Last night, I saw a friend of mine who happens to be a chiropractor. I was nervous to tell her about my neck and back pain. I knew she might offer to give me an adjustment, and I didn't know how I'd respond if she did.
Chiropracty scares me. I know there are, like any health care professional, good ones and bad ones. There are great ones too, and complete quacks. Once in my life I went to a chiropractor, for rather mild chronic neck pain, and had a bad experience. It was my Mom's chiropractor's office, and she felt bad, especially since it turned out that the actual doctor did not work on me. Some angry fat Starr Jones type of woman electro-stimmed my back at far too high a setting, and when I asked her to lower it, she refused, saying "Ah got twelve-year-olds who can take it higher'n dis!"
It's also true that my Mom saw this guy once a week for god knows how long and never seemed to get any better. Goddamn quack.
Recently, since I've been in Massage School, I've met chiropractors who I have a lot of respect for. They really know their physiology, and they don't talk like business people - they talk like human beings. My anatomy teacher, practicing chiropractic for something like 30 years, is always telling us that the doctors you want to see are the ones who tell you you don't need surgery and you don't need a lot of drug therapy. He's bitching constantly about the money-mill that much of modern medical practice has become. He has plenty of choice words to say about the Pharmaceutical companies, and alternative healthcare practitioners who don't study hard sciences. We love listening to his rants and raves - particularly me, who has been ranting and raving about the same things for years. And more than anything I love seeing the mis-information that fills my fellow students heads come crumbling to dust. I can see it in their eyes, the realization that eating spinach does not cause urinary tract infections, and that simple balanced diet and regular exercise can combat a number of minor health issues far better than a bottle of vitamins from GNC.
But I digress. I took a risk, and I mentioned to my friend that I'd been in severe pain all day, to the point where I wasn't sure how I'd driven around, being unable to look over my shoulder to see who's in the blind spot. Actually, I didn't even have to mention anything - she noticed I was out of it. "You want me to have a look?" She said.
"Actually," I swallowed, "I was going to ask your advice..."
She instructed me to lie on my stomach. I used my jacket as a face cradle. She started doing some massage-type moves on my shoulder, rather rough, but not painful. "God, it's like rocks in here," she mused. I was starting to wish the carpeting was plushier.
Next thing I knew, K-K-C-C-RRRRAC-C-C-K-K! My lower neck sounded like a machine gun. A small cry escaped my lips, not of pain, but of fear. "You ok?" my friend asked. "Yeah - I'm scared!" I admitted, wondering if this was such a good idea. "It's ok," she said, rubbing my back. "Don't be scared."
Then she cracked my neck the other way - RAT-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT. I almost cried. There was still no pain - my fear had me in a tight grip. I knew I was tensing all over. Somehow she managed to relax the area she needed to work, in spite of me. Underneath it all, I trust this woman. I know she knows what she's doing. She adjusted my hips once, and I walked straighter and less painfully than I had been for the previous week and a half. I know she's good at this. But we're talking about my NECK here. Thanks to my Dad's neuropsychological practice, I've seen first hand what can happen with a mis-placed chiropractic adjustment to the cervical vertebrae. One wrong twist and I could lose half my IQ points, not to mention my ability to drive or find my way home from anywhere. I would NEVER have allowed anyone to do this to me.
Even now, I'm not sure why I let her do it. Maybe I didn't want her to think I didn't trust her. Which is silly, I know she would have understood. Maybe I was just in so much pain yesterday that I was willing to try anything. Maybe I didn't think she'd do anything so drastic. Maybe I just didn't want to be afraid of something that I knew could potentially help me, even if it is a risky procedure. Who knows?
Eventually she moved farther down my spine to between my shoulder blades, and pushed sort of downwards. CRACK. A few inches up. CRACK. A few inches up, toward the base of my neck. CRACK. "Scary!" I choked. "I'm scared!"
She stopped. "That's ok." She rubbed the muscles around my spine, and I took a breather. It took everything inside me not to cry. My insides felt like a soda can that's been in a paint shaker. I thought I might explode... and I didn't know what would splatter all over the walls if I did.
My friend instructed me to roll over onto my back. I knew what was coming. She was going to crack my neck again. She could feel my fear, and she talked me through it somehow. I remember her telling me to wiggle my shoulder, which loosened me up a bit, but when she cracked me again, I almost screamed. And still, no pain. Just fear. Intense fear.
At some point, she stopped. "Just lie there for a few minutes." I was glad to. I felt as though I had just gotten off the rollercoaster from hell. And yet, I wasn't angry, and I wasn't sorry I had done this. I didn't really feel anything I'd characterize as negative, except perhaps a very thin, deep layer of shame. Was I ashamed that I'd been scared? Or was I ashamed that I had done something I swore I'd never do? Was I afraid of what my Dad might think if I told him? I have no reason to be, he acknowledges the benefits of good chiropracty. What was really underneath all that?
What was I really so afraid of?
At some point I got up, I thanked my friend profusely, and I headed for home. She had worked on me for a good 15-20 minutes, free of charge. Her practice isn't anywhere near where I live, so I doubt I'll be making any appointments, but it was such an experience for me, and I've been fascinated by it all this morning.
The best part, of course, is that today, my pain is about 50% gone, and virtually all my range of motion has been restored. Actually, maybe the best part is that I've discovered something about the fear inside me, how powerful it really is, and how powerful I have become at controlling it... and how that is not really a very good thing.
I don't think I'm going to be pursuing chiropracty again anytime soon - it's just too much for me right now. But I have made an appointment for next Wednesday at an Orthopedic Clinic in Midtown where one of my teachers works. They have a chiropractor onsite, but they also do medical massage, Trigger Point therapy, and Physical Therapy, as well as acupuncture and some other modalities. I'm sure someone there should be able to help me figure out what's going on in here.
Or, I should say, help me to help them help me.
Say THAT five times fast.