I took Driver’s Ed. somewhere around 1971. I would have been 16 going for a permit. One or two of the classes were devoted to showing us accident scenes. I’m sure they showed us this gruesome stuff to scare us about being hotrods once we got behind the wheel. Did it have any effect? Maybe. At that time, there were no commercial videotapes, so 16mm movie reels were sent to the school and projected on a flimsy portable movie screen in the cafeteria.

These grainy color films mostly came courtesy of the Ohio State Police. When I say the imagery was gruesome, I am not exaggerating. The sound also had quite an effect – dying, screaming people, some missing limbs, abounded. These were actual accident scenes complete with bodies in all stages of carnage.

I remember one where the State Trooper approached a car with the victim pushed up to his neck through the windshield – the rest of his body didn’t get through the hole in the spidered glass. Blood oozed around the part of the glass where the head tried unsuccessfully to escape. The Trooper touched the top of the protruding head and the head slowly slid away from the neck and trailed its way down to the bottom of the windshield.

Okay, so there was that. But the one that got me the most was bloodless. It was a white guy. But he was really white. White white. That’s what color a white guy is when all the blood has drained out. Except he hadn’t lost any blood. He’d severed his spine. As the cops pulled him out of the car and onto a stretcher, his body shook with violent tremors. Drops of sweat ran off his white white face – shocked into being unable to utter words, let alone scream.

Yikes. I looked at that and thought to my teenage self that maybe it was better to lose an arm or a leg than have your back broken.

I never broke my back. I know and have known many who have. I do NOT want a check in that column.

The first time my back went out was unexpected. At least for me. I wasn’t yet 30 and I still had a pretty trim waist. A co-worker had opened a manual on a desk and asked if I would look at something over her shoulder. Standing to the left of her chair, I bent over at my waist, looked at what she was showing me, and then when I went to stand erect again, I couldn’t. I was locked in an L-shape.

Oh, and there was pain. Paralyzing pain. I promptly baby-stepped my way out to my car and made my way home. Judy drove me to the hospital the next day.

I was asked if I exercised. No.

“Well, I would start,” advised the doc as he handed me a sheet with some rudimentary stretches to do when I felt better. Until that time, I was to take muscle relaxers he prescribed and camp out in my bed for a week.

I had sciatica. That’s when your back twists and pinches a major nerve bundle. The result is an agonizing period where shooting pain bulletins are funneled down your leg, in my case, the right one. The pain doesn’t let up so it’s easy to get to cranky very quickly. Not once did the doc suggest going to a chiropractor to have my back realigned. Nope. Just take the pills and lay in bed for days on end.

Judy still remembers that week back in the mid-1980s. She’ll tell you I was definitely not in a good way – hurting so much that the mere act of shifting my body in bed was torture. I was afraid to twitch. Getting up and going to the bathroom became a production number prefaced with me girding my loins for the super-pinches I would endure trying to move to one side of the bed and stand up. And then there was the walking part. Welcome to pinch city.

Sciatica wears off by itself over days in about 90 percent of people afflicted. And in my situation, that was also the case. I was definitely better after about 5 days and pretty much put back together by the end of a week. The doctor I saw did not recommend a chiropractic solution, but I also did not consider it.

And why didn’t I entertain the thought of having my back cracked for a more or less instant fix compared to lying around trembling in discomfort? Probably because it didn’t seem viable. The only adjustments I’d seen were chiro moves in movies, usually played to comic effect with loud cracking as a soundtrack. Chiropractors were a joke, dismissed as quacks.

After that week of bad mojo, I was cautious. I did the stretches for a while, then quit. Then I’d start again. Quit again. Back and forth. Then I just lapsed into cavalier for a lengthy period. That was just a freak thing, right? Surely, that couldn’t happen again. I was still a young guy. I put the possibilities out of my mind like some women forget childbirth.

Nothing went wrong with my back for the next 5 or 6 years. Childbirth had completely faded from my memory so my body must have decided it was time to have another kid. It was a Sunday afternoon. I shouldn’t have even been home. We’d planned to go out for the day on a boat, invited by a couple we knew at the time. Everyone woke up that morning and it was pouring rain so we decided to cancel and retreat to our corners.

