Monday, September 29, 2008


Feeling; suffering; perception
a) disease: neuropathy
b) a system of treating disease: homeopathy

I wonder why I am a chiropractor, instead of a chiropath? (or a Broadway star for that matter - I always pictured my name in lights...). Why do I practice chiropractic, not chiropathy? Words are great.

Before being admitted entrance into chiropractic college, one must fill out many forms, write some essays, and participate in an interview process where we are asked such revealing questions as: "why do you want to be a chiropractor?" and "give an example of leadership in your past". I guess my proctors were impressed by my Machiavellian rise to the top of the water sport hierarchy at summer camp, running the greatest windsurfing and sailing program ever, and then moved by the disc herniations that would arise while windsurfing in a tragic twist of fate...

I digress. The most challenging question, one that still haunts me to this day, was "explain the difference between empathy and sympathy". See, sometimes when I've confused two things, the mis-association becomes permanently fixed in my brain, so that they are forever neurologically cross-linked. For example, I will never remember if my mother's birthday is on the 17th or the 18th. I've taken to celebrating both days, just in case. Empathy and sympathy - I've spent so long debating the subtle differences between these and getting them mixed up and losing bets with my associates when we remembered this damn interview question, that I've given up. If a situation may call for empathy or sympathy, I'll just give you both. General -pathy all around. I'm pathetic.

Empathy: the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another. In other words... I have not experienced your pain, but I can try to understand it and relate to it by drawing on other experiences I may have had.

Sympathy: harmony of or agreement in feeling. The harmony of feeling naturally existing between persons of like tastes or opinion or of congenial dispositions. The fact or power of sharing the feelings of another, especially in sorrow or trouble; fellow feeling, compassion, or commiseration. In other words... I know what you are feeling, I feel it too.

What does this have to do with getting into chiropractic college? The answer is: I don't know. I suppose they are screening for future chiropractors who will understand the importance of feeling for their patients, even if they can't feel with them. To be honest, the question seems to me to be an ineffective screening tool to ultimately find a caring doc.

So it turns out that it is rare for me to truly sympathize with a patient. I have not experienced what they are experiencing. I do not share their feelings, and I have not felt their pain. I have a particular softness for patients experiencing lumbar disc herniations, since I've had some myself and can really understand the pain and frustration, but overall, sympathy is in short supply here. What I can do is empathize. I can imagine your pain. I can live vicariously through you to understand your pain. This is harder - to not understand your feelings, but to respect them nonetheless.

Oh. I may have just finally gotten it.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Get off your buttitis

Please read this article, about a terrifying new condition, Wiitis.

Are you aghast?

Let's talk about inflammation, all things -itis, shall we? Then let's talk about video games and how they are a symptom of the general decline of civilization as I see it.

-itis is my most favourite suffex. It means 'inflammation of', and knowing this renders many a confounding sounding medical condition clear. Arthritis sounds less intimidating when you realize it is just some inflammation in a joint. Bronchitis? Appendicitis? Bursitis? All just 'inflammation of'! How simple medicine is! I should have been a 'real doctor'!

As a chiropractor, much of what I see is inflammation dependent. Went golfing for the first time and now can't pick up a pickle jar? (you'd be surprised how often I see the positive pickle jar sign...) You probably have lateral epicondylitis, commonly called tennis elbow. Designated the pitcher in your over 40 baseball league, and now it hurts to move your arm? You might just have medial epicondylitis, golfer's elbow. Interesting fact - golfers, tennis players and pitchers rarely contract the sports-appropriate condition, leaving me to wonder about the sports medicine docs who nicknamed these injuries. It actually doesn't matter which sport you participate in, what is relevant is the 'inflammation of' part.

But Wiiitis? Please. This bothers me on a few levels. As a chiropractor, I like my diagnoses to lead to a treatment plan. I know what to treat with rotator cuff tendonitis. I don't know what to treat with Wiiitis. Your Wii? I'm not that kind of doctor. As a human being, I find this a bit pathetic! You... uh, injured yourself, playing a video game? I may have to prescribe a walk in a park. Or a visit to a museum. Or a conversation. With another human. PUT DOWN THE JOYSTICK!

