Stones in my Clog is a series of short, inspirational stories taken from Preston's practice in the Netherlands. Exposing oneself to the culture and ethos of a people is a challenge, but also so instructional.
The people of the clog of course speak a very different and difficult language; that's not for the faint-hearted either, but one can be certain will help keep Alzheimer's disease at bay.
Stones in my Clog is the third in the series of great chiropractic short stories that have made Bernard Preston moderately famous in the chiropractic world. In the much-loved James Herriot genre, Preston writes with passion about the patients who find their way to his clinic, describing along the way the conditions that tease the profession.
With short stories like Perhaps DD did it after all and Heb je geen zin in sex? (in English) he describes the joys and trials of practising chiropractic during his seven year stint in Holland.
We have managed to winkle one short story out of him. It's a tidbit for the bookworms eagerly awaiting his third volume; the volume is available for a very moderate price as an ebook from Amazon.
HEB JE GEEN ZIN IN SEX?
The desire of the man is for the woman, but the desire of the woman is for the desire of the man.- Madame de Stael
Some things from the Dutch language tape-course I remember well, of course; we repeated them dozens of times, by rote, rather like Kindergarten. Some alas, my aging brain still has not grasped it all; it’s a tough language. But the word zin meaning ‘appetite for, liking, desire’ stuck, perhaps because it is in every day use:
“Heb je zin in een kopje koffie?” Do you have the appetite for a cup of coffee? with its simple reply: “Daar heb ik wel zin in.” That appeals to me. Yes, I like the Dutch coffee. But the question in the clinic questionnaire, to be filled out by every new patient, caught me by surprise. “Heb je geen zin in sex?” Have you no desire for sex? I scratched my head when I came across the question that first day in the clinic, not having the language skills or the courage to ask about the question. Why on earth was there a question about sexual appetite in the chiropractic health questionnaire? Holland is, of course, one of the most sexually liberated countries in the world. Amsterdam is notorious for its Red light district where the ‘girls’ literally stand in the doorways, quite naked, or sit at special windows in a provocative stance, inviting strangers in. Gay parades attract hundreds of thousands, even millions of visitors. Even in conservative Limburg, most couples have lived together for some years before marriage and many never marry in a legal sense. I would be surprised if there is one in a hundred virgin brides. Helen and I spent many long winter evenings trying to come to terms with this completely new understanding of relationships, of sex, and what it meant to be married in twenty-first century Holland. Our conservative minds boggled those first few months.
Two things continued to surprise: the number of teenagers who openly stated in the questionnaire that they couldn’t get enough sex, and the number of people, even in their thirties and forties who checked the “Heb je geen zin in sex?” box with a tick. Being the perverse person I am, interested in the great contradictions, I started to take more notice of the replies to the question. Why was the question there anyway? Finally I took the plunge.
‘Good morning, mevrouw Barske,’ I said to the tired looking young woman sitting in reception. ‘Will you please come this way,’ I continued, shaking her hand. I noted the drooping shoulders and the slight look of neglect about her as she walked into my consulting room. Her hair was untidy and the inevitable blonde dye revealed several months of mousy brown hair at its roots.
‘Would you give me a few moments to read through your questionnaire, please?’ She gave a brief smile, and nod of the head, obviously amused at my accent and bad grammar but too polite to say anything. ‘Mm, pain in the neck and shoulders, headaches two or three times a week, no referral down the arms, no trauma. When did the pain begin?’ I went through all the usual questions. Was the condition getting worse, what other treatment had she had, were there any red flags? It was some weeks into the treatment before I ventured into the tantalizing new territory.
‘I see you checked the “no interest in sex” box when you first came here. Do you want to talk about it? You’re not obliged to,’ I hastily added. She was lying face down, out of eye contact, while I did some painful cross-friction on her Rhomboid muscles before adjusting her spine. It was some moments before she replied.
‘It’s boring, and I’m too tired anyway at the end of a long day.’
‘Two small children and a full time job must keep you busy,’ I replied.
