by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

My back hurt.

This was nothing new. My back often hurts. When it does, I visit a chiropractor. I like my chiropractor. He always makes time for me. There was only one problem.

I was in Spain; he was 4,000 miles away.

Thus begins today’s “what I did on my vacation” column. I looked for a chiropractor. In a foreign country. And I can safely say this: In Spain, which is a lovely country, you have a better chance of being stabbed by a bullfighter than having your spine adjusted.

“Can you recommend a chiropractor?” I asked the people at my hotel.

“What is …kay-ro-preector?”

Meanwhile, my back got worse. I was listing. I was the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I clomped like Walter Brennan in an old cowboy movie. “Hopalong Mitch.” And I still had a week before coming home.

Finally, on a Saturday, while hopping on the streets of Madrid, I saw a small sign on a second floor of a building. It read “Medicin Oriental, Acupuncture, Xiropraxia.”

I rang the buzzer.

I doubted anyone would be in on the weekend. And I could only guess that
“Xiropraxia” was Spanish for “Chiropractic.” For all I knew, it might have meant “nasal hair reduction.” I do not speak Spanish. I also do not speak Korean. Which, it turns out, was the language of the woman who answered the intercom.


“Do you speak English?”

“Engrish? …no, Korea.”


“Si …No Engrish …Si?”

“Uh …I have a pain in my back.”


The first doctor

Up a flight of stairs, the office was a single room with dim lighting and two treatment tables. The woman wore a white medical jacket and was pleasant looking, 50ish. And Korean. As she smiled, I explained my problem the way all Americans explain things to foreigners. I screamed.


“Ah,” she said, clucking her tongue.


“Ah,” she said.




“No Engrish.”

She then took a pad and began to draw. She drew a heart. She said, “Haaat.” She drew an oval and said, “Keedney.” Another oval. “Livah.” Another oval.

She then connected lines from all these organs. It was fascinating. Just fascinating. It made no sense whatsoever.


“Ah,” she said.

She then grabbed my knuckles and pressed down. I yelped in pain. She made me lie on the table, grabbed a handful of small needles, and began poking them into my fingers, palm and wrist. I guessed that this was the acupuncture part
(hey, four years of college) but for some reason, the needles never came near my back.


She ignored me and motioned for me to lie back, which I did. And to be calm. Which I did. And soon the room was very peaceful, just her and me and the 23 needles in my knuckles.

And finally, as I became one with my heartbeat, she silently removed the needles. She motioned for me to stand up. And I did. Slowly. And can you believe it?

My back was killing me.

The second doctor

“STILL …PAIN,” I said.

“Ah,” she said, clucking her tongue.

Then the door opened, and in came a man, also Korean, who spoke quickly with his partner. He then motioned me back on the table. He stood over me, grabbed my legs and lifted them high until I was nearly hanging upside-down.

“Ree-laaax,” he said.


“Reeeeee-laaaaax . . .”

And then he shook me. He shook me like a martini. He shook me like a towel at the beach. He shook my legs so hard, I thought all the change would fall out of my pockets. I was upside down and he kept shaking and saying “ree-lax” and of course it is hard to ree-lax when someone is playing Buddy Rich with your butt cheeks.

And then he stopped. He pulled my feet straight out. “Hmm,” he said, “this leg longah now.”

Which was enough. I immediately invoked the great American tradition: point-at-your-watch-and-say-you-gotta-go.

They watched me rise sadly. They shook their heads. The man picked up a pad and began to draw. “This …heart,” he said, “this …kidney.”

“I know, I know,” I said.

“Ah,” he said.

I paid them and left them there, waving good-bye. I hobbled out. I hobbled all day.

And two days later, I was fine.

I don’t know if it was the needles. I don’t know if it was the shakes. All I know is, I’m better, much better.

I am, however, missing some change.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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