So there I was in my living room with nowhere to go and I decided to do some exercises. Why then, you might ask. I don’t know. It just struck me to exercise that day. Or maybe I was doing it to show off. I was in a stage of my life where I felt pretty good. Sometimes I walked, often for over an hour, but on that rainy day, it was sit-ups that killed the radio star. The way I was taught in boot camp in 1974 was more of a crunching version than they encourage now. I wasn’t far into the sit-ups when I felt the pull. The effect was instant. My whole lower back seized up. Stiff and humming in mere seconds.

I talked to a guy at work who’d dealt with chronic back pain and he loaned me a videotape of back exercises prescribed for John Kennedy when he was President. I did the exercises religiously for about 3 months. I’d get some temporary relief, but to me, I wasn’t getting any better. It was an awful phase. Couldn’t do physical things. Couldn’t sleep. Cranky boy all day long.

Judy and I went to a party at a friend’s house. Big party. Lots of fun people being loud. Yeah, everyone was having a gay old time except Doug standing in one place at the edge of their big kitchen table, hands white-knuckling holding myself up. I would have sat down somewhere, but that was worse than standing.

Across the table from me stood a woman whose name escapes me, but let’s call her Pam. We saw Pam around occasionally and we were not close friends, but I would definitely put her in the casual friend column. She stood across from me and said, “Doug, you look like you’re in a lot of pain.”

I confirmed her diagnosis and that’s when she asked me if I’d ever been to a chiropractor. I told her I was a little fearful. She told me she got adjustments on a regular basis and they’d helped her greatly. I asked if it hurt. She said she wouldn’t describe it as pain. I waited for her to go on, but she didn’t. So I asked. “Well, okay, if it isn’t pain, what is it?”

“It’s more like pressure.”

I wasn’t sold. Still skeptical. I told Pam I’d think about it and she wrote down the name of her chiro person.

Mary Kay used to say that when the pain of remaining the same becomes great enough, you’ll change.

I didn’t go right away. Shortly after that talk with Pam, I was sent for a week to a military base out in the middle of nowhere – my purpose was to help set-up and perform demos in tents of the computer system my company was plugging at the time. We were out in the middle of a field, wind blowing. I was miserable, in agony every waking minute. If you’ve never had sciatica, it is hard to imagine the levels of distress it can take you to. You become brittle physically and emotionally. I had many moments where I broke out in a sweat because of the intensity. And the bad part with back problems is no one can see them. You look perfectly normal from the outside. What’s your problem? Why you walkin’ so slow?

When I returned from that trip, I was worse than ever. Some days I braved it, and other days I called in sick. Crippled. On one of my crippled call-in days, I was home alone with Ivan – school had been cancelled due to extreme temps – minus 25 degrees without the wind chill. As Judy likes to point out, there’s 68 degrees where most humans are comfortable, then there’s 32 degrees where water freezes, followed by zero which is 32 degrees BELOW freezing. Then there are the minus numbers, in this case 25 of them. Common advice in upstate New York during extremely cold temps was to leave at least one tap dribbling so the water is constantly moving through the pipes.

We weren’t dribbling. Our faucets were secured in the off position. About 9 or 10 in the morning, Ivan was playing upstairs on the third floor. He heard a loud bang behind a wall in his room and came running downstairs to the second floor where I was hobbled in my bed. “Dad, something’s happened upstairs!”

I could hear rushing water behind the drywall.

Adrenaline pumped through me, pain be damned. I flailed my way upstairs to find a broken hot water pipe behind a wall panel. Spewing, flooding, steaming. I scrambled my way down to the basement and shut off the main water valve. By the time I got the water flow stemmed and crawled my way up to the first floor, water was dripping around light fixtures in the kitchen ceiling.

I’d hurt myself badly running around and the adrenaline was wearing off. My back was HUMMING. I needed to get under the covers pronto. The pains were sharp enough to make me nauseous. Back under the sheets, it was all I could do to call for a plumber. He told me he’d be over in 20 minutes. I said fine and hung up. That’s when it occurred to me I would have to do big pinches to get downstairs to the door. I went to move and the calamity of my previous flailing came home to roost. Simon says, “No movement.” I thought I was a mess before the water pipe burst, but I was mess coupled with more mess after groping my way up and down stairs in a panic.