‘Too busy, yes’ she replied, ‘and don’t forget the other job too. Keeping the house, doing the ironing, getting meals together.
‘What does your partner think about it?’ I ventured. They weren’t married, which wasn’t uncommon. I wondered briefly whose name the children took, making a mental note to ask one of the secretaries what the custom was. I was careful not to tread on any toes.
‘Oh, fortunately he is also too tired much of the time. He gets angry with me now and again when the need is strong, but it is all over in five minutes.’
‘How was your sex life early in your relationship?’
‘Oh, pretty good. Not as good as my last boyfriend before he dumped me, but much better than the first two.’ I absorbed that, Elvis’s words flashing like a Las Vegas casino: You’re so square … Yes, indeed, I am.
‘So, when did your desire for sex come to an end?’
‘Oh, don’t get me wrong. The desire is still strong in me occasionally, perhaps once in a month or two,’ she said defensively. ‘Probably when I went back to work after the boys were born.’
By that time I had finished pummelling her and adjusting her spine, and given her a new exercise, so we left the discussion to be completed at a later stage. She gave me a dour look on leaving. I had opened a raw wound.
Most people’s introduction to sex is probably a couple of dogs mating on the street corner, or perhaps the pigeons on the roof. “What are they doing, Papa?” Mine was rather different. My father, a chiropractor as most of you who have weighed through Frog and Bats have now probably realized, had a passion for farming. He bought a small farm and as a small boy I still vividly remember walking around the pigs sties, hand in hand with him, and watching the cattle, and running joyfully into the huge citrus orchard to pick a fresh orange. I’ll never forget the day he tackled the young Jersey bull for which we had paid a fortune. One thousand dollars, fifty years ago, was a lot of money to fork out for an animal. The handsome beast had all the right credentials but there was a problem.
Said the Zulu farm manager: “Doctor, that bull is very pretty, but he’s no good with the girls.”
“What do you mean,” asked my father.
“He’s a real ladies' man, but he won’t mount.”
At five I had no idea what they were talking about. I was more interested in throwing stones in the farm dam, and making sure my city shoes gave the cowpats the miss. They went on and on, whilst I ignored them, instead watching a couple Swifts swooping just above the long grass. To this day I don’t understand why one day they are frolicking low over the fields, and the very next day are soaring hundreds of feet above our heads. Perhaps just for the fun of it, like me in my glider. The following week, however, my father brought a large thick rope, and a rubber mallet with us on the weekly visit. “What are those for, Papa?”
“Inkunzi, our new bull has a problem. I’ve been watching him walk, and there is definitely something wrong with his hindquarters.” He made no mention of Inkunzi’s incapacity with the harem.
“What are hindquarters, Papa?”
“The back end of the beast, Bernie. The pelvis. You’ll find out one day, when you are a chiropractor like me,” he said, grasping his plastic pelvis, and showing me the different parts for the first time. “This is called an ilium, there’s another one round this side, and this is your sacrum,” he said taking my little hand, and guiding it over my own pelvis.
I cocked my little head, not sure what to make of it. I loved watching Papa adjusting dogs, and even the odd cat in our clinic, though he drew the line when a patient asked him to treat her canary! Not a good neck to adjust! Now, anyone who knows anything about cattle ranching knows that Jersey bulls are fiercesome creatures. Much smaller than most other bulls, but then dynamite does come in small bundles, Jersey bulls are highly dangerous animals. They certainly wouldn’t use Jerseys in Pamplona! My father had had the sense to ask the Vet to join us. Inkunzi soon had a shot of something, and was lying weakly on the ground complaining loudly, while the willing farm hands gathered around. Papa soon had the ropes wound around the poor creature, and it wasn’t long before teams of panting Zulus were tugging this way and that. Eventually out came the rubber mallet and my father was pounding on the poor beasts hips and spine. The only visible result was a couple of very large bullpats, and a few loud farts, and within half an hour an enraged bull. The next Sunday when we arrived, our Zulu manager came running to meet the car. “Come doctor, come quickly.”
