On Chiropractic

One of the interesting things about a move is that it gives you a chance to switch doctors... even the ones you liked just fine. At first I thought this was just a big downside of the whole thing, but it's turning out to be a great learning experience.

Back in California, I liked my chiropractor very much. With her spiffy little ultrasound machine, she completely removed all the knots in my back (there were lots!), popped all my vertebrae back where they belong, and applied electrotherapy to stimulate the muscles so they could get some practice getting used to the new alignment of my spine. She warned me that I might experience some soreness afterward, but she did such a great job of preparing my muscles that I didn't feel anything but relief. Blessed, blissful relief. I had no idea life could be this good. Did you know that standing up straight doesn't have to require gargantuan effort, and lots of pain? It was an amazing revelation. Dr. Shaygan wasn't a bit weird or fanatical, she just knew lots about the back, talked about why it's a generally good idea to have a healthy back, and gave me good advice on how to change the way I do things so as to make it easier on my back. It was great.

But then we moved across the country, and by the time we arrived, my back was in pretty bad shape again. So I made an appointment with a local chiropractor.

And this particular chiropractor here in Houston is all about applied kinesiology. Apparently, if a vertebra is pinching a nerve, your arms and legs supposedly to lose their ability to resist pressure when that vertebra is touched. Or something like that. And sure enough, when this chiropractor ran her hand down my spine while pushing down on my leg, my leg bounced down at every stop along the way. Very impressive, indeed.

The only problem was, I had no idea what was really going on. Was she pushing harder? Was I just relaxing a bit, and then exerting more force when I realized my leg went down? Hard to say. I don't doubt that things like that really do happen-- martial artists can make excellent use of such pressure points on the most uncooperative of subjects. But it's a little bit like a ouija board. I don't doubt that it's possible that people have contacted demons through ouija boards, but either the will or the unconscious expectations of either participant is entirely sufficient to explain any and all phenomena. It's just not very reliable.

And in fact, applied kinesiologist believe that chemicals have the same sort of results, and that they can be seen immediately and dramatically just by testing muscle resistance after placing a drop of various chemicals under the tongue. And oh, the results are dramatic... except when the test is double-blind. And then everything becomes very ambiguous and ho-hum. Thus it's pretty clear that the expectations of either the patient or the examiner produce pretty dramatic results in that sort of test, and whatever else may or may not be going on, that's a sufficient explanation for just about any result.

So while I do think there's probably something to the whole pressure point thing, I really don't feel safe basing my treatment on those tests.

But I was assured that I would not at all be safe going to any other chiropractor in the area, because the other ones just went by what the back felt like. But the chiropractors in this office test for pressure points, and if something feels crooked, but my foot doesn't bounce, they'll leave it be. And if something feels straight and my foot does bounce, by gum, they're going to make that thing move.

Believe you me, if she'd told me this before adjusting me, there's no way I would have allowed her to touch me.

The other distinctive of this practice is their emphasis on patient education. Now my old chiropractor emphasized patient education, too. I had to watch an informative video out in the waiting room when I came for my first visit, the Dr. Shaygan showed me lots of models of the spine, gave cogent explanations for everything she did, and took the time to answer all my questions.

Patient education at this practice in Houston is very, very different. In fact, my first visit took around 2 hours, and there wasn't even time for an actual adjustment. Just lectures upon lectures, an absurdly thorough health history (did I ever fall off my bike as a small child?), more lectures, an applied-kinesiological exam, more lectures, an evaluation with the acupuncturist, and then it was time to schedule me for an actual adjustment the next day.

The whole deal with the acupuncturist was rather surreal. She used a sophisticated computerized apparatus to measure my chi, and determine the balance of yin and yang, and handed me a printout charting all my meridians.

When I asked her what exactly the machine was measuring, she just looked at me incredulously. Hadn't I ever heard of "chi?" Well, yes, but I wasn't very clear on the concept, or how on earth a computer program was measuring it.

And apparently she wasn't, either, because I never did get any more explanation than that.

The next day, I hoped that I could just get an adjustment, and go home--my time is precious to me, and as fascinating as all this is, frankly, I'd rather be reading Luther. He's much more level-headed, even-keeled, and whatnot. No such luck. O ut in the waiting room, I was given a laminated informational sheet to study, and when I announced that I was done skimming it over, I was taken into a private room where my case manager administered an oral examination. It was very clear that I was not going to see the chiropractor until I had successfully defined such concepts as health, function, and subluxation to her satisfaction. But once I had successfully rattled off their definitions, then it was time for the interactive lecture. She pulled out a small white-board, and proceeded to draw a simplistic diagram. She drew three circles, each connected to the other. The middle circle she labeled "body," the lower circle represented "function," and I was to tell her what I thought the top circle stood for.

