Panacea Tranquility

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.

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David Holthouse
Contact: David Holthouse