Only those who have felt the searing pain of a pinched sciatica nerve radiating down their leg will know. Imagine, if you haven't, the incessant brutality of a half-inch drill bit driving deep into your ankle while you toss and turn in bed for weeks without sleep. Then add a flesh-ripping ache, akin to a stream of magma down the nerve along your calf, and the crawl of a thousand ants between your toes.
Now multiply it by minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years without remedy.
Even the more prescient threats of consequence in adolescence couldn't spare me. I wouldn't have listened, anyway. Russ and I had a game in junior high where we'd run headlong at each other and slam our shoulders together. We'd grunt like musk oxen in libidinous angst.
In high school I toted a sousaphone or bass drum in countless miles of parades. Carried the bass drum down a faux New York avenue during my cameo in Hello Dolly. Played tackle football without pads and endured a year of college rugby--all seemingly without consequence. In the 1980s, I'd train for hours with Jacques, lifting weights on the porch overlooking the sea at Santa Cruz, running for miles a day to get in shape for slam dancing on weekend nights at the Catalyst. Oh, we slammed.
And at 32, I was doing chair dips at my beach house in Aptos, using my body weight to pump up my triceps muscles when I felt a faint ping in my lumbar vertebra and spent the following day on all fours, tears pouring down, grinding my teeth at a sensation that someone had buried a screwdriver in my ankle.
Chronic pain is not for wimps. I have known people who walked with dignity and inner peace through life-claiming ailments and wonder what got into them. In our family, a sneeze is foreplay to cancer. We rent billboards when we catch the flu.
For a month I lay bedridden, ice packs pressed against my spine, my knees elevated. Physicians prescribed muscle relaxants, pain killers (God bless them!), and physical therapy. In the end, I received my doctor's approval to drive cross country to attend grad school in Alabama.
Less than a month into the semester, the disc slid back across the nerve endings and cannibals began once again to tear out chunks of my leg and gnaw on the wounds. Toss in the brain weasels that set to work once I'm in pain, add a healthy dose of heart-stammering culture shock, relentless Southern heat, and the heavy teaching/learning load of grad school, and I was ready to experience what I grimly called "Youth In Asia".
What I found, instead, were the Yellow Pages listings for chiropractors in Tuscaloosa, selecting (as anyone else might find suspicious) the office with the largest paid ad. And if grandiosity was the sign of professional acumen, then the long line of people streaming out the chiropractic office door and onto the sidewalk of the muggy fall day in T-town, then I had surely picked the winner.
Doctor Death had a new, candy-apple Corvette parked out front with a personalized Alabama Heart-of-Dixie license plate: "NoPain".
And I doubt he felt any.
Meanwhile, patients were shuffled through the office like cattle herded along to the abbatoir, whistling faint songs of hope as we trudged. In you went; the nurse took a healthy swipe off of your credit card, set you face-down on a movable table where you waited for Doctor Death to prance in and slam away as you cried out for justice.
He was at least 6 feet 9, 265 pounds, and came in stealthily, hammered you into the table, then pulled you to your feet with his large, hammy fist, and showed you the way to the corridor where you exited out a rear door, assembly-line style. He never asked how I was doing.
In truth, I wasn't getting any better, although I did learn that when visiting writers came through the university, it helped to drink heavily with them so as to sit through the readings. On Friday nights, we went to Storyville and pounded the cheap cocktails and I went home to rage angrily at the pain (and at my partner, Alabama, moronic student essays, and anyone in earshot).
Once I told Doctor Death that he was hurting me more than he knew and he replied that my pain was part of the healing. Every few days I'd squeeze in raw agony into the VW and drive over to line up with dozens of patients who were ahead of me in the slashing heat of mid-day. I couldn't tell if he was helping them, either. Meanwhile, my student loan account was hemorrhaging.
Eventually, I just gave up and tried to live with it.
Now over the years I've met some genuine healers who hold chiropractic licenses. Some helped, some admitted they couldn't help completely, several changed me for the better. A fellow out in Grass Valley helped heal emotional trauma from childhood. I've been needled, rolfed, stretched, yanked, had my cranium held by an herbalist, and burned by glass cups a healer put on my back in the Yucatan.
I'll offer Doctor Death up to karma. When I decided to stop driving to his office, my back felt better than ever.
Use the garbage bins for the garbage bins…
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