Fifty years ago, March 1956 was a huge red-letter day in my life; it was my first day of private practice.
My license actually came by railway express (no, silly, that's how they delivered them in those days) and I was ready to heal the world. I came to my dad's office about an hour before I was to begin and tried to gather my wits, settle down and look professional.My dad was an old-fashioned chiropractor with a huge following, but he timed his first real vacation with the arrival of my license, and as I was about to unlock the front door to the office on that Monday morning, he and my mother were having breakfast in Phoenix.
Tell you what; he had a lot more faith in my success than I did.
Dad had a solo practice and ran it alone.
Somebody rattled the lock on the front door and then knocked. It took a second to get there because I had to make a pit stop (for the third time that morning), so when I got to the door the patient had taken a seat on the front steps. When I opened the door, he turned his whole body, faced me and asked, "Where's Dr. Bader?"
"I'm Dr. Bader," I said.
"No you ain't," he rejoined.
"I'm Dr. Robert Bader. Dr. Otto Bader is my dad and I am taking over for him today because he is on vacation."
"Oh, God!," he cried, "Now what am I gonna do?!"
"I can help you," I said tentatively.
"No you can't! Oh God, what am I gonna do?," he moaned.
Just a sidebar here: I knew exactly what was wrong. He had one of the most painful things that can happen to a neck. It's called "torticollis" and even a novice can recognize it.
Well, I talked the man into coming in and it turned out he was a longtime patient of dad's and that he'd had this problem before and nobody in Lodi but dad helped him and he was right twitchy about having some young punk try to fix it.
I sort of set Mr. Torticollis at ease with a truly gentle touch and much reassuring talk before and with every move we were about to make. I put him on a treatment table and used soothing heat to slow the pain. He laid there for a while and announced he was better and that he would like to go home … but when he moved … it hurt like hell. He asked me what I could do and there was more than a modicum of panic in his voice. I lied, "Relax, I have treated this problem before and it always turns out fine."
We went into the adjusting room and I put him on the adjusting table. I held his neck very gently in my hands and there was no range of motion, he had locked up. I massaged him very gently, and after a long, long time, I said, "I think it would be better if we used ice and heat intermittently, so you go home and lie down and do that."
He agreed enthusiastically and got up. We went into my dad's office and sat down. He leaned forward to get out his wallet and asked, "What do I owe you?"
I couldn't answer because he fainted as he leaned forward and did a very slow somersault to the floor.
I did what any red-blooded chiropractor would do in a case like that: I got a gorilla-sized shot of adrenaline from God Himself, picked him up as though he was a mere rag doll, carried him to the adjusting room, tried to revive him and when he didn't wake up, I adjusted the daylights out of his thoroughly relaxed neck.
He awakened and said, "That feels better already."
We walked out into the office, sat down, leaned forward to get out his wallet and asked, "What do I owe you?"
I told him, he paid me; I held the door for him and said goodbye.
He turned his head gingerly to both sides, smiled broadly and left. He had a new Dr. Bader to fix his neck, I'll guarantee ya.
Some months later, he came to see my dad and told him the parts he could remember about his visit (I had told dad the whole story when he came back from Arizona and related to him the fact the guy had absolutely no recollection of having fainted).
Well, dad let the cat out of the bag big-time and told the fellow all about the miracle treatment he had that day from his genius son.
Mr. Torticollis said, "Why that little … !"
People didn't sue one another for every little thing in those days.
Sometime when we have a few minutes I'll tell you about the second patient I had my first day in practice.
Bob Bader is a Lodi writer and chiropractor. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
First published: Wednesday, March 1, 2006