It took me every one of those 20 minutes to get myself down to answer the door in time. There were pauses when I thought to myself I wouldn’t make it within the specified response window.

I hoisted the Mary Kay flag. I’d had enough pain. I was ready for change. I made an appointment to go see Pam’s guy.

I don’t remember the doctor’s name, but he made one hell of an impression on that first visit. There was no elevator music. The walls were adorned with Christian artifacts. With the exception of a quiet young woman at the front entrance who went to announce my arrival, it ended up with just me and the doctor in a small adjoining room, staring down his table centered in a space devoid of other furniture.

The table looked similar to a massage table, except it had square panels – it was the first time I’d ever seen a drop-table. If you’ve never been on one, the object is to have the patient face down whereupon the doctor applies pressure to a part of your back that’s out of whack. Then they “drop” the panel underneath the part of your body they’re applying pressure to which gently forces the section they’re pressing down into proper alignment.

He was a hulking man with shoulder-length white frizzy hair and a beard. Looks-wise, he was Jerry Garcia as a chiropractor. Soft spoken. In fact, when he did speak, I had to listen carefully to catch his whispers. I found out later he was a Vietnam veteran, but he only owned up to that because I commented on some things framed on his walls that hinted at his previous life.

He started by having me stand straight in front of him. No x-rays. He didn’t need them. This guy was a healer. He studied me for a moment and then gestured for me to get on the table. I did as I was told having no idea how this was going to go. I felt him place his palm against an area that was inflamed and he flipped a lever underneath me. I felt that panel drop about an inch. He moved his palm to another tender part of my back and I felt a different panel drop. He stepped away from the table.

“You can get up now,” he murmured.

Was this guy kidding me? I angled my head up at him and said, “But you haven’t done anything yet.”

“I’m done,” he replied.

He asked me to get up off the table and stand in front of him again. I knew it would pinch when I went to get up. Except it didn’t. Nor did it pinch when I fully stood up and faced him.

What the-

It felt like air was rushing through my body.

The healer had healed me. The pain I had felt so intensely for months was gone. No muscle relaxers. No week in bed. It was instant relief and no one was surprised except me. I almost giggled. For a second, I was afraid to take my first step, thinking my good vibe might unravel with movement.

“You’ve been that way for a while now, so what I did will hold for a couple of days and then try to revert,” he cautioned. “Come see me in 2 days.”

When I went out front to make an appointment with the receptionist, she advised me they didn’t take insurance and then she hit me with the bill for my visit. I had sticker shock. “Twenty dollars? That’s it?”

Yeah, that’s all it was. Twenty bucks. I went back a couple of days later and he corrected my spine again. I went for another visit a few days after that and that was the last time I saw him. He’d cured me. I felt as good as I’d ever felt.

Nowadays, chiro is key for me, so I go on a regular basis. But back then with that first guy, I stopped after I felt I was cured. I didn’t consider routine maintenance. I was the goof who is told you must take the antibiotic for the full 10 days, even if you feel better right away – and then I stop taking them when I feel better. I’m not saying I ever did that with an antibiotic regimen (because I haven’t), but with my back, I gambled.

Sometimes you can skate on luck for a period. Hey, man, for a while there, I was Dorothy Hamill on the ice.

Because of work, we moved from upstate New York to Sumter, South Carolina. That’s where I met a chiropractor we’ll call John. I’m not sure how I came into contact with John – whether it was me pulling a muscle or just being smart enough to entertain the thought of routine chiro as a preventative thing to do – but somehow, I ended up seeing John about every month for an adjustment. He liked insured patients, although from what I could tell, he wasn’t a gouger.

Based on framed Bible quotes and some wall crosses, it was pretty easy to peg John as a Southern Baptist.

