Usually I'm uncomfortable taking pictures of me with my shirt off, but I've made an exception for you.
You've heard me tell the story about how I almost died at our stake Youth Conference because a pack of negligent teenagers dropped me during a “faith fall” object lesson, right? Out of a tree? 1988? You can read about it here. (Also, I may or may not have just spoiled the ending for you.)
Well, that special event in my life has resulted in some creative methods for treating back pain over the years. Since 1988, I have undergone treatment from a series of chiropractors. Now, I am aware that there exists some skepticism surrounding this industry, but I have personally found success and relief through chiropractic care. There isn’t that much controversy to me. I hurt, I get treated, I feel better.
However, like any profession, not all chiropractors are created equal.
Case in point: Dr. Arthur Fonzerelli. (Names have been changed.) (Because I can’t remember his name.) Dr. Fonzerelli was probably in his late 50s, and when it came to his nose, he had a bit of an Ichabod Crane thing going on. He had thin hair on top, but it was still black.
Dr. Fonzi was the uncle of a girl I was dating in college, and his office happened to be in a neighboring town to our little university. It was 1993, and my back had recently been misbehaving. I was complaining about it to Danielle, the girl I was dating (name has not been changed, because I remember her name), and she suggested I go see her uncle, The Fonz. During this same time period I was also complaining that Sally Field was completely miscast as Robin William’s wife in Mrs. Doubtfire, but Danielle said there was nothing she could do about that. Nice attitude. I believe that is what later led to our breakup.
Anyway, though initially reluctant, I finally paid a visit to the Doc, and surrendered a piece of my dignity that I can never retrieve. I visited his office exactly three times, and each appointment was more bizarre and unsettling than the one before.
First visit. He asked a lot of questions, gathered information, and took some x-rays. He did a pretty flaccid adjustment (I’m not sure that’s the correct industry term for it) that was fairly benign, and told me I could leave. Not an efficacious treatment, but harmless enough. He was so soft spoken and uncle-y, I just kind of went with the flow and lowered my expectations of actually feeling better while simultaneously taking comfort in the fact that Danielle would be happy with me for being obedient and doing what she told me to do, and maybe I would be rewarded with some smooching. (But probably not.)
Second visit. At the beginning of the visit he said, “So, would you say there’s been about 20% improvement since your last visit?” I started laughing, because I thought he was making a funny. I removed my shirt and turned to find him standing there with his clip board, pencil poised to write down my answer. He was serious. Not wanting him to feel bad, but feeling no different than before the first visit, I pretended to contemplate my percentage of wellness and kind of mumbled back, “Erm…. uh…. hmmhmm…two…(waving my hand back and forth)….maybe…I’d say two...percent …better?” He wrote it down.
“I think we’re going to try something more aggressive,” he said. “Like…addressing my back pain?” I wanted to ask. He led me into an adjoining room and had me sit/hunch forward over a bench, while he strapped some electrodes onto my lower back.
“We’re going to try electrotherapy,” he casually said.
“Okay,” I responded with some trepidation.
“You’re going to feel some currents through your back. It’s going to be uncomfortable. I’m going to turn up the intensity with this dial, and you tell me when you can’t stand it anymore.”
“TIME OUT,” I said. “I don’t like to play games like this.”
“You’ll be just fine,” and he started to turn it up.
I tried to be my bravest for as long as I could. “Mercy!” I said.
“Okay,” he answered. “I’m going to leave it there for 10 minutes.”
“What the WHAT?!”
And he left the room. I had never felt this variation of pain before, and it was intense! I felt like something was alive and kicking in me, and I was going to give birth to it – through my CHEST! Currents were having a rave inside my body and I could only anticipate death and my corpse detonating, leaving parts of me covering the entire room. The good news is, if I am ever hit by lightening, it’ll be a walk in the park. Shoot, I might even enjoy it.
And imagine my surprise, when I actually did feel better when he turned the machine off! Kind of like how your face feels better once somebody stops hitting it with a car. Or how silence sounds so nice when Nickleback is the alternative. I went home, exhausted and confused.
Third and final visit. I walked into his office, and he asked me to strip down to what the Fashion World terms “tighty-whities.” Not totally unusual; easy access to my back and all. He asked me again, “Where would you say, percentage-wise, your improvement is at? 20%?”
I stood there with the same incredulous expression as the visit before, but this time, much more vulnerable, as I looked like I was an underwear model. Well, I looked like I was modeling underwear. (I’ve never, on my best day, looked like an underwear model.) I mumbled the same response as the prior visit. “Wha-…. uhrm….yeeeaahhh…two…(waving my hand back and forth)….maybe…I’d say two percent?”
“We’re going to try something different today (oh, good!), so…follow me.”
My relief was short lived, as I started following him from our private patient room…out the door…into the hallway. I found myself standing in the public domain...with only my underwear on. I could see the waiting room. And they could see me. Like one of those dreams. But despite the ethereal music of Enya that permeated the office, this was indeed no dream.
Yep, if you were sitting in the right (or wrong) spot in the waiting room, you had a comprehensive view of more Ken Craig than most people care to see. I’ve never seen more raised eyebrows in my life, as people shook their heads, covered children's eyes, and kept a careful distance between them and me.
We stopped in the middle of the hallway, at some adjusting apparatus there. Yes! In the middle of the hallway! Did somebody leave it there accidentally? Was this really the best place for this thing?
“Go ahead and lie down on this,” he said.
And, as if under some form of hypnosis, I did what he asked. No sooner was I horizontal, but clamps snapped over my wrists and ankles, strapping me to the table and rendering me unable to stand back up, get off the table, and flee from his office out into the streets; cold and exposed, but safe.
He pulled a lever and the table jolted into a vertical position. Now I was standing, in my skivvies, strapped to a table. This equipment could not have been legal. I’m not even sure it was 20th century machinery. Then, the straw that broke me: Dr. Fonz put his hand on my lower back, and started rapidly pushing my torso forward. Push, release. Push, release. I suddenly looked like I was doing my best Elvis impression. In my underwear. In the hallway. In a torture device.
That was it for me.
I started talking very fast, in a half-panicked voice, like a kid trying to sell a lie to his parents. “Yep. Yep, I’d say I can definitely feel a twenty percent improvement. Twenty or maybe even 25!”
Push, release. Push, release.
“What did Danielle say to you? Did she tell you I didn’t like Mrs. Doubtfire? Did that personally offend you?”
Push, release. Push, release.
Finally, after what felt like 18 years, he stopped, unstrapped me, and we went back to his office. I put my clothes on while he filled out paper work. He then said, “I’m not sure what else will help you.” He seemed so defeated. I almost felt bad for him. I probably would have continued to see him just to make him feel better, except that his practices terrified me. Who knows what he would have tried next?! “If you jump out of this plane without a parachute, I really think the landing will give you a twenty percent improvement. Here, hand me your pants before you jump….”
You’d think this single experience would have steered me clear of chiropractic doctors, but the truth is I’ve had exceptional care from the chiropractors I’ve met since then. The only real fallout from my adventure with Dr. Fonza-crazy is that to this day, I can’t listen to Enya without instinctively and subconsciously dancing like Elvis. And I have no tolerance for Mrs Doubtfire, but that was a pre-existing condition.