“What’s happening?” asked my father worried. He spoke fluent Zulu.
“Come see,” called the tall Zulu, beaming. He wore only a beshu with a blanket over his shoulder, and an odd looking pair of homemade shoes fashioned out of an old tyre. The precursor of todays ugly Crocs. We hastened across to a small field behind one of the barns, kept especially for the regulation farmyard amour. My father grunted, beaming too.
“What are they doing, Papa,” I asked.
I gave the subject of zin for sex some thought over the next few weeks. The discussion with Mrs Barske had opened something of a wound in my own life, paralleling my own sex life. Finally the penny dropped: amongst other things, one’s sex life gives a fairly accurate indicator of over-busyness, exhaustion and the stress of life, and it correlates quite well with the knots and pain in patients’ necks and shoulders. I saw one of the great contradictions of life unfolding in Mrs Barske’s life: Fully alive, less than half way through her life, yet the kernel of life within her was tragically being stifled by the daily grind. And here was I mid-fifties …
I asked Helen one evening after dinner, daring to ask a question that I wouldn’t have broached a year ago. ‘When did our zin in sex end?’
She looked at me with a wry smile. ‘When I went back to teaching after Samantha was born. I would have thought you remembered.’ I nodded. ‘And why do you think it’s been so much better since we came to Holland?’
‘Oh, you are such a plod!’ she exclaimed. ‘Surely you can work that out.’
Much as I prodded and questioned, Helen wouldn’t give me an answer. No doubt she thought it was time I did some thinking for myself. Holland had done that for us, giving us space and time. Less can be more. It was some weeks before I realized the paradox of how lonely one could be, surrounded by dozens of other overly-busy, also miserable people. Had Helen too been miserably lonely with a husband so immersed in hobbies and work?
STONES IN MY CLOG
Mrs Roomans was just a little older than me, a dumpy little woman with a friendly smile. There being no grey-headed women in Holland, she had quite short stiff blonde hair that stood straight up in the air, stiff with gel. They call it ‘moderne’ but I hated touching the hairdos of these modern Limburgers, which of course we do every time we palpate the neck. It’s coarse and sticky, and smells of coconut palms. Mrs Roomans had one of the commonest chiropractic conditions. ‘When did the pain in the buttock begin, mevrouw?’ Fortunately for me the Dutch often drop the name. Many of them are quite unpronounceable.
‘About nine months ago.’
‘Do you know what caused it?’
‘I think it started a few weeks after I verhuisd.’ I had learnt that word very quickly on arriving and noticed for the first time that she was a widow. Moving into a new house is difficult for backs. Some of the worst disc injuries I have ever treated came after relocating, and I always recommend a removal company. It’s a lot cheaper than paying the chiropractor and the neurosurgeon. Less pain too. ‘My husband died very suddenly about a year ago, so I decided it was time for something smaller,’ she went on. ‘I can’t sleep lying on that side, it’s so painful.’
It didn’t take long to find that most of the pain wasn’t actually in the buttock but mainly on the side of the hip. There is a small sac of fluid called a bursa that protects the hard part of the hip from the muscles of the thigh. When it becomes inflamed sleeping on the hip is very painful. A quick examination revealed the usual findings: a very active trigger point in a large buttock muscle called the Piriformis and subluxations in her lower back. Mostly it is bread and butter stuff for a chiropractor though very occasionally it can be a sod, especially if it is associated with a nasty spinal condition called stenosis making things more difficult. I spelt out for her what was causing the pain and how I was going to treat it. Home treatment too was essential so I explained how she should ice the bursa and do some exercises and stretches every day. We were two or three weeks into the treatment when I thought it might be a good time to raise the subject of her husband’s early death. It’s not nice being a widow when you’re not even sixty and some people need to relive the pain. That special person is no longer there to talk about it, and family and friends often find it too awkward. Mrs Rooman was about 50% better and we had gained confidence talking about this and that; sharing her story again – if she had ever shared it properly with anyone – might be therapeutic. What I didn’t guess was how therapeutic it would be for me too.
