Busted at Berkeley
From Cal to Chiropractic
When I began my freshman year in 1966 at the University of California at Berkeley, the Free Speech Movement that began in 1963 had morphed into other important issues such civil rights, women’s rights, voting rights and, of course, protests against the Vietnam War. All of these social movements were inflamed by the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, two icons for social progress that caused more demonstrations on campus along Telegraph Avenue at Sather Gate.
These political events began my development as a student trying to comprehend the politics of social change and civil disobedience during the late 1960s. There was no escaping activism even if you were apolitical like me. In retrospect, I appreciate how these events changed me from a crew-cut “dumb jock” athlete to a ponytail protestor and, circuitously, began to prepare me later for my career as a chiropractor and budding journalist.
I recall the year 1968 as if it were yesterday because it was the year of my sudden introduction to both political activism and chiropractic. I was in my junior year at Berkeley, enduring a tough academic schedule and playing two varsity sports, all the while watching student protests in Sproul Plaza on campus, the epicenter of Berkeley’s famous Free Speech Movement. Indeed, an education at Cal was more than classrooms, term papers, fraternity parties and football games.
The year 1968 was important to me because of a coincidence — a severe back injury I sustained while playing football at Cal and the death of my grandfather. These two unrelated events became connected inadvertently a few years later when I decided to enter chiropractic college.
I was first introduced to chiropractic after a game against Syracuse in which I was blind-sided by a 230-pound defensive end who drove me into the ground, misaligning my spine and leaving me with a permanent spinal impairment I still live with today.
The team doctor gave me the standard medical recipe of pain pills and muscle relaxants. When that didn’t help, he then mentioned possibly back surgery for a “ruptured disc.”
When I didn’t improve under his care, a teammate encouraged me to see his chiropractor, who also treated members of the Oakland Raiders. My response was typical of the times when the medical slander against chiropractors was at its height in the 1960s: “But I thought chiropractors were quacks.”
My teammate bristled and told me in no uncertain terms, “Forget that crap. This is what chiropractors do best.” He then literally carried me into his chiropractor’s office since I could barely walk without assistance because my back hurt so badly.
To my surprise, the chiropractic adjustment was unexpectedly fast and simple. The chiropractor “popped” my back in one quick movement. That’s it — nothing more. No drugs, no shots or any talk of surgery. Actually, I had trouble believing that was all he would do considering it was so quick and I was in so much pain.
After a few more chiropractic spinal adjustments during the week, I was back at practice where the team MD approached me and pridefully said, “Well, I see those pills worked.”
“No, they made me dizzy and constipated,” I replied. “I was in so much pain I saw a chiropractor instead.”
His usual friendly demeanor suddenly changed and in no uncertain terms he told me, “But chiropractors are quacks and that crap doesn’t work!”
Not being familiar with the medical war against chiropractors at that time, I naively responded, “But I’m back playing. Doesn’t that count for something?” He knew damn well the chiropractor had helped me, not his drugs — and so did I.
He glared at me with a puzzled look, probably because he had no good answer to explain my sudden recovery. Then he blurted out, “Well, they may be okay for some things, but when they say they can cure diabetes, they’ve gone too far.”
I had no idea what he meant, but it was obvious to me I had gotten better the “wrong” way, at least in this MD’s opinion.
Do You Really Want to Be One?
My becoming a chiropractor was not the typical school-age boy ambition to be a doctor, dentist, lawyer or school teacher. Instead, I grew up in an era when a chiropractor was viewed by most as a medical outcast, just as the picture the AMA’s PR people intended to paint.
As most chiropractors have experienced, I evolved into this profession via a personal transformational process that polished the mettle in my competitive athletic character to create a thick-skin, resolute spirit, and a strong backbone to practice this invaluable, effective, and historic healing art despite the overwhelming odds from medical foes.
My tipping point occurred while earning my master’s degree in the sociology of sport at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. I realized that I needed to make a career change, dulled by a teaching and coaching stint going nowhere fast. By chance, my local chiropractor planted a seed in my mind by urging me to enter chiropractic college.
When I mentioned to my fellow graduate students I was contemplating leaving Rutgers to become a chiropractor, one friend, who also was a chiropractic patient said, “Don’t take me wrong – it’s nice going to a chiropractor, but do you really want to be one?”
