In March, the Rotary Club organized a clinical trip to Mexico to volunteer in a Red Cross clinic in Mexico. This was the fourth time I’ve traveled for the sole purpose of treating patients in an underserved community.
Several of you have asked me about the trip. Most questions focused on my experience in the community and working there, but a couple of you had a more philosophical question: how can you really help when you are there for such a short period of time?
I thought a lot about this especially since, at a week, this trip was by far my shortest yet. After my the experience in Piedras Negras, I am confident that we provided a significant service to that community. It may sound over-the-top, but I saw what I call chiropractic miracles, cases in which patients improve dramatically in just one visit.
Here are two theories:
Someone down there pays a few thousand actors to come in and fake a complaint. Common complaints were a complete inability to lift their shoulders (frozen shoulder), turn their heads one side, or bear weight on one knee. Then, the actors pretended to improve dramatically. That has potential to give the American doctors a great sense of job satisfaction, but seems tremendously costly for the community, especially considering the patients waited hours to be seen. 🙂
More realistically, there is a hole in this community’s healthcare system- a large one. They seem to have a fairly good hospital system that provides access and care to most. Patients arrived with their x-rays, MRI, or CT scans suggesting that if you have a serious enough, operable injury, the hospital provides the surgery and sends you home. Notice the complete lack of rehab focus. However, if your trouble is not a surgical case, the hospitable provides pain medications and tells you there is nothing that can be done. Many of these patients had visited the hospital again and again, because there is nothing worse than being told you’re ok when you’re not. The answer didn’t change, but the patients were right.
In short, this community has no access to conservative active care. Chiropractors excel in this arena: we’ve already ruled out surgery and the person is motivated to get off pain medication forever.
In this community, unlike many around it that have the same limited, surgically focused healthcare system, there is one more factor at play. For eleven years now, a group of American chiropractors has come for a week and seen patients all day, every day. It’s become part of the system. MDs, big companies, and the media all promote our visit.
These individuals had pretty much given up on being able to live and work as they had before their injuries. Then someone told them of the relief their brother or cousin received from the Rotary and Red Cross sponsored chiropractors so they waited for our visit. Some had been in pain for 10-15 years from traumatic injuries on a scale I never see in my downtown San Francisco office. For instance, I saw a patient who’d been blown up in a mine explosion, another who fell off a ladder changing a street light, and one who was hit by a train. Then there were the injuries that are more common in my practice in California. These injuries felt like seeing an old friend after so many severe trauma stories. Like you, these patients had injuries from playing soccer, getting hit by a car at a crosswalk, biking, and a bar fight. Yes, some of you get yourselves in trouble at the end of a celebratory night!
So many of these patients left being able to do something they had been unable to do before. You could see their relief in their huge smiles and (literally) tears of joy. They also left with some homework 🙂 I’m still Proactive Chiropractic, even abroad!
So to answer the original question, yes, we can make a difference in a week. Not the difference we can make with regular maintenance care so many of you opt for, but the kind of difference many of you came to me for in the first place.
The astounding improvement owes to the traumatic nature of the injuries we treated. In my San Francisco office, much of the pain results from wear and tear. It’s common for new patients to not even know how they hurt themselves or to have been injured doing something they’ve done a million times and their bodies were just fed up with the imbalance. Contrast this with the shocking accounts of injury there. I didn’t see many I-sit-at-a-computer-all-day-and-I-have-trained-my-body-to-think-that’s-normal injuries. It’s a reminder not to give up on the body’s ability to fix itself.
Whether it’s the result of a train hitting you or working 15 hour days before a deadline, my goal is to get you better in a few visits and then we refocus on reestablishing balance through your homework…and now I know more is possible than I even imagined.
This trip made me a better doctor by reminding me of the power of never giving up. Even if you feel there is no one who can help you, if you’re in pain, keep looking because even after you’ve been told there are no options left, there probably are.
This is all of us at the Red Cross Clinic before a press conference announcing the commencement of the free clinic.