The Good Old Days

By John Hanks, DC
Every journey starts with a single step, but in my journey as a doctor of chiropractic, I have stepped on my own feet more than once. My start in practice, almost 30 years ago, was - well, slow. So, I had plenty of time to visit other chiropractic offices, and sometimes, even go to lunch with the "Old Guys."

The Old Guys were a handful of chiropractors who had been in practice many years. They met at a local cafeteria every Wednesday to share stories and talk shop. They also met there because it was a cafeteria, so they wouldn't have to argue over the check. Most of them were close to retirement age, and many of them lived through the Great Depression. I was always honored to join them for lunch, since I fed on their encouragement and insights. - plus, they usually picked up my check.

The oldest DC there was 91 years old and still practicing, although probably beyond his "sell-by" date. I'll call him Old Doctor Joe. His son, "Young Doctor Joe," was only 73. I had heard that Old Doctor Joe had actually known D.D. Palmer, our profession's originator. At one of these lunch meetings, I asked him about it.

"Sure, I knew the chap," Old Doctor Joe told me, as he finished his Jell-O. "He was always trying to adjust my feet."

Old Doctor Joe was also one of those early martyrs in the profession who spent a few days in jail for practicing medicine without a license. Young Doctor Joe elaborated on the story while his father dozed off:

"Dad has always said that jail was pleasant compared to the MD terrorists who used to burn a wooden caduceus in our lawn during the night. They were hell-bent on driving us out of town. These people would don surgical masks to protect their identities, and drive around in an ambulance for cover. It's a wonder they didn't try drive-by shootings."

I found I was not the only one who had experienced a tough time getting started in practice. All the Old Guys talked about how tough it had been. Dr. Milly, the only woman among the Old Guys, told a tale about her beginnings:

"My office was in a closet-like room above a Chinese laundry, and I adjusted people on a table made of three planks suspended over two saw-horses." I thought she might be joking, but she looked serious. "I ironed shirts for the laundry, while I waited for patients to call."

"That's nothing," another Old Doc reminisced. "When I was getting started, my office was a shoe-shine stand in a barber shop, that I had to share with the shine man. I didn't have a table, so I just adjusted patients sitting up. Got in the habit of it. I still treat 'em sitting."

One of the Old Guys, Dr. Barney, had practiced in a small farm town for a few years. "I had a nice office in the back of a feed store," he said with a smile. "I adjusted patients over bales of straw covered with a horse blanket. Then, I tried adjusting them over piled-up sacks of feed, which worked much better."

Perhaps these doctors were exaggerating, but that's what makes success strangely sweeter. After lunch, I would watch Young Doctor Joe cart Old Doctor Joe over to their Lexus, and watch Dr. Milly drive away in her Cadillac; I would covet their successes. Now, when I have lunch with my colleagues, I find we are starting to tell our startup stories. For instance, a prominent and successful Florida DC recently told me that early in practice, he wanted to commit suicide by jumping out a window, but his tiny office didn't have any windows.

Today's new chiropractors will have their startup stories too, and because of the leg irons of huge student loans, they will be just as poignant; but dreams and diligence can triumph. I remember when my wife and I bought our first washing machine during my first year in practice. It was cheap, and not balanced well. Consequently, it would furiously vibrate and "walk" across the floor. To keep that from happening, we would sit on it during the spin cycle, usually in the morning while we drank tea. Depressing as that may have been, I said to my wife, "Someday, we'll remember this and laugh about it."

Now, almost 30 years later, when I sit on my new washing machine and drink tea, I often think of those days.

John Hanks, DC
Denver, Colorado

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