A Layman’s Understanding of Chiropractic (Part 2 of 4)


I learned a lot in Dr. Lambert’s waiting room, awaiting my turn. It was always filled with other patients awaiting their turns—a good sign when one is seeking successful health care. When converting a residential house to a chiropractic clinic, Vince Lambert had thoughtfully installed a tiny restroom, just big enough for a commode that and that alone, in one wall of the waiting room. Since all chairs faced the center of the room, there was no escaping it:  every waiting patient knew exactly who went in that door, and they knew why—the commode was the only thing in there. They furthermore knew exactly what one did in there, in some detail, for sound carried unimpeded through the cheap hollow-core door. Through that door I still recall the unmistakable auditory signatures of peeing, farting, things splashing into water—and the sheepish faces of those who emerged with eyes averted. Most of the waiting patients avoided giggling, most of the time.

My more valuable and lasting learnings came from several extraordinary books Dr. Lambert kept on tables in that waiting room. These oversized tomes contained plenty to interest kids as well as adults, not least including hundreds of fascinating photographs depicting everything from advanced scoliosis to testicular elephantiasis carried in a wheelbarrow. Detailed graphics illustrating the spinal cord’s out-branchings between each pair of vertebrae so obviously explained the direct correlation between displaced vertebrae and the organs served by pinched nerve trunks that any reader should have found it hard to fail to understand. There was plenty of explanatory text to read, and I read it all. Between ages eight and eleven I became a lay chiropractic expert, and my every experience since then has consisted of little more than learning the nuances.

Dr. Lambert’s books also spoke in detail of the origins of chiropractic. I learned how the Reverend Samuel Weed conjoined the Greek roots kheiro meaning “hand” and praktikos meaning “practical” to coin the label “chiropractor,” meaning “useful things done by hand.” In my mind it has always rung true as The healer who heals with the touch of the hand. In 1945, the year we won The War, my inquisitive eight-year-old mind was learning how Daniel David Palmer had “discovered” the chiropractic approach to health care (many people remain unaware that spinal manipulations are historically well documented from medieval Europe back through two millennia at least to Hippocrates in 400 BCE). Palmer’s son Dr. B.J. Palmer further developed and refined his father’s ideas, and did much to raise chiropractic to national prominence long before his death in 1961. Appropos of nothing in particular, I perceived that father and son disagreed on many things.

Dr. Lambert was by choice a “Grostic” chiropractor, which meant that he mainly used the neck adjustment methods developed in the early 1940s by Dr. John Grostic, an experimentally-inclined graduate of the Palmer School of Chiropractic. Grostic practitioners, my mother and I soon learned, work primarily on the top two cervical vertebrae, an area fundamentally vital to the healthful functioning of one’s body. Not that all vertebrae aren’t important, these two are especially so.

Through the neck’s constricted juncture the spinal cord, emerging from the stem at the base of the brain, passes as it becomes our endlessly branching nervous system—thereby enabling, every second of our lives, kazillions of two-way electrical impulses between the brain and each of the thirty trillion cells throughout our bodies. If the microscopic nerve end or equally microscopic blood capillary serving an individual cell become totally blocked, that cell soon dies. If the blockage is only partial, the cell’s function is only degraded commensurate with the severity of the blockage. A neck bone that has been flung off a horse into a tree-size corner post can get pretty well misaligned, can then press on nerves, and thus cause headaches—among other insidious problems that may not show up until forty years later.

I learned that the topmost vertebra, the atlas, supports the heavy head—and that alone is trouble waiting to happen. This skull-supporting atlas sits atop the second vertebra, the axis, which enables the head to pivot around flexibly, side to side, up, down and all around—ample possibilities for trouble to develop. It’s how the human neck evolved, that’s the way it is. Being so critically situated, it doesn’t take a lot of head bumping to knock either of these two vertebrae out of their proper alignment. Each vertebra’s center hole and the spinal cord passing through it are so perfectly fitted that even a small misalignment of the vertebra—a millimeter or two—can press on trunk nerves at the misaligned side, reducing the free flow of nerve energy through that “blocked” area. The worse the misalignment, the worse the problem and resultant suffering.

