"I can't believe we are talking about crunches! In fact, I have never been so happy to be so wrong," I said.
My patient, Camille Peterson-Steege, looked up and said "What do you mean?"
I turned to my new intern, John, Golisano. "You are looking at an example of real wellness care. When folks are well, they don't need to come in," I explained. "I started seeing Camille in 1993, when she was 21 years old," I continued. "For 12 years, she was in my office for three to five injuries a year, each of which would take at least three to six treatments to resolve. Occasionally she would need to be seen 8 or 10 times. She never had an automobile accident or traumatic injury like falling down the stairs. She was just really out of shape. Her problems were generally due to performing normal activities of daily living. I have treated her low back, middle back, upper back, neck, left hip, right wrist, left shoulder, left calf, right hip, and right forearm."
Let's rewind for a minute, back to March 7, 2005. I arrived at work, looked in my appointment book, and saw her name. I picked up her file and saw that I had not seen her in two years. A mental snapshot of Camille came to my mind. I got caught up a little before lunch and took a peek into the waiting room. An unfamiliar person was sitting there. I thought she must have accompanied another patient. Then, my receptionist gave me a weird look.
"Why didn't you take Mrs. Steege?" she whispered.
"Huh?" I said. She pointed to the sign-in list.
"Oh my God!" I shouted. "Camille, look at you!" Since my receptionist had just met Camille, she thought I had lost my mind. "What I should say is, where in the world is the rest of you? Wow! How did you do it? (I was thinking to myself that she might have had gastric bypass)."
Camille answered, "I was a fit mother in every way except that I was so unfit. I wanted not only to set a good example for my children; I also wanted to be around to see them grow up. I knew that I had been overweight for almost my entire life and I also knew that it wasn't good for me. I finally decided that I should do something about it. I began to work out. I wasn't very strong and I didn't have much stamina, but I went every day. At the same time I also changed my eating habits. I am not a nutritionist like you, but I am intelligent and I do know what is healthy. I remember from time to time overhearing you talk to patients and even occasionally talking to me about diet and exercise. I have been at this weight now for about one year."
I told Camille I had never been so happy to be so wrong in my entire life.
"I never, ever thought you would lose weight, let alone exercise," I told her. "In fact, I was so sure that you were a lost cause; I rarely mentioned it."
"I know," she said. "And I remember when I first came to you; it was so obvious that you were this 'health food workout' guy. I was wondering if you would make me uncomfortable. What was great is that you never did. I thought about you more than once during the time I was eating better and exercising."
After talking to Camille for a few more minutes, I treated her and she made another appointment. But two days later, she called and said one treatment was all it had taken for her to feel great. I was pleased.
Now, let's return to the beginning of this story. If you recall, I had just turned to my intern. "Now this is what I call a real example of true wellness care. Today is Camille's second visit in three years." I then turned to Camille. "How much better do you feel?"
"It is truly amazing," she said. "Losing the weight was hard, exercising is hard, and always eating the right foods is hard, but what makes it easy is that not only do I feel better and look better, I don't get sick or injured nearly as often as I used to."
I then teased her about her chiropractor going out of business due to lack of work. Following a re-exam, I started to chat again. "Last year, I was so excited about how you looked, I forgot to ask about your kids."
"They are all well and doing great," she answered.
I remembered treating her through all of her pregnancies, including her second, when her daughter was born extremely prematurely. "How is little Rebecca doing?" I asked.
"Just fine," she answered. "She is normal in every way, except for the blindness."
I turned to my intern and said, "Her daughter was born prematurely at only 23 weeks. She only weighed 1 pound, 3 ounces," Camille interjected.
I continued, "I remember I was on your e-mail list and was getting updates on her condition. The prognosis was grim." I asked Camille to fill in the story.
"The doctors asked us if we wanted them to take heroic means to save her. My husband and I said yes without blinking. They said the odds were that our daughter would never walk, talk, hear or see, nor would she ever become an adult, and they asked if we still wanted them to try to keep her alive. We again said yes and could almost read their minds about the time, effort and money that was going to be wasted on a lost cause when there were others in need. It gave us pause, but we just hoped for a miracle. She was on a respirator for 46 days. She was in the hospital for five months and had 11 surgeries. She came through it all and her only disability is blindness."
"Now, that is another amazing story of wellness," I mentioned to John. "It just fries me when I hear some chiropractors trash the entire medical profession. Don't believe the extremists who say we are the only folks who love our patients."
I then asked Camille about Rebecca's nutrition. She said, "She was monitored every day. Each day the neonatologist would look at all of the readings and laboratory tests, and then with the dietitian, they would decide the specific nutrients needed that day. The pharmacist made a custom meal each day."
"Often when a person loses one of their senses, other senses develop to a much greater extent," I thought out loud. I turned to Camille. "Have any of your daughter's other senses heightened to compensate for her blindness?"
"Well, she plays the piano."
"She does? How did that come about?"
"My husband and I noticed that she liked to make sounds by shaking, hitting and tapping her toys together or on her high chair, car seat or playpen. A friend had an old piano and asked us if we would be interested in it. Neither I nor my husband has played a musical instrument or knows a lick about music, but we thought Rebecca might like a piano. The first time we sat on the bench, put her on our lap, and showed her how to make the sounds, she was enthralled. From time to time we would put her on the bench and let her bang away. We only had the piano for a few months when one day, a few months before her third birthday, we heard the song "Amazing Grace" being played on the piano. My husband and I looked at each other and wondered what was going on. We turned and saw that Rebecca was playing the song."
When Camille told me this, I was doing soft-tissue work on her back. I stopped and said, "Please repeat what you just told me."
"Yes," she said. "It's true. Rebecca will hear something and reproduce it on the piano."
"Oh my God," I said. "That's a '60 Minutes' or 'Oprah' story! Are you is she how are you handling this?" I asked.
"Well, we don't push her because she can be quite headstrong. She is now 5years old and we have a woman with a master's degree in music who comes and gives her lessons once a week. In fact, the last time she was at the house, she told me that Becky was doing things now at age 5 that she couldn't do until her junior year in college."
"Camille, I can't believe you didn't tell me this. Who knows about this?"
"Not many people," she answered.
"Camille, you've got to tell this story. How about all the doctors and staff at the hospital - especially the ones who gave her the slim chances at the onset? Do they know about this?"
"Well, they do know that she is normal in every way except for sight. But they don't know about her musical gift."
"Camille," I said. "You must share this with the entire staff. Last year, when you showed up 90 pounds lighter, did you see how happy I was? Well, you owe all the doctors, nurses, therapists, dietitians, pharmacists, staff, and everyone else a report on your very special daughter! I guarantee that all those involved who did so much for Rebecca are not that lucky every time. They really need to hear this story." I turned to my intern and said, "Real wellness care can be boiled down to really caring, no matter what the discipline."
She turned to me and said, "I have thought about it, but I just didn't know how to do it and kind of felt funny."
"Well, Camille, maybe you can bring them an article by your chiropractor," I replied.
"It's a deal," she said.
Click here for previous articles by G. Douglas Andersen, DC, DACBSP, CCN.