January 2010


We took Erin on her first visit to a university.  She had made up her mind long before we left the house but at least she now has perspective.  Who can blame her?  The University of Tulsa is the local in-town college and she wants to leave home and go someplace new. 

It was certainly convenient; it was Martin Luther King day and she wasn’t in school so we didn’t lose any school time. 

That holiday always reminds me of my worst joke ever.  I always say I want to get a king-sized loofah sponge and call it “Martin”.  You know:  Martin Loofah King.  Get it?  Nobody even bothers to groan with that one.  Still, I keep hoping.

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I’ve been to the chiropractor five times now in which she actually did something.  Whether it’s my imagination, wishful thinking, placebo effect, or for real, I’m actually feeling a bit better.  It’s enough to give me hope that I can finally get rid of the pain altogether.  I’m still worried that I’m just a victim of some sort of stage show like The Amazing Kreskin from back in the ‘70’s who would hypnotize people and have them believing almost anything but I suppose that if my mind tells me the pain is going away, that’s really all that matters.

Several years ago, I decided to try and improve my coffee-making skills since that’s about all I can drink that doesn’t make me fat or hurt my stomach.  Over the holidays, I tried a cold-brewed system that’s pretty cool.  It makes a couple of quarts of concentrated coffee that you store in the fridge.  Then you dilute what you want and microwave it to heat it up.  It’s like instant coffee that tastes like the well-made stuff.  There’s a lot to clean up when you make it initially but thereafter there’s no cleanup at all as you make each cup.  WIN!

Office holiday party last Saturday night.  It was held at the local Hard Rock Casino.  I’d been wondering what it looked like in the Hard Rock and I’d never been to a casino before.  I had toyed with skipping it altogether since a coworker once said that “it’s such a golden opportunity to step on your own dick.”  Mel likes to go though and it’s usually pleasant enough.  Plus, they have drawings for prizes.

This year, I won two airline tickets to anywhere in the US or Canada.  WAHOO!  It’s the first time I’ve ever won anything besides that stupid jack-o-lantern back in 2nd grade. 

The party was uneventful other than that. 

The casino part was not all that interesting.  We went into the store to escape the choking cigarette smoke and look at the T-shirts.  Other than that, we just went to our party and left.  I’ve been known to sprain a muscle groping under my car seat to recover spare change – I’m certainly not going to walk into a casino and start throwing my money into a machine.  When I drop a quarter in my car, I know that I can always get it back with a sufficient amount of effort – when you drop a quarter in a casino, they get to keep it. 

Ironic that I won something without actually gambling.

1)      Lose weight

2)      Stop eating so much

3)      File all paperwork

4)      Fill out taxes

5)      Fill out FAFSA

6)      Organize all last year’s crap

7)      Set up files for this year.

I don’t want to do any of this.

Evan left this morning to return to the university.  It was a fun break for me – I enjoyed having him around.  He and Erin are pretty much equals now and the interactions are a pleasure to be around.  He had to get to an interview for a summer internship.  When things change quickly as they do at this stage of their lives, all this seems to happen much quicker than you expect. As columnist James Lileks said: It’s “One of those memories where you not only hear Time’s Winged Chariot, but feel the hoof hit you in the back of the head.”

Well, my back just ain’t gettin’ any better so I decided to take action.  I called a chiropractor.

I’ve spent my entire adult life making a distinction between science and non-science and have always been told (and accepted on faith – a very non-scientific concept) that chiropractic medicine is not science-based and therefore worthless.  It was quite a struggle to call one.

But the truth, as usual, is a spectrum of gray with no clear line between the science and the non-science.  I have had many friends and coworkers tell me that a chiropractor can indeed help with lower back pain.  The entire field was invented by a bonafide quack snake-oil salesman long ago but apparently has evolved quite a bit into what amounts to an advanced physical therapist.  I don’t think many (if any) chiropractors would now claim to pop your back and cure your sinus infection or irregular bowels.   Plus, I once knew a physical therapist who claimed that one of her treatments was to shine a helium-neon laser at acupressure points in order to relieve headaches (which is ludicrous to anyone who understands what laser light is).  So there’s a bit of snake-oil on both sides of the debate which is greatly complicated by the well-documented placebo effect.  Some people will get relief from anyone who claims to be able to provide it.