And that was precisely my trouble. I quickly learned to like the Grostic method—it was so logical, and here it was being applied to end my dreadful headaches. It has often crossed my mind that a modern medical diagnostician would probably tell me Oh, obviously you were having migraine headaches!—whereas I know I had a blockage of normal nerve function resulting from chronically displaced neck vertebrae. Knowing this cause-effect relationship so very personally, I still wonder to this day if migraines, as understood by allopathic medicine men, actually exist.

Dr. Lambert noticed my youthful interest in chiropractic and dropped casual tidbits to nurture me in that direction: See how the calorimeter measures heat as I push it up your mother’s neck? It helps me determine if a vertebra may be out of place, blocking a nerve and causing the heat buildup. I’ll never forget him. Understanding and gratitude began apace then and there, and have lasted a lifetime. It was with mixed feelings that my mother and I regarded the changes imposed in 1949 when my father’s job moved us from the Indiana prairie to Jefferson County, Kentucky. At the very least, it meant we’d have to find a new chiropractor—and pretty soon too.

We found her. Dr. Bertha Mory was only twenty minutes away in the Louisville suburb of St. Matthews, and—happily—she practiced the Grostic method to which we had grown accustomed during our years with Dr. Lambert. Dr. Mory was our healthcare mainstay through my teen years. I well remember her gentle but confident professional manner of speaking, always concerned with letting the patient know what she was about to do and why she must do it. I also well remember, after all these years, the “nerve-spine illustration box” she kept standing in one corner of her treatment room. She used that clever device to great effect in helping patients understand the very direct connections between bones, nerves and health.

A life-size detailed drawing of a human skeleton was fitted to the front of a comparably-sized metal box about four inches deep. The drawing prominently featured every vertebra in the cervical, thoracic and lumbar sections of the spine, from sacrum to occiput. Significantly, it also highlighted the nervous system, using small colored wires to show in some detail exactly how energy flowing through the nerves was dependent on good spinal alignment. The wires emerged in a small cluster from the bottom of the brain stem at the base of the skull, passed through the center holes of the atlas and axis, and proceeded on down through the other vertebrae. Between each pair of vertebrae, a wire branched off from the nerve “trunk” and proceeded to some organ or body part that it served. Each wire ended at a small flashlight bulb. All in all, the brain-spinal cord-nervous system architecture was rendered hard to not understand.

But the educational coup de grace consisted of two small electricity-controlling knobs near the top of the device. One was a small rheostat, its handle attached precisely over the atlas vertebra. The other was a “nerve selector” switch which connected each of the body’s major branching nerves (wires) back to the “power source” in the brain. Dr. Mory delighted in showing the patient how his/her suffering could be attributed to a displacement of the atlas or axis that happened to be pressing on the spinal cord to the detriment of various trunk nerves that branched to different parts of the body—thereby short changing all the millions of cells served by a trunk nerve’s energy. That, she explained with compelling logic one could see with one’s own eyes, was what caused many of the health problems ordinary doctors call “illness.” And, she always added, if left untended long enough, small problems can degenerate into more serious ones–it’s best to fix them as early as you can. It all made sense to me.

She used the device to educate. If the patient’s complaint was lower back pain, for example, she would turn the nerve-selector knob to a wire ending in the lumbar area. Then she would turn the rheostat handle—simulating a displaced atlas or axis—and, presto, the lightbulb in the lumbar area would grow dim. See, she would explain in her quiet manner, the lumbar trunk nerve is not getting all the energy it needs to keep that part of the body healthy, because it’s partly blocked by pressure way up in the neck. Now we unblock it with a neck adjustment—she would say as she straightened the rheostat—and restore fully functioning nerve energy to that area. There, you’re fixed.

It was a very effective training tool. Using the nerve-selector switch, she could duplicate this explanation for any of the dozen light bulbs strategically placed around the illustrated body. And every one of them—most efficaciously for a Grostic chiropractor—showed exactly how the problems, though widespread around the body, all originated at just two finicky neck vertebrae so easily knocked out of place by life’s constant little head-bangs, neck chills and tense muscles. It was from Dr. Mory that I learned to never sit with my neck exposed to an air conditioner or an open window letting in the chill night air. The knowledge has served me well in avoided headaches and the cost of avoided chiropractic office visits, not to mention remarkably good overall health here at age 85.



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