Do people even use joysticks anymore? I understand there is some sort of program that you use with this gaming system to get 'fit'. I guess the intention is good... it just seems so creepy to me. What happened to playing sports? Fresh air? Listening to music or the pounding of your heart?

I say, if you are going to injure yourself, do it while doing something worthwhile.  I love treating athletes - their injuries are real, they are motivated to get better, and they typically respond quickly by virtue of being in such good shape to begin with.  But video game sporting injuries seem to be a whole new phenomena, one I'm not sure I'm ready for.  

So go ahead, do what it takes to get you motivated and moving... but unless you go pro, don't ask me to treat your Wiiitis.  

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Lady Doctor

I guess I've always been a feminist.

I'm certainly all for women. One of my earliest and fondest wardrobe memories is a t-shirt that claimed "anything boys can do, girls can do better" (ok, fine... even earlier and fonder was the cowgirl outfit with real tassels - yee haw!*). But my general genderal pride was likely just my competitive streak - it never really occurred to me that being female was a hindrance in any way. I could do anything a boy could do - and better - and dress up all country pretty to boot. I am woman, hear me roar.

My great-grandmother lived to be just shy of 100 years old, though she adamantly claimed to have already reached that milestone, her logic getting lost somewhere in the fact that she was IN her 100th year**. Whatever, when you are that old you can claim to be whatever you want, as far as I am concerned. When I'm 99 I plan on calling myself the Vice President of the United States - why not! The age-old confusion aside, my great-grandmother remained lucid and sharp her whole life. Sure she occasionally called me Charlotte and wondered how my pharmacy was doing, but the point is she was proud of both of us - Charlotte the Pharmacist and Michelle the Chiropractor. She would parade me around the nursing home, introducing me to everyone who would (or could) listen as her granddaughter, the 'Lady Doctor'. And not as in 'gynecologist' - this was not a third identity for me and Charlotte... I was Michelle Fagen, L.D. Not just any doctor... but a Lady Doctor. Now THAT is feminism.

Feminism has been on my mind a lot lately, what with Sarah Palin entering the political arena. She is a creepy sort of faux-feminist, a femin-ish if you will. On the one hand, hooray for potentially bringing a woman into the White House! On the other hand, is she really a feminist candidate when her policies seek to limit choice for women? Are you a feminist just by virtue of being feminine? Maybe I could tolerate her more if she stopped touting 'hockey mom' as a credential? And can she quit making that horrible joke about the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull being lipstick? Sure, in theory she represents progress for women... but when your supporters wear 'Hoosiers for the Hot Chick' and 'From The Coldest State Comes The Hottest V.P.' pins, well... one step forward, two steps back.

I'm not sure that this is the Lady Vice President we want. I look forward to witnessing a woman in the White House, because I want to see history made; because I think a woman can bring a unique approach to leadership that that country has not seen; because it shouldn't have taken this long; because we deserve to be represented; because why not? But I am more interested in witnessing a collective mentality that doesn't get so excited about the prospect of a woman in power at the expense of the appropriate woman in power. Be careful what you ask for, right sisters? Let's instead aim to hire the best person (male or female) for the job (chiropractor, pharmacist or vice president), but still be able to appreciate the unique qualities inherent in that person by nature of their gender.

I look forward to that time when working Ladies everywhere can wear lipstick (or not), and not need to compare themselves to a dog to prove that they mean business.

In the meantime, I'm still proud to be a Lady Doctor!

* ok - tell me the truth. I look like a young republican in this photo - no?

**I don't know that she was truly a 'feminist', but she was feisty, self-assured and intelligent, and dated more than any other woman in the nursing home. An inspiration to ladies everywhere.

Sunday, September 7, 2008


I'm not very political by nature.

But my television seems to be broken, the channel stuck on CNN. Lately, chez moi, it is all politics, all the time. Due to this reluctant reprieve from 'The Learning Channel' (what? Home renos, wedding dresses, disciplining obnoxious children, medical miracles, 'What Not To Wear' - what more do you need?) I've been forced to watch... politics. Gah. American politics. Blargh. And I'm dumber and more disillusioned for it. I was better off watching 'Jon and Kate plus 8'.