John told me his Dad had been a chiropractor. Beginning in the 1950s. People can be funny about chiro now, I can only imagine the stigma decades ago. John told me physicians publicly called his father a witchdoctor, but after hours, John’s old man would secretly host those same physicians for spinal manipulations. In secret, they knew there was something logical to righting the backbone so it isn’t pressing against nerve bundles.

I went to the Sumter guy for a couple of years. We got along great. Until my last visit. I’d told him we were moving because of my job. He gave me one of his business cards and on the back, he wrote down the parts of my spine he routinely adjusted in the event I needed to show them to another caregiver. He also insisted I routinely do stretching exercises.

“What kind of exercises should I concentrate on?” I asked.

“If I were you, I would think about yoga lessons,” he said matter-of-factly, but as soon as the words left his mouth, he acted like he wished he could’ve taken the suggestion back. “What I mean is just concentrate on the exercises, don’t pay any attention to the religious aspects of it.”

Wide-eyed concern accompanied the words “religious aspects.” Spoken like a true Southern Baptist.

Then it was time for my final adjustment with John. He had an electric table that was upright. You stepped forward into the padding and then John would slowly lower the table to a horizontal position for the touchy-feely part.

Like I said, things got strange at the end and this is the part where the strange comes in.

I’m face down. He’s hanging over me pushing and smoothing as he goes. He mentioned having recently returned from a beach vacation. “My, my. There were some beautiful ladies walking around with practically nothing on.”

He had never spoken this way in front of me before. Then he added, “Good thing I was wearing sunglasses. Whoo-wee! My eyes were about to come out of my head! Yessiree!”

Okay. What was this bullshit? I reasoned to myself that it was my last visit. Let it go.

He stopped talking. I’m still face down. Presumably done with the manipulation. No, not quite. More manipulation to come.

I feel the fabric around my left ankle being pulled. He’s rubbing a thumb and forefinger against my khakis.

“What kind of pants are these?” he asks.


“Hmm. I’m gonna have to get me a pair of those. I like the way that feels.”

Okay. Seriously, what is this?

Then comes the pop followed by his announcing, “Okay, you are all fixed!”

The pop was a swat. On my ass cheeks. He had never done anything remotely like that. He raised the table upright so I could step away from it. We shook hands. He wished me luck on my adventures. And I walked out without saying anything. To this day, I wonder why. I guess I was picking my battles. Didn’t mean anything, right? Just a pat on the butt. Like playing football except there’s no football involved. In the years since, I’ve wondered if I was the only one to ever get a Southern Baptist chiropractic pat on the rear. I suspect not. In the folder of Battles I Passed On Initially, But Would Like To Revisit that I keep in the back of my head, that butt pop is near the top.

In his defense, if he hadn’t mentioned yoga to me as a potential lifeline, I might never have investigated. So he was good for that one thing. And butt taps. Oh, and he did give me his card with my adjustment points handwritten on the back — I used that more than once when I was sent on a trip to wherever and ended up lame in a strange town.

I drove cross-country to California and immediately sought out some folks I knew were into yoga. They turned me on to a studio where I met 3 instructors who changed my life. Of the pivotal moments in my journey, that 8 months of discovering yoga has to be in the top 5. I was taking yoga 3 nights a week – after a few months, Judy commented that I walked different – the most upright and balanced she’d ever seen me.

I was fine in California because I’d been fine-tuned if you will. I was so finely-tuned that the moment (and those were rare) I felt any kind of stiffening, I knew exactly what stretch to do to alleviate discomfort.

Yoga is a discipline. I am not that disciplined in the big scheme of things. I tend to lapse and not follow through on what can help me. So why do I not stay on track? Not sure. I have the tools, I just don’t like to take them out of the box for whatever reason.

I took a job in Norfolk, Virginia. It turned out to be not my favorite job or location. Our intro to the area was being sponsored in a corporate apartment until we could get into a house. Our little family landed complete with our Boston Terrier Caesar. We arrived on a sweltering holiday weekend, exhausted, ready to step inside and plop down in some air-conditioning.

