Dear health enthusiast,
I sat in my medical school class as a new osteopathic medical student. I was finally embarking on my journey towards being a doctor. It was something I had sought after for so long. After a few minutes of sitting in the chair, I began feeling a familiar discomfort in my back and hips. It was a feeling that I was far too familiar with. I had had it for as long as I can remember.
It was this achy feeling and this sensation that the bones in my back needed to “pop” and I could not be comfortable until I tried. I twisted my back in one direction and a series of “pops” went up my spine. I twisted the other way and another series of “pops” happened again. Then I had to twist my neck trying to get “pops” again. Finally, sometimes I had to use the edge of the chair trying to “pop” my tailbone.
Pain is something I had been all too familiar with up to this point. There were places in my back I could not get to. I used to look for corners of desks or walls that poked out enough that I could dig into to try to get some relief. I had tried so many things for pain relief and never had serious relief. I finally had this realization as a future doctor:
“If I cannot heal myself, how can I expect to help other people?”
That’s when I began this journey. I had sought osteopathic medicine because I felt like it offered something unique, a hands-on approach called osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT). With everything I had tried for relief in the past, nothing had the results that I sought. I felt like there had to be a better way and I felt like osteopathy could have the answers that I was seeking.
Osteopathic medicine was started by a civil war physician, Andrew Taylor Still, M.D., D.O., who was seeking a better way after losing many family members to meningitis. At that time, standard practice included bleeding people and giving them mercury. Through years of searching, he found his answers and successes in nature. He realized the body was capable of healing if all the different parts of the body were working correctly. He noticed that a malfunctioning part could have lingering effects throughout the rest of the body. He concluded:“Osteopathy is based on the perfection of Nature’s work. When all parts of the human body are in line we have health. When they are not the effect is disease.” Andrew Taylor Still, M.D., D.O.
Dr. Still was so successful that in the 1800’s, trains full of people traveled from all over the country seeking relief. Ardent supporters of osteopathy included Samuel Clemens (aka – Mark Twain), Buffalo Bill, Hellen Keller, and Teddy Roosevelt. Ultimately, osteopathy gave rise to the chiropractic profession, craniosacral therapy, and influenced much of what is done by massage and physical therapists.
At this point, I hoped osteopathy had the answers that could finally provide me with long lasting relief. Luckily, I stumbled across an amazing osteopathic physician early on in my training. His approach was unique. It was subtle, but profound. Most of the time, it just involved a light touch. Superficially it had an aura of mysticism and intuition. However when I heard his explain his thought process through cases, I realized that it was purely based on a profound understanding of anatomy of the human body. It really wasn’t intuitive, but a systematic application of principles. He had learned to tap into and harness a process in the body that resulted in healing.
I was intrigued with my initial experiences and decided I would go to him as a patient. As a patient I was fascinated. Although it involved light touch and at times I questioned my sanity, I could feel my body changing in profound ways that I had never experienced before. Sometimes it would feel like a whole region of my body was tingling like it was finally waking up. Sometimes I could just feel an area relax that I had never been able to relax. When I would get up off of the table and move around, it’s when I could really feel the change. There was a freedom in my body that I had not experienced before. It was like being in a new lighter, more limber body.
Soon after a few visits I remember sitting in class. It was a class just like any other, but it was also totally different. I remember because as I sat in class expecting to get the sensation and feeling that I always did: the discomfort and strong urge to twist to “pop” all my vertebrae in my back and neck. I was astonished because I just didn’t get that feeling. I tried twisting and… nothing happened. It just felt like a good stretch, but felt more limber than ever. That was over a decade ago, and I have never had to “pop” my back like that since. When I do feel that sensation starting, I know that something is wrong and needs to be resolved.
So I knew I was on the right path with osteopathy and was really excited. Really, it felt like a very daunting task to learn, but I also felt like I had stumbled upon the most powerful method of healing I had come across. It produced the results that I had expected from everything else. I dedicated my life to learning this to the fullest extent that I could. I loved the feeling of trying to share similar experiences to mine.
