“It doesn’t belong dead.”
A Tale of Two Chiropractors
JC Smith, MA, DC
It was almost high noon at the not-Okay corral in Macon, Georgia, last February when both sides appeared for a showdown. The guys in the white hats were the Georgia State Board of Chiropractic Examiners there to enforce the law to protect the public, and the cowboys in the black hats came from Sydneyland to demand changes in the law. While it may have only been a war of words, this may well go down in chiropractic history books as an ideological gunfight that proved to be stranger than fiction.
After Life lost its CCE accreditation, the Georgia State Board of Chiropractic Examiners ruled not to allow Lifers to sit for its licensure exam until the final judge had the final say. After Judge Moye’s injunction, Life immediately appealed to the board to rescind its ruling. At this board meeting on February 13th, a caravan of Lifers along with Dr. DeSpain met with the board to plead their case, and I also attended this meeting to make a few suggestions (no, not me!).
This normally demur meeting turned into an entertaining event, to say the least, and a reminder of the huge differences within the profession, especially here in the Peach State with Sydneyland as the Mecca of Chirovangelism (Do I hear a Money Hum coming from Above-Down, Inside-Out?). This ideological conflict came to a dramatic head at this meeting with the GBCE and the posse of outlaws from Life. As Joe Keating, PhD and chiro historian, once wrote, “Above all else, chiropractic is never dull,” and this showdown proved that and much more.
To be sure, sometimes it’s just embarrassing what some DCs try to pass off as “professional” opinion and how they actually speak about what they do. I think nearly everyone at this meeting had that uncomfortable feeling once again; it was an instance that any DC—straight, crooked or bent—would also have had a difficult time experiencing. Undeniably, some DCs are just jerks, and this meeting proved it.
The following is the verbatim transcription of that meeting that depicts the huge difference in this tale of two types of chiropractors. My testimony was first, followed by a Dr. Ken Holewinski.
“I’m a Life graduate of 25 years. I practice in Warner Robins, Georgia, and I’m here on behalf of a patient of mine who sent the Board a letter with his reservations about the previous administration’s inadequacy in teaching diagnostics at Life College. And I think I also represent a man who recently passed away from cancer who was misdiagnosed by a Life graduate, a straight practitioner, which was a big deal in our town because he was a very well known contractor who had colon cancer and went in to see this chiropractor with low back pain.
“I know the Board’s main goal is patient advocacy. I will admit that as a chiropractic graduate of Life back before the present administration that diagnostics taught at Life were terribly inadequate. Not every health condition can be diagnosed as simply a ‘vertebral subluxation.’ And those who teach that all the role of a chiropractor is to simply ‘detect and correct a vertebral subluxation’ is living 50 years ago in the past.
“You know by State law we are required to be primary care physicians with proper diagnostic capabilities. I’m willing to admit that those of us who graduated under the Williams’ regime did not receive that. We have on our own, perhaps, gone out and had additional post-graduate courses, but I daresay that most patients walking into a straight chiropractor’s office today are in jeopardy of being misdiagnosed. And I daresay the role of the Board should be to protect the public from that. If there are people who, even though they may have passed their licensing exams, then hence go out in the field and renounce it, renounce their primary care responsibilities, and take on that narrow role of ‘I’m only going to detect and correct vertebral subluxation’ poses a danger.
“What I am proposing to the Board, and I have my submission here, is that you begin an After-Life program for those of us who feel inadequate in diagnostics. I think it should be mandated for every licensed Georgia chiropractor, regardless of where they graduated, because they can graduate from National and if they take on that ‘simple but straight’ chiropractic narrow definition, they pose a hazard.
“I believe if you want to protect the public from those who are inadequate diagnosticians that you need to do some remedial education here. I call it an After-Life program but, seriously, we need somebody to come in, maybe a 40-hour course over the next two years, to teach what are the signs and symptoms of a CVA, what’s the signs and symptoms of a cervical arterial dissection, what are the signs and symptoms of osteosarcoma, what are the signs and symptoms of diabetic neuropathy. I dare say if you pose those questions to the chiropractors in this state, 99 percent would fail them because all they are looking for is subluxation. And as we know not every health problem is a subluxation.
“Those who come to see us have a myriad of problems. And if we’re going to limit ourselves to what I call a therapist’s point of view, they’re not, as you know, legally required to diagnose. They just do their treatment. In effect, that’s what chiropractors are. We haven’t been taught to be evaluators of health problems. We’re treaters of the spine. I hate to admit that, but that’s the truth. And the fact is if we’re going to take on the role of a primary care physician, whether it’s a portal of entry, like a dentist, or a broad scope, which I don’t think we’re capable of doing right now, hopefully under Dr. DeSpain’s administration maybe we’ll open up diagnostics to whatever ails you, but right now I see us as dentists.
“We’re a portal of entry for spine and spine-related conditions. But, again, not every spine and spine-related condition is a vertebral subluxation. I mean it’s just like I said about the man who died of colon cancer, could he maybe have been helped if he had been properly diagnosed by that chiropractor? But if all he’s looking for is vertebral subluxation, then obviously you’re going to miss cancer. If you don’t know the signs and symptoms of a CVA, which most don’t, you’re going to miss a possible stroke.
