I first noticed the pain in the summer of 2009, driving my wife’s Subaru Grocery Getter™ thousands of miles around Montana researching a book project. I chose her car over my SUV purely for the gas mileage, and my back paid the price from the torture inflicted by the inferior driver’s seat, which was evidently designed to be used by Congressional Democrats and other spineless individuals.
I gained a bit of relief when I stopped carrying my wallet in my back pocket. The leather billfold, fat with Papa Murphy’s coupons and massage parlor business cards, had put indirect pressure on my spine for years. Imagine how bad the pain would be if it ever had any money in it.
The pain, located at point where my right butt cheek becomes my lower back, would return after long plane flights, and since last fall, pretty much any time spent sitting in any Subaru, even just backing out of the garage. I developed a mild limp. I stopped going on hikes. I declined to go on walks, even. The dog got fat.
As the holidays approached, the pain was too intense and too frequent to ignore. After choking down all kinds of over-the-counter anti-inflammatories and analgesics, I went to see Dr. Nick. He wanted to give me a shot. He likes to give shots. I said no shots. He wrote a prescription for painkiller that would come in handy if I ever want to date-rape myself.
Teeth gritted like a septuagenarian with new dentures, I managed to get through the holidays with only one or two emotional meltdowns, which is about average in a good year. I was taking painkillers almost daily. Dr. Nick looked at my x-rays and identified a genetic defect known as spondylolisthesis. “Splenda-what?” I asked. He said the last lumbar vertebra and the first sacral vertebra had slid apart enough to damage the disc and nerve bundles in between. It was between a one and two grade, which was serious. It’s a genetic defect, been there since birth, he said. This was why I was in such pain.
He recommended an MRI, then an epidural shot of cortisone. I’ve had an MRI. I know that for the price of an MRI, I could have custom orthopedic racing seats installed in the Subaru (and a decent CD player, for crying out loud), so I was hesitant. I consulted with my wife, Barb.
“So what did Dr. Nick say?” she asked.
“I have a genital defect.”
“Wow, I’m surprised that would show up on an x-ray. I think he must have said genetic. Why don’t you try a chiropractor?”
“Why should I pay for that? The kids walk all over me for free.”
But when she’s right, she’s right. So I cancelled my appointment with the neurologist/needle jockey and called up a chiropractor.
A lot of people swear by chiropractic treatment, including several of my friends. The idea, in a clamshell, is to have a trained professional manipulate the spine to get it aligned and moving properly thereby taking pressure off the nerves that emanate from between the vertebrae. Or something like that. I had seen a chiropractor twenty years ago, and back then there was a huge rift between the party line AMA and the whole chiropractic industry.
AMA: “Chiropractors aren’t real doctors.”
Chiro: “The AMA is overmedicating America.”
AMA: “Am not.”
Chiro: “Are too.”
Bottom line, the pain was still there, almost constantly. It was at its worst when I was standing, like at a cocktail party or in line at the grocery store. And during the holidays, I spent the bulk of my days at one or the other. So, cautiously pessimistic, I went in to see Dr. Jim the Chiropractor for my initial consultation.
“Any serious injuries or surgeries in the last few years?” he asked.
“Yeah, surgery for a torn rotator cuff in my left shoulder in 2010.”
“How’d you injure your shoulder?”
“Okay,” he said, making a note on my chart. “Anything else?”
“Pulled a hamstring last spring. First softball practice. No surgery, though. I was back hitting into double plays by the first game.”
“Yeah, I had a head injury. A mild concussion that resulted in short-term memory loss and a temporary desire to vote Libertarian. About four years ago.”
“Let me guess. Softball.”
“Yeah. Slammed into a fence post in the outfield. But I did make the catch. Oh, and I also had emergency surgery after I took a line drive to my balls about ten years ago, which is why my jersey number is 1.5.”
“Okay, why don’t we just get going on your treatment plan,” said Jim, crossing his legs.
He had me step behind privacy curtain and remove my shirt. “Where should I put it?” I asked.
“Just hang it on the hook on the back of the door, next to mine,” he said.
I peeked at him from behind the curtain.
“I’m kidding.” Jim’s a funny guy. “You can fold it up and put it on that chair. Now lay on your right side over here.” I sprawled out on a low cushioned couch-like thing, and Jim proceeded to origami my body into a position that resembled the Bluetooth symbol. Then he jumped on me.
Well, to be more accurate, he put all his weight on a specific point near my hip, and pressed. I heard a small pop in my lower back.
“Oh my god!” I said. “Who turned out the lights? I’m BLIND!”
Jim gave me a good-natured smile. “Very funny. Now step over here and we’ll adjust your upper spine.” I pressed up against the vertical padded table and held on for dear life as it slowly rotated to a horizontal position. I felt like a rotisserie chicken. I started to get hungry. Jim pushed and prodded his way up my spine, periodically pausing to study my x-rays that showed a backbone shaped like a mountain road. He found a spot just below my clavicle and gave it a healthy shove. The crackling sound was like gripping a bunch of celery and twisting it between your hands. Spinal popcorn. But painless.
Then he had me sit upright in a chair, and he rolled my head around while examining my neck vertebrae. Without warning, he snapped my head sharply to the left. More crackling celery. “AAAGH! I’m DEAF!”
Jim just shook his head. “Okay, Bob, that’s it for today.” He suggested some things I could do between treatments, including stretching, applying ice packs and walking the dog. We set up a treatment plan that had me coming in every other day for a couple of weeks. I told him that if, at the end of two weeks, I didn’t feel noticeable improvement, I’d have to go for the needle. I couldn’t go on eating pain pills like they were Skittles. He agreed, telling me that chiropractic treatment varies with the individual, usually effective but sometimes not. His main concern is alleviating the pain by allowing the body to heal itself.
Today marks two weeks of treatments, and I’ve been able to leave the pills alone for a couple of days now. The pain is slowly subsiding. I’ll keep up the treatments, which will become less frequent, and I’m thinking that by the middle of next month, I should be completely pain free.
Which is good, because softball sign-ups are in March.