10.17.2005

What it's like to be a female pastor with a back condition

So, my back has been out for days. I use that phrase sort of loosely, because it is not the kind of back outage that happens in the movies, where the middle aged guy gets stuck bending over. When my back "goes out," I experience excruciating back spasms for two-four days, even though I can move around and all that. I can sit, stand, do push-ups, raise the host - you name it, I can do it, just very, very painfully. I've tried different treatments with varying levels of relief, from prescription painkillers to getting pummeled at the chiropractor, though ultimately I end up riding the pain waves out. This weekend my parents were here, so I wanted to find an effective palliative, pronto. On Saturday I called up a new chiropractor and got a 9a.m. appointment. I should say that I am generally rather suspicious of chiropractic medicine. It helps - to that I can attest. But the concept of cracking my spine like so many knuckles and insisting that I must return nearly every day is suspect. The whole science behind chiropractic seems, to my unscientific self, to be spotty. Some of it is sensible, but some of it sounds like a crackpot new ager got ahold of the med school textbooks and replaced the hard science with daft propaganda. Despite my reservations, I go. I go because it feels phenomenal to be shoved into a paper-covered massage table until my bones pop. I go because occasionally, I have stood up and walked away without so much as a twinge.

With the exception of the fabulous sensation of having my neck, jaw, and spine "adjusted," this chiropractic experience wasn't so great. I'm still in pain, a record five days after the first nerve spazzed out. But perhaps even worse than that was the conversation I had to endure during the two hours I was in the office. The well-meaning assistant chiropractictioner asked me what I do. O, Lord, why hast thou forsaken me? Why must I face The Conversation in my hour of pain? I can't use the "I'm in graduate school" avoidance route any more. Besides, I don't want to hide my profession. I want to tell people about my lovely church. But I don't always have the energy for The Conversation.

Oh, wow. Awesome. I didn't know they let women be pastors. Is your husband a pastor? No? Wow, how cool. He married a pastor. Awesome. I go to [insert fundamentalist church]. It's awesome. I'm really into creation science. Do you know any good books on creation science?

This particular episode of The Conversation was just about more than I can take. The good doctor was nice enough. He didn't try to convince me that it is sinful for me to teach men in church. But I already wonder about your profession - why do you have to go and bring up the pseudoscientific realm of creationism? What if my spinal curvature is a remnant of evolutionary inheritance, and a nuanced understanding of how the monkey became the man is essential in properly treating me? I don't want to have to justify my vocation when I'm nearly in tears because my back hurts and I'm wasting away hour 1.5 of my parents' brief visit. And I don't want to be treated by an M.D. who reads Genesis as a scientific textbook.

And that's all she wrote today, folks, because it's time for me to slap on another patch of Bengay and take to the couch.

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