My chiropractor had a breakdown

He did good work at first ... but I don't want the hands of a crazy man around my neck.

By Cary Tennis
Published January 18, 2007 11:46AM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I'm concerned about my chiropractor's mental health.

I came in on multiple occasions for work on my back, and he kept assuring me my insurance had covered the procedures. He recommended I get orthotics to help my problems and he was right. They worked beautifully. At the same time, I received a whopping and completely unexpected bill from my insurance company. It had approved only a few of my visits and was dunning me almost $1,000 for the rest.

The chiropractor was hired as an employee by another practice and I followed him as a patient. When I raised the issue of the bills, he apologized for his partner's role in it and he told me not to worry about paying for the orthotics. So I paid the balance on the office visits and considered it over. A few visits later he mumbled something about paying for the orthotics, but he changed the subject when I asked for clarification. The subject was never even hinted at again.

Fast-forward an entire year. My chiropractor was sweet and seemed happy to see me each time I was there for a visit. During a visit to his now incredibly inconvenient office location, he told me he was seeing people he considered friends at his home, only a few minutes away from mine. He gave me his home and cellphone numbers and told me to call for an after-hours or weekend appointment. Great!

A few weeks later, my husband's back went completely out of whack. He missed work and was immobilized at home on the floor. I called my chiropractor's office for an appointment but was told nothing was available for a week. I left a message on his cell asking him to call me at home. When he did, he sounded tired and grumpy. He told me he'd seen over 40 patients that day and didn't want to see any more. I told him I understood -- because I did. If my husband, who is a physician, had seen 40 patients that day, he'd have been too tired to call anyone back, much less manhandle their bones into popping.

And here's where it gets really strange.

He switched from being tired and slightly grumpy to being furious -- with me. His voice began rising and he began yelling at me, asking me how I dared to call him at his home, after hours for special treatment. It was as if he'd completely switched personalities. I was dumbfounded. He started telling me I was crazy, that I needed psychiatric help, that I had abused him by not paying for the orthotics and that he couldn't believe I had the nerve to call him at his home.

I sat there listening to this rant for several minutes and then realized that he wasn't connected to reality at the moment. At this point I wasn't angry, I was shocked and I wanted to establish a dialogue so we could get things resolved. I began saying his name, gently, in a kind of litany, in order to break the diatribe and establish two-way communication. When he finally heard me, his voice went up several octaves and he screamed in what sounded like a 5-year-old's voice for me to stop swearing at him.

Cary, the hairs on the back of my head were standing at full attention when the child's voice came out to rage. It was bizarre. He never came back to reality; he just kept screaming in this childlike voice at me to stop swearing at him. He went on like this for a bit and then hung up the phone.

Stupidly, I decided there was a misunderstanding, so I waited about five minutes and rang him back. He answered the phone, shrieking, and told me to stop stalking him and that he was now calling the police to come arrest me!

Now, I'm no shrink, but this episode seems straight out of my abnormal-psych textbook as a psychotic break from reality. Stop swearing at him when I was saying his name? How dare I do exactly as he invited me to -- call him for an after-hours appointment? I was insane for not paying for orthotics that he told me not to worry about? And the voice of a 5-year-old?!?! Huh?

My husband was as flabbergasted as I was. He insisted that I stay far, far away from this guy and I have. But it really bothers me. Other than this nutty break from Planet Earth, he always seemed so nice and caring. I realize I can't save him, but I wonder if I have a responsibility to do something.

Should I mention it to my friend who still sees him? She has a son who suffers from schizophrenia and while she might understand, what can she possibly do? Is this guy a danger to his patients? Now that I've witnessed his bizarre behavior, I get chills (the really bad kind) from thinking of his hands whipping anybody's neck around. What if he decides the patient is whoever apparently abused him as a child? Is there a governing body for his profession that might step in to help him? I just don't know what to do other than take a page from Monty Python and run away!

What do you think?

Completely Weirded Out

Dear Completely Weirded Out,

I suggest you make a complaint to the board that regulates chiropractors in your state. In California, where I live, the California Board of Chiropractic Examiners takes and processes complaints from consumers -- according to its site, the board processed almost 800 complaints last year.

Similarly, the Texas Board of Chiropractic Examiners has a formal process for handling complaints, which is spelled out in some detail on the board's Web site. I would imagine that your state has a similar board that would be the place to go with your complaint.

It does seem clear that the public interest would be served by alerting the chiropractic board to this bizarre behavior.

I certainly would not want this guy's hands on my neck.

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