When I was in chiropractic school, I remember hearing a number of students and professors say that the head of the orthopedic department – I’ll call him Dr. Jones – was by far the most knowledgeable practitioner at our clinic. Many marveled at his understanding of the biomechanics of human movement and his wealth of experience in physical medicine and rehabilitation.
I strongly considered pursuing one of two or three coveted orthopedic residencies with Dr. Jones upon graduation, but decided instead to move to rural Alaska and run a clinic on my own.
During my first month in private practice, a patient with a complex history of back issues flew in from a neighbouring bush community seeking treatment. After thoroughly evaluating this patient, I knew that I could use conventional physiotherapy and joint mobilization to improve his condition, but I wondered what Dr. Jones would do, if he would recommend specific exercises that I hadn’t thought of.
Before the patient’s second visit, I found contact information for Dr. Jones, who had moved on to a prestigious medical institution. I left a message for him, not sure if he would remember me as a student, and to my surprise and gratitude, he called me back within a few hours.
I sensed he was in his car when he called, and it didn’t take more than a few sentences for me to realize that he was annoyed. In a measured tone that I’m sure took a lot of restraint, he told me that he didn’t have the time to educate me on how to care for my patients.
In the moment, as a 24-year old, I was a little stunned, hurt, even, that this highly respected doctor saw me as a nuisance. He was an elephant and I was an ant, not that he wanted to step on me – he simply didn’t know of my existence and had no desire to.
Twenty years have passed since that memorable phone call, and I now have enough life experience to better understand why Dr. Jones had no interest in helping me with my patient.
I would guess that Dr. Jones was under a lot of pressure as he headed a department at his new workplace. He was almost certainly working long hours helping his own patients. He was probably tired, driving home to be with his family. He had a mortgage to cover, car payments to make, children that he wanted to spend more time with, and I’m sure plenty of other stressors in his life. I couldn’t easily imagine any of these possibilities as a 24-year old – I was still living in a bubble that was held up by the idealistic belief that health care was all about helping individuals in need, and that financial, time, and other considerations should not be significant determinants of our ability to be helpful.
Having more life experience now, I have a lot of respect for Dr. Jones taking time to call me back. It’s a little embarrassing to think about how naive I was, how little I understood about the realities of other people’s lives. I attribute my naiveté to being brought up by immigrant parents who did their best but didn’t have the wherewithal to help me develop more emotional intelligence and general awareness of other people’s circumstances as I was growing up. Perhaps this is why I feel a oneness with anyone who feels that they graduated from the University of Countless Awkward Experiences, sometimes called the School of Hard Knocks.
Getting back to my intended point, I give thanks for the endless opportunities that we have to share with and learn from each other through the world wide web. When I wanted to learn how to play “More than Words” on my guitar as an 18-year old, I had to find a music store that would sell me sheet music for twenty dollars. Today, I can learn “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen and even “Love Yourself” by Justin Bieber with a few clicks on my laptop.
I began this website in 2003 as a way of staying in touch with people all over the world who returned home after staying with me at our fasting clinic for weeks at a time. The idea was to offer ongoing support and encouragement to make health-enhancing choices, and to share new findings and resources as I continued to learn.
The internet has given me an opportunity that Dr. Jones didn’t have. I can spend a good portion of my time trying to be freely helpful to others – I am deeply grateful for this existence. Here and there, I receive messages and calls from practitioners who thank me for something that I have shared in a blog post or newsletter that was helpful to one of their patients. Such messages make for some of my best days, and strengthen my commitment to sharing all I can through this website.
I didn’t know it as a 24-year old, but feeling humiliated by Dr. Jones’s rejection shaped my future in a significant way. It was one of several experiences that opened my eyes to how much impact we can have on people we don’t even know if our intention is to make things a little better for a fellow person. This has become my why, my reason for living – I am hopeful that something I share will have a positive, lasting impact on someone out there, be it a sense of connection, improved health, anything that makes life better.
Our time here is so limited. Most of us have 30,000 days to live and about 80,000 hours to work before we are gone. How will we use our days and hours? I am no saint. I am just as flawed as the next person. But I would suggest that getting clear on our why, our main reason for being here is essential to experiencing lasting fulfillment and many good days ahead.