I felt so invigorated after yesterday’s massage, that when a middle-aged lady came into the out patients department this morning complaining of neck, shoulder and upper back pain, I thought I’d give her some physiotherapy.
She told the medic that she had been having increasing aches and pains which were interfering with her normal routine activities. I asked her if I could help, she nodded and I passed on some of the moves I’d benefitted from 24 hours earlier. Her deltoids and trapezius were tight and knotted. There was some muscle spasm between her shoulder blades, too. As I gently massaged these areas, she kept on talking to the medic.
I spend quite a lot of time trying to get the medics and nurses to look for underlying causes. They are aware that tight neck and shoulder muscles can occur when people are stressed. The medic asked about her work and social circumstances, but it was only when I suggested that she should get her husband to do this for her, that the whole story came gushing out.
The husband was the source of her pain. He was alcoholic and regularly beat her up when he came home drunk at night. He kicked her in the back when she was eight months pregnant. He refused to take her to hospital when the delivery became complicated. Their baby had been born deformed and died shortly afterwards, but he went off drinking and watching DVDs instead of staying with her and being supportive. On one occasion, he had threatened her with a knife, and she had had to run away to escape from his anger.
She shed a few tears and told the medic what a mess her life was. She felt she could not leave him, as that would make her and the children destitute. Informing the police was not an option, as she would probably get beaten up more as a result. There are no Women’s Refuges, where she could take shelter. “What am I to do?” she asked the medic. The medic had no answer for her, but kept eye contact and demonstrated her concern. “No, I don’t suppose anyone can help me. I’ll just have to struggle on,” she said, “for the sake of my children.”
When she left the consultation room clutching her lemma (the patient-held medical record card) with a prescription for some paracetamol tablets, I asked the medic how common this was. “It doesn’t happen much in the big cities in Myanmar, but in the countryside, men can sometimes behave violently towards their wives.” I told her that there was domestic violence in my country, too, but sadly, it could occur anywhere, urban and rural. I said that I felt bad because I was powerless to help her, but the medic just shrugged her shoulders in resignation – that’s how life is sometimes.