Once again, she implied I had chosen a “wrong” career. That sentiment was reinforced when I announced my decision to my family.
My father quickly added, “Why do you want to be a quack?”
My mother began crying and told me, “Don’t you know a chiropractor killed your grandfather?”
Their vitriolic reactions just didn’t make sense to me. Since I recalled my grandfather died from colon cancer, I asked how could a chiropractor cause cancer. I certainly didn’t understand why my dad called the chiropractor a quack since mine had helped me recover from a brutal blow to my spine.
I later learned what really happened to my grandfather, Pappy. Suffering from severe back pain, he went to his primary family doctor, who gave him the standard pain pills and muscle relaxants to no avail. Then he was referred to an orthopedist, who gave him stronger pain pills that also failed to help his pain.
So my grandfather then went to the local chiropractor as the proverbial “last resort” in our small town. The DC recognized Pappy’s unusual symptoms and immediately referred him to the local hospital for testing, never treating him with chiropractic adjustments since my grandfather’s symptoms were not typical of a common back problem. As I learned later, his back pain was actually a visceral-spinal reflex from his diseased colon, a symptom missed by both MDs.
At the hospital, my grandfather was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer and died two weeks later. Since the chiropractor was the last doctor he had visited — and combined with the AMA’s defamation campaign during the 1960s that had demonized chiropractic as an “unscientific cult” — my mother’s her knee-jerk reaction was to blame the chiropractor.
When she told me the full story, it simply didn’t make sense that the chiropractor was the scapegoat in this scenario. So I asked her, “But didn’t he do the right thing after the two MDs misdiagnosed and mistreated Pappy?”
Entering the Medical War
Despite my parents’ reluctance to accept that I was pursuing the “wrong” career path, I attended and graduated from chiropractic college in 1978. Little did I know I was enlisting into the most profound war ever fought by the medical profession, including its so-called wars on cancer and heart disease.
When I opened my practice in middle Georgia, I was confronted by medical prejudice from all sides. As a WASP male, an accomplished All-American athlete and proudly educated at Cal, I quickly found myself once again on the “wrong” side of respectability.
My first encounter occurred early on while “chewing the fat” over the fence with my neighbor, a typical farmer who was extremely hospitable initially with me until he asked me what I did for a living.
When I proudly told him, “I’m a chiropractor,” he looked at me as if I had the plague and said, “Some people around here don’t take kindly to chiropractors.” Then he walked away, never to speak with me again. As I soon learned, bigotry supersedes Southern hospitality.
I also realized to be a chiropractor requires more than a license and good hands. It also demands having a strong character and a resolute purpose to withstand the slings and arrows of outrageous medical slander from all quarters of life.
A few years later my parents visited me in Georgia where I had opened my new clinic. Upon arrival after their long road trip from SoCal, my mother was suffering with bad headaches, which she had been enduring for years.
My dad asked me, “Can you help her? She’s been no fun to be with.”
I asked if he meant “no fun” just on the trip or over the past 30 years of marriage. As a child, I remembered on many occasions my mother suffering with severe chronic migraine headaches, taking meds and sleeping in the quiet of her darkened bedroom.
My examination of her cervical spine revealed what I expected — severe vertebral subluxations (misalignments in her neck) causing a loss in range of motion, nerve inflammation, muscle spasm and pain, as well as evidence of disc degeneration and osteoarthritis. Apparently, she had hurt her neck as a child growing up on the farm, but like most kids, it was never corrected, so it evolved into chronic adult problems.
Of course, she was scared to death to let me adjust her; after all, the lingering thought of a chiropractor supposedly killing her father still haunted her. I jokingly told her I hadn’t broken anyone’s neck in a long time. Once she allowed me to help her, I gave her a standard neck adjustment of her severely twisted Atlas/Axis vertebrae.
Such an upper cervical vertebral subluxation like hers might cause a multitude of bad situations such as nerve interference surrounding the brain stem, interference to vertebral arterial flow into the brain, and a damming effect of the cerebral spinal fluid. Likewise, a good chiropractic adjustment of the Atlas vertebrae could potentially correct these problems.
My mother left on her return trip to SoCal without her headache. A month later I spoke with her on the phone about her follow-up with the same chiropractor in our small town, Upland, who she once accused of killing her father.