“So my suggestion is that the Board mandate a post-graduate course in diagnostics for everyone who holds a Georgia license. Also, I’ve been reading polls from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania that talk about the public’s attitude about chiropractic. You should see these. But, nonetheless, I think you should poll two groups: every chiropractor to find out how they practice, what are they saying, what are they doing; and, secondly, you should poll the public and ask them about chiropractors. What I’ve read in these five or six reports is just shocking. The low reputation we have. The bad imagery we have.
“And if we’re going to improve it, right now chiropractic in Georgia is reeling. The college is reeling, the GCA is in hiding, and the GCC espouses outdated rhetoric from the old days.
“There’s no voice of reason in Georgia right now that speaks for chiropractic. You should be that voice of reason as patient advocates, but more so I think with the quality of people on the Board and the broad scope of attitude you bring, you need to speak out.
“Chiropractic is reeling in this state for these various reasons and someone has got to salvage it. It’s not going to salvage itself. It’s not going to be salvaged by sticking our heads in the sand and hoping it goes away. It can’t all fall on Dr. DeSpain’s shoulders. You need to be the voice of reason. You need to protect the public. We need to improve our diagnostics and make therapists into doctors.
“Thank you very much. I appreciate your time.”
After I finished my 5-minute allotted time speaking to the board, the next speaker came forth dressed as a Hell’s Angel wearing blue jeans, biker boots, a black leather jacket, and a black biker t-shirt. I didn’t see any noticeable tattoos, earrings or body piercing, or his biker babe hangin’ onto him smackin’ bubble gum, but I was most amazed to learn that he was a practicing DC and a former instructor at Life, a Dr. Ken Holewinski, and his tirade to the board proved even more shocking than his appearance.
“In the first place, where did you [the board members] graduate from? [No response] Life? [Still no response] All right. Here we are again in front of you people because you make poor decisions as far as chiropractic is concerned. A few years ago, 12 hours of Continuing Ed wasn’t enough. We had to have 20 so you guys could make more money for the GCA. Again, you guys are just a bunch of damn moneygrubbers. When are you going to allow somebody who is not a GCA member to be on this Board? All right. Bought and paid for, right, Sam [Sparlin], your seat? Patrick [Sallarulo], bought and paid for? Am I wrong? How does a person get on this Board if you don’t buy and pay for your seat?
“Now, as far as this primary care stuff goes, I used to teach at Life, all right, and I had great interaction with the students, you know. And as you know our State law does not allow for primary care because we’re chiropractors. We take care of the spine. I’m a survivor of colon cancer. When I came to Life back in 1981, I had colon cancer, all right. I went home and my mom said, ‘you look sick.’ She brought me to the hospital and here I am today, twenty some odd years later. I didn’t expect Life, a chiropractor to diagnose my condition. It’s not a chiropractic case. What was a chiropractor going to do for me, adjust my spine, great. What was he going to do for my cancer, hope it goes away? I went to chiropractic care the whole time and I’m still here today, all right.
“We’ve got no business being in primary care, all right. We’re chiropractors, you know. Subluxation, that’s what our, we were founded on, all right. State law, what’s it allow us to do, subluxation, right? Anything else, no. We just barely got the ability to refer for MRI’s, didn’t we? And even that’s still questionable depending on which MRI center you use.
“The GCA just still disgusts me. I just can’t put it all into words because you guys that have, are still trying to ruin our great profession of chiropractic. B. J. Palmer I’m sure is just spinning in his grave because of what you people are doing or not doing, you know. The CCE was here. Why didn’t you let them know what our State law is? What did you do to stand up, anything? Probably not, all right. That’s why Life is in the situation it’s in today. You’re alumni, you know. When are you going to stand up for your school? It’s in our state, all right.
“And now if you continue to stab Life in the back, where are you going to get these new people to come and be in your offices? Sam, I know you’ve got a multi- doctor office. Where are you going to get people, all right? They’re not coming from Florida, you know. They’re not coming from New York. They come from Georgia when they go to Life. They graduate and they say, ‘oh, maybe the Sparlin clinic has a great opportunity for me,’ and they go there, you know. Where are you going to get new people? Huh? Where is Pop [Dr. Gene Sparlin] going to get these new people to run the office, you know?
“You know, none of us are getting any younger. And we’ve got a great school here in Marietta that’s turned out a lot of damn good chiropractors. And some of you are sitting on the Board right here today. Where would you be without Life? Would you have gone to National? And do you guys even adjust your patients, put your hands on them? I hope you do, you know. Or do you just, you know, heat them up with the therapy and all that other nonsense that we shouldn’t be doing. If you want to do something good for our patients, get therapy out of it. Take care of the spine. That’s where it belongs, you know. Adjust the subluxation, all right.
