I came down with the rebound, out-muscling three other guys, and my spine gave out. Dropping the ball, shoulders hunched to my ears, I slouched over to the fence, and hoped to stretch out the monkey-fist forming at the intersection of my neck and shoulder blades.
The other guys continued shooting around, happy to catch their breath.
“Hey,” one yelled over. “Maybe you should go hang from the monkey bars?”
Overweight, T-shirt hugging my sweaty chest, I came back on the court. The shortest, most athletic of the bunch smiled. “OK, let’s play!”
I took a shot from the elbow, the spot from which I had hit two previous jumpers in a row, and missed the backboard by a few feet. “That’s it for me,” I said and headed home.
A hot bath and the rest of Sunday in bed with the NYT did little to assuage my Monday-morning pain. By Tuesday, with visions of a weany-looking white neck pad wrapped around my neck, I called my quirky healer friend, a New Mexico-licensed Doctor of Oriental Medicine.
I didn’t have a lot of time. Because I don’t have the luxury of paid sick days, I had no choice but to endure the pain at work later that evening.
She began with massaging my back and neck. “I’m not a chiropractor, but I can help the muscles relax.”
Massage complete, she unrolled her acutonic-tuning forks.
“I think you are going to need the sledge-hammer,” she said. “This is Sedna, the new ohm for our ascension into the fifth dimension.”
After a few minutes of treatment, the pain did begin to lessen. Sound vibrations from her forks cleared blockages restricting my life force, or chi, from flowing where it needed to help my body regenerate and heal.
Before I left, she applied an aromatic oil known as valor to my back, gave me a delicate hug, thanked me for my modest tip, said it was an honor to know me, and wished me luck.
Twenty minutes later, waiting in my western doctor’s office, I was told twice to sit down away from the nurse’s window to fill out my paperwork, despite the obvious hunch in my neck. I slowly eased myself low enough to rest in a chair and let out a teeth-clenched breath.
NPR news played in the background of the room, which was empty but for dusty plastic foliage. A few minutes later, the nurse weighed me and took my pulse. Later, the young doctor eyed me as though I were a racehorse about to be bet on at the tracks.
I told him how it happened.
“How do you feel about painkillers?” he asked.
“Whatever. I just need to be able to work tonight.”
“We’ll get you loosened up,” he said. “Stand up.”
He reached inside a drawer for a syringe. “I’m going to give you an injection. Just a mild hormone to begin to relax those muscles. Show me your hip.”
I pulled down the side of my pants.
“OK, that’s it,” he said. “I’m going to give you a prescription for muscle relaxers, which you’ll take three today, two tomorrow, and one for the next three days. I’m also going to give you hydrocodone for the … pain.”
I could have sworn he said “fun of it” under his breath.
“You don’t look like a coke head,” he said, smiling wryly.
“It’s just a lot of restaurant people enjoy their opiates,” he explained.
“Oh, well I’m not into all that. I may be a bartender, but it’s in a nice restaurant. I’m usually home by midnight.”
He seemed content I was truly in pain.
That night I still felt like Frankenstein as I poured wine and stirred martinis.
The next morning, I took a chance and drove over to the cranial-sacral practitioner I had come to know outside her healing arts. For three days she had not returned my barrage of calls, so I just got in my car and showed up.
In her waiting room, after marveling for a few moments at one of the biggest blooming African violets I had ever seen, I thumbed through a copy of Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos.” I overheard the tail of a conversation taking place on the other side of the wall.
“You don’t have to take the chemo,” a calm woman’s voice explained.
A gruff, older gentleman responded. “I know, but I figure if that’s what the doc said, then I should probably do it.”
I moved seats for better access to the muffled dialogue.
“Well, that’s what your doctor knows based on his training,” the feminine voice continued. “If you only live another five years, they will have considered your case a success.”
“You said yourself this is preventative chemo. You have already had your main treatment and surgery. How long has it been—six weeks and they are already trying to put more poison in your body?”
“Well, the doc said it would kill any cancerous cells that might be still in there….”
“I understand that,” she soothed him, “but you could ask for more time.”
A second passed before she continued. “You see, when you are in fear, all your blood goes to the back of you brain. Fight or flight, blocking you from making rational decisions, which requires your blood to be up here in the front.”
“I just want the pain to stop,” the man said, frustrated. “I asked my doctor when I could begin to feel halfway normal, and he says it’s going to be another three or four months! I can’t take another three or four months!”
Another quiet moment passed. I imagined her reaching over to hold his hand.
“We use doctors for their knowledge, and then we have to make our own decisions,” she said.
“When are you different doctors going to start working together?” he wept. “I’m just so tired of being sick!”
Joel Finsel is the author of “Cocktails and Conversations from the Astral Plane,” and will write short stories every other week in encore throughout 2014.