Day 60: My TBI Clients

Years ago, I was hired by the VA hospital to come in twice a month to offer chair massage for family members in the poly-trauma unit. This meant mostly moms and wives of traumatic brain injury victims, who had left their lives from often across the country to be the main care-takers of their loved ones.  Talk about people that really need massage. There were  few who started to see me privately; several of them then asked if I could work on their son. This was how I began my experience with working with people suffering from a TBI.

It has now become one of my specialties. I have three clients I see regularly and cherish my time with them. These sessions have made me think outside the box of typical massage and learn how much communication can take place without words.  Though I can not "cure" them of their condition, or even guarantee that I can make them improve, it is obvious that they enjoy our sessions immensely. The mom of the client I saw today said once, "I think this is the only therapy that he really wants to come to."

These clients may not know it, but they teach me so much. Learning to connect with someone that can not talk, has severely limited mobility, and only sometimes is able to answer a yes or no question with gestures or facial expressions is possibly the most valuable lesson in human connection that I will ever get.

When I see them I have two main goals beyond relaxing them. The first is helping them to feel seen. Not just looking at the traumatized body in front of me, but the person within that. Though I am working with their body I left them know through words but mostly eye contact that I am acknowledging them as a person.  And it goes both ways, I know they see me too.

The second goal is to make them laugh. I'm no longer surprised by their ability to pick up subtle humor or remember a story I told them months ago. I know when they laugh I've connected with their spirit, and its in that moment they may forget their limitations or condition. Its in that moment that I do and all I see is a dear friend expressing joy.  

They've shown me that the way to deeply connect with another isn't through words or touch or anything that complicated. Looks and laughs, that's it.