The first thing that hit us when we pushed the door open was a stink propelled by a huge waft of warm air. The air-conditioning was dead. The kitchen was dirty. And a workman left us a major dump that he hadn’t flushed. Use your imagination. It was that bad. The family was not happy with me. Especially when I called the realtors and was told by their answering service that because of the holiday weekend, no one would be able to assist until the following week. And because it was a holiday weekend, everything else in town was booked out. Stuck in shit, so to speak.

Oh, and did I mention my back was out during this whole ordeal? There were times I was reduced to crawling on all fours to get from room to room.

On Monday, I picked a back cracker out of the phone book who was right up the street from our apartment. Hindsight advice: Pick people out of the phone book carefully. I did not pick a winner. He was an older doddering man, boring as hell.

Oh, and did I mention he had no idea what he was doing? I should have known when I saw his framed degree up on the wall. He’d gotten his chiro chops from Navy training. In the 1960s. Oh, yikes. What in the hell could the military have taught this goof about chiropractic care back in the 1960s?

Well, I found out. Not much.

As a matter of fact, while he was able to alleviate some stress in my lower back, he about paralyzed me with his neck manipulations. In those comedic movies of old with chiro activity, one of the funniest moves to watch and listen to is the sudden jerk and crack of the head to each side. It looks dangerous. Well, that’s because it can be in the wrong hands. So I got to feel what a case of wrong hands feels like on your neck. He tried to crack me both ways, but neither side gave and when he was done with me, my head was frozen in place. The neck cracks were always done with me sitting up straight on the side of the table – later when I told another chiropractor how I’d been cracked, they were mortified. “Nobody does that anymore!”

I stopped going to that dude.

We got into a house in Virginia Beach and I found a chiropractor in the phone book that was near me. You’d think I would have learned my lesson about playing Russian roulette with the phone book, but sometimes I need constant reinforcement about what not to do. I’m going to call this guy Rottweiler, no offense to the dog. Rottweiler is still in business as I type this. And when I say he’s in business, I mean he’s into the BUSINESS of chiropractic care. You talk about a guy who salivated at the word “insurance” – that was him.

My first appointment was at the end of a workday, so when I arrived at his front office, it was just him and me. The first thing I noticed as I pulled into his ample parking lot was the massive sign he had above his storefront. In addition to my picking-people-out-of-the-phonebook advice, I would offer this additional morsel of caution: Walk away when you see the big sign because the way you get a big sign like that is via financial success. Not yours, theirs. Inside his lobby, the walls were lined with health supplements he was pushing that I’m sure he made a tidy profit from. Third piece of advice: Watch for hawking. Greed is good, but it has to be controlled.

He gets me on the table. Examines me. He says irritating things with a little kid voice like, “Oh, I see we’re in the ouchy stage.”

I’m face down, rickety with pain. I need some relief and I need it fast. What is he waiting for?

“Yeah, I’m gonna need to take some x-rays before I adjust you.”

I’d already given him the card from my butt tapper with my adjustments written on the back. “Why do you need x-rays? You’ve got the card!”

“Yeeaaahhh, that’s not good enough,” he drawled.

“So you’re not going to work on me without taking x-rays?”

“Fraid so.”

He had me at his mercy. I went through the pain ripples of him taking x-rays which seemed to take forever. Then I had to white-knuckle some more while he developed them. And then, FINALLY he fixed me. I was battling internally between wanting to punch this guy and wanting to hug him for setting my nerve endings straight.

My relationship with Rottweiler lasted for probably a year. He was into gizmos. Electric pulsing, vibrating beds, roller beds, and even some acupuncture if you wanted him to try it out on you. I did that one time and it didn’t seem like I got much out of it – of course, he might not have known how to do it correctly, but I can confirm he was right on top of correctly billing my insurance company for the procedure.

During that year, I showed up for appointments where I felt like I was walking into an assembly line. Unlike my first after-hours visit, 5 or 6 patients were routinely stacked up in separate rooms with Rottweiler dashing from room to room to mash on top of them with massive crunch-crunch-crunch maneuvers that he could complete in about a minute or two. Basic chiropractic work can be accomplished by doing 7 or 8 crunches, but those are general crunches, not specified. You might only have one thing out of alignment, but Rottweiler types crunch them all just for the heck of it. I don’t find crunchers to be very intuitive. I find “generic” chiropractors bill your insurance with more stuff than you think causing routine visits to bump up against $200.

