Always question, always challenge
“Do you see how this patient’s tibias are bowed out?” asked the doctor.“Yes,” I replied as I ran my fingers along the patient’s shin bones. I was not really sure of what it was I should be appreciating that was significant. Next, the doctor moved one of his hands along the patient’s leg with a light touch as if he was looking for something. Suddenly his hand stopped along the outer thigh. I was not really sure what exactly we were doing. We waited a moment, and then he said, “Ok, now re-check the tibias.” Just like before, I ran my fingers along the patient’s shin bones. To my amazement, the shins were straighter. I was perplexed about what I had just experienced. I was still very early on in my medical training. I had grown up understanding that a bone was a hard structure, and to be able to change its shape like we had done was not possible. Or if it was possible, it would require a lot of force. Questions were swirling through my head although I did not even know how to ask. What happened? How can you change the shape of a bone? How can you change it with such a light touch? What I had just experienced could not happen, at least not with my preconceived notions about the body. That moment challenged everything that I thought I knew about the human body and how it functions. Suddenly I realized that if I was going to learn osteopathic medicine that I was going to have to challenge the status quo of how we think the body functions and how it actually functions. That was the first lesson I got out of the experience. There were actually many lessons just from that moment. I would have to have multiple similar experiences in order for them to sink in. Since that time, I have questioned and challenged assumptions routinely. Mentors have been crucial in inspiring and guiding osteopathic physicians throughout its history. Although not my only mentor, the doctor teaching me this, Stephen Myles Davidson, D.O., has been the most influential teacher I could have had in order to really learn osteopathy beyond the surface. I am deeply grateful for all he has taught me.
You never know what you can do if you cannot change your way of thinking
“You cannot straighten a scoliotic curve.” “Osteopathy cannot strengthen loose ligaments.” “There is no proof the bones of the head move, and even if they did, there’s no proof that moving them affects health.” These have been statements that have been challenged through my training. I have had many doctors and even specialists in osteopathic manipulation tell me that “osteopathy cannot help if a patient has problem X.” Luckily, for me I had learned to question and challenge because after all, the shape of a bone “cannot” be changed. For example, I recall sitting in osteopathic manipulative medicine lecture during my first year of training. The lecturer was discussing about how it was not possible to straighten a scoliotic curve. This is what the lecturer and many other physicians believe to be true. But I had palpated and witnessed many patients with scoliotic curves. Their spines straightened quickly and seemingly effortlessly under Dr. Davidson’s hands. The difference was Dr. Davidson’s analysis was more detailed, focused and advanced than anyone I had ever seen. This precision helped Dr. Davidson do and accomplish many things that were considered “impossible.” I noticed that we often did things in Dr. Davidson’s office that people would argue could not be done. Eventually this taught me that those who argue that one “cannot do something” are not necessarily wrong. It is just that the wording is wrong. Instead of saying “osteopathy cannot do X,” it should be worded “we cannot do X with our current approach and methodology.” The problem is when you think that you “cannot,” you block yourself from figuring out different ways to come up with “how we can.”
Always Dig Deeper
“Let me show you what I’ve been working on,” said Dr. Davidson. He placed his hands over my eyes and moved them slightly and gently to trace tension not just in my eyes, but the optic nerve through the optic chiasm to the occipital lobe. I could feel a relaxation deep in my head as a result. Is this how a relaxed brain should feel? The thought of treating the eyes and the optic nerve had never occurred to me. The beauty of osteopathy is that it can be an endless journey into the human body. Dr. Davidson has been in practice for over 30 years. He is still exploring, learning more and expanding on his knowledge. He still maintains a “learner’s mindset” and is a highly creative individual as a result. I have come across more osteopathic manipulation specialists who simply do the same routine on all their patients. They do not expand their analysis or treatment to areas beyond the few they routinely check. There is a valuable lesson I learned from experiences in treating bones, scoliosis, and the eyes. Our limitations as practitioners are a result from our limited understanding of anatomy and physiology. Being willing to explore beyond our usual routine will lead to new discoveries.
On the shoulders of giants
Osteopathic physicians have advanced their knowledge by standing on the shoulders of the mentors that came before them. I wrote this to share a few of the things I have learned from my mentor and to acknowledge the mentors in our lives. Our osteopathic mentors have quietly built and passed on deeper knowledge from generation to generation. I cannot say thank you enough to Dr. Davidson for sharing his wisdom, guidance and teaching me what osteopathy can truly be. I hope that someday I can be as influential for future osteopathic physicians.