General Case Study
Chiropractic Offers Help
I first met my chiropractor in 1987. It had been an eventful year for me having just spent 10 months at Stoke Mandeville after fracturing the 5th vertebrate of my spinal cord. This resulted in me being paralysed from the shoulders down and confined to a wheelchair. I was 30 years old and it seemed that my life had suddenly ground to an abrupt halt. However a good friend of mine, knowing that I now suffered with chronic shoulder pain, kept telling me that I must go and see her friend who was a McTimoney Chiropractor. I was sceptical but I didn’t want to offend, so one Wednesday morning I was literally bundled into the car and off we went to meet her.
We were introduced and I went through to the chiropractors’ treatment room where she sat with me and before anything else we talked. We talked about life in general and then more specifically about my life, the past, the present and then perhaps more importantly the future. Something that I hadn’t really faced up to yet. After leaving hospital I had found myself overwhelmed by a great wave of compassion and sympathy from my friends and spent most of my time just smiling and thanking people. Looking back it is clear that what I really needed was some time on my own.
Within the first few critical months following my discharge the present and the future had blurred into one entity and by the end of 1987 this was where the chiropractor found me – but she was about to change all that. She finished off our first session by examining my posture in the wheelchair and over coffee we arranged to meet again the following week.
These Wednesday sessions became regular appointments and after a few weeks the chiropractor felt that she knew enough about my condition to treat me. I think that she asked the spinal unit for information but none was forthcoming. Anyway the technique that she practiced was extremely gentle and it was never necessary to put any undue force through my back or my joints. A carer would accompany me and transfer me onto the chiropractic bench placing me face down to allow her to gently make any adjustments to my spine and pelvis. She explained how it is almost impossible for anyone to maintain perfect posture when in the real world. We are all stretching, lifting and turning – often a small but significant correction would be enough to relieve or prevent painful conditions. After each treatment my painful shoulder joint would ease off and I always felt that my spine (and often my mind!) had been perfectly re-aligned. We would have a chat over coffee and I would always leave positively glowing and ready to take on the world. At this point I would love to be able to say that the pain in my shoulder completely disappeared never to return but unfortunately that was not the case. The chiropractor, a polio sufferer since her early 20s, was no stranger to pain and mobility problems herself and gradually she helped me to shift the emphasis so that instead of holding me back I could actually use my pain as a starting point for what I could achieve in spite of it.
The thing that struck me from my very first visit was that the chiropractor was so full of optimism and this was such a refreshing change from the medical model that was being promoted at the spinal unit. Their ethos seemed to be to scare you into a state of virtual inactivity. The general philosophy being along the lines of – If you never try to hold a cup of hot tea in your hand then you will never run the risk of spilling it all over your lap. Subsequently, occupational therapists would beaver away making all manner of devices for holding and tilting the cup. These would be bolted onto your wheelchair, tested and eventually discarded as being, well, too dangerous. Then it was back to the humble straw with some poor soul stood literally, cup in hand, next to you.
Eventually I was discharged with a long list of negative commandments along the lines of ‘Thou shalt not sleep on anything other than a hospital pressure relieving mattress, thou shalt not wear any clothing that is not baggy sportswear, thou shalt not drink less than three litres of water a day’ and so on. As sensible as I am sure these guidelines were, adhering too closely to them swallowed up all your time and still kept you in a state of ongoing paranoia. On one visit to the chiropractor I clearly remember how with a little encouragement and experimentation we managed to wedge my coffee mug into my hand and I cautiously began to drink from it at my own pace and without the need for a straw. It was awkward admittedly, but very soon I had mastered the art and although I would occasionally spill some coffee, guess what? It was no big deal! Looking back it is no exaggeration to say that perfecting that one skill immediately transformed my life. It has given me a degree of independence that I am still enjoying today and can perhaps only be fully understood by those unfortunate enough not to be able to emulate the task and for me it was just the beginning.
I continued my sessions with the chiropractor for well over a year by which time I am pleased to say my life has got itself well and truly back on track. By then I was studying Psychology at Brookes University where I would graduate with a Bsc in 1992. I had just met Sarah, the girl who would become my wife and we bought a lovely house here in Oxford where we are today happily raising our two children. I still visit the chiropractor occasionally and think about how much my life has changed over the years. I certainly owe her a great debt, she was the first person to challenge my lethargy and remind me that at my age I still had an awful long path unfolding before me. She would always say, and still does, that sympathy only lasts as long as a bunch of flowers and I quickly came to know that she didn’t have much faith in either as an effective panacea! I am just extremely grateful for having met her at such a critical time in my life and for all the time she invested in me. Over that period I learnt a great deal not just about the chiropractor but also about myself. Most importantly I learnt that with the right attitude, pain and indeed disability are not stumbling blocks at all but just hurdles which can be overcome. Sometimes with ease, sometimes with great difficulty but never without making an honest effort and looking at things with a positive approach.
Thank you so much.