There’s a green space in the Valley where your spirit can rest. The sign out front says Network Chiropractic and the doctor inside is Stephen Wechsler.
I pop the front door open, tilt my head past the doorway into the treatment room and sing loudly, “Oh, my boyfriend’s back, doo-wah-dee-do-do.” The doctor looks up from his work and grins. In a minute he comes out to the waiting room, gives me a hug and a kiss, and says he loved my e-mail. He went to India, first for peace at the ashram, second to study with a doctor at an ayurvedic hospital. He sent weekly letters back to the people he serves and the third one asked if we had any questions. My reply was “Do you still love me? Nothing else matters, does it?” If you are going to send questions halfway around the world, these are the questions you should send.
I can tell by the coats and boots on the waiting room floor that the doctor has some kids in the treatment room, so I settle down to my apple fritter and coffee. Doctors can be taken cold but coffee needs to be drunk hot. The doctor comes prancing out again, grinning and carrying a fine charcoal gray suit on a hanger. While in India he purchased two suits, ten pairs of pants, ten shirts, four pairs of shorts, and assorted socks, underwear, ties and handkerchiefs–for $300. Custom tailored. He spent forty minutes in the yard goods store, picking the materials he wanted, then took them to the Indian doctor’s tailor.
The tailor had no English so the doctor and his patients gathered around to translate. In India, the tailor takes many measurements, up, down and around, not just waist and inseam. The tailor made one shirt and one pair of pants then brought them back for fitting. They made some adjustments and then the tailor went off and finished the wardrobe. Today the chiropractor is wearing dark, double-tucked pants and a dress shirt in blue and white plaid. He looks good and tells me the ensemble cost seven-fifty. Seven dollars and fifty cents.
Having finished the fritter and coffee, I move into the treatment room, which has five tables, some waiting. My table, at the left end, is next to a quilt hanging on the wall. The table at the right end, where the doctor is sitting telling stories, is in front of an odd soft sculpture. The doctor is in the middle of telling someone about flying into New York after sixteen hours in the air. He decides to rent a car. When the rental person tells him the cost, he replies, “That’s cheaper than a hotel room. I could just sleep in it in the parking lot. What else have you got?”
For another $10, she tells him, he can get a Lincoln Continental.
“Hey, can it get any better than this?” he asks us.
He drove upstate, tired but not doing too badly until about thirty miles out, when he went brain-dead. “You know, that happens,” I tell him. “Everybody looses brain function about thirty miles from here.” By now the doctor has started adjusting the guy next to the sculpture, the gray-haired couple on tables adjoining mine, and me. All the kids have gone except the doctor’s six-year-old son who is standing on the back of a chair, stocking toes curled around the narrow edge, looking out the window. The old fellow on the next table quietly admonishes the boy. I ask the child how long his father was gone.
“Did you go to meet your father when he came back?”
“No. He picked me up at Mathew’s.”
“Did you miss your father?”
“No. I was playing with Mathew.” Children are born to humble their parents.
All the tables are full now; the doctor moves from one to another, talking and listening. He asks me how my breathing is. “Ah . . . not too good. You know, the sleep apnea.” I ask him about the ayurvedic hospital.
“It’s brick—one story. Well, two-story in one part. It’s very different. The only staff they have is a night watchman. The rooms cost three dollars a night; the medical care is about four dollars. You bring your family to care for you; the rooms are big enough for the family.”
“But I don’t have a family,” I say.
“No problem,” he cheerfully replies. “You can rent one.”
The ayurvedic doctor treats the peasant farmers for free. Their only problems are structural ones—bad shoulders, backs, that sort of thing. The middle class people have the same problems as middle-class Americans—cardiovascular, diabetes, asthma, that sort of thing.
The doctor tells me I can sit up now. I ask him what he did that opened up my sinuses and improved my breathing. He spreads his arms wide, raises his eyes heavenward, smiles and says, “God. . .” Then he adds, “The plate will now be passed among you.”
I go out to pay the woman at the desk. We are trying to sort out Medicare paperwork, referrals and outstanding bills when the doctor wanders out again. She tells him that while he was in India, Medicare changed its rate.
“Oh, you mean the co-pay isn’t $6.93 anymore?” he asks.
I tell him that I received a Medicare Summary Notice advising me that he could bill me for one cent.
“Not three cents,” he asks, wanting to be clear: “One cent?”
The woman asks if it’s all right if I don’t pay now; she will figure out my bill and get back to me later. “Sure,” I say, “You can do anything you want.”
Chiropractic adjustment is a gift and a blessing. Afterwards you feel, simply—well, benign. Very benign. You smile a lot. Nothing bugs you. There is no drug—not tranquilizers, muscle relaxants or marijuana—that can make you feel like this. This is about wise hands manipulating a troubled spine: this is what health feels like. The pressure that I didn’t know I had has been removed from my lower spine; the constrictions across my shoulders are gone. I breathe easily. Neither the child nor I knew his father’s absence, but each one of those twenty-six days my spine got further out of alignment, the arthritis took its toll, I slept worse, and my immune system shut down more.
I take a deep breath and give the world the same milky smile as a sleepy, just-fed infant. Life is good. I have spent an hour in this, the green-space of the spirit.