One of the most fascinating people I had the pleasure to spend time with at the recent Osteopathy New Zealand Conference was Jason Haxton. In his work at the Kirksville Museum, he has studied the life of Dr A T Still and frankly I’d wager that what he doesn’t know about the Founder of Osteopathy isn’t worth knowing!

Dr Still discovers an important truth

Jason told us that back in the day, it was often the case that when a woman was giving birth, the husband would stay with her and send the eldest child to fetch the Doctor.

One evening, Dr Still saw a youngster racing towards him on his horse calling out for all his worth that the Doctor needed to come quickly. Grabbing his obstetric bag, Dr Still headed off in the direction of the speeding horse. He walked for what seemed an inordinate amount of time before finally reaching a remote farm.

Within the home, there lay a woman on the kitchen table. She was, however, clearly not about to give birth and the Doctor was perplexed. He examined her lifeless, barely breathing and clammy body. He checked her over and noticed the common symptoms of pneumonia. His hands felt guided to check around her ribs. He thought nothing more of it, diagnosed pneumonia and went to bed in their house, as by now it was very late.

However, in the morning the Doctor couldn’t find the patient! He went outside and was astounded to see her working extremely hard at the usual chores but with absolutely no remaining symptoms. In that moment he realised that, the night before, he didn’t have all the facts.

He asked her husband what she was doing yesterday before becoming ill.  The husband explained that they were slaughtering a pig. The animal had been strung up high but a knot had slipped and the huge pig had swung towards her and smacked her in the side. In that moment he knew that the strain in her ribs which he had subtly corrected had enabled the body to return to health.

And of course what Dr Still learned that day was that first you must examine the structure because it is interrelated with function. With that new understanding came the birth of Osteopathy.

Dr Still is now in high demand

Soon so many people were thronging to see Dr Still that he became exhausted. They would come into his house at all hours, look everywhere for him and even search the village. It is said that many times he was discovered by the child in the neighbouring house hidden and sleeping under his bed sheets to try and get some respite, lest he suffer the common problem of burnout!

Clearly, Dr Still was amazing and way ahead of his time. He loathed slavery and war and was very proud of his American Indian roots. We learned that he was an exceptionally grounded man who was unbiased, determined and always humble.

Whilst he was a great healer, he finally realised that he needed to train more people in his techniques. In 1892, Dr Still opened the American School of Osteopathy in Kirksville, His students comprised 5 women (quite unimaginable at that time)  and 16 men and included 3 of his own children.

Given that he didn’t like to spend money on himself, Dr Still even let his Osteopathic Students to cut his hair! Jason confided that there were probably more clumps of the great man’s hair still in existence than any other artefact!

Great stories to share with patients and the wider world!

It seems that ultimately Dr Still became so enthralled with his craft that he didn’t care for his own material wealth. He was extremely generous to those around him who had little money. He would give away his cash and anything else he felt they needed.

What touched me about his philanthropic nature was that he would consider whether they needed something more than he did. Generally, he would conclude that they did and so gifted the item to them. In the end his family became extremely concerned that they would end up penniless if his perpetual generosity continued unabated.

The family had to make a decision. So they put him on a small allowance and that resolved the problem! However, in his later years, apparently he even gave away his boots when a young man walked miles, barefoot, to come to see him for treatment.

Jason could even apply this Osteopathic philosophy to a regrettable incident

I was mightily impressed at the delicate way that Jason handled a regrettable incident during the Auckland conference. Whilst on stage giving the last lecture of the event, he gently informed us that one of Dr Still’s artefacts displayed on the Kirkland Museum’s stand was unaccounted for.

Jason then shared that this was indeed an unusual occurrence in Osteopathic circles and that the removal of the object was probably a mistake. He thoughtfully nodded as he hinted that he fully expected the item to reappear on the display before the day was out. Quietly reflecting, Jason then murmured that perhaps the person who had removed the object needed it more than Dr Still’s Kirksville museum did and in that case the loss could no doubt be accepted…