We’re kicking off Giving Tuesday early this year! Your donation today will be matched up to $10K, doubling your impact! If you donate $50 today, the Reader will receive $100.

The Reader is now a community-funded nonprofit newsroom. Can we count on your support to help keep us publishing?

Jeffery Carlisle estimates that during peak times 25 people per hour walk by his Edgewater chiropractic and acupuncture clinic. “Of course, you always look for them limping,” he says. Nova Pain Management has been open for only a little more than a month, and he needs the business. Carlisle usually spends at least some of each Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday outside his office, on Broadway south of Catalpa, handing out brochures, business cards, key chains–and free consultations. A placard on the sidewalk advertises a “condition of the week”; among the issues he’s prepared to discuss are headaches, back pain, work injuries, auto accidents, and neck pain.

Carlisle, who speaks rapidly and has his hair cropped short enough for a tour in Iraq, says his meet-and-greet efforts have pulled in a few new patients, as has the Condition of the Week sign–which he says “makes ’em look.” But most folks keep on walking. “I wouldn’t say people are unfriendly here,” says Carlisle, a North Carolina transplant. “But half of them look at you like you’re gonna mug ’em.”

Sometimes people stop and talk because he’s reminded them they really do get terrible headaches or their lower back pain sure is persistent. In those cases Carlisle interviews the prospective patient for about ten minutes, does a complimentary X-ray if he deems it necessary, and either devises a treatment plan or refers the person to a specialist. Other times the Condition of the Week sign acts as an invitation to socialize. “One fellow came in on every kind of antipsychotic medicine known to mankind,” Carlisle says. “He wanted to talk for four or five hours.” Another guy swore through his missing teeth that he had a job and insurance, then wound up asking to borrow ten bucks. “I don’t know if it’s the neighborhood or what,” Carlisle says.

Sitting in his office with what he refers to as breakfast on his desk–a bag of chocolate caramel chews and a box of Jujubes–Carlisle says, “When you first start a practice, you’ve gotta get out there. The goal is five new patients a week. If I can do that, then I’m OK.” A golf club leans up against the desk. “I take it outside to hit people on the back of the legs,” he jokes. On a small dresser nearby there’s a laughing Buddha statue–a spontaneous Chinatown purchase that set him back $200. “I’d had a few drinks,” he explains, adding that he managed to bargain the shop owner down from $750. “She wanted to get me out of her store.”

Carlisle comes from a long line of chiropractors: his grandfather, father, brother, and a cousin are all practicing or have practiced. As a kid he worked for his father, sweeping the clinic’s parking lot, doing office work, and assisting with X-rays. Though he considers himself a “born chiropractor,” he briefly lost his way and studied engineering.

After graduating in late 1993 from the National College of Chiropractic in Lombard, Carlisle went back to work for his father, joining his Charlotte practice. He learned a lot but still felt like the kid with a broom: “You’re not really a doctor, you’re a son.” After six and a half years he opened his own clinic–also in Charlotte–which sparked “a little family falling-out.” For the next few years his patients were mainly people injured in car accidents, and that got old. A couple of years ago he sold the practice to a fraternity brother, skied for nine weeks in Wyoming and Colorado, then went on a yearlong trek through Asia and Canada. He moved to Chicago, where his mother lives, last year.

Carlisle envisions having a multidisciplinary clinic in the next 12 months, with a medical doctor and physical therapist on staff. First, though, he needs to drum up some business. “This isn’t a one-stop shop,” he says. Most patients come for repeated sessions–sometimes three times a week–and injured people often don’t want to drive to their appointments. “They like to stay as local as possible,” he explains, which is why he’s working the neighborhood so hard. He says he might even start going door-to-door.

When a woman he’d handed a card a few weeks ago arrives for an appointment, Carlisle ushers her into a room. He tells her to lie on her back on a low bench, then sticks eight pins into her arms and legs to relieve her back and neck pain and headaches. He says the pins will “stop the bleeding of the energy,” then leaves her alone in the room. Grabbing a couple flashlight key chains, he steps outside.

Two skinny men amble toward him. “Gentlemen,” he says. “What’s happening?” The men stop and shake his hand. Carlisle introduces himself as the “new doctor in the neighborhood” and tells them a bit about the clinic.

“Y’all can help with people who steal money from homes?” one of the men pipes up. Carlisle looks as confused as the man sounds. The other man, grinning, interprets: “He thought you like a lawyer.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.