A Real Doctor

It started with a pain running down my leg and across my back. At first I hardly noticed it, but later the pain grew. I noticed that I would look with dread upon life’s smallest inconveniences, such as dropping a pencil, or after getting into bed, if I forgot to turn the light out, I would feel as though my entire body would not survive the exercise of having to get back up out of bed. Still I went to work every day and did all I could to ignore my “bad back.”

Since sitting caused me the least amount of pain, I spent much of my time sitting at work without arousing suspicion. My chair was on wheels so if someone wanted to hand me something, I would cleverly wheel across the room and grab it. The garbage can was on the other side of the room so inevitably I would have to try my luck and throw all my trash from my seat. If I missed, I would inconspicuously wheel myself across the room past the other desks, file cabinet and bookcase to the garbage can and bend over, retrieve the tossed item and put it in the can all with my bottom planted firmly on the seat. Whenever an errand was required, I was the last the volunteer and in fact, if a task required standing or walking I was immediately delegated seizing the opportunity to sharpen my keen managerial skills.

I spent as much effort avoiding unnecessary pain as I did concealing my back pain. I had already determined the exact nature of my condition and knew the only treatment was surgery, which I had already concluded was not for me. I had determined all this, mind you, without ever having seen a doctor. You see, if I saw a doctor, he would only confirm my diagnoses thus adding to my hopelessness. Furthermore, if I shared my suspicions about my back with others, they might challenge me with their own success stories about some great doctor they had seen or the positive outcome of some loved one’s back surgery, only adding to my sense of futility.

I continued on like this for sometime until my legs started to feel like I was dragging around cinderblocks for shoes. I was finding the simplest household tasks a challenge and even wiping left my feeling like a contortionist. It was then that I decided I would go to a chiropractor.

The chiropractor was as I saw it the ideal compromise. It wasn’t like going to the doctor.

Only the chiropractor thinks they are actually a doctor. Yet there was still the thinly veiled promise of help. The first obstacle to seeing the chiropractor was getting a referral from my primary care physician. After denying for months that I had any back problem I now had to call my doctor’s office and convince the nurse that I had a longstanding chronic back condition. I said I had Sciatica, which was the only chronic back condition I knew of, and could I please have a referral to a chiropractor. She apparently bought my story because she had me hold for a few minutes and then said she would take care of it.

I had chosen my chiropractor from a long list given to me by my insurance company. I chose her because her name rhymed with “happy” and I thought I would bring me good luck.

When I called for an appointment I was greeted by an answering machine, further affirming my belief that real doctors don’t have you leave a message at the beep at 2 in the afternoon.

I received a called from the friendly-voiced Dr. Kappi the following day. When she asked when I could come in, I responded, “What do you have available?” Her answer surprised me and I took a few seconds for it to register.

“Whenever you can.” she said.

I could hear my mother’s voice inside my head saying “That doesn’t sound so good.” I stumbled for a minute and then said, “How’s three? No—wait—four o’clock?” “Either is fine, come whenever,” she said. Again my mother’s voiced loomed great in my head:

“What kind of doctor can see you anytime? Maybe you are her only patient? Maybe she is no good? Why don’t you go to a real doctor like the rest of the world? I didn’t know you had a back problem anyway.”

As 4 o’clock approached I was filled with a mix a dread and anticipation. I easily found the office but when I arrived the door was locked. My worst suspicions confirmed. She wasn’t even there. Then just as I was turning to leave, three figures approached from the parking lot. One of them looked about 20 and two older women in there 60s followed her. The younger one fumbled for her keys and said “You must be Robyn, sorry I’m late, my mom had to stop at the cleaners.” I shrugged my shoulders as if to say “no problem” as the four of us entered the smallest waiting room I had ever seen. Still trying to figure out who was whom, I took one of the two seats in the waiting area jammed in next to a small metal desk, file cabinet and copier. The young girl sent one of the older women into one of the exam rooms while the other older woman took the seat behind the desk. The young girl told me to wait just a few minutes and she would be with me shortly. I kept thinking the chiropractor had to be on her way as by then it was a quarter after four.

Minutes later the young girl emerged from the exam room and led me into the other small exam room, then asked me to lie down on the table. It was then that I realized that she was the chiropractor. During the entire visit, she never asked me one question about my back, or my health in general. She didn’t ask me about any medications I was on or weather I smoked or drank. I waited with dread for her to perform those bizarre manipulations that chiropractors are famous for but they never came.

When I left the exam room, the two older women were both chatting about the old neighborhood and remembering how things used to be. Then the woman behind the desk handed the other her receipt and the other woman left. It was then that the chiropractor turned to the woman behind the desk and asked “Ma, when is Daddy coming home tonight?” I then understood that the receptionist was her mother.

Her mother then turned to me and said “All better?”

Unlike every other doctor I ever went to, my chiropractor never pressured me to come back.

Far from it. She would ask “When do you feel like coming back?”

With each visit I learned more and more about my chiropractor, like while it was true that I could come just about anytime on Tuesday for an appointment, she wasn’t in on Mondays because she had a second job as an EMT to make ends meet. She was the first doctor I knew who had to work as an EMT because she wasn’t making enough money as a doctor. I often though if she just told her patients “I need to see you next week” like a “normal doctor” did then she would be racking up the insurance bucks.

Each visit she shared with me the latest story about her social life, which consisted mainly of dating guys she hated. She ended each visit by asking “Better?” As if she had performed some miracle with her healing hands and my back was now fine. I never knew how to respond to this question because I couldn’t possibly imagine she actually thought she had just fixed my back. I would stand up and shrug my shoulders like “Yeah, maybe it is and maybe it isn’t.”

I started to notice after a few weeks of going there that while there was a lot of foot traffic in the office, no one else seemed to have a bad back. Weeks after my first visit my back was still killing me. Upon entering the office, Dr. Kappi’s mother looked at me and said “What’s wrong with you?”

“My back is killing me.” I responded.

She looked at me as if it were the first time she had ever seen anyone with a bad back. She shook her head sympathetically as if to say, “hat are you going to do?”

I noticed that day there was bunch of Federal Express bags lined up in front of the metal desk. Moments later a young man in his 20s left one of the exam rooms with a cup in his hands, walked into the bathroom, came out a minute later with the cup filled with urine. He handed it to the chiropractor’s mother who placed it in one of the mysterious Federal Express bags and put it in front of the desk with the others. I was then called in, all the while wondering what the chiropractor did with urine or what did urine have to do with one’s back. Although I was curious, I never asked her what she did with the urine for fear she might ask for some of mine which I was not that eager to part with.

Then there was this video that people seemed to be coming to the office to watch. I don’t know what the video was about but in the middle of my adjustment she would often call out to the person in the other exam room to “Rewind the tape,” or “Just leave the TV on.”

I used to imagine she had all these side businesses going on to support her practice because no one came there for their back. I imagined that she was a center for sperm donation and the videos were pornographic films to help the donors make their deposits.

Maybe she was selling exercise equipment. I never had the nerve to ask. The urine was a bigger mystery. I suppose she could have been selling it to some European pharmaceutical company that makes a cancer saving drug not approved in the US but my gut told me her objectives were far less noble.

In the end I often felt I was her only “real patient.” She had lots of customers but I don’t know in the two years I saw her that I ever saw anyone else that had a bad back in that tiny waiting room. Furthermore, I can’t even say she helped my back. She was nice though and I grew to like her mom too.

I suppose if I wanted to do something about my bad back, I would have gone to a real doctor.

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