Outside the Center for the New Age in Sedona, Oak Creek babbled like an inner child as rental SUVs on Highway 179 roared like angry parents.
Above the din, professional healer Daniel Rain attempted to alleviate my chronic sciatic nerve pain via a technique billed as "didgeridoo chakra realignment," which involved Daniel aiming a didgeridoo--an aboriginal instrument from Australia--at various energy points on my body, including my forehead and my crotch, and playing it, puff-cheeked and weakly.
And as the creek babbled and the traffic roared and the didgeridoo sputtered and whirred, I entered a zone, a parallel universe in which my mind focused, centered and became one with an internal mantra: Percodan. Give me Percodan.
Let me explain the pain. It began three months ago as an extreme muscular spasm on the left side of my lower back. It since has evolved into a deep, constant ache in my left butt cheek and a searing length of razor wire that slices my leg from hip bone to big toe every time I take a step. Painkillers have provided the only relief.
I don't know for sure why it started. About a year ago, I jumped between two freight cars in Mexico, landed poorly, and corkscrewed my legs around my lower torso. Then last December, I was stopped dead at a red light at 32nd and Van Buren streets when a snowbird driving a minivan rammed into me from behind, totaling my '72 Mercedes.
In any case, my HMO, United Health Care, has demanded my doctor to delay as long as he can ordering an MRI, the only exam by which he can diagnose what is out of whack in the soft tissue along my spine that's assaulting the root of my sciatic nerve (the longest nerve in the human body, I now know).
The process of this delay has unfolded first as a series of office visits, spaced at least a week apart, during which I told my doctor the pain was getting worse and he gave me new drugs and told me to come back in a week or so if the pain got worse, followed by four weeks of ineffective physical therapy. An MRI will cost United Health Care about $1,000, which the insurer doesn't want to pay until all other options have been exhausted. I understand this from a capitalist's perspective. From my HMO patient's perspective, though, it makes me want to stick pins in voodoo dolls.
To aid me through this torturous interim, my doctor prescribed me 30 Vicadin, then cut me off the dope. He's also getting stingy with the steroids. I can buy 220-milligram capsules of naproxen sodium over the counter, and they take the edge off (enough to write, at least), but I'm munching those blue babies like Pez these days, and that can't be kind on the kidneys. You can't score Vicadin in Mexico, but Percodan is 40 bucks for the script and two boxes of 10 pills. Enough to feel intermittently nice, build up a tolerance, and want more when they're gone.
Thus my deliberation the morning I awoke with no prescription painkillers: Two hours to the south lay La Farmacia de Dios--"The Pharmacy of God"--in downtown Nogales, Sonora. Roughly equidistant to the north was Sedona, with Daniel the didgeridooist and a cavalcade of fellow shamen, acupuncturists, layers-on-of-hands and metaphysical practitioners.
Holism or opiates? That was the question.
My answer brought me first to Daniel Rain, who, after the whirring and sputtering chakra thing (he apologized that the passing traffic may have reduced the treatment's effectiveness), took me upstairs to his chamber in the Center for the New Age, a small room with a popcorn ceiling, adorned with a pewter and crystal statue of a dragon and a figurine of Yoda.
There, Rain tried to pimp me on aroma therapy with a spiel I couldn't quite grasp; re: combining certain herbal essences with my dragon energy. Clearly, his methods were too advanced for my neophyte's pain, so I bade Rain farewell and sought out Dangerous Dave, the metaphysical chiropractor.
His real name is Dave Hart, actually the Reverend Dave Hart (he's an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church), but his friends all call him Dangerous, because Dave Hart is psycho on a mountain bike. A recent documentary film shot in Zion National Park shows Dangerous riding out of a cave and over a perilous drop at its lip, then crashing 30 feet through the branches of a pine tree. He sticks the landing.
Dave knows pain. He got started as a chiropractor doing "emergency adjustments" trailside on himself and banged-up riding buddies. When I first met him about three years ago, he had an informal setup in a shed behind Mountain Bike Heaven, a bike shop in west Sedona.
Since then, his practice has evolved to a permanent office adjacent to his home--the Hart House--and Dangerous Dave has steeped himself in Tody Body Manipulation training, a fringe school of chiropractic that blends prayer and nutritional and spiritual counseling with traditional back-cracking.
At the Hart House, Dave's assistant, a blond, ethereal nymph who exuded a sickening level of health, told me the Reverend Dangerous Dave was meditating and would be a few minutes. She then laid me down on a Metaproducts Hydrotherapy Bed 2000---basically a couch with purple velvet at its head and feet, and a black, waterbed-esque rubber center section, with gelatinous pistons inside which, once the nymph threw the switch, began to pound my back in all the right places, while a roaming massager spun delicious brodies on my lower back.
