I do not know how to give a massage. It's something I've not been accustomed to giving (or receiving, for that matter). My hands are a pressure FAIL because they are small, light and too clumsy to recognize the right bumps on the back (how do knots feel, anyway? and how do i know i'm not harming the spine?), and I tire easily. When I'm the one getting the massage, I always feel like meat being tenderized for a barbecue, or bangus being laid out to be deboned for daing.
But ask me to scratch your back and I will gladly oblige, to labor and ask not for reward :P I am an excellent backscratcher, with more than 24 years of experience in this field. I'm surprised that there are no scratching services available in a spa; the salt backrubs are a poor substitute for the real thing. Nothing beats freshly cut fingernails clawing back and forth along one's largest and thickest skin area to ensure a good night's rest.
Daddy always loved having his back scratched before going to sleep. I was such an eager beaver when I was little, thinking that whatever grooming chore Dad asked me to do was a sure sign that I was growing up. I would help shine his boots, pluck tiny stubble from his chin, and scratch his back with the force of a mountain cat. Still, my tiny hands would never be enough. I tried using a hairbrush, and purchased those handy wooden backscratchers from Baguio. But nothing could compare to the long, polished nails of my mom, which Dad preferred over anyone or anything else. Later on I would realize that more than the force or precision of movement, the value of her gesture was that of intimacy, akin to a romantic massage.
When I scratch someone's back or (try to) give a massage, my arms tire easily, and part of the weariness is the effort to hide it from the recipient. There is the need for rhythm and direction to create order and mask the difficulty of the task. It speaks of selflessness; it is a simple way of taking pains to take away another's pain. That is also why I feel extra grateful when I am the one receiving the backscratch -- knowing how tiresome it is to give it, I feel the giver makes my personal comfort a priority over his own.
In the days prior to Dad's confinement here at NKTI, he had been complaining of an itchy back. Mom refused, saying that he had bed sores and his back already had little wounds from constant scratching. He was groaning like a child, pleading Mom to ease his discomfort, to which my mother tried to turn a deaf ear. She could only move so much, with a lumbar support belt preventing her to twist to Dad's side. He then asked for me to do it. I chose to scratch on the shirt he was wearing to protect his back from bleeding, and applied alcohol and baby powder to soothe him. We were informed by his nephrologist later on that the itchiness was not due to bed sores; it was an accumulation of toxins in the blood due to the poor filtration of the kidneys which went all the way up to the skin, causing it to itch. We never would have thought it by ourselves to be a sign of renal failure.
The itching has since subsided with medication that helps balance the chemicals in the blood. We would have been cleared for discharge today if only we didn't have to bring him home with a catheter still attached to his ureter for about 4 more days since his prostate is still 450% larger than normal. What used to be a secondary concern -- his creatinine levels -- has become a potentially life-threatening danger, and immediate dialysis looms in the horizon to become more of a need than an option.
Watching over Dad almost every night in the hospital while Mom takes care of her own health needs does not feel like a burden any more than scratching his back when I was a child. I am merely giving back the love he has given to all of us for most of his life. It is not easy; I falter, I lose my temper, I forget to be kind at times. But I hope that despite my shortcomings, I can help enough, and love them enough, so we can all live through this and we could all be home again.