Gina shows up to tennis 15 minutes late. “Sorry, ladies. I was at the chiropractor. He gave me an extra long hot oil massage before my adjustment,” she says in my general direction, “and I completely lost track of the time.”
I shoot her a look. “Hot oil massage?”
“Oh. Doesn’t he do that for you?”
Gina tries to make me believe that Dr. H. likes her more than he likes me, but it’s just not true.
“Who are you talking about?” asks one of the other women.
One of us utters his name and the rest of us nod dreamy eyed. Half the women I play tennis with see him. “We all love him,” Gina says.
I met Dr. H. a decade ago, when I crawled into his office, unable to lift myself onto his examining table. I was brand new to town and the former owners of our house had done an amazing thing: they had gone to the trouble of writing up a 7-page guide of all the Need to Knows about Montclair. Best hardware store, best liquor store, best bagels, best haircuts, and thank heaven, best chiropractor.
“I don’t know if you go in for this type of stuff,” wrote our house seller, “but Dr. H. is no voodoo practitioner. He’s helped me and my wife out many times over the years,”
That number came in handy when I threw my back out and found myself completely incapacitated, not even able to drive myself the mile to his office. That was the first time Dr. H. put me back together again, but it would not be the last. Since then, we have gone through a lot together.
I can’t speak to chiropractic technique; I’ve been to lots of practitioners and they all seem to do similar things. But Dr. H. is a master handler. And I need a lot of handling.
Once I pegged him as a Doc Who Listens, I began seeing him for everything under the sun. “My toe hurts. I have a toothache. I can’t find my keys in the morning.” He was somehow able to fix it all.
“Is this sepsis?” I asked him one day, referring to the rash running up and down my legs. “How do you know about sepsis?” he asked back. “I watch House,” I said.
The rash ended up being Fifth Disease, but no more House for me. Dr. H forbade me to watch it ever again, along with ER, Gray’s Anatomy and every other doctor show. I was also not to read the Linda Sanders, MD column in the New York Times Magazine. And I must stay off the CDC website.
Much of my relationship with Dr. H. involves his digging his thumb deep into my muscle tissue and my cursing him out. But there is also his unique ability to counsel me through my myriad health worries. He’s taught me how to gauge the seriousness of my maladies, so I don’t have to run in and see him every three days with this or that problem. He’s taught me how to manage my particular brand of health anxiety and he’s also taught me how to keep myself from kicking him in the groin if he hits a tender spot. Or maybe he’s just figured out how to move more swiftly out of harm’s way.
I know he doesn’t give hot oil massages, and I know he likes me better than he likes Gina. Dr. H. and I have real history together. She’s just a recent fling.
“He gave me his cell phone number,” Gina says in a stage whisper as she takes her spot next to me on the tennis court.
“Well, he gave me his home number. Ages ago,” I say.
“Home number? You mean the number where any family member could answer? That doesn’t seem very private,” says Gina.
“I have his daughter’s cell number, too. I’m like part of his family!” I say.
I know I’ve gotten to her with that, but she appears imperturbable. “Yeah. If you say so,” she says.