By Steve Capellini
By Steve Capellini
Author's Note: The Spa Letters column features news, personality profiles, trends, and plenty of professional possibilities for LMTs in the spa industry. The style is epistolary, meaning the articles are letters to a fictional massage therapist friend of the author.
Danger! Red flag! After only a few months in the medical spa business, you're heading to a lawyer's office downtown to give your first deposition. This is definitely not something you envisioned back in those idealistic days when you were attending massage school, is it?
I know you're nervous about all the legal implications, but it's probably best to stay calm. Take this thing one step at a time. It's important for you to know people are on your side; they believe in you. It's great that Barbara, your fellow massage therapist at the medical spa, is on your side. When things get tough, it's easy to see who your real friends are, isn't it?
Of course, I'm on your side too, as always. I trust 100 percent that you had only the best interests of your patient in mind, even though she's now suing you - and the spa! Before you get caught up in the emotions of the situation, remember to focus on the facts first.
Fact: You were giving a cellulite-specific massage to a woman, using a technique known as Endermologie.® This technique employs two mechanical rollers and suction to effect the subcutaneous fat layers. The woman came to the spa for three treatments before she stopped and called her lawyer.
Fact: The woman signed up for this series of treatments of her own free will, and signed a waiver excusing the spa from liability.
Fact: The woman is blaming you and the procedure for creating a ping-pong-ball-sized indentation in the flesh of her right thigh. Yes, the depression is quite noticeable - you could rest a boiled egg there and it would not roll away. In tens of thousands of hours of Endermologie® treatments given worldwide, there has never been another recorded instance of this happening.
Fact: As a member of the American Massage Therapy Association, you have substantial liability insurance coverage. The owners of the medical spa are saying you should bear the burden of this lawsuit yourself, even though they, and the company that manufactures the Endermologie® machine, have more resources than you do.
So, what conclusions can you draw from these facts? First of all, I'd say your new bosses, the ones who promised you the stock options and the partial ownership of this "hot" new medical spa, should perhaps not be counted among your true friends. If they truly believed in you, they would be taking your side in this issue. The fact that they're distancing themselves from you, when you need them most, speaks volumes about their character.
Second, I'd say that regardless of what the woman claims, there's a good chance neither you nor the treatment caused her problem. Look hard, and I feel reasonably sure you'll find another reason. The fact that no other such case has been recorded should give you a clue. The woman feels hurt by this blemish on her body, and she is quite likely lashing out against the only source of the problem on which she can put her finger.
Finally, something definitely is going on here. The deformation of this woman's leg is real, and the situation should be addressed head-on. Even though it makes you nervous, you're doing the right thing by heading in for that deposition. When you talk to the lawyers, just be as upfront and communicative as you can.
What Does Liability Look Like?
I know it must be causing you a good deal of anguish to think that your actions (and perhaps even a lack of skill) caused physical harm to someone else. No matter how strongly I or other people might council you otherwise, there's still a part of your mind that will entertain doubts on the issue. So, let's explore your liability (or lack thereof) for a moment, and try to put your mind at ease.
You were trained by the manufacturers of the Endermologie® equipment on the device's use, and the mechanical massage maneuvers you performed could not possibly lead to the deterioration of this woman's muscle tissue. Still, let's say for argument's sake that a judge were to find you in some way liable. What would that mean? What does liability look like?
In my view, liability looks like the price you have to pay when you put yourself "out there" in an attempt to help people. If you had stayed at your position at the resort spa doing primarily Swedish massage and didn't learn cutting edge mechanical massage techniques like Endermologie,® chances are you wouldn't be in this situation now. However, you'd also be a different person. Sometimes, liability is the price we pay for being who we are. Responsible people are liable.
You should feel some small measure of comfort in the fact that you've had the courage to choose a path that is not always easy. When you put yourself into hands-on contact with the public, you're never sure exactly what's going to happen. It will always be this way.
I think the most valuable lesson you can take away from this experience so far is this - you have a good friend in Barbara. She's standing by you, even when it would be much easier for her to side with the spa owners, or at least to distance herself from you in this matter. Remember, I mentioned in an earlier letter that I thought the real reason you were working at the medical spa wouldn't be revealed until a later date? Well, perhaps this is the real reason: You were meant to strike up a friendship with your fellow massage therapist. You two are already bouncing ideas around about possible other projects on which the two of you can collaborate.
Look for the secret gold in this situation, even when things look so dire right now. Spend more time with Barbara. Write me anytime. Hold your head up high and remember who you are: a therapist with integrity, skill and a sincere desire to do right by every client with whom you come in contact.
Talk to you soon,
Steve Capellini, LMT