I decided to change chiropractors. I mean, Rottweiler was okay, but he wasn’t for me personality-wise. This guy was into making money and lots of it.

I don’t remember the person I saw next, I just know I was done after one visit. I was the last patient of the day. The doc cracked me, then left me in the hands of not 1, not 2, but 3 female assistants who were busy cackling away at the front desk. One of them went with me and had me lay face down whereupon she lifted up the back of my shirt and applied 6 or 8 little sticky-pads connected to wires. She put a heavy heated cover over my back and turned on the juice which feels like intensified itching. The object with the electrical impulse therapy is to send signals to your muscles to break whatever patterns they’re in. Typically, I’ve seen the back crack be the last part of the therapy, but I’d seen it reversed, so I didn’t pay it much mind.

The electrical signals are supposed to gun through your muscles for roughly 15 minutes. At that point, a dinger goes off and the juice ceases to flow. In a normal scenario, an assistant comes in, removes the heavy blanket cover, and removes the sticky pads so you can get up and be on your way.

The 15 minutes was up. The dinger had gone off. A minute later, it went off again. And again. No assistants coming to the rescue. Yet I can hear them laughing and gossiping up at the front. I call out.

“Hello! Hello!”

The dinger continues to sound.

“Hello?” I’d switched to question-mark mode. I was desperate. “Helloooo???”

Nobody coming because they’re still having a good time. Anything good that my back had done to it that day had been erased.

“Hey!” There you go – abrupt and pissed.

Nothing except the sound of more laughter.


They came when I yelled in capital letters. I can get kinda loud when I need to. An assistant sauntered in. “Oh, I’m sorry, sir, we forgot all about you.”

I was sorry, too, and subsequently cancelled all future appointments.

I’d already been through 2 chiropractors in Virginia Beach. The final one I went to was a bit out of the way, but she was recommended word-of-mouth.

I don’t remember her name or who told me about her, but she worked out of her house which had been zoned for business on the first floor. She was an attractive young woman with long blonde straight hair. Very personable, but very direct. She worked in her bare feet. And she only took cash. $20. No insurance required.

She had me at the bare feet and the $20. I’d found another healer. She didn’t do gizmos. No x-rays. No crunching. All by feel. I’d been injured probably 15 years prior resulting in severely bruised ribs. She did not know that history. She had me lay face-down on her table. As she felt along the back of my spine, she stopped when she came near the mid-section of my rib-cage.

“You’ve got 2 ribs here on the left side that are too close together. I imagine it’s interfering with your breathing. I need you to hold your breath for a minute.”

I held my breath. She placed her left thumb on my spine about midway up and then I felt that thumb press firmly between the ribs she wanted to separate. Then slowly, ever so slowly, she pushed and worked that thumb all the way around in the groove between the 2 ribs. Pressure. I felt them separate and retreat to their normal positions. It didn’t hurt. It was a relief. And I’ll be damned, I could breathe easier.

That was her opening salvo. Like I said, she didn’t do crunch adjustments. She would pinpoint the exact pieces of the back that were out of alignment and only push those back into place – once again, wowing with her gifted thumb work.

When I was done with that first appointment, she threw some directness my way. “Don’t ever be late for an appointment – at $20, I don’t have time for that. A broken appointment means I won’t see you again.”

I never broke an appointment.

I had a great experience with her, but it was short-lived because we got a job transfer to Charlottesville. But during the few months we had access, the whole family went to her. For our son Ivan who was still in High School at the time, it was his first adjustment. She quickly zeroed in on his lower back and straightened his hips out which had been bothering him for months. He was amazed she could do that with a couple of well-placed thumbs.

Before we moved, I asked if she knew anyone who did what she did up in Charlottesville. At least she was nice about it.

“I don’t know anyone that does what I do, but good luck.”

Before I moved away from there, a co-worker asked me for a chiro recommendation. I told her I was a little gun-shy about handing over the name. I made my co-worker swear to me she wouldn’t break the appointment. And then she did. Healer woman admonished me for recommending her. I never forgave that co-worker by the way. Not to this day. Do NOT mess with my healers.