‘You said your husband died very suddenly.’ I left the statement open ended. She could talk if she wanted to.
‘Yes, he had a heart attack. Very sudden. It was awful.’
‘How old was he?’
‘That’s miserable. Ten years before his time.’
She nodded. ‘It was my fault really. I had allowed him to get quite overweight which caused him to become diabetic.’
“Bourgondisch” dining is the delightful word she used. Sumptuous food straight from Burgundy, only without the finesse of French cooking.
‘You can only live forwards,’ I said. ‘Can’t change the past, so there is no point putting a lot of guilt on yourself.’
‘Yes, but if only I had given him a lot more salads …’ She was having difficulty going on. ‘Of course all the beer he drank didn’t help either.’
‘Were you with him when he died?’ It was more than idle curiosity. Telling her story, perhaps for the first time, would be healing.
She didn’t answer. Finally she said: ‘I’ll tell you next time.’
STONES IN MY CLOG
I had forgotten all about our conversation and was focused on the decision whether I should be fine-tuning the treatment by changing from adjusting Mrs Roomans’s hip-bone to her sacral-bone. The improvement had plateau’d out at 60% better and I was concerned that I was missing something, when she said unexpectedly: ‘You asked me last week if I was with my husband when he died so suddenly.’ She half turned from where she was lying prone on the table so we could talk face to face. ‘We were making love. It was just as we were both climaxing.’ With that she put head down again on the table, weeping quietly. What does one say? Finally, I gave her shoulder a squeeze and said: ‘Thank you for telling me,’ and went on with my work.
‘Sounds awful, doesn’t it,’ she said, eventually. ‘I’ve thought a lot about the way he died, and I’ve decided there could be no more fitting way. Quick too. The last ten years of our marriage were the best, after the children had left home, and I had quit my job.’
‘I suppose you had more quality time together.’
‘Much more time together and I wasn’t so ratty. Our love life really came alive in those ten years. You know something interesting we discovered: Sex takes five minutes, if that, but to make love took us over an hour, sometimes even two with cups of coffee in between. We learnt for the first time how to climax together. I regret it couldn’t have gone on longer, but in the end we had a wonderful marriage despite the really tough bits in the middle.’ She brightened up and, after dressing, said to me on her way out: ‘You know that nasty old-wives tale about the acorns in the cookie-jar?’ I shook my head. ‘The story goes that if, every time you have sex in the first year of marriage, you put an acorn in a jar and, after the first year, take an acorn out every time you make love, then you’ll never empty the jar.’ I roared with laughter. With a serious face she said: ‘We emptied and refilled that jar dozens of times! It wasn’t all bad.’ She winked and left.(STONES IN MY CLOG)
Mrs Roomans wanted to get properly better so she took me seriously about the three phases of chiropractic care. Fortunately her husband had been well insured, so his premature death left her relatively well off. Chiropractic care is not cheap in Holland. Once the acute pain was over she took to the rehabilitation phase with enthusiasm and then came every two or three months ‘under control’ as the Dutch say. Mostly I found that by the time a few months have passed patients were beginning to stiffen up, or a new condition had started. Pain in the shoulder, or a tennis elbow … all conditions that we excel in treating because we treat the underlying cause of many of them: subluxations in the spine. Still I was surprised when our secretary asked me to call Mrs Roomans’s doctor.
‘Good afternoon, doctor, with chiropractor Bernie Preston,’ I said, using the strange Dutch grammar. By then fortunately my Dutch had progressed to the extent that I could converse with most people provided they didn’t speak too fast or in the Limburg dialect.
‘Ah, thank you for calling. I wanted to find out why after five months of treatment you are still insisting that Mrs Roomans come back for treatment. I have instructed her to stop the treatment.’
‘Mostly, doctor, because she has had that pain in her buttock for nearly a year while under your care. I think a ‘fall back’ is inevitable with such a chronic condition.’ I wasn’t going to give way to his authoritarian approach, but I did appreciate that he had taken the trouble to phone. Not many doctors would have made the effort to confront me like that. It’s healthy.