Her response was typical for someone who had never been adjusted. “I didn’t know how much pain I was in until I got out of it. I thought growing old meant you were destined to be full of aches and pains.”
I responded, “Mom, imagine if you had gone to him 30 years ago, how you might have avoided those years of migraines.” Sadly, like too many Americans, she was a collateral victim in the medical war against chiropractors.
Time to Blow the Whistle
I tell this narrative of my own introduction to chiropractic and my mother’s experience because millions of people around the world who suffer similar back pain and headaches could be helped by chiropractic care if they had not be dissuaded by political medicine and its compliant press.
This medical bigotry bristles my spine, to say the least, and motivated me to write my first book, The Medical War Against Chiropractors, that explains the history of medical persecution and the scientific vindication of chiropractic care.
Now there is a second battle to fight — the biased journalists with their poisoned pens who refuse to tell this good news.
Daniel H. Pink in his book, To Sell is Human, speaks of information asymmetry where buyers are uninformed of their choices, but he warns this imbalance is about to change to information parity:
“Today’s educators and health care professionals can no longer depend on the quasi-reverence that information asymmetry often afforded them. When the balance tilts in the opposite direction, what they do and how they do it must change. Ed-Med, beware.”[i]
In this book, To Kill a Chiropractor: The Media War Against Chiropractors, I will expose the yellow journalism, the “information asymmetry” of “fake news” among medical reporters who are sponsored by Big Pharma that censors content and any mention of nondrug treatments by their shills in the media.
Today emerging scientific research and “best practices” often contradicts the ads on TV touting “wonder drugs” and “heroic surgery.” As long as DTC ads featuring Shaquille O’Neal touting pain meds or ads selling copper braces are the foremost advocates for back pain treatments, including the deceptive minimally-invasive back surgery ads featuring young women in bikinis, this country will never make progress as to the “best practices” in spine care.
Unfortunately, the new research evidence and “best practices” guidelines have not made headlines in the nightly news as I will illustrate in the chapter, “Banned at CNN.” This game-changing evidence is essential for the public to know, but will never be mentioned by the TV medical shills at CNN.
With the growing arsenal of evidence-based guidelines in mind, my goal is to create information parity in the public’s mind to make the public very distrustful about medical spine care to switch the old medical stigma that makes patients suspicious about chiropractic care.
Although that tipping point has not been reached yet, people are becoming increasingly wary of medical spine care since they’ve seen friends disabled by failed back surgery, they’ve tried the epidural shots to no avail, and they’ve seen others become addicted to opioid painkillers in the pervasive Hillbilly Heroin epidemic. Sadly, too many people like my mother simply do not know there may be a better way to manage their chronic pain.
Just as I learned while a student activist at Berkeley, it’s time to blow the whistle as a chiropractic activist on this medical mess and media bias that affects a world suffering from a pandemic of back pain and opioid abuse.
Rev. Robert Schuller coined his iconic phrase that chiropractors epitomize, “Tough times never last, but tough people do.” In the realm of healthcare, I cannot think of any other profession that has endured as much harassment, defamation and marginalization as the chiropractic profession.
It’s past time for American media to give recognition to these warriors who have fought to keep alive a healing art unsurpassed by anything the medical world has to offer for the vast majority of spine care. If not for their sacrifices, the ancient healing art of spinal manipulation would be a lost art today, just as the AMA had intended with its war against chiropractic.
Too few people understand why they think the way they do about chiropractors; nor do they realize how they, too, are the collateral victims in this war against chiropractors as victims of ineffective medical spine care.
Since the publication of my previous book, I have continued to monitor scientific reports and newspaper articles concerning issues in spine care. At my website, Chiropractors for Fair Journalism.com, I have posted many articles to give a chiropractic perspective of these issues in spine care that have gone unnoticed or improperly reported by the mainstream media. This book is a compilation of these thought-provoking topics.
It’s time for the chiropractic profession to bring hope to a society burdened by back pain and lost in the present opioid drug scandal. With any luck, this book will foster a huge change in Americans’ perception of chiropractors as the primary spine care providers to help you and your family with the best nondrug, nonsurgical spine care.
JC Smith, MA, DC Warner Robins, Georgia June 2016
[i] Daniel H. Pink, To Sell is Human, Riverhead Books, New York, 2012, p. 38.