After 15 minutes of this bliss, Dave came in, and we prayed together, and he pushed on my organs for a while and told me I have only coffee and wheat bread for breakfast every morning--which is true--and that I should knock it off. He also told me that sitting at a computer keyboard, writing for nine hours at a stretch with my wallet in my right pants pocket, was throwing my pelvis out of whack.
Then he began the adjustment, singing a refrain from a Sublime song under his breath as he put me through the series of contortions.
Oh, love is, what I've got . . . Yank, crack! Just remember that: I said love is . . . Twist, pop! . . . what I've got.
Dave and I hugged when he was done. I waved bye to the chiro-nymph and walked out feeling two inches taller and floating on the pink cloud of an endorphin rush.
Down the street a block, just across from the Eye of the Vortex bookstore, I met my next healer by chance (although he told me in Sedona, there is no chance, only fate).
I'll call this dude the Shamanator, because he said I could, and didn't give me any other name. The Shamanator had on cut-off shorts, a purple poncho and enough crystals around his neck, ankles and wrists to power the Starship Enterprise. He also had a Rip Van Winkle beard with braids (and more crystals) and a really bitchin' carved wizard's staff with an eagle talon on the top.
The Shamanator said for 20 bucks he'd take me to a vortex and perform a healing ritual to exorcise my pain demons. So we hiked for about a half-hour to a spot near the base of Coffee Pot Rock, where he said a powerful vortex spins. The Shamanator directed me to stand at what he said was the epicenter of the red-rock vortex with my legs spread, and my palms pressed together with arms upraised, so my hands were pointing toward the sky, and tip my head back.
Once I'd hit a good stretch, he began to dance in circles around me, chanting and making clawing gestures with the eagle talon at the left side of my lower back. This lasted about two minutes. Then the Shamanator stopped, obviously winded, and informed me my back pain was due in large part to psychic distress from unresolved sibling rivalry.
I told him I'm an only child. He said the psychic wounds must have been inflicted in a past life.
Who was I to question the Shamanator, who was at least good for directions to Sunset Hills, a 55-plus planned community where Harvard grad and acupuncturist Keith Boericke plies his trade? Boericke's pleasant Chinese wife greeted me at the door. Boericke led me to a room where he listened intently as I described my symptoms--which had returned as soon as I came down from the endorphin rush of Dangerous Dave's back-cracking. He had me strip to my underwear and lie face down on a cushioned table.
As soon as Boericke began to insert the needles, I was relieved to be face down. Because while I don't usually have a thing about needles, I'm used to the doctor putting the needle in and quickly taking it out, and to there being only one needle, and a short one, compared to the javelins Boericke was working me over with.
I counted 19 slow insertions; the most intense was one in the back of my left thigh that pricked the sciatic nerve and sent my lower body into an involuntary, table-rattling convulsion of fiery pain, which I vocally dubbed "the anti-orgasm." Boericke didn't seem to see the humor. He told me to try to relax, put in a few more needles, then he dimmed the room lights to a single green bulb and put on a relaxation tape of synthesizers and harps.
Ahhh, more endorphins. There's no painkiller like natural painkillers.
Ten minutes on the table, two minutes for the needles to come out, and one glass of water later, I was on my way to my final appointment of the day: an "Intuitively Guided Massage Therapy Session" with "Blackfoot tribe Native American healer" Rhonda Gerard, who also operates out of the Center for the New Age.
Gerard had me strip naked and lie on a table, face up. First she waved her hands over me as though she was clearing away smoke. "I'm checking for sickness in your aura," she explained. "If there is any, I'll see black."
She didn't see any, so she put on a Carlos Nakai tape and proceeded to rub my body all over with scented oil for half an hour, which didn't help my back at all and actually wasn't too relaxing, as I spent most of the 30 minutes thinking about baseball, if you see where I'm coming from. Let's just say I was relieved when she told me to turn over.
I got a little shaky on Gerard's Native American credentials when she asked me about the tattoo on my back, which is a Tlingit Indian totem wolf. I got even shakier when she said, "Tlingit?"
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Anyway--once the intuitively guided, $100-per-hour session was complete--Gerard took me outside by the creek and broke out The Back Hammer, a black, hair-dryer-looking thing with a vibrating rubber ball that fires from the business end 13.5 times a second. I've seen similar devices for sale at Castle Boutique, but Gerard assured me The Back Hammer was designed by a NASA engineer.
The feather in Gerard's hair wavered in the wind as she fired up The Hammer and attacked the knots around my spine, forcing me to spew motorboat noises. I again cursed the faceless, three-pieced profiteers of United Health Care, and fantasized of hiring Gerard to give them a good dose of The Hammer--right where they've been shoving my premiums.
Contact David Holthouse at his online address: firstname.lastname@example.org