When we moved to the Charlottesville area in late 2003, I was in good health back-wise. I’d just come from months of healer applications. Rather than wait to twist again, we asked around when we got here and one person’s name rose to the top. The word-of-mouth was good on Dr. Jen located in downtown Charlottesville.

“She’s the best in town.”

I called and made an appointment.

You don’t often get 2 healers in a row, but I got lucky. Dr. Jen worked barefoot just like the woman in Virginia Beach. Probably in her 30s. No gizmos, no x-rays, no crunches. She used more than her thumbs, but except for that, she was a continuation of our previous healer, adjusting only the sections that required attention. Intuitive all day long. But she charged $40. Hey, I’ll take it. Plus, she was the first chiropractor or doctor EVER who asked me, “Do you know you have one leg that’s half an inch shorter than the other?”

I didn’t know something about my own body that it took her less than a minute to glam onto.

At my first appointment, she asked if I had any x-rays from previous chiropractors. I only had the one set I knew of that had been taken by Rottweiler. Did I have her permission to request them from him? But of course.

We didn’t get the x-rays for months because Rottweiler wouldn’t send them, even though I think he was required to since technically they are my property. I saw Dr. Jen for months without x-rays. My new barefoot healer didn’t need no stinkin’ x-rays. However, she was interested in seeing what I’d looked like before coming to her. Eventually after way too much pushback, I had to get on the phone with Rottweiler’s office and demand my x-rays. Don’t make me come down there.

After the package from Rottweiler arrived, Dr. Jen had me come in for an appointment. She rented office space on the top floor of a 3-story building right on Charlottesville’s downtown mall. When you walked into her office, centered squarely in the middle of her ceiling was a bright skylight with translucent glass. I was about to be introduced to Dr. Jen’s gizmo – the window in her ceiling. She walked me to the space underneath the skylight.

“Let’s lay down on the floor beside each other,” she beckoned.

The movie The Graduate came to mind. “Mrs. Robinson, if you don’t mind me saying so, this conversation is getting a little strange.”

She sat on the floor clutching my x-rays and patted the carpet beside her. “C’mon, lay down with me.”

So we did. She and I both stretched out lengthwise on our backs next to each other. We went through my handful of spinal snaps, her commenting and pointing out aberrations as she held my pics up to the light.

Everyone in my family went to see Dr. Jen. We all loved her. And then she did what several wonderful medical professionals have done to us over the years – she got married and quit the business.


So that was it with Jen. Eventually, she ended up spending gobs of time in Europe. About 5 years ago, I twisted myself up good lifting a 50-lb workstation out of the back of a transport truck. That twist was an extra wicked one – way to go on the week before Christmas. I spent more than 2 weeks shaking in pain, unable to find a comfortable position, unable to sleep. That was the 2 weeks I watched all 10 seasons of The Sopranos from beginning to end.

I hadn’t seen a chiropractor since Dr. Jen had gotten hitched. I wasn’t about to make the phone book mistake again. I messaged Jen on Facebook and sure enough, she wasn’t in country. But she got my FB message and messaged me back. She recommended a guy in Charlottesville that she’d seen – we’ll call him Dean. She didn’t know much about his business, but as chiro peeps often do, the doctors trade adjustments with each other for free – that’s how she knew Dean.

Dean had all the warning signs of a practice that had gotten too big. The waiting room was often teeming with broken patients. You could get an appointment anytime you wanted. Anywhere from 3 to 5 similar-looking attractive young women worked the front desk. The practice was a massive complex complete with a gym outfitted with the latest in chiro sports gear — equipment designed to help get you back on track. Dean flew under the complete wellness banner. His place of business was one-stop shopping – adjustments mixed with physical therapy. Not to mention loads of gizmos. More gizmos than I’d ever seen anywhere before.

The in-processing was practiced, honed. Before and after x-rays. Counseling. Coaching. Payment plans to cover all the stuff they were throwing over to the insurance agencies that wasn’t being covered. The daily cash flow must’ve been impressive.

