Student Body

Brief backstory: I’d originally wanted to go to school for acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine. I quickly became disillusioned with this idea after reading the archives of Respectful Insolence and being unable to find adequate controlled double-blind studies proving efficacy and any relationship to EBM (evidence based medicine, not the totally awesome genre of music.) After having subjected myself to a slew of “holistic” and “alternative” health treatments in order to personalize my understanding and challenge my skepticism, an experiment which ultimately resulted in four x-rays and what was tantamount to sexual molestation, I decided that maybe I should reevaluate my future career path. I realized that my hope of laying hands on people for money wasn’t going to be deterred simply due to a few bad experiences and a dearth of med school knowledge. I applied and was accepted to a massage therapy program here in Manhattan, all in the hope of becoming a staff therapist for the Los Angeles Clippers if I pass the boards in 2013.

When I went for my admissions interview a few months ago at the school that will remain unnamed, I knew that attending classes there would be interesting. For one thing, studying massage requires you to grope your classmates. While this has always been a goal of mine at each stage of my academic life, I’ve never had it built into coursework. Moreover, massage textbooks have lines like, “Answers to these questions will help you to formulate your own hugging policy.” (Susan G. Salvo, Massage Therapy: Principles and Practice, 4th Edition.) This is unequivocally awesome. Why haven’t I formulated my hugging policy before?

There also was a man in the hallway with a ponytail and a utilikilt. A student or faculty member, of which I’m unsure, but he was there, having a conversation with another student, rockin’ his man-skirt without any evidence of having lost a bet.

“This place is like Community,” I thought to myself. “I will totally fit in here.”

Truth be told, it’s easy for me to feel like hot-shit on most days. I’m an average-sized fish who has always diligently sought out very small ponds. Outside of anticipated intense academic settings, such as AP American History and an invitation-only program for writers that I manipulated my way into at the age of fourteen, I’ve never really felt challenged. I graduated high-school doing the minimum amount of work required, and coasted through college by attending a specialized program that allowed for me to tailor my classes around my interests. I’m looking at any continuing education as the continuation of this expensive ego stroking. When I applied, I was anything but nervous about attending a massage therapy program, utilikilt-wearing classmates notwithstanding.

But then I made the mistake of taking an online preparatory quiz, a self-described “Practice Test for Certification and Licensing Examinations.”

Actual sample question:

Which of the following is NOT an attachment site of the deltoid and the trapezius?
a) Lateral clavicle
b) Acromion process
c) Medial border of the scapula
d) Scapular spine

What, no all of the above?

I did not do well.

Keep in mind, I have sixteen months of school beginning April 30th before I even have to confront one of these bad boys for real. But still, the exercise woke me up to the fact that school isn’t going to be all effleurage and rainbows. It illuminated some real, and serious, concerns. Like the fact that I won’t be able to immediately strut into the school’s clinic and declare, “It’s not lupus!” before even laying a palm on someone’s…deltoids or trapezius. I will need to work outside of my usual snarky, condescending comfort-zone in order to become a decent complementary healthcare provider. I will probably have to change my name and disassociate myself with this blog and Twitter. I am thinking that I could pass for a Jane Smith or Jenny Sparkleslit, but I’m open to suggestions.

Additionally, I’ve started studying anatomy. But this time I’m using books.

If simply arriving at the conclusion to be called a bodyworker was hard, actually enrolling in the school has proved impossible. Like many academic institutions, they appear to be in a constant state of construction, with hazardous bits of overturned carpet and exposed wires that must make their insurance company practically giddy. Everything has a new paint smell and an aura of temporariness. So it was no wonder that, after six calls, four emails, and being asked to spell my name more times than I could count, that I discovered that I couldn’t register because they were missing my high-school transcript.

Furthermore, I was told to come to campus for the assessment which was also missing on file. Once there, I watched my wholly apologetic admission’s representative — who bears an uncanny resemblance to the cartoon character Cathy — practically toss her body in the path of the slightly overweight, bespectacled bursar representative.

“She’s with a student now,” the admissions rep had hissed prior to the tackling. “If I don’t intercept her she’ll go to lunch and you’ll be waiting an hour.”

Ack! indeed.

The meeting with the bursar went as follows —

Me: “Hi.”

Bursar: “Hi.”

Awkward pause where we stared at one another.

Bursar: “You’re here for…?”

Me: “To pay you for the semester.”

Bursar: “Are you enrolled?”

Me: “I don’t think so? You’re missing my high-school transcript. But I brought my checkbook so that I can put down a deposit or just pay upfront…”

Cue dramatic eye-rolling and dragon-like sigh.

Bursar: (to herself) “Why does she do this to me?” (to me) “You can’t put down a deposit or pay for the semester until you’re enrolled. I have no idea why she sent you to me.”

There was an uncomfortable exchange, she fiddled with her calculator, showed me the ridiculous number I’d have to pay once my high-school transcript arrived as a consolation prize, and sent me on my way. I will be returning to see her next week. I can’t wait.

Next up was the assessment. Judging by what it sounded like, I assumed that I’d be stripped naked and given a hospital gown to wear as various faculty members observed me from all angles. Not quite.

I was led to the library: a medium-sized beige room with books, dying computers, and some asshole with a cellphone that chirruped and hiccuped as he sent and received text messages during his study session. The bored-looking proctors, who were students themselves or juvenile delinquents out on some sort of work-order, handed me a testing booklet and one of those papers filled with empty bubbles that are representative of standardized tests.

I was blind-sighted with 120 “competency questions” that reaffirmed my uncouth aura of cerebral superiority and general douchedom.

Lenient means
a) difficult
b) slanted
c) not strict
d) strict

This was not the sample “Practice Test for Certification and Licensing Examinations.”

I was not feeling nearly as self-congratulatory as I should, however. After five minutes of trying not to snicker and chortle at my self-affirmed intellect, my ego coddling led to over-thinking. The familiar anxiety of test-taking snaked its way up my spine in that overheated, desk-filled room that reeked of old paper, Fritos, and desperation. The young man’s cellphone peeped again like a dying sparrow trapped in a canvas bag. I began to look at the question, really look at the question, beyond the scope of the robot that created it. It was like being stoned; something meaningless was suddenly imparted with meaning and it was colossal, crucial, and cataclysmic.

“Maybe they mean lenient if you’re bending over, or on opposite day, or when you’re dealing with a person you don’t like, which would make it difficult, theoretically…” My thoughts ran into one another like the stream from a faucet with a six-year-old grasping the handles.

I looked around. No one over the age of 27 has ever applied to become a massage therapist or phlebotomist or medical assistant or acupuncturist because it was their life’s calling. No one was in that building unless their life took a left onto the exit ramp for the worse somewhere along the way, or at least a sharp u-turn into the embankment of confusion, and I’m talking about the faculty as well. If your life is a drunk driver or unlicensed then welcome to this school. You will graduate in sixteen-to-twenty months, if you’re ever able to enroll.