On Being A Quack

The patient sat in front of me and told me her story. It took quite a while, thirty minutes, in fact, but that wasn't unusual for a patient's initial visit in my office. You see, I'm a quack.

At least that was the term applied to me and my chiropractic colleagues by the American Medical Association, until we took them to court in the 1970s and won an anti-trust lawsuit.

Today, the AMA isn't allowed to brand chiropractic physicians with such epithets. But, as with all forms of illogical bigotry, it will take a few generations before the stain which mainstream medicine painted on us begins to fade. Even today, we have misguided individuals branding our care as “dangerous,” when in fact, no procedure taking place in the chiropractic doctor's office is even as dangerous as taking an over-the-counter painkiller.

So, to many people, I'm still a quack. Which is why it took so many patients, such as the one in front of me today, so long to tell me their stories. Because of the anti-chiropractic sentiment fostered by mainstream medicine, I was the last of a very long list of doctors that she had seen.

On the Medical Merry-Go-Round

As she had trudged from one (medical) doctor to the next, undergoing ever more expensive diagnostic procedures and treatments, her condition simply worsened.

By the time she reached me, she was not only sick, but sick of being sick. And resigned to the fact that she would always be sick, as the last few of her high-powered, high-priced specialists advised her.

The fact of the matter was that this patient's symptoms began to take on a familiar shape to me. Although her primary complaint was gastrointestinal, I began to interject questions about her allergies, her fatigue, her depression. As she finished, I had a pretty good idea of what might be going on.

My examination of her did not take that long. I needed to rule out a couple of possible diagnoses that her previous doctors should also have ruled out. But I've been in practice long enough to not make assumptions like that.

So I poked and prodded, measured and weighed, listened and provoked various body parts and organs, just like mainstream doctors used to do before they were seduced by HMOs into selling their patients short.

After her exam, I told the patient I wanted to do a single laboratory test. She said she had already had all the tests that there were. She said she did not want to pay for it, because insurance would not. We discussed it.

I knew she had never had this test before, because I know of no medical doctors who have the necessary training to even interpret the results. Finally she agreed.

Two weeks later, I got the test results back. I called the patient.

No Drugs Required

“I know what's wrong with you,” I said, “and I think we can fix it.” We set up an appointment during which I outlined some dietary changes, recommended an herb, and suggested some nutritional supplements.

Three weeks after beginning her treatment, her symptoms, years in the making, began to disappear. Two months later she was symptom-free. She was amazed. I didn't think that much about it; I've treated the same problem hundreds of times, and usually get  similar results.

Of course, her insurance covered none of the examination, treatment or lab test, even though the total cost of her entire course of care at my office was less than it would cost to say hello to the receptionist at one of those high-powered specialist offices.

A Shameful Secret

Studies have found that when chiropractic physicians are their primary care providers, patients end up less dependent on drugs and surgery. Under the care of a chiropractic physician, the studies show, patients become healthier while their health care costs go down.

But as the debate regarding universal health insurance picks up steam in many states around the country, the twin benefits of improved health and decreased costs offered by chiropractic physicians gets lost.

It's the shameful secret that the AMA tried for so many years to keep hidden. And the secret the drug companies today don't want you to know.

This patient, and many others, see me as a lifesaver. But to the pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, and most mainstream doctors, I'm a quack.

And damn proud of it.