After all the stuff about computerized yin and yang, I had absolutely no idea what philosophical framework she was using, and I really, really, wanted to get through this quickly, so I figured I'd better cover all my bases in one breath.

"Well, you're either referring to the brain or to the soul, one or the other."

"Soul!?" She started, then composed herself and chuckled condescendingly. "Oh, so you're spiritual, are you? Well, I'm spiritual, too, so we'd better leave all that out of this. We probably disagree about most things. But I do believe in a higher power."

And so on and so forth. Finally, she was satisfied that I understood that it is important for the brain to communicate with the body, and that pinched nerves make that much harder, etc. etc. etc. And then it was time to talk about my actual treatment plan, and how it was important for me to come in every day for the first few weeks, and several times a week thereafter for the next five months.

How... nice.

I tried to keep my smile pasted on, but the case manager caught me anyway. It was clear that if I was going to have the audacity to think, I'd better explain myself so she could clear things up. We weren't going anywhere until I was sufficiently brainwashed. I tried every polite means of evasion, but we were at an impasse. This persistent prying into my very soul and thoughts was somehow terrifying. Here was a person who had absolutely no respect for my right to have thoughts which I might freely choose to share or to keep to myself. On the surface level, everything was quite civil, yet she was clearly not going to release me until she had succeeding in molding my very thoughts to her satisfaction. It was all so very, very harmless, and yet so very unscrupulous. This woman who couldn't refer to an individual soul that was not identical with some higher power, also denied in practice any distinction between her soul and mine. Her complete disregard of my desire to keep my thoughts to myself went beyond mere pushiness--it was dehumanizing. I thought about telling her to her face that I felt threatened and manipulated, that my intelligence was being insulted and my time wasted, and I would not stand for it. That if someone would like to show me to the actual chiropractor, I would be out in the waiting room, otherwise I would be leaving, but in any case our little interview was over. I had come to have my back adjusted, not my brain, and certainly not my soul.

But I didn't. Instead, I caved.

"Oh, I'm just trying to piece together what you're saying with what my other chiropractor said, that's all."

And what did my old chiropractor say?

"Well, she had me come in several times a week at first, but then as the adjustments started holding better, we quickly moved to once a week, and by the time I moved, I was doing quite well seeing her every two weeks."

Well, other offices might do things that way, pacify patients by letting them use chiropractic however they like, but this office prides itself on results. I shouldn't give up hope, though, because she's living proof of the healing at the end of the road. She then went on to explain how I would be required to set up a bunch of appointments in advance, and sign a contract stating that I would either keep all appointments or make them up within one week. And that I should pay one month in advance if at all possible. Not because they wanted to be sure of their payment, of course, but because they didn't want me to have finances on my mind.

Of course.

Smile and nod, smile and nod. Must, must, must conceal any semblance of skepticism so I can see the doctor and get out of that place.

I must have been in there 45 minutes before she was satisfied with my brainwashing, but finally it was over, and I went into the room with the actual chiropractor. It was a different woman from the one who had examined me the day before, but she was very nice and respectful.

She felt along my spine for subluxations, testing my muscle resistance, and applying pressure as needed. Snap, crackle, pop, okay, you're all done.

No therapy, no nothing. All she did was yank around my utterly unprepared, tense back.

Well no wonder they insist that it I'd better come back tomorrow, because it won't hold longer than a day. And no wonder they say that I will be very sore afterwards if it does me any good at all.

And sore I am.

But I do hurt a little less than I did before, and at least I can stand up straight again.

And I have a much better idea of what to look for in a chiropractor.


Ashley said...

That's awful. A computer program measuring your "chi"? That sounds comical. And she wouldn't even talk about the soul, even though the whole mind/body/chi (energy) conversation is about that.

I've been a handful of chiropractors and they are very different. My favorite is in my home-town and I mostly ignore his worldview because his adjustments are so good. He used to give us silly articles every week that praised chiropractic care. He also had those motivational posters on his wall except he changed the sayings to things like, "A well adjusted spine leads to a well adjusted life."

Emily (Laundry and Lullabies) said...

Oh wow. I'm surprised you didn't just walk out. I think I would have - you must be far more patient than I am. :)

Chiropractors really are all over the map. I have one here who I LOVE...but I've also talked with some pretty wacky people. Your experience definitely takes the cake, though. Wow.

Rachel said...

WOW. Hurrah for Dr. Shaygan! I am even more thankful for her now...

You should send your post to her, I bet she'd get a kick out of it. There's probably an email address somewhere on the website.

Christa said...

Ok, this post made me laugh in a big way - when I got home from India I went to a person like this to help with my eating problems...we did the chemicals under the tounge, the energy ('chi' wasn't as en vogue then) the lectures, the learning, the $$$, and though it was all really interesting (because I would love for that to be really effective) not much came of it. :)

Good luck to you finding a better Chiropractor!!! :)