Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Treatment at the Clinic

Melissa.  Treatment starts each day when the clinic opens at three pm in the afternoon. Each treatment session runs for a minimum of three and a half hours. I had absolutely no idea what to expect for this bit, except that I had a vague idea it would involve squeezing stuff out of my leg but couldn’t imagine how it would work. What I’ve gathered so far is that it is a three-step process (four if you are lucky enough to have a massage session). I’ll explain each step in a bit of detail. You kind of move round the clinic in a circuit, always doing the therapy in the same order, and emerge again on the other side of the waiting room.

First up is a little device I refer to as an over-sized Christmas stocking but not as festive. You enter a little cubicle and sit on a bed. The stocking is placed over your bandaged limb and connected to a pneumatic pump. It squeezes tight (so tight my toes burned at first), holds it for about 20 seconds, and then releases the pressure. Repeat this another 180-270 times and your time in that cubicle will be up. There are about 15 people getting treatment at once (although some are staggered by an hour as there are only about 10 of some machines) and everything is run on timers. All you can hear (aside from mumblings in Italian – or conversations if you are a local) is “Simone”, “Simone” (The name of the lovely technician who gets people in and out of the equipment). “Simone, Simone”, we all cry plaintively until she comes to release us. You can't see out of the cubicle, so you have to cry out when your timer runs out, so that you can be released from the stocking.

Then you shuffle on to the next room. Prepared Italians will wear lovely little sarongs as they move about. Ill-prepared New Zealanders will walk around in their underwear. The second treatment consists of about 14 cuffs (I'm guessing they were blood pressure cuffs in another life) that are wrapped overlapping from toes to groin up your leg. They work sequentially from the toes upwards, giving the highest pressure at the toes, until all the cuffs are tight and then they all release. Repeat a million times.

For future patients: Are you getting the idea that the treatment takes a long time? If you have the attention span of a gnat, as I do, you will be bored after the first ten minutes and be ready to read War and Peace for some excitement after about half an hour. BE PREPARED; take books, music, your laptop (although no internet access), knitting (if you are more talented in a crafty way than I am), crossword puzzles, whatever. Just be prepared to be sitting there for hours at a time. And don’t worry, there are bathroom breaks!

The final machine is the weirdest, in my mind. It reportedly creates negative pressure in the abdomen (where the pressure is usually positive) forcing it to act as a suction for the veins and lymph system to suck stuff out your leg (Simone, I hope I’m doing your explanation justice here. All misinformation about this is entirely my fault). You lie down on a padded bed and place your legs in a metal tube that covers you to your waist, where material closes tightly around it. When the machine is turned on, this material tightens periodically creating a seal, and a vacuum occurs around your legs. I think this procedure is quite pleasant and I’ve actually fallen asleep during one session. This one only lasts half an hour.

Last up; the massage session. This doesn’t happen very often. In fact I’ve only had one so far but it was so relaxing! You enter a room that has an ordinary looking massage bed in it. Lily will un-wrap your leg – bliss! but also gross due to the total neglect of shaving for the past week, Ugh. Then she fires up a machine that would not look out of place in a Dr. Who episode. It also reminds me of that robot with all the arms that cries “danger Will Robinson!” Lily then proceeds to vacuum/lux/hoover (or whatever you call it) your leg. Honestly, that is what it feels like. Tiny little inch-squared vacuum-cleaner on the foot and ankle area, working up in steps to a 4-inch x 4-inch vacuum cleaner for the thigh. Whatever, it feels amazing!

And that’s it folks. Repeat for increasing lengths of time each day and you too should hopefully see some serious shrinkage going on. I was amazed at how much my leg shrunk in just two sessions. What a pity New Zealand has no lymphedema experts that I could find or I would have been onto this months ago!

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