I went to Dean for a couple of years and each time I went, I soured more on the experience. Dean was a sports guy, so he liked pushing the physical therapy part. When I mentioned I was capable of pulling off yoga if I needed to, he poo-pooed it and told me yoga wasn’t all it was cracked up to be – I would get better results using his methods. I thought his downplaying of yoga was suspect.

Dean’s place was into crunch-crunch-crunch moves. I thought I’d seen assembly line tactics at Rottweiler’s place, but Dean moved people through like Lucy working the chocolate line.

When I talked to Dean about Dr. Jen and mentioned her recommending him, he spoke fondly of her, but thought she had no head for business. She wasn’t reaping enough in his mind.

I didn’t like the regimen at Dean’s. For me, the act of doing exercising and stretching immediately following my adjustment seemed to not work in my favor. Sometimes I even felt like the good effects of my adjustments were totally negated by the hijinks afterward. You weren’t given time to let your back settle. I didn’t hide that from Dean or his staff. I started not doing the exercise part. And even though the staff knew I wasn’t partaking of that part, they continued to bill my insurance company for it. That was kind of it for me. Hey, I know people today who swear by Dean. Everybody’s gotta find their fit and I thought the outfit was too tight on me.

I went the word-of-mouth circuit – did anyone know a good chiropractor? More than a few hands went up and they were all in agreement: Go see Lisa (not her real name). I’ve been seeing her for about 2 years now, although when Judy and I were sequestering during COVID, I stopped going for probably 8 or 9 months. But I’m back on the table. Lisa has a couple of gizmos, but she’s not overt about it.

My right leg and knee plague me and have for a few years now. I get around okay and a couple of Advil will stave off discomfort if it gets too annoying. And just like old people I’ve made fun of, there definitely seems to be a correlation governing my pain levels when living through changes with the weather and barometric pressure shifts. I have good days and bad days.

On my very first visit to Lisa, I was face-down on a drop-table and she was moving my limbs and neck around and stretching me in ways much different from my adjustments at Dean’s. No crunching. Within 30 seconds of feeling around she said, “You know you have arthritis in this leg, right?”

Actually, no I didn’t. But that definitely explains some things.

Lisa is a keeper and I would definitely put her in the healer column. I like her as a person, I like her energy and positivity, I like the results. Oh, and my travel distance one way when I switched over from Dean went from 30 minutes to 5. The distance itself was a big decider. My appointments with Dean always had me driving through Charlottesville in traffic, and I didn’t like doing “tense” driving right after getting an adjustment – it seemed to detract from the back-healing experience. But now that part’s over. I currently regard myself as being in safe hands so hopefully I get to stay put for a while.

At least Lisa won’t be leaving her practice to get married. She already is. She tells me they’re happy. They better be.

So what have we learned? Don’t pick strays out of the phonebook, ask around. If it’s not working out for you, walk away soonest even if your back’s out and you have to crawl. That’s about all I know about witchdoctors. Some are called that out of ignorance. Others are really witchdoctors.

Look for the bare feet. That’s always a good sign. Although Lisa chooses to wear shoes. Well, alright. If she has to. I still count her as a witchdoctor.

I’ve been at this back-cracking thing for over 30 years now. I’ve learned good things and bad things along the way. Today I’m good. Less than a week ago, I wasn’t. I’d pulled my right hip yanking on a stubborn lawnmower that wouldn’t start. Lisa got me right in. Corrected things.

Way back in 1914, a dude named Ernest Shackleton was the skipper on an expeditionary wooden ship destined for the South Pole. Years ago, I read about the ship he commanded, The Endurance, and the fantastic and grueling adventures Shackleton and his crew experienced. They got stuck in the ice and things just progressively got worse. Incredible story. Hairy. Like really hairy and not in a good werewolf kind of way.

I read a couple of books about Ernest to include his diaries he kept where he wrote about spending months on ice and snow in isolation with his crew on sub-freezing uninhabited vistas. In his writings, Shackleton frequently mentions suffering from acute sciatica and how they slogged over frozen landscapes carrying their supplies. With sciatica. I have no idea what that guy was fueled on, but…

As they like to say at Lowes, “That was easy.”