend, and a nice wedding. It was certainly nice to get out of the city for a while. We stayed with Greg's grandparents who have a beautiful house on the lake near where the wedding was. This is one from the wedding of us:

Then this week was nuts for me for massage. Because we left for the wedding weekend on Friday (Greg had a rehearsal dinner - he was in the wedding party), I had to get one of the girls to cover my clinic shift that night, meaning that I picked one up for her on Tuesday. So Tuesday I had clinic, Wednesday I had outreach, Thursday I worked, Friday I had clinic, and Saturday I had clinic. Today I did nothing. Ha!

Outreach is really cool. Last week was the first one I'd done. The college makes a bunch of them available and we sign up for ones that interest us. Each one is a different kind of massage and a different length of time commitment. We have to complete 8 hours of sports and 24 hours of hospital (two categories of outreach) by the time we graduate. If you do 50 hours of either you get a certificate of specialization.

The outreach I picked runs every Wednesday afternoon all this month, and is at a local nursing home. Both my clients this week had dementia and were nonverbal. It's a challenge ethically, because you're not dealing with people who can give their own consent, and their family who've requested the massage aren't there when you get there. It was a very different setting than I've worked in before, and I really enjoyed it. I think I'm going to try to get my certificate of specialization in hospital. Sports massage doesn't interest me really, but this work in the nursing home is really fulfilling.

Even the conversation I had with one of the residents in the lobby was fantastic. I sat down to wait for my supervisor at the end of the night and he asked me if his son had sent me to visit with him. It was mildly heartbreaking, and we talked for about 10 minutes. His memory was gone, and by the end of it he'd decided that I was born in the UK and came to Canada just like him. He said that it was a pretty good place to come live because everyone spoke English.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Just a Short Delay

Getting in to see a doctor is, to say the least, tricky. Never mind the fact that I don't have a family doctor of my own, finding one who will see me for little things within my class schedule is tough. I managed to make an appointment for during my lunch break today though. I got there, and was seen relatively promptly (only 15 minutes late - pretty good for a doctor). I got weighed and measured, and then in to the little room and onto the table and covered with one of those little sheet things, and I waited. And I waited. And then the nurse came in. "Um, Haley? The doctor had to go perform an emergency C-section, would you mind waiting 45 minutes?"

Two and a half hours later I got my appointment, which lasted all of 3 minutes.

Sigh. Well okay, I guess you can't predict birth. My neurology class sacrificed for someone else's little miracle.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Massage College

Often when talking to friends about college the question that comes up most frequently is, "okay, but what do you do at college?", normally qualified with questions about whether we actually do practical massage, or how we fill a full week, never mind 18 months of full weeks, with massage.

So here we go people, a full week of massage college:

8:15-2:15 - assessments class, where we learn postural assessments, range of motion for all the different joints of the body, and approximately 300 tests for different conditions, syndromes, and general ailments.

8:15-10:45 -palpation class, where we learn how to palpate ("feel out on the body") all the bones, muscles, joints, bursas, and ligaments that we need to be able to identify in order to properly massage. If someone says "I hurt here" and points, we need to be able to identify what structure that is, and what other structures are likely involved. It's not enough to learn the textbook anatomy since no one person actually looks like a textbook cadaver.
11:45-2:15 -regional anatomy 2, the follow up course from regional anatomy 1, where we learn the textbook anatomy. While last term had us learning all the bones, muscles, joints, and ligaments of the body (excluding the head), this term we learn the anatomy of the cardiovascular system including names of all the veins and arteries as well as the structure of the heart itself, and all about the bones and muscles of the head which is intensely confusing due to its 3-dimensional set up.

8:15-10:45 -anatomy and physiology 2, a continuation of anatomy and physiology 1, where we learn about the chemistry and biology that allows the anatomy of the cardiovascular system to function. We also learn about the body's chemical response to stress, and sleep, and how those impact our general system.
11:45-2:15 -pathology, where we learn in depth about various diseases. So far we've been focusing on the different types of arthritis, as well as lupis, and how to distinguish them from one another, and which massage techniques to use, and which techniques would be potentially harmful.

8:15-10:45 -manual skills, where, you guessed it, we learn massage techniques. A new technique always starts with a class of notes on the theory behind the technique, what it does, who it helps, who shouldn't have it, and whatever precautions need be taken. The following class after will begin with a teacher demonstration of the technique, and then we are divided into pairs and the classroom is partitioned into cubicles and we practice while the teachers walk around, give us pointers, correct our posture, and answer any questions we have about that technique on its own or in combination with others.
11:45-2:15 -neurology, where we learn about all the nerves in the body as well as the layout of the brain, and which lobes are involved with which parts of human life, and the spinal cord.