The next seven years were spent training going through osteopathic medical school and postgraduate training. The training was intense. It was full medical training while at the same time learning osteopathy on top of that. There were plenty of highs and lows. Probably more lows than I would like to remember, but I still always loved the osteopathic component of it. I would get my hands on anyone who willing to volunteer so I could practice and learn more. I took as many courses as I could that I felt would advance my skills. I studied anatomy in-depth. I became a student of the human body. After I finished my residency training, I was ready to go out on my own.
This brought me to New York City. My girlfriend at the time, who is now my wife, was going through osteopathic training and wanted to do her residency in the Bronx. I found a private practice to take over.
“Just help some people, they’ll go out and tell their friends and you’ll be busy in no time.”
That was what I had been told by other osteopathic physicians who were in private practice and the approach I started out with. Unfortunately, the practice I took over was not as busy as I had expected. That’s ok, I was going to start with a small group and they would rave to their friends and bring new patients in. Six months into it, I learned the hard way that the above quote was not quite true.
I was treating and helping people, they were raving to their friends, and… nothing was happening. The first few years in New York City quickly became the most difficult years of my life. Expenses were high and income was low and sometimes not even existent. After about a year, I hit rock bottom. I would lay awake at night with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Unable to sleep because I did not know how we were going to pay our bills. I knew things were bad when I started feeling like it would be easier to go out and commit a crime because life would be far less stressful in jail. I knew it was irrational but I could not stop thinking thoughts like that. I could not continue life like that.
I could not afford to pay my bills. I could not afford to eat. I had to fire my only employee because I could not afford her. That was the only solution I could come up with to survive. I was faced with a choice. I could keep doing things the way I had been doing them to that point and potentially go out of business or I could change things up, work my butt off, and potentially save my practice. I chose the latter. If I was going to go out of business, I was going to go down fighting and leave no regrets. I poured blood, sweat, and tears into it. I experienced lows that I would never wish upon my worst enemies.
Out of the most difficult time in my life, also came the most growth in my life. Without the pressure, I would have never accomplished as much as I did. Over the next couple of years, I grew as an osteopath, I learned web design, graphic design, business, published two books, published an app, published a large number of blog articles, and more. The truth is, most of this started out of desperation, but once it started. I couldn’t turn it off. I had more ideas, than time to act on them.
I tapped into a creativity, I never knew I had, that suddenly was like a faucet that I could not turn off. That creativity affected all aspects of my life. Including my osteopathic treatments. I was able to have more and more breakthroughs and insights. Most importantly because of results, I was slowly able to turn my practice around.
I had many successes and even more failures with everything I tried. Nothing came easy, but I was able to keep going and able to help people. Sometimes when no one else could. I was able to give people their lives back. Much of this came because I had to look at the body and health differently. I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. I had to question everything about health, medicine, and life. I had to question myself and my approach to medicine. I had to ask why I failed with a patient. What was I missing? Was it structural, or was it something else. It’s just as important for me to understand health beyond just structure. Is the sun really bad for you? What about cholesterol? What should I eat? What about hygiene?
In my practice, I mostly stick to structure. I have many successes here, but I know there’s more. I had to take a step back and try to truly understand the process that got us here. How are we shaping our opinions on health and human body?
In my practice, I was quickly turning heads with the results I was getting with my patients. I learned so many things about the human body and health that the majority of people will never learn. Much of what I learned was unique because I approach the human body differently. I never quit looking for answers when I did have failures. Especially for those I could not help. After all my years of struggling, I finally was able to step back and reflect. I was able to inspire students, teach them osteopathy, and be a mentor.
With results, I was able to turn things around. I was finally living my passion. I was able to truly help people and as a result, more people were hearing about osteopathy. Unfortunately, it’s hard to be successful when most people don’t know your profession even exists. Even if they do know, they really don’t understand it. Honestly, I feel there is a strong resistance to the osteopathic approach because it challenges our current models in medicine.
I want to be able to reach people. Help them look at things differently. I want to help change the way the population understands the human body to something that serves more of us. I want to help people understand what osteopathy truly has to offer and why it’s an unappreciated gem.