“And if you guys want to continue to stab Life in the back, I’ll ask again like I did it the last time, you guys should resign in shame, all right. You didn’t want to include philosophy in our Continuing Ed. You know, chiropractic, it’s art, science, philosophy, it’s all three. You take away one and you’ve got nothing, you know. If you’re religious, it’s Father, Son, Holy Spirit. You can’t have, you know, two out of the three. Baseball, three strikes, you’re out. You know, here we are, chiropractic, art, science, philosophy. Subluxation, adjust the spine and learn how to refer, all right.
“We don’t need this 40-hour nonsense that Dr. Smith, you know, I’ve seen a lot of his stuff. We, you know, we don’t need that, all right. Chiropractic has proven itself time and time again. It works. So let’s, you know, take a stand. Take a stand for chiropractic. Why don’t you do something for Life for a change rather than just try and kill it dead. It doesn’t belong dead. If you didn’t like Sid, you should have done something years ago. Sid, you should be thanking him for what he has done, all right. He got you Medicare, all right. Do you guys take Medicare in your office? I do, all right.
“Dr. Arnold, I’m sorry you had to listen to all of this. You other guys, I’m not.”
We’re Sorry Too
I think everyone in the board room, including Dr. DeSpain, was sorry we had to listen to his rant, but it did illustrate for all the huge difference between the mindset of a chirovangelist technician and that of a PCP—what the CCE as well as many others who purport what a doctor of chiropractic should be. I couldn’t have made my case more clearly if I had written Dr. Holewinski’s diatribe myself—his inarticulate speech and unprofessional demeanor spoke volumes and proved, in fact, there are two very different types of chiropractors. Without a doubt, I believe he thoroughly proved to the board my position that some Lifers pose a danger to the public welfare and are an intellectual embarrassment to the many fine DCs in this profession.
At the next Life v. CCE hearing before the Appellate Court, I urge the CCE’s attorney to put Holewinski on the witness stand to reiterate in front of the court the same testimony he gave to the GBCE. Without question, after hearing his anachronistic chirovangelist beliefs, any rational judge would have to conclude everything CCE criticized about Life’s faulty curriculum during the Williams’ regime of academic imposters was too true. Hopefully he would again appear dressed as a biker using unlearned language of a boorish man along with his intolerant and defiant attitude toward authority figures. Just let Holewinski speak and he’ll make CCE’s case for them—ironically, he’ll be their star witness!
After reading the transcript of his ranting, some may wonder how anyone like Holewinski had the gall to insult the board while suffering from an obvious case of severe, non-traumatic, post-Life simplemindedness? I’m surprised the board didn’t call for an investigation into this man immediately after hearing his insults—a simple blood test and psychiatric evaluation would have been appropriate. Fortunately, the press was not there to record his remarks or to snap a photo of his biker appearance, which certainly would have proven to everyone that chiropractors are suspect characters, as many here in Georgia may think already after reading the saga of Life and Big $id. As one GBCE staffer told me later, “He was scary.”
He proved beyond any doubt the huge indifference of a chirotherapist unconcerned with fulfilling the legal or ethical responsibilities of a primary access provider. I daresay a patient suffering with an obvious cancer tumor hanging off his nose could enter the office of this chirovangelist that would be entirely ignored, only to be told, “I do not treat symptoms nor do I diagnosis medical conditions. I am a straight chiropracTOR who only detects and corrects vertebral subluxations—the cause of all dis-ease, ya know, all right?”
Although in its propaganda, the DECE—the Al-Jazeera of chiropractic news—contends the curriculum at Life is just fine (just ask the so-called experts at the NJBCE) and this whole mess is just an argument over philosophy and politics, their position is baseless if Dr. Holewinski typifies the average Life alumnus. This man proved CCE’s greatest fear—that of an ill trained graduate posing as a primary access provider. Indeed, if Dr. Holewinski typifies the average Life grad, straight chiropractic is in deeper trouble than even I ever imagined.
Obviously the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree, and that includes the tree of Life. Big $id Williams was the model radical fundamentalist for too many of the 12,000+ grads of Life during his 28-year reign of academic terror, and graduates like Holewinski exemplify exactly what was wrong with Life. They heard $id’s chirovangelism crucify anyone who didn’t “pop and pray to Innate,” they listened to him vilify the entire medical profession, they heard him ridicule “mixers” who strove for comprehensive, evidence-based, therapeutic chiropractic care, and they were subjected to his mind control methods as they learned to chant the Money Hum along with $id, hoping to someday grab a bucket of that gold for themselves just as they saw $id and his gang of academic imposters doing so well. Behind his veneer of service, it was always only about money.
Although the board has not acted upon my recommendation to begin an After-Life program to re-teach basic diagnostics and risk management to all Lifers, Dr. Holewinski proved beyond a reasonable doubt the need for such a re-education program. This is the crux of the chiropractic debate that every state board and chiro college must address: it’s one thing to teach chirovangelism or whatever philosophy of chiropractic is preached, but when it places the public’s health at risk, the line must be drawn to protect the patients’ well-being. Obviously this is an issue that some have refused to address for fear of drawing the ire of the vocal radical fundamentalist minority within chiropractic.
But the legal and ethical issues remain: are DCs to be chirotherapists who ignore everything but VSC or are DCs primary access providers capable of differential diagnosis?
“Enuf sed, ya folla?”