East Meets West
My fat cat broke my neck.
To be fair, he’s just big-boned and was probably just the proverbial camel-straw on top of a long line of terrible postures, poor exercise form, and body-thrashing sleep habits, but when I scooped up the little furry porker from the living room floor the other night, I felt something weird happen in my neck, and it’s been a veritable pain parade ever since.
The hurt started as a sharp pinch at the base of the right side of my neck. I crawled into bed that night and gingerly placed my head on my pillow, drifting off into an uneventful sleep. When I woke up, however, the soreness radiated down my upper back and across my shoulder, giving me a sort of half-hearted Frankenwalk. I popped some ibuprofen, packed a heating pad, and went to work.
That evening, I went to bed early and woke up repeatedly throughout the night because the strain was so intense. I whimpered my way through a few patches of sleep and was treated the next morning to a delightful combo of I’d-rather-have-a-tooth-pulled pain and zombie-level stiffness. Rolling over in bed required a complex weight-shifting maneuver, armpit shaving was aborted, and checking my blind spot verged on the impossible.
On Day Three of Neckmageddon, I staggered into work a blurry-eyed shell of my former self, my new daily trifecta of heating pad, ibuprofen, and tears at the ready. My co-worker suggested acupuncture, the boss-man suggested I go home and lay down, but I stubbornly decided to slump into my excessively non-ergonomic chair until lunchtime, when I’d grimace my way over to the local cheap massage parlor.
I explained my predicament to the hippie healer lady, who summoned me to lay down face first on the table and began asking me a series of questions that wouldn’t be out of place in a therapy session. She slicked lavender lotion down my back, encouraging me to envision my muscles melting under her fingertips with each pass. Cloaked in her gentle patchouli cloud, I drifted away until she broke the trance by jabbing her thumb directly in the crook of my neck.
“Does it hurt here?”
“Okay, then. Let’s get down to business.”
Over the next hour, I let out tiny yelps as she poked and prodded, pushed and pulled until freed from her knotty bondage by the clock.
“Okay…that’s about all I can do for you without severely bruising your tissue. Good luck.”
Good luck? Sigh.
I felt marginally better afterwards, with a bit more movement in the area, but the pain dogged me the rest of the afternoon and into the evening, when I tried to drown it in the better part of an entire bottle of delicious red wine. Defeated, I fell into a fitful, boozy sleep.
The pain was still present when I woke up this morning, but I had an ace up my sleeve—my friend and I were going to a Korean spa and I was going to heat the bejeezus out of my neck using every methodology possible. As soon as we arrived, I dumped myself in the nearest hot tub, angling my shoulder awkwardly towards one of the jets, praying to the Korean spa gods to make everything feel better again. We boiled ourselves in various pools until an older woman came over and yelled out our numbers—it was our turn for the scrubdown.
When I initially booked the (in)famous Korean spa buff service, I figured my neck would be perfectly fine by the time this day rolled around. Now I was afraid that not only was this tiny, gruff, black-lingerie-clad elderly woman going to rough up my skin until I bled, but also that she was going to leave me paralyzed.
“You! Face down!” she barked. I complied. She twisted my head sideways (ouch!) and began roughhousing my feet and calves (ouch! ouch!), then my outer thighs and inner thighs (ouch! ouch! ouch!), then my—holy shit, is this woman buffing in between my butt cheeks?! Yes, yes she is. I temporarily forgot about my neck as she ran her cheese grater mitt things over my butt, then started applying so much force to my back that I thought she was going to push me right off the edge of the slick vinyl table.
“You! Turn over!” and again, I complied. At this point, my body reached a sort of numbness that I likened to getting a tattoo—after a while, it’s just sensation. She scrubbed the living daylights out of my shins and kneecaps and then—holy shit, is this woman buffing my bikini line?! Yes, yes she is. She then made intimate acquaintance with my belly, my boobs, my armpits, and my neck.
“You! On your side!” I executed my now-perfected weight-shifting maneuver with all the graceful elegance of a beached mackerel and plopped myself on one side.
“NO! ON YOUR SIDE!”
“I am on my side,” I protested. But apparently I was not sideways enough, because with a dissatisfied grunt she palmed my entire right butt cheek and pushed me into a position that allowed her access to whatever portions of my body hadn’t yet come under the executioner’s mitt.
As a finishing touch, she slapped my thigh and told me to roll over once more, half-heartedly shampooing my hair, then shoving me forward into a sitting position, and before I could protest, pushing my legs apart and plunking a giant bowl of lukewarm water in between them.
“Wash your face! Then go shower! YOU LEAVE TIP HERE!!!”
I splashed the water on my face, thanked her, and walked off towards the showers in a strangely satisfied daze. After approximately thirty glasses of water, a round through the various jimjilbang saunas, and another dip in the pools, I left feeling infinitely better than I had in the morning.
Exactly one sushi lunch and one nap later, I feel…reborn. I know the ibuprofen, wine, heating pad, and hippie healer helped, but I gotta think that somewhere during that vaguely violent afternoon scrubdown, that cranky old Korean lady scared the living shit out of my neck muscles, finally bringing peace to my pain-ravaged body, while possibly also leaving me with a teensy bit of mental scarring.
Regardless: lingerie-clad elderly woman, I salute you.