Love in the Time of Sciatica

I was camped in the corner booth at the Burger King, thumbing through the latest issue of Sports Illustrated and waiting anxiously for my cell phone to ring.

Across the street a swat team of chiropractors, physical therapists, acupuncturists, nutritionists and God-knows-who-all were trying to fix my wife’s aching back. Yes, she’d tiptoed into the world of alternative medicine, and I was more than a little worried. But over the past year, a parade of prescription-dispensing MD’s had left her with an alarming array of pain pills… a hazy prognosis… and few options.

I couldn’t blame her for trying something new. This is a young, vibrant woman with decades yet to live. Would her future be defined by syringes and narcotics?

No.

And that’s how she wound up in the little office in that strip mall over there, and how I came to rest in this particular BK.

I figured I’d be more comfortable here amongst the coffee klatching seniors and pasty faced fast food aficionados where the agenda on this steamy, August morning involved little more than the simple configuration of bacon and eggs, jam and muffins.

I wrestled with my misgivings, thought about two guys I had gone to high school with who are now chiropractors, two academic bottom dwellers who must have figured chiropractics sounded like more fun than, say, furniture upholstery– or detailing cars out at Tommy Clayburn’s Chevy City.

Nowadays they run ads in the oddball alternative newsweekly back home, splashy rectangular things full of starbursts and smiling buddhas, bold promises and discount coupons.

We should have swapped-out the old mattress sooner…. trashed the barcaloungers… lifted with our legs. What if this doesn’t work? What then? Leeches? Voodoo?

My eyes focused. A woman nearby had fixed her stare on the tall, bespectacled fellow lost in thought.

This was a stocky old granny in a go-to-hell NASCAR tee shirt and a pair of black and white checkered capri pants, her big, brown eyes trimmed in red and glistening beneath the brim of a Caesar’s Palace plastic sun visor.

Without preamble she said, “I own six houses and an apartment building and you wouldn’t know it, but I’m worth a lot of MONEY!”

“That’s… terrific,” I said.

“I work hard and have COMMON SENSE!”

I started to say that hard work and common sense– together! — is certainly a recipe for success—

“What sign are you, young man?”

“I’m a Virgo,” I replied.

“Virgo. You’re a good planner, but you’re TOO CAUTIOUS! All of the planning in the world doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t TAKE ACTION!”

“Well, that’s true,” I began—

“My first husband was too cautious AND NOW HE’S DEAD!”

I sipped my Diet Coke. “Was he a Virgo?” I asked.

“And now I raise POODLES!” she said, “with HIM!” indicating the elderly gentleman seated beside her. He gave a defeated wave. I nodded sympathetically.

She looked me up and down, appraised me as if I were an unusual armoire she’d stumbled upon at a flea market. “If I needed someone to run my affairs, you’d be the one,” she said. “HANK! Are you ready? Let’s GO!”

They toddled out the door and across the parking lot, down the sidewalk and out of sight. An eerie stillness filled the restaurant. Perhaps she had been a figment; I vowed to lay off the sausage croissants.

The cell phone rang and I was summoned across the street.

The consensus was sciatica, a common condition wherein pressure on the sciatic nerve causes pain in the back and legs. The plan was to use vigorous deep massage therapy, stretching exercises and heat treatments to eliminate the pain. She was to rest, take warm baths and leisurely walks.

Getting into the car I suggested we take a trip to Sedona when she felt up to it, stroll through the art galleries, explore the canyons. She said she’d enjoy that.

I wheeled onto the frontage road as the first drops of a light shower began to pelt the dusty windshield. Air rushing in through the vents smelled of road tar and peat. And then, in a moment, we merged onto the freeway and into the flow of late morning traffic.

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