Thursday's wild storm left the Center for Alternative Medicine without power for a day, and what an unusual day it proved to be! Though my hours were quite fully filled for Friday, I went in that morning with low expectations for the day. I told my ever-suffering office manager, Teresa, to stay home, as I expected that I would easily be able to handle what few patients showed up.
Of course, I had no idea of exactly who that might be, as I converted to entirely digital scheduling and medical records several years ago. In fact, when it comes to solo doctors' offices, my practice is pretty close to the bleeding edge, technologically speaking. I have set up a highly integrated network of Linux-based servers, desktop systems, laptops and netbooks and even smartphones, all entirely fueled by international-standard FOSS software. In fact, to my knowledge, I am the only doctor in the country whose practice is entirely built around the Ubuntu operating system. We use no Windows or Mac operating systems or applications, from patient charts to accounting.
All of which, of course, was of absolutely no use on Friday. Even a battery-powered laptop was ineffectual, as it needed a functioning router and powered-up server to tell me anything about anything.
So I went into the office Friday morning prepared to amuse myself by engaging in an archeological dig through the junk mail, research journals and meaty tomes on acupuncture which have been serving to hold my desk firmly onto the floor for a few months.
I abandoned that project, mid-pile, when my 9 o'clock patient walked through the door. Then the 9:15 patient showed up. And all of a sudden, in darkened office with windows opened to the breeze, my day came alive. The next time I looked at the clock, it was lunchtime. I took a quick lunch, and was back at it for another 6 hours.
It was at some point, while I was blending a custom herbal formula for a new patient by the light of the sun streaming in the laboratory window, that I realized just how independent of technology is the practice of primary care chiropractic. Here I was, with no notes, no power and no machines, treating patients as I would on any other day.
Granted, it wasn't quite the same. With no water for washing my hands between patients, I resorted to rubbing my hands with alcohol, not a dermatologically comfortable practice when you are doing it 30 or so times. And without power, the bath of hot water in which I store my thermal packs is just a bath of tepid water.
As many of my patients know, I often apply heat prior to myofascial therapy because it makes the process a bit less painful. So a few of my patients on Friday experienced a tad more discomfort than usual, but all managed to take it in stride.
Chiropractic adjustments were similarly easy. I've chiropractically examined and adjusted people just about everywhere and on just about everything, from logs deep in a national forest to incubators in a neonatal ICU, so adjusting in natural light with the windows open did not even draw conscious notice on my part.
Acupuncture treatment was a bit trickier. The room in which I usually treat my acupuncture patients is without windows, and is dark as a cave with the lights off. So I re-fitted one of the tables in my other exam room with outriggers to be used as a suitable acupuncture room.
What was more difficult was determining treatment protocols and plans, all of which comprise part of a patients' chart. For each patient, I note where I am adjusting, and which adjusting techniques are used. And I will often alternate complementary therapies. Acupuncture patients also have an individualized point prescription which I follow for treatment. With none of these available, I was forced to rely on my memory.
Interestingly, I was pretty successful. Fortunately, a chiropractic doctor develops a close enough relationship with his patients that when my memory did falter, people cheerfully volunteered the information, often with a teasing jab at my stumble. It was all good-humored though, and nobody seemed disaffected because they had to remind me of my duties.
And when their treatment was finished, it was "Goodbye, I'll have Teresa call you about appointments and payments!" Nobody seemed to mind. Everybody likes to leave the doctor's office without having to pull out their wallet!
Notes were jotted down on pieces of paper and put on the desk for transcription when the power went back on. At 4:30, I walked out of a treatment room, and realized that there were some lights on in the hall. The CL&P linemen had pulled out all the stops in getting the power back up; and I recalled that some time earlier, I had seen a truck hauling a rather oversized transformer up the road. Perhaps a swap had been made.
But by then I had established a rhythm to the day, and I decided not to disturb it. Until hours ended at 6:30, I continued to work the day old-school style, sleeves rolled up, as chiropractic doctors have for generations before me. It was really a very welcome return to my roots.
For a few minutes before I left on Friday, I sat on the bench in the front of the Center and reflected on the day. Though busy, it had proved to be exceedingly pleasant. Without telephones or email to pester me, I was really drawn into the present and the presence of my patients to the exclusion of all else. As I have written before, it is really that relationship, between patient and doctor, that is the source of my joy in my work; to have it enhanced in that way was not only surprising, but also served as a reminder to me. It was a call for me to, professionally speaking, stop and smell the roses. To forget the distractions and to focus on what is truly important:
The healing power of both touch and words. The ability of laughter to pierce through pain. The sincere "thank you," unblemished by commerce. Those are the things that matter to both my patients and myself, and in turn make my practice as healthy and robust as it is.
Isn't it funny how a loss of power should actually become its reclamation?
Dr. Avery Jenkins is a chiropractic physician specializing in the treatment of people with chronic disorders. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 860-567-5727.