The allopathic physician who gave the presentation looked familiar to me; by the end of his presentation, I recognized him as an ICU pediatrician who had been in Bible study fellowship with me for two years. I hadn't seen him for about five years, so after services, I went outside to say hello.
We greeted one another, and I asked him to explain how the inner-city clinic functioned, and who staffed it. He told me volunteers had established the clinic, and the need was so great that it now included a full-time medical director, a full-time registered nurse, and a full-time administrative staff member. "Does it have a chiropractic service?" I inquired. The doctor sheepishly replied that it didn't, and that I was the only chiropractor he knew. He asked if I would be willing to meet with the medical director about adding a chiropractic service.
To make a long story short, I met with them, and it was decided that I would make a good volunteer to start the chiropractic service. I had no idea what I was getting into!
I remember my first day at the clinic, located in a district of Phoenix known for its gangs and illicit drug traffic. As I drove south to the facility, I asked myself what prompted me to get involved with such a ministry. When I pulled up in front of the clinic, I noticed that the area was very run-down, but the clinic itself was painted and looked quite good for the neighborhood. The only telltale sign that I was in a rough district was the window air conditioners chained to the building. There were signs on the door, all in Spanish.
The entrance to the clinic opened into a packed waiting room filled with women and children. I was overcome by the apparent need. I was ushered quickly into the back room of the clinic; there were four examination tables separated only by drapes, which were pulled shut when a patient was on the exam table.
The administrator of the facility was quite pleasant, and extremely pleased to see anyone she thought could help. The medical director was a young physician trained in internal medicine and pediatrics; he was quite the"laid-back" fellow. When he welcomed me, there was no sense of condescension in his manner. He explained that the facility was served by some eight or more MDs, including residents, family doctors, and an assortment of specialists who came in on certain days during the month. Unfortunately, space was extremely limited, and I would have to start my practice in the kitchen/lunchroom area until a larger building could be obtained.
The kitchen consisted of a room about 12'x 12' equipment was limited to card tables and the portable adjusting table I had brought along with me. My wife had provided some gowns, masks, rubber gloves, etc., from our bio-spill kits, and had delivered these in a borrowed pickup truck so they would be waiting for me. The clinic staff members were delighted to have any supplies they could get. Improvisation was the apparent name of the game.
It was explained that all patients were to see a medical physician first, who would decide which, if any, needed be sent to the chiropractor. I made no waves, as I wanted to gain their trust and show them, by example, what chiropractic could do.
The first patients I saw were chronic low-back cases and one lady, with a shoulder problem, who especially stands out in my mind. My interpreter explained that the woman had just arrived in the U.S. and had gotten her treatment in Mexico City about six months before. The referral diagnosis was bursitis, and she had received a B12 injection directly into the bursa. She said apologetically that she would rather not have such a treatment again. I assured her that the treatment would be painless, and gave an Activator adjustment to her laterally rotated shoulder. When she got off the table, she was just grateful, if only for not receiving another shot. It hit me - I was not going to be able to see her every other day for two weeks, since I was only available at the clinic on Tuesday mornings. I wouldn't be able to see her for another week, and I worried that this limited service might be unfruitful.
Let's fast-forward six months. The staff always has a prayer session before we begin our clinical work. We remind ourselves to pray for our patients as well as treat them. (Our mission also involves helping the patients to learn about the Lord; if they don't have a relationship with God, we provide brochures in English and Spanish that offer related information.) Following prayer, we discuss any problems in the clinic, and strategize how best to deal with them.
Six months into my service at the clinic, the medical director announced that he thought it a waste of time for the allopaths to screen the musculoskeletal patients. Henceforth, he announced, these patients would go directly to me. That was a big movement in trust; my "probation period" had afforded him an opportunity to observe positive outcomes with some of the most difficult low back cases. By this time, I also had gained the confidence of my patients, and they were asking to see the chiropractor anyway.
The lady with the shoulder problem (tendonitis, rather than bursitis, as it turned out) had followed through with care, and by the third week she was about 90 percent pain-free. I had only been able to adjust her once a week. Did we have a more powerful treatment than even we thought? I began to pay close attention to this phenomenon.
Fast-forward another six months: By this time, I had treated all the staff, and just the week before, the medical director had presented himself for treatment of a cervical condition.
"I have a problem with my neck," he noted. "I have no range of motion to the right. I think I have a problem with my axis."
I asked him to follow me to the kitchen area, where I took a look. A brief examination suggested dysfunction at his atlas, rather than the axis. I adjusted him; as he got off the table, he exclaimed with delight that he had full range of motion in his neck again.
The Lord has been good to me over the years, and I love teaching, but after a year of being a volunteer clinician in an inner-city clinic, I must tell you that the experience with these folks, patients and doctors alike, has been one of the greatest blessings in my life, and in more ways than one. I have seen a power in the adjustment that went unnoticed before: limited care (e.g., once weekly) yielding positive benefits.
I have seen a better model for heath care: MDs educated about chiropractic and feeling comfortable about sending chiropractic cases to chiropractors. I've also had the opportunity to better understand how they (allopaths) reason and practice.
I've seen greater benefits for patients when they end up under more appropriate and better-integrated health care. As the medical director observed during prayer one morning, "You know, we haven't been using nearly the pain medication that we used before, and the only new variable is the chiropractic service. Dr. Fuhr, could you see if you could recruit another chiropractor (as they were moving further into the poverty area, but with more space), so we can get you out of the kitchen next year?"
The Lord does indeed move in mysterious ways. I wanted to give something back through my church; instead, I have been the recipient of bounteous insights. "Cast your bread upon the water," the scriptures say; after doing so, I was rewarded handsomely. I wonder if there isn't a lesson here for our profession.
How far we have come! How far we have to go!
Arlan Fuhr, DC
Click here for previous articles by Arlan Fuhr, DC.