When you travel toward Mt. Mandan, N.D., in the spring, you can see little ponds dotting the landscape, with ducks nesting and feeding in almost every one of them. If you're driving in the late summer, you can see large pools of water on the highway, but they are mirages and can lull one asleep as the endless miles add up.There is not much else to see, except for sunflower and wheat fields. After the harvest in the fall, there is even less to see, and in the winter, not much at all.
The northwestern part of the state needed a chiropractor in the early '60s, and they got one volunteer in 1963. Al Delgrado had spent much of his Air Force service on a North Dakota base and fell in love with a local beauty. Nearing his graduation from a New York chiropractic school near where he grew up, Al and his wife, Heidi, decided to move to Mt. Mandan, where there were no DCs. They were broke and the small town offered a renovated office on Main Street, with low rent and low loan rates at the local bank, for any chiropractor willing to locate there. It was unknown country for the Delgrados, since they were only familiar with the eastern part of the state. Heidi had grown up in Fargo, which might as well have been Minnesota.
The nearest DC was about 100 miles away, and it was said that he felt crowded by the new chiropractor in Mt. Mandan. Consequently, Al had no mentor, no colleague to ask for advice or with whom to share his doubts or enthusiasm as a new practitioner. But he had little time to concern himself with such stuff, since the day he and Heidi drove up to the office, there were five or six folks sitting on benches on the street, just waiting for the new "chiro." Word had spread fast.
The next 20 years were everything the couple could hope for, with Al seeing 45 to 50 patients a day and the community warmly supporting the new business. Heidi belonged to every charitable group and association in the area. Al joined the Elks Club and they attended St. Mary's on Sunday. In an island of German Catholics, he was probably the only Italian-American in northwest North Dakota.
Then Heidi died. The cancer took her quickly. The details of the next few days following her death are sketchy at best. Al was lost. Then, after assembling his staff early one morning, the office was open for business ... and never really closed again. Al and Heidi had no children. Her parents had passed on. He had been raised by an aunt in Yonkers, now departed. There was no family left.
As the years went by, Doc Delgrado worked longer and harder. There was no interest left for Elks Club meetings or Sundays at St. Mary's. He started sleeping on a cot in his office, and brought in a hot plate so he could cook in the storage room. Since he was in the office all the time, he soon was seeing 80 to 90 patients in a 14-hour day. The demand for chiropractic was always high in the Mt. Mandan area, but now it was almost out of control. "Dr. D" could not keep up with the demand, and responded by getting more legalistic. If a patient were five minutes late for their appointment, the staff would make them reschedule. If a patient had too many questions, Al would just walk out of the room. On Saturdays, there were no appointments. People would drive in during the night and sleep in their cars, just to be first in line for their treatment.
Dr. D had no other life than chiropractic. He said he liked to fish at Lake Sakakawea, but no one remembers him doing it for more than 20 years. There was a rumor that he had a girlfriend in Minot, but no one could prove it. He had become a curmudgeon, a crusty, old codger who had no time for idle chitchat since he always had an office full of patients. His staff knew him as the taskmaster with the proverbial "heart of gold", since he was very generous with them. When a patient might say, "Doc D is a great chiropractor, but he sure lost his bedside manner," the staff would always defend him. "Maybe," they might reply, "But we're lucky to have him here, you betcha!"
When the time came to pass on, Dr. D simply fell over dead in the hall on his way to the next adjusting room. It was estimated that about 1,200 people showed up for the funeral, including a few from Canada. He left his estate to St. Mary's church and the Elks Club Cancer Fund.
The good news is that Heidi never actually died from cancer because she never really existed. Al Delgrado never really existed. But otherwise, this story is mostly true. The Delgrados are composites of chiropractic couples I have known over the years who gave enormous amounts of time and energy for our profession and for the communities in which they lived. Dr. Delgrado is representative of the men and women in chiropractic who just want to help people and make a living doing it. Rest in peace, Al Delgrado. You earned it.
Any similarity in name or circumstances to the characters presented in this article is purely coincidental.
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