So after asking for recommendations, I called one.  I quickly discovered that the practice had been sold to a different chiropractor and I should have hung up and found the one that was recommended but it’s so close to my office that I decided to go ahead.  Because she has only just opened her own practice (and the other doctor took his patients with him) I pretty much have the place to myself.  The fact that she is recently out of school is a good thing also since she will probably have the best information.

I am extremely skeptical of most of what is said but I was relieved to find that my health insurance will pay for part of this so I guess that at least someone in the business believes there is some value to going to such a practitioner.  Chiropractic medicine has its own vocabulary which I find annoying and intentionally obfuscatory but it does make some sense to think that if you have pain in your lower back that messing around with the spine might bring relief. 

She made X-rays.

I didn’t expect this much science.  I was surprised to note a definite side-to-side curvature in my spine which is due to my posture changing in response to the discomfort.  Whether this is abnormal or not is not clear to me.  Perhaps my spine has always been out of line like that and that this issue is not relevant.  Maybe most people have out-of-line backbones.  Still, she made a recommendation:  a series of “manipulations”.  I was afraid she might prescribe an unending series of visits, but no – only a few.   She began.

I first was told to sit on an ice pack while they attached some electrodes to four points on my lower back and butt and they applied a small voltage to make the muscles twitch for 15 minutes.  I was told that this reduced inflammation and perhaps it does (Wikipedia had nothing to say about this that I could find) but it would make more sense to me to say that the ice simply numbed the area and that the muscle twitching might accomplish much the same effect as stretching before exercise without the necessity of bending (which I can’t do because my back hurts). 

I was then ushered into an office with what appeared to be a massage table.  What followed was a very short series of pokings and proddings with a stick.  This stick was a rather official looking hard rubber tool but still…  it was a big poking tool.  Then, she turned to the use of a tool that I could not see due to my position but which made a sound like a hammer rapping on a chisel.  None of this was painful and some of it tickled.  There was also a series of maneuvers where the table was raised an inch or so and abruptly dropped as she pushed on my pelvis in various directions.  It was difficult to relax because I’ve been married almost 30 years and I’m really not accustomed to strange women putting their hands on my backside even in an obvious clinical setting.  I used to have a female primary care physician but when I got old enough to require the infamous prostate exam, I switched to a male older than me because I’m old fashioned like that. 

After I made it home and into the evening, I got really sore again.  It was like taking several steps back in time. 

But this morning, it actually felt noticeably better.  Is it my imagination or is it real?  I don’t know and I’m not sure if it matters yet.  I guess a few more treatments won’t be unreasonable to see if things improve. 

The long term plan also includes some exercises that are specific to this injury which seems entirely reasonable to me.  There are also some orders to change some habits such as how I get into the car and how I lift things.  I have heard these things before and again, they seem reasonable.  Then there is the ever-present mantra of “lose some weight.”   This is the same thing that I get from the “normal” allopathic doctor that is the godlike “primary care physician”.  The one with the MD degree.

This has all generated a huge amount of thought on my part.  I find that for some things, the MD has very little to offer even though he may have an exact diagnosis of the problem.  In the matter of headaches for example, he has very little to say other than “take Excedrin”.  Well, I already know that – I expect some sort of miraculous cure from the MD and there is none to be had.  Similarly, in the matter of lower back pain I was told “take ibuprofen and wait.”   After all the science is brought to bear, this is all I get – which is exactly what I would have gotten 40 years ago before the MRI was invented.  All we really have is a higher resolution picture of the problem; the pain remains as it would have. 

On the other hand, when Mel was diagnosed with breast cancer, there were a huge variety of things brought to bear on the problem.  Many things were done and we were told some pretty specific numbers as to the probability of success.  In that case, science had much to offer and now she is as cured as any cancer patient can be.  Likewise, when she broke her ankle the treatment there was very specific and worked well.  One could also say that it was blatantly obvious what needed to be done in that case.

But there are many cases when traditional medicine is frustratingly vague.  Mel’s mother had a well-defined problem with her heart and yet never recovered from that treatment and it still isn’t quite clear to me why not.  So is it all that unreasonable to turn to a homeopathic remedy which will do no harm and may indeed help in some as-yet not understood way?  Perhaps not.  At least it’s cheaper than surgery.

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