‘You are making her psychologically dependent on you. I have advised her against continuing the treatment.’
‘You have a point there, but the alternative is an almost certain return of the pain.’
‘You krakers are just in this for the money. You are just squeezing more money out of her and making her dependent on you.’ A crescendo of anger burst from the phone. I was getting angry too. Fortunately I had taken the trouble to peruse her file before phoning.
‘Are you aware doctor, that she had had that pain for nine months. She was unable to sleep properly and it was disturbing her rest. You weren’t averse to prescribing sleeping tablets for her. Wasn’t that making her dependent on your treatment?’
‘Hmmf,’ he hesitated for a moment. I took the opportunity to climb in quickly.
‘Do you remember her husband? He was diabetic I believe. Did you not bring him back regularly ‘under control’? We do exactly the same. It’s called prevention.’
‘That’s different …’
I butted in. ‘I’m sorry doctor but I have a very busy afternoon starting. If you would like to meet over lunch one day to discuss this further … .’ He hung up.
The Limburgers are a spirited people. Mrs Claudia Roomans knew she was benefiting from the occasional but regular treatment and ignored her doctor. Her next consultation was about six weeks later. I was preparing to discuss my conversation with her doctor but she didn’t give me a chance.
Once she was lying on her buik (the Dutch laugh if I ask them to lie on their ‘stomachs’ – it would be like asking someone to lie on their liver) she said: ‘I have never told anybody this but there is one more thing I would like to tell you about my husband. I very nearly lost him when we were in our forties.’
‘Yes, lost him.’
‘You mean he nearly died?’
‘No, that’s not what I mean.’ She hesitated. ‘Like most women I used to use that very powerful sex weapon. Quite often for six or eight weeks I would refuse to have sex with him if I wasn’t getting my way.’
‘That was cruel.’
‘I know, and I nearly lost him.’
‘After all those years, still standing with broken swords in your hands?’
‘I suppose you could put it that way. Anyway, then a very good friend of mine came to stay for a week while she was attending a conference.’
‘Mm,’ I grunted, knowing where this was going.
‘The morning she left she told me that she had come very close to sleeping with my husband while I was out at a bridge tournament. She didn’t, so she said.’
‘That’s a good friend. I know quite a lot of ‘good friends’ who’ve done otherwise.’
‘True, but she was the one who had to put on the brake. She found him a very attractive man.’
‘Whew, and you had such good years after that. How did you reconcile it?’
‘I was very angry with him, of course. With her too.’
‘I’ll bet. It’s very sad how often spouses have affairs with their partner’s so-called best friend.’
‘She asked me a very disturbing question. “When did you last sleep with him, Claudia?” she asked.
The telephone gave me a buzz. It meant the waiting room was filling up. The secretary was getting impatient. ‘Thank you for telling me, Mrs Roomans. The last exciting episode will have to wait for our next consultation.’(STONES IN MY CLOG)
‘Did you forgive him?’ I asked at her next visit.
‘Not for a while, but it did get me thinking. The last thing my friend said to me was that she had nearly lost her husband the same way, until she realized that a man who hasn’t had sex for weeks is very vulnerable. She wanted to warn me. She said to me, on the phone a few weeks later: “Darling, you use the sex weapon and you will lose him. You do understand that, don’t you? You will lose him. The poor darlings are so defenseless when they haven’t had their sex. The first floozie who comes along offering him whoopee, and bingo, right before your eyes, he’s gone. A clever girl like you can find 101 better methods to get your way.”’
‘A good friend.’ I said.
‘Yes, and an honest one. It must have been hard for her, but it saved my marriage. I thought about it a lot in the next few months. I realized that, in the end, that she was right.’
‘And men who use sex as a weapon?’
‘I don’t think there is such a thing,’ she said with a laugh. ‘But if they indulge in their orgasms without bringing their wives to a climax ...’
