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When a Chiropractor Needs Medical Help

Editor’s Note: Even the staunchest vitalist may face tough medical decisions.  Should you take blood pressure medication, get gastric bypass surgery or take hormones? When is medical intervention appropriate in your case? It’s an interesting enough debate in aspects like cosmetic surgery. But what if you’re facing a medical crisis where your decisions may mean life or death?  

By Randy Heuston

Is it either/or in health care? Is it a choice between chiropractic’s vitalistic perspective and medicine’s mechanistic approach? Is it one or the other, or is it sometimes both?

 “It’s great to say you’ve been under chiropractic care your whole life and never needed a medical doctor,” says David Koch, D.C., chiropractic’s preeminent philosopher, now at Life University, “but what if you shatter your leg or get diagnosed with advanced cancer? That’s a different story.”

So how do you behave as a chiropractic patient or a chiropractor when circumstances force you to enter what you may have considered the enemy camp? How do you negotiate the interaction? What happens when you perhaps find yourself in an environment where it’s apparently life or death and you’re told you need a “life-saving” drug or an exotic surgical procedure described in terminology you never learned in chiropractic college?

“It’s a tough area to be in and a delicate line to walk,” says Dr. Bob Rabin, a prominent Atlanta chiropractor for decades. During the last year or so he has walked into a peck of problems involving his heart and a MRSA staff infection, among other things. “I probably was considered a bad patient because I questioned everything. I told them at one point I’d had enough and was leaving the hospital. They said I’d be dead before I made it to the parking lot. So I stayed.”

Beth Rorabach, D.C., now a clinical director at Sherman College, was part way through her chiropractic education when she was diagnosed with leukemia. With a full-time job and her intense chiropractic studies, she had been burning the candle at both ends and eating the wax. Her immune system shut off.

“THE HEMATOLOGISTS told me I had three times the level of what they considered 100 percent leukemic activity.” Thus began an incredible ordeal where she was told she had a one-in-four chance of survival and six or seven times was in fact as good as dead.  It wore on for years.

“One of my fellow students told me I had sold out by going to medical doctors. But I was having severe nosebleeds. One time a bloody mass came out the size of a fist. I was white as a sheet and bleeding to death.”

She went through early rounds of chemotherapy and then was told she needed a bone marrow transplant. If she didn’t get it, she would be dead in two weeks. “I didn’t have time to sort things out, and I agreed.”

Ironically, the donor match was her brother Paul, who had been paralyzed by what she describes as a bungled spinal tap shortly after birth.  Her enfeebled body accepted the transplant, an eight-week ordeal. “They’d put a bucket between my legs and tell me if I could hold off vomiting for 40 minutes please do so.” 

Six weeks after he had saved her life, her brother passed away.  It was devastating. Then she contracted a severe case of shingles throughout her body, later Hepatitis B, then a second case of shingles. Her pain and suffering just went on and on.

“The hospital bill for the bone marrow treatment alone was over a million and a half dollars,” Dr. Rorabach recalls, “and it was expensive emotionally as well.” Still, what she learned from the entire ordeal—“priceless.”

MOST IMPORTANTLY, she and others with an understanding of chiropractic have learned first-hand about the life-saving power of a vitalistic view of life and health.

One lesson is about facing a health crisis with humor and hope. When she was in the hospital early on, her fellow chiropractic students would visit a lot. “The doctors and others would come into my room to hear what all the laughing was about.”  She’s convinced her sense of humor helped her progress along.

Dr. Rorabach also learned she had power to affect her outcome. “I realized I had created the cancer by overloading my immune system with too much stress, and I made up my mind I could deal with it. I had started the process, and now I could alter its course.” She would spend hours visualizing immune cells “like white sharks swimming through my bloodstream attacking the cancer cells like hamburger.”

Dr. Rorabach and others who have wrestled with crisis health conditions believe patients have more control than they tend to think. “You have power. It’s not just up to the medical doctor. If you perceive the treatment as the cure, your disease is likely to recur. You’re the source of healing; the treatment is just assisting the body,” she says.

In other words, recognize that whatever situation you’re in, you need to take responsibility.  It’s like the slogan once used in patient education materials at the Palmer colleges—“Take Charge of Your Health!”

Jennifer Valtos, who works in student services at Life University, says that’s what she learned from her battle with Lyme Disease. “I learned that I had to be a better consumer.” She says she sometimes got frustrated with her medical doctors “who would stop listening, thinking they knew all the answers.” And sometimes they would get irritated when she demanded to know what a particular drug was for and “they didn’t explain it very well.” That was very different from her experience of four years as a patient in Life’s clinic where “the interns listen to you and ask lots of questions.  So my experience taught me that I need to become better educated about my body and my health.” 

LESLIE WISE, D.C., advises that your contributing to a climate of mutual respect with medical doctors goes a long way. He says that he had a very positive experience when he went in for heart valve surgery. “I had a good team of doctors and nurses who were all respectful of me as a chiropractor.  I did not consider myself demeaned in any way.”

That respect requires more than just not treating doctors rudely. “Once you have made a decision to step into their ball park,” Dr. Wise observes, “you probably ought to recognize you have to play the game by their rules.”  Nevertheless, the rules allow for the patient to receive full information about his or her condition and about the risk/benefit ratio of whatever treatment is recommended.

So inform yourself as much as possible ahead of time, and insist on all the information you need throughout the process.  Dr. Rabin says you need to talk to those you know and trust. “Get a variety of opinions, and be especially careful about a drug. If you don’t need it, don’t take it. The medical view is still that the drug will either stop the problem or go through your system without doing much harm. But drugs are powerful. They have bad side-effects and often lower the body’s resistance.”

Then decide as wisely as you can. “The power that made the body heals the body.” How you use that power is up to you.”

There’s Something Funny About This

Dr. Beth Rorabach says humor is a powerful tool, providing  a connection between doctor and patient that has real healing power.  That’s reminiscent of Patch Adams, the controversial physician thrust into the public spotlight through the movie starring Robin Williams. Some of Patch’s humor is a little less than polite, which means he would have loved having Bob Rabin as a patient.

“The surgeon told me I had to have a pig valve for my heart,” Dr. Bob recalls. “Can’t do it. You can’t give a pig valve to a Jew. It’s not kosher. The surgeon said, ‘Well, what do you have to do to make it kosher?’ I told him the pig would have to be circumcised. Finally they gave up and gave me a bovine value. That’s what helped me get mooooving again.”


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