There were so many wonderful stories of people I was able to help. People who often had nowhere to go. The success stories were people benefit quickly are great. For example, I had a patient carried into my office by her husband with a full tear of the ligaments in her knee. She was scheduled for surgery and came to me while on vacation. She was afraid she would need a wheelchair for the rest of her trip. She walked out of my office on her own. Her husband, who was very skeptical, was floored.
Another patient I had been seeing had chronic upper back pain. No one had ever been able to help her. She had been to other osteopathic physicians as well. The first few times I saw her, I felt some improvements, but I could tell the place where she hurt was not changing. I was able to get everything around it to change, but that one spot, just would not improve. One day, when she was at my office, I noticed tension in her face and around her eyes. I asked her if she wore contacts.
It turns out she did not, but she said she would need glasses soon. That she had had laser surgery when it came out originally. That day, when I examined her, nothing had changed. That spot, which was a rib, still did not feel any better. That treatment, I did nothing other than treat her eyes. I know that can sound strange, but that’s all I did. After about 15-20 minutes, I went back to reexamine the spot. Suddenly, the resistance and pain that had persisted there, was gone. She described feeling the pain go away and even her neck relax as her eyes relaxed. Practicing, osteopathy, these are the types of relationships that I begin to notice on a regular basis.
It’s not always like this though. Sometimes a success is helping a patients with chronic issues that may require ongoing treatments. Sometimes, people view this as a reason to attack this kind of treatment. They feel that any benefit should occur quickly and the need for ongoing treatment is evidence of the treatment not working. I see this as a double standard. This is like arguing that blood pressure medications don’t work because people have to keep taking them permanently for them to work. People don’t question having to take medications on a regular basis to get the benefits from taking them. Somehow, with osteopathic treatment, this is different.
One of my patients, had a been in a major car accident about 5 or 6 years before seeing me and suffered a severe traumatic brain injury. She not been able to tolerate any of the medications the pain specialist had recommended. The only thing that helped her, had been osteopathic treatments. The treatments helped her function in her life, they helped her work, and they helped her be independent.
By the time I saw her, she had made big improvements. However, without monthly visits, she would spiral into a pain where she could no longer do her job as an artist. She had been involved in a long, draw-out legal battle. After seeing her a few years, she had to go to be evaluated by a doctor for the insurance company. Based on his exam and evaluation, he felt that her improvement was not significant and that they would not cover her.
The funny thing was that she did not agree. She felt that the gains she had made were dramatic. Not only that, but the doctor did not offer any further solutions for her given that she could not tolerate the pain medications the pain specialist had tried prior. Osteopathy was the only thing that had been working for her. Eventually, we were able to get her to the point where she was able to work and function only requiring treatments no more than a couple times a year. Even when I did see her, the intensity of her problems were far less than when we started together.
The troubling thing is that this is taking place in a time when opioid related deaths are a major problem. Given how rampant prescription opioid related deaths are, one would think that alternative means to control people’s pains should be sought and recommended first. Unfortunately, this is not happening. My feeling is that the opposite may be happening behind closed doors.
(Right now, National Government Services, a regional Medicare carrier, is doing its best to destroy osteopathic medicine in the United States. If you have been helped by osteopathy or at least want to support the osteopathic profession, I recommend voicing your opinion here: www.saveomt.org. Time is crucial and we only have until August 13, 2016 before this campaign ends.)
My life is about health. I’m talking about real optimal health. That’s not easy to define. Have you ever stopped and pondered what “health” is? Health is not just an absence of symptoms or disease. Health is more than just normal lab values and physical exam. Health is more than just daily exercise and whatever diet we ascribe to. Sometimes for real answers, we have to dig deeper. That’s what I do.
I want to share ideas with you. Ideas of things that I have learned along my journey. Things that can benefit you and help bring you real results. I cannot replace the skills of a professional, but when there are things I can teach you, I will. Some of it will be structural, some of it will not, but if you’re willing to learn more about the human body, then I would be honored if you join me below.