That made me think. ‘Sex is a form of communication, I suppose. Refusing to sleep with your partner, or fulfilling them, is like to refusing to talk to them. Then when someone else comes along …’ ‘Exactly.’
Helen and I discuss many of the interesting and titillating stories that came out of my practice. Never before had I heard of a man having a heart attack during sex but it did in fact make sense. Sex is good exercise for the heart and the back – provided all other things were equal, which they unfortunately weren’t in Mr Roomans’s life.
‘They made some great discoveries of life,’ said Helen. ‘Pity it came to an end prematurely.’
‘It took some patience though,’ I replied.
Helen nodded. ‘I nearly left you a couple of times, when you went off gliding or getting bees out of someone’s roof.’
‘And why didn’t you?’
‘Falling in love was just the bait. Marriage is about commitment. And you’re not so bad really.’ She gave me a jab in the ribs. ‘In any case we have been discovering for ourselves some of the great things they worked out. No more butter for you! I don’t want to be a lonely old widow!’
‘I suppose it’s about living and learning.’
‘Sad for your Mrs Roomans. By the time they had learned it was too late to live.
Our home was in a tiny apartment ‘op zolder’ on an old farm. Right under the eaves where the raindrops, drumming on the roof just above the ancient old double bed, gently lullabied us to sleep, and we were well baked after a Sunday nap for a few short weeks in midsummer.
‘I wonder how many children have been conceived in this bed?’ I asked Helen early one morning. A rowdy cockerel, calling for his harem just outside our window, had wakened us with the grey dawn, matching the grey old photos that adorned one corner of the bedroom wall. Generations of the Jacobs family had farmed there for over two hundred years.
‘Plenty, I should think,’ she said snuggling up to me. ‘You’re not allowed a harem, but there is one old hen very interested in your charms!’
‘You want to stuff another acorn into the cookie-jar?’ We had emptied the jar for the first time in the first frenetic weeks in Holland and it was already half full again.
I had made one other interesting discovery in that old bed. Thirty years of making love in a modern bed had also seriously deprived me. Having a good solid foot-rest to push against at the appropriate moment, increases a man’s pleasure by at least fifty percent!
Stones in my Clog is only available as an ebook from Amazon.
Bernard Preston is a semi-retired chiropractor living in South Africa. Son of two chiropractors, he is in practice with his daughter, also a DC.
He is well qualified to tell the inside story; his father a Palmer graduate, his mother from Lincoln and he from National gives him the authority to write about different movements in the profession.
Stones in my Clog is his third book of short inspirational stories about the chiropractic world.
Chiropractic books is a site about the profession and those who write in it.
Bernard Preston's Stones in my Clog is just one of many.
Inspirational stories of human courage and initiative abound in health care, both the doctors who give care and those battling poor health.
Unfortunately it has also become a mine field of that worst attribute of human beings, namely greed, but along the way there are the kindest and most thoughtful and caring doctors.
Bernard Preston writes in Stones in my Clog on how the Dutch have countered this greed, and his take on the subject.
Many insurance companies now only pay for physical therapists to provide a chiropractic adjustment; that's in the face of powerful research proving that inclusion of DCs to perform their own technique would save them a good deal of money. One has to conclude that political medicine has gone off on another tack to contain our profession.
It's being successful with some doctors of chiropractic quitting. Others become involved in some dodgy practices, like demanding that patients sign up for a whole year of treatment in advance, in order to stay in business.
In recessionary times, the going is tough when the insurance won't pay.
Is the day approaching for a new Wilk versus the AMA and the insurance companies?
The chiropractic profession has tried hard to stay on the moral high ground; those who stoop to unscrupulous practices need to be exposed and disciplined if we are not to stoop to the low blows that medicine has often resorted to contain and eliminate us.
Chiropractic Books.com and its two sister sites Chiropractic Help.com and Bernard Preston.com bring you plenty of information about new books, care of the body, and healthy living tips from your own vegetable and fruit gardening, to flaxseed for omega 3 and much more.