Posted on February 29, 2012 · Posted in TBI Voices
This entry is part 23 of 32 in the series Kelly

Massage Therapist After TBI: Kelly Part Twenty Three

Kelly talks about how she trained and became a massage therapist after TBI.  She had several other jobs but this one stuck.

Journey to Becoming a Massage Therapist after TBI

You ultimately got into an actual profession versus working at the Shoney’s and the Wal-Mart at the entry-level position, is that right?

That is true.

Tell me about that.

While I was at the rehabilitation center it was very stressful to me, and I’m sure to many others, because, I witnessed it.  We were all older adults that had had a life before the debilitating injury that we had undergone.  And yet we were treated, my perception, we were treated as lesser individuals because of this injury.  And when that happens, it makes you, it causes you to want to lose your motivation to succeed and do better.

Well, I’ve always been a very helpful minded individual.  So every day we’d come back from the administration building where we did all of our little therapies to the dorm, dormitory where we would rest and just basically be off.  And I would look at the other fellow rehabees returning.  They’d all be slumped over and you could tell that they were slumped over from the stress of being beat down, beat down, beat down.  And I would ask everyone could I help you?  I’m very tall.  And I, they’d say how you going to  help me.  I said I’m going to  rub your neck and shoulders.  So they would stand in front of me and because I’m tall I could just get right on their neck and shoulders and just rub the neck and shoulders.

And there was a sitting area very close by and so I would invite them to come sit down where I could stand behind them and work from the neck all the way down the arms.  Lean forward and go all the way down the back.  And that relieved a lot of stress.  And they all says: Kelly, you’re really good at this.  You ought to try to get this as your vocation.  Massage.  And I said I’m not quite sure how I do that and they says go to see the vocational rehabilitation director.  I said okay, I’ll check that out.

Then what happened?

I went to see him and he says you want to be a massage therapist?  I said yes, I do.  Do you know how to be a massage therapist?  I mean, I’m just reiterating, paraphrasing basically what I went through.  I said well no I don’t, but, I would guess I’d have to go to school.  Do you know how to find a school?  I said well I guess I could look in the Yellow Pages, you know, under massage.  And he said well find a school and then we’ll go tour it and see if this is really the right thing for you.  I said well can I borrow your phone book, because we really don’t have any over in the dormitory and I don’t have authority to use the pay phone .

Where are you when this was going on?

Tennessee Rehab, Rehabilitation Center.  TRC.

When, when did you go there?

I started in September of 1998.

So this is a year after year your injury.


How did you wind up back rehabilitation center a year afterwards?

For the driver’s license.

So you went to inpatient therapy for your driver’s license?

Yes.  That’s all TRC is, is inpatient.

And how long were you up there?

It’s a seven-month program and I was there from September of ’98 until May of ’99.

And presumably with the primary issue, as far as you’re concerned, to get your driver’s license.


So you’re having this conversation about the massage therapy.  Then what happens?

The vocational rehabilitation, the director, I’m not going to  say his name, but he asked me to find a school.  Asked if I knew how to find a school.  So we went through all this little tug play, verbal play, you know, finding a school.  I used his telephone directory, I found the school and I made a call, he said call and make an appointment for us to come and tour the school.  I did that.

He took me to meet the director of the school’s education director and one of the teachers and they gave me all the applications to fill out.  Then we come back to the rehabilitation center and, of course, as soon as we come back in, he knocks on the school director’s, the rehabilitation director’s office door.  And she says, and I, no, I’m not going to  paraphrase.  This is the honest gospel.

Come in Kelly.  Come in Brian.  What can I do for you?  And, and Mr. Brian says well Kelly would like to be a massage therapist as her vocation.  So the director comes out to the hall and talks to us and you want to do what?  I said I want to be a massage therapist.

She says Kelly you can’t be a massage therapist.  Literally.  I said why not?  She says Kelly you had a brain injury.  A massage therapist has to know every bone and muscle in the human body and you will not be able to learn or remember that information, if you want to be a massage therapist.

And I said no, no.  Are you telling me that because I’ve had a brain injury that I’m not able to learn?  I cannot learn?  That I have no option to be a massage therapist (massage therapist after TBI)?  “Yes.”

“Watch me.”  And I turned to Mr. Brian and I said Mr. Brian, what are my options now?  I mean, I know what I want to do.  What are my options?  He says let’s go back to my office, he says.

Then we went into to the vocational rehabilitation office directly.  Set you an appointment, get you a counselor and go through all the process there.  So that’s what we did.  I was assigned a counselor, filled out the application for the school we had gone and toured and they provided the funding for the school.  And then I started massage therapy school in, I was supposed to start in April of ’99, right after I got my driver’s license in December.

So, I started.  I was there for, I think, for a week and my sister was moving up here from Alabama.  So I went down to Alabama to help her move up here and I fell and I fractured my left, my weak-sided wrist, the arm.  I fractured the bone right behind my wrist bone, so I was unable to actually physically do massage with the cast still on.  So they put me out and to start back up in September so I could let my arm heal a little bit.

So I started back in September of ’99 or 2000.  The dates are funny there.  But I graduated in 2001, April the 13th.  Friday the 13th of 2001 I became a massage therapist.

Regardless of what changes came to Kelly from her brain injury, that perseverance, make things happen personality that made her a captain in the military because of a trip to Mardi Gras, unquestionably survived her TBI. Her persistence got her a career as a massage therapist after TBI.

Next in Part Twenty Four – Perseverance Alone Doesn’t Equal Job after TBI

By Attorney Gordon Johnson


About the Author

Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice :: 800-992-9447