Tom Mahony, Jun 14, 2007
I fidgeted in the chair, awaiting my appointment. Across the room, a heavily pierced receptionist babbled on the phone. A dog licked its ass at her feet. Seemed a little unsanitary. What kind of doctor’s office was this?
My neck ached. I could barely turn it. Bankrupt and uninsured, I lacked options until yesterday, when a friend slipped me a half-off coupon for a visit with Dr. Mike Bell.
I scrutinized a degree on the wall. Mike Bell, DC. DC? What happened to MD? I looked closer. There. DC, Doctor of Chiropractic. Huh. Sounded sketchy. And the school was located in Thailand. Thailand? What had I gotten myself into?
The neck pain felt unbearable. Had to be serious. Nerve damage. Meningitis. Cancer. God, was a tumor causing the pain? I rubbed my neck. Something hard in there. I should be at a real doctor right now. An oncologist. A cardiologist. Someone with a medical degree. From Harvard. I deserved nothing less.
I studied the office. “Alternative” literature covered the coffee table, bulged from wall-mounted racks. I respected alternative medicine, to a point, but couldn’t ol’ Mike toss in a few medical journals for show? I searched for anything reassuring, but only saw pamphlets on “wellness”, “life energy”, and something called “subluxation”. This place had the scientific rigor of a tattoo parlor.
I paced the room, heart thudding. Doctor visits—especially, I now realized, those to Doctors of Chiropractic—terrified me. I found the human body foreign and disturbing. At least I trusted an MD. But a DC? I eyed the door, wanting to run. If I ran, I couldn’t be diagnosed with cancer or anything else. But my neck ...
As I sat back down, the door to the inner office opened. A guy emerged and called my name. I jumped up, feeling defensive. “Yes.”
“Come on back.” The guy extended his hand as I walked by. He wore shorts, flip-flops, and the loudest Hawaiian shirt I’d ever seen. “I’m Mike.”
I shook it. “Eric.” I wore identical garb. But, instead of feeling chummy, fraternal, I got nervous. What kind of doctor wore flip-flops to work? How about a lab coat, at least?
We walked down a hallway toward the examining room. I felt better. This seemed like a regular doctor’s office. Inside the room, my ease vanished. The instruments looked odd and vaguely medieval. And the examining table resembled something used for lethal injections.
“Grab a seat,” Mike said.
I sat on the table.
“So, what’s bothering you?”
I explained the problems with my neck. The pain, the stiffness. Mike nodded, took notes, asked questions.
“Okay,” he said. “Take off your shirt and lay down.”
I felt alarmed. “Why?”
“Because I need to examine you.”
“What do you think the problem is?” Go ahead and state the obvious, Mike Bell, DC. Tell me I have meningitis and cancer. Even a chiropractor could figure it out.
Mike laughed. “I don’t know yet. That’s why I need to examine you.”
I nodded, reluctantly removed my shirt, and lay down. Mike felt around. Probed. Jabbed. Violated. Performed a few oddly tender moves. I didn’t like strangers touching me, especially dudes, but Mike had delicate hands ...
What the hell was I thinking? I took a deep breath and refocused on my paranoia.
Mike grunted and muttered.
“What is it?” I nearly shouted. “What’s the problem?”
“Just relax,” he said.
Relax? How could I? Those were unmistakable grunts of concern.
He finished up and opened the door. “I’ll be right back.”
I sat up, anxious. Where did he go? Was my condition so complex he needed to call a real doctor for a consult? Scratch his head through some medical reference? If he came back and said, “I’ve never seen this before,” I would jump out the window.
The seconds ticked by. I began to sweat. Mike returned, holding a model of a spine. Dammit. Spinal injury. I’d be paralyzed by dusk.
Mike sat down. “Here’s your problem.” He pointed out neck hardware—joints, muscles, vertebrae—uttering technical gibberish. Sounded bad. Horrible. Would I ever walk again?
“What’s the treatment?” I envisioned surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, amputation.
“A deep tissue massage should fix it. Loosen up those muscles and joints. You’ll be fine.”
Huh? A massage? I felt dumbstruck. “That’s it?”
Mike smiled. “Yep. We have a great massage therapist here. I’ll make you an appointment.”
“Okay,” I said, relieved. My neck felt better already. The room seemed just a tad brighter. Had those birds been chirping outside a minute ago? My life seemed great, my future open. Thank you, Mike Bell, Doctor of Chiropractic. Sorry for doubting your skill.
I stood and turned to go.
“Oh, and by the way,” Mike said. “I noticed a suspicious mole on your back. Looks like a melanoma. Better get that checked out immediately.”
Tom Mahony is a biological consultant in central California with an M.S. degree from Humboldt State University. His fiction has appeared in flashquake, VerbSap, Void Magazine, Long Story Short, Flash Forward, Six Sentences, Laughter Loaf, and Surfer Magazine. He is currently circulating a novel for publication.