I sat watching a chiropractor on crutches move around his adjusting table while treating a patient. It turns out that the doctor's artificial leg was "at the shop" for repair and he didn't have a spare.If he wanted to stay in business that day, the trusty old crutches were his last option. His movements were a cross between gymnastics on the parallel bars and hopscotch. He would balance his crutches next to the treatment table as he stood on one leg, using a drop technique on the pelvis. Then, somehow, he would steady his amputated leg on the table while he adjusted the thoracic spine. Of course the neck access was easy, since he had a stool to sit on at the head of the table. So goes the ballet of a man just trying to make a living.
Get any small cadre of chiropractors together over food and drink and the stories slowly begin to unfold. They begin talking about their own problems: impending disability because of heart problems, rotary-cuff shoulder tears, retinal degeneration, bowel cancer, multiple joint replacements, gonorrhea, diarrhea, pyorrhea and, not to forget, back pain.
When I was a chiropractic student, why didn't someone tell me that my body would probably be a sacrifice to suffering humanity? "Yes John, you will be working over hot, sweaty backs for about 35 to 45 years. You probably will get increased lower back pain yourself, elbow pain, degenerative erosion of the acromioclavicular joint and a weakened rotary cuff in your nondominant shoulder. But it could be worse, since you could be working all those years peering into some orifice like a gynecologist or proctologist. And remember, a dentist should never be in the same room with a loaded firearm."
I have been fortunate thus far in practice, not to have had a career-ending injury or disorder. But, I hurt in places now that are directly related to giving thousands and thousands of adjustments. Yes, I use diversified technique, side-posture lumbar techniques, drop-table techniques, soft-tissue goading, stretching, extremity adjusting, active and myofascial release, traction, wrestling holds, duct-tape stabilization, "poke you with a stick" stuff, anything that helps the patient. Yes, I also have a mechanical adjusting instrument. But I'm so familiar with manly, cracking techniques that I think I would feel like a sissy, if I used it all the time. What about Old Ernie, who always threatens not to pay me for a treatment unless he hears and feels his lower back "move"? ("Come on, Doc, you can do it!") Besides, even one of my friends who practices exclusively with an adjusting instrument has arthritis of the right thumb from pulling the trigger on it, 200 to 300 times a day.
I will say right now, it's been worth it. A chiropractor must care about people and live with the challenges of communication, patient compliance, administration, finances, etc. I can do that. I have been doing that. And every day, I am sure many of my colleagues join me in the wish that our bodies will last through the extent of our career. Think about what would happen if we can't do what we do. Disability is a frightening option.
I have disability insurance and should probably cancel it. Most of the stories I have heard about typical disability claims lead me to believe that the insurance companies writing these policies are the same ones that manage frequent-flyer programs. To these companies, "black-out dates" are the same as "claim denied." Even if a DC were blind, deaf and missing both arms, the disability company would deny the claim, explaining that it will retrain the chiropractor to use their toes and heels to give adjustments.
Somewhere out there is a DC who is tired of practice and wondering if they could cash in on their disability policy. Maybe a claim that is in the "gray area" and a bit hard to sell? My advice is: Don't do it! But also, don't do something really stupid. I heard of a guy that shot off his pisiform bone in the wrist, in a "gun accident." Even if being a chiropractor has lost its luster, being a sauce-chef with part of your wrist missing is not a cool alternative.
I wrote an article many years ago about this topic and vowed I would practice as long as I was physically able. Now, after many years in practice, the signs of my demise are more measurable. At the time, though, I was inspired by the bravery of many of the semi-disabled chiropractors I had met. In this time of political correctness, I salute the "physically challenged" DC (PCDC), who keeps on keeping on. Because, as an old friend once told me, "Your next adjustment could be your last adjustment!"
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