Robert Hayden, DC, PhD, FICC
It seems a very short time ago I was practicing as a clinical nurse specialist at the Medical Center of Central Georgia in Macon. The critical care environment with low lights, high stress, hissing ventilators, beeping alarms, and little bouncing green balls on monitor screens was exciting to say the least. My profession was challenging and fulfilling, but somehow, there was a piece missing that I had yet to identify.
My friends, Nancy and Ancil Baird, were hosting a Bible study in their living room on a cool evening in 1990. I got there early and found a seat facing the front door. Kenneth came into that front door, dragging a leg in obvious pain as I watched sympathetically. While the rest of us sat on comfortable furniture, he stretched out on the floor with his knees bent to take the pressure off his aching back.
There was a chiropractor in our midst. I had no idea what they did, but I watched in rapt attention after our study concluded as that doctor got on the floor with Kenneth (a patient in the doctor’s clinic) and adjusted a couple of lumbar bones and a sacrum. That was interesting by itself because I had never seen it. But what happened next was life-changing: Kenneth stood mostly straight and without the majority of his pain. I was stunned.
I had just witnessed something I’d never seen in the hospital. With the knowledge in his head and the skill in his hands, this doctor had taken most of Kenneth’s pain away. There was no codeine, no steroid, no anti-inflammatory, and significantly, no bad side effect from this manual, conservative, and highly effective intervention. I had to know more.
Meanwhile, the medical center where I worked was engaged in competition for a grant from a large foundation that was asking a question: “If you could rebuild healthcare to make it cost-effective, patient centered, and user-friendly, how would you do it?” Participation in this think-tank convinced me that the medical center could not do this, but I could if I were in private practice.
Carl Sandburg once said, “Nothing happens unless first, a dream.” My dream, hatching like a squeaky, hungry new chick before me, was to create a microcosm of healthcare undefiled by the low expectations and poor performance of the existing healthcare industry, which was not about health care at all, but about disease care. I asked a different question from the foundation. I asked myself, “If I am a patient, how would I like most to be treated?”
The next two years were invested in site visits, library research, interviews with doctors, discussions with patients, and other fact-finding missions. The jury in my head came back with a verdict: Chiropractic offered the best conceivable option in conservative musculoskeletal care. Private practice would be the vehicle to make my dream reality. The missing piece from my first career would be found in the second, which was the autonomy I needed to take care of patients the way I would want someone to take care of me.
I remember well the day that I went home from work to tell my bride, Diane, with some trepidation, that I needed a second doctoral degree. I was amazed as well as thankful that she was very supportive throughout the process. This would not be a quest for me, but an arduous journey for us, and we both knew that from the beginning.
The reason I am reminiscing is that the 20th anniversary for the Iris City Chiropractic Center is this week. The “new” feeling has never worn off even as the dream has evolved. Indeed, if you do something for a living that is this rewarding, you will never really work a day in your life.
Every day we see people recover from disc injuries, shoulder and knee problems, headache syndromes, etc. Some of our patients have conditions from which for recovery may not be reasonable, but supportive care eases suffering and helps them to live life to the fullest extent possible. Sometimes people come because we listen, and they can’t find that everywhere.
There are patients we serve who uniquely fit in this practice because we uniquely provide what they need most. Conservative chiropractic care saves many people from disability, surgery, and hopelessness. We will fight to stay alive as a small business for their sake.
We have found ways to serve the business community with drug and alcohol screening, and the trucking industry with driver physical exams. As I said to someone just today, being in private practice is like being a bi-vocational minister. While your ministry may be with the patients on the treatment tables, you’d better make tents if you’re going to eat (a reference to Paul, the tent-making evangelist).
In celebrating this anniversary, I think about Diane, my wonderful wife, who believed in me (and us) enough to take this gamble. I think about the two wonderful staff members, Karen and Deedee, who help make all of this happen, and who have become part of my family. I think about all of the patients who have come and gone in 20 years, whose well-being is always our chief concern. And, of course, I think about a marvelous, merciful God, the Source of all second chances, who called me for a purpose that I hope to fulfill each day. I reflect upon all of these with unspeakable gratitude.
Is there a piece missing in your life? Do you feel a calling, or an itch to do something? If so, stay alert. Look around you for ideas and opportunities. Pray, prepare, anticipate, and work hard, but don’t forget to dream. It all starts there.