Thanks to my new roommates Anderson and Wolf, I've had opportunity and cause to formulate opinions, opinions that would be more useful were I an American, and could actually, you know, vote in the upcoming election. But my stat counter tells me that sometimes Yankee foreigners visit my humble blog and read my humble thoughts. Readers who by nature of geography and keyword searches are interested in both the USA and chiropractic (except for the guy who found me by searching 'mistress boxing gloves' - I don't know what to say to that) and it got me thinking... hey, I have opinions, and readers who can vote in this election... I could influence their vote! My very own manifest destiny.

So. Vote Obama!

Because... because this chiropractor says so. Because he just makes you feel good, you know?

My chiropractic predecessor and mentor advised me that there are three topics to avoid with patients: sex, religion and politics. I'm not sure what that leaves worth talking about, so at the risk of offending but in the interest of free speech... Americans, I hope your country elects Obama. It seems that what they are doing down there now isn't working... preaching abstinence to pregnant teens, an ongoing war forever on the verge of victory, a country slipping downward... isn't that the meaning of insanity, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?

But these are heavy topics for a simple chiropractor to address. Perhaps I should steer clear of discussions of human rights and the definition of a marriage, and wars and gun control and oil - perhaps I should stick with things within my scope of practice... chiropractic.

Guess who supports chiropractic? Barack Obama! Read the letter below. Obama supports Chiropractic - how wonderful! Leave the messy politicking behind, and vote with your spine!


Monday, September 1, 2008

Dr. Who?

It is both significant and silly, all the hullabaloo around what we call ourselves.  A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet, right?  Is Michelle not as capable of healing your sore back as is Dr. Fagen?  (Personally, I wouldn't trust Dr. Michelle... but that's just me)  Yet, it does matter.  

I was recently made acutely aware of the significance of a name and designation.  I attended a wedding sans Husband. I had trouble finding my place card, because as it turned out Dr. Michelle Fagen wasn't actually at the wedding, but Mrs. Husband's Full Name was.  I was confused by my emotions - I am proud to be Mrs. Composer Extraordinaire, but I wondered exactly when I had lost not only my first and last names, but my professional designation?  Who exactly was supposed to be seated at table 16?  And had she ordered the chicken or the beef entree?

And while we are talking names and designations, I must confess, I have a chiropractic pet peeve.

I mean no offense to my colleagues, but I cringe a little when I hear one of my cohorts refer to himself as 'Dr. First Name'. You know who they are, the Dr. Lisas, the Dr. Steves, the awkward Dr. James-eses. It is so reminiscent of the Simpson's Dr. Nick ("Hi Everybody!", "Hi Dr. Nick!"). I suppose I can afford some leeway to those chiros with long and difficult to pronounce last names, or the docs who treat children who might be less intimidated by Dr. Dave than Dr. Backbraeker.  But... I dunno.  

It just rings creepy to me.  In a nice way, of course.  But also in a creepy way.  Think Dr. Phil.  'Nuff said.  

When I first graduated as a green, wet behind the ears, fresh faced eager young chiropractor, I felt like a bit of a fraud just calling myself Doctor.  Little me?  A doctor?  Certainly it gave my family cause to giggle "pass the potatoes, DOCTOR Fagen, hee hee!", but I also learned that it had its benefits - speaking to customer service reps for example. "This is Dr. Fagen calling. I recieved my magic bullet after waiting 5 weeks, only to have it break after just one smoothie. This is unacceptable, and I demand recompense. No, I won't hold, I've got patients to treat!"

I've realized since that some people want to address me as Doctor. The formality of the title gives them confidence and the professional distance provides a forum where they can feel comfortable receiving care as a patient. Other patients see me as a health care partner, as someone they can relate to, and we address each other as Michelle and Patient.
Ultimately, I've decided that I don't care what you call me... as long as you call me!

Just don't call me Dr. Michelle.