By Esther Oh, 16, Cleveland HS (Lake Balboa)
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Esther thinks that people shouldn’t ignore their back problems (like she did).

When I was younger, I never considered a career in medicine. I hated math and science; my interests were art, media and literature. However, my views about healthcare and my career changed after a chiropractor helped fix years of back problems in a few weeks.

I’ve had back problems since I was a kid. I would get a stiff neck when I studied, washed dishes, or just concentrated for five minutes. When I tried to lift things it would feel like knives stabbing into the base of my neck, and the muscles along my spine turned into knots. Some nights I couldn’t sleep because of agonizing pain—the only way I could go to bed was if someone gave me a massage or my little brother stepped on my back!

It never occurred to me that these problems were unusual for someone my age. I thought that I had pain because of bad posture. I tried sitting up straight sometimes, but it didn’t help.

In seventh grade, I learned that I had scoliosis. I didn’t know what it was, but it sounded scary. When I went to the doctor for an X-ray I saw that the lower half of my spine was curved to the right, and that the upper half was curved to the left (like an “S”). This caused my left shoulder to be higher than my right, and my right leg to be longer than my left. Looking at the X-ray, I could finally see my problem and not just feel it.

Illustration By Esther Oh, 16, Cleveland HS (Lake Balboa)

Unlike a regular doctor visit, no one gave me pills, syrup or ointment to treat the problem. I was told that my curved spine was a birth defect and that it wasn’t bad enough for me to wear a back brace. Basically I could do nothing to correct it. I wasn’t too upset. I didn’t want a back brace, and I had lived with the pain for so long.

I wasn’t the only one in my family with back problems. At the end of seventh grade my mom was severely injured. She fell backwards and ended up bed-ridden for months. An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan showed that the tissue inside my mom’s pelvis was infected—the result of years of downplaying her pain.

For the next three years my mom couldn’t drive. I had to ask for rides everywhere, take the bus or walk. She couldn’t do housework and had to quit her part-time job, making our family’s budget tighter. Trying to take over for her and be a student exhausted me. But after a few months I got used to the constant pain and stress.

Then last December I started having stomach pains and problems digesting food. For the next few months, I got stomachaches almost every time I ate. I tried antacid or Pepto-Bismol, but nothing worked for more than a few days. I eventually started to hate eating.

My chiropractor made me feel much better

In April, my mom and I got into a minor car accident and we went to a chiropractor to get checked out. I thought it would help with my car accident injuries like whiplash—I didn’t realize the chiropractor would have such a big impact on my life.

After taking a couple X-rays it was my turn to be examined. The chiropractor, Joy, pressed her hands under my ears and asked me if I had pain there. I did. Then I turned over on my stomach and she pressed her fingers down my spine. She asked whether I had any digestion problems.

“Yeah, I do!” I said, amazed that she could figure that out after a few seconds of touching my back. She explained that my curved spine was pressing against my pancreas, affecting my digestion.

At my next appointment, the X-rays showed that two bones in my neck were fused together, appearing to be one large bone instead of separate ones. This explained the sharp pain and stiffness in my neck. Later, I learned that one of my upper ribs wasn’t straight, also contributing to my neck pain. It was so cool that she could diagnose me after some quick observations—I wanted to be able to do that, too.

My mom and I spent the next six weeks going to the chiropractor. At every session, we’d lie down and Joy would attach small pads to our backs and necks to send electric currents to relax the tense muscles. Then we’d each take turns getting something cracked by the chiropractor, which is called “being adjusted.” Knowing I’d get nervous if she warned me ahead of time, Joy would crack my neck without warning during our conversations. The crack was loud enough to sound like it should hurt, but it didn’t—it actually felt really relaxing immediately after. Soon, I stopped getting stomachaches, and my mom’s back started to get re-aligned.

I was surprised to see that my chiropractor seemed to love what she did. I hadn’t understood that medical jobs were fueled by a passion to help people. And I was wrong about doctors being stuffy and boring—Joy is a mom with cute kids, who likes interior design, art (just like me) and pizza.

The rapid improvement of my mom’s and my health and a strange curiosity about the human body have inspired me to become a chiropractor. Right now, I’m doing as much as I can to learn about the body—I read basic books about health and try to catch stuff on TV. To incorporate the things I’ve learned into my life, I stretch and get a massage every day. I plan to take college-level anatomy and physiology classes during high school. I want to major in biology in college and then get a doctorate in chiropractic medicine. One day I’ll open up my own clinic, and perhaps write a book to educate the public about the importance of spinal alignment. But for now, I’m enjoying getting a good night’s sleep without needing my brother to walk on my back.

How do you become a chiropractor?

Education: Four years chiropractic college, during which you’ll study classes like anatomy, physiology and
pathology as well as learn techniques for adjusting someone’s spine.

Average salary: $102,000

Two chiropractic schools in Los Angeles County

Cleveland Chiropractic College
590 N. Vermont Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90004
(800) 466-CCLA

Southern California University of Health Sciences
16200 E. Amber Valley Drive
Whittier, CA 90604
(800) 221-5222