8:15-2:15 -manual skills, all day.

In addition to these 30 hours of class time, we each also have 5 hours of clinic a week, scheduled for one consistent day each term (I have mine on Fridays this term). The student clinic has a ratio of 12 students to one registered massage therapist, and we treat the general public who come in. We go through a standard intake procedure, do a postural assessment and test ranges of motion and use whatever assessments we've learned that may be applicable. We then do a full consent, and a full 1 hour massage to address whatever problem has walked into our cubicle. As well as the one day a week of clinic, we also have 1 Saturday every 4 weeks of clinic.

As if class time and clinic weren't enough, we're also expected to complete a certain number of outreach hours by the time we graduate. These we sign up for as fits our schedule, and come in various styles and time commitments. There are sports and hospital outreaches, both of which we have to complete a certain number of hours in (8 for sports, some higher number for hospital). If you complete 50 hours in either one (or both) you get a certificate of specialization along with your graduation degree. I'm going to try to get mine in hospital.

And that, in a nutshell, is college.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Saturday, October 20, 2007


Today Greg and I celebrate our anniversary. That is, we would have celebrated our anniversary if I hadn't been working until late afternoon and he hadn't had a bachelor party to go to starting shortly thereafter for one of his former roommates. Figuring out that we both had rather important commitments (I need to work to pay rent, and he shouldn't let down his roommate), we arranged to go out yesterday morning for breakfast at one of our favourite breakfast places and celebrate then. Oddly, the reaction from several of my acquaintances to this piece of information was "you did what? You let him get away with that?" which left me with nothing but puzzlement. What, exactly, did I let Greg get away with? And why was the emphasis put on his getting away with "it"? Didn't I, too, "get away with" working on our anniversary?

This idea that the world should fall away in order to allow sentimentality seems strange to me. The world doesn't keep track of our important dates. And really, where's the logic in throwing a stinking fuss about celebrating on the exact date? Sure, I could have thrown a massive fit about Greg going to a party on our anniversary, but that would have resulted in either:
a) him canceling his plans and being angry, and me feeling a combination of guilty and vindicated, or,
b) him refusing to cancel his plans and us both being angry, me feeling rejected, and him feeling guilty.
Where, tell me, is the good in that? Our relationship isn't built on this kind of selfishness, but on generosity and rationality. It's rational that we arrange to celebrate early when things are in the way. It's generous of us both to grant the time for one to work and the other to support a friend. And really, isn't the point just to make sure the event is recognized? Does it matter if the significance and recognition happens a day early? "Darn you, Greg! How dare you tell me you love me on a day other than our anniversary!" Poop to that.

I have to look at these women (because, yes, they were all women) who were aghast at my sacrifice and wonder if this has something to do with the reason they all have such a bad track record with men...

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Space In Between

Sometimes I think that there isn't enough present. The past seems so full and heavy, the future seems looming and gigantic, and the present is just a gasp in the middle. The pause in the middle of a sentence when you briefly wonder if what you've just said makes any sense -- and what you're going to finish the line with. The past is full of good moments and bad, and the future holds the potential to be so much better than you'd imagined. Sometimes I get so caught up with the bad moments of the past and the fear that the future will be no better. Sometimes I remember fondly pieces of the past and anticipate the glorious future with such anxiety that I can barely stand to be stuck here where everything is yet to happen.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm not a present-oriented person. I never have been. Yet slowly I've been becoming sick from the focus on what has been and what will be. I've felt out of place, out of control, and constantly out of time in the now. I suppose that's why I stopped writing in the blog. I wanted to disconnect. The only problem is that I missed the writing. So I was stuck between not wanting to come back to writing at a place that had a set of predetermined expectations about what I would write about and who I would be, and not wanting to not write. I'm not sure why it took me so long to come to the determination that what I needed to do was clear the blog. So here it is. My new unmarked trail. For those of you that want to be able to look back, the old content and layout can still be found here. I'll develop a new layout in time, and post when I am able. I'm running a pretty busy schedule these days, but it's nice to have the clear white space to fill with the present. It's important to remember that the present is the only time we really live, and I should learn to appreciate mine more.