In 1987, my sister Faith moved from New England to Kirksville, Missouri—home to the A.T. Still University, the nation’s first school of osteopathic medicine named after Andrew Taylor Still (1828-1917) who was the founder of osteopathic medicine. Soon after settling in, Faith met Janie Koss, whose husband Rick was an osteopath, and they became friends. My sister soon found that she was surrounded by osteopaths in her new hometown—her gynecologist was an osteopath, her children’s pediatrician was an osteopath, and most of the primary care doctors in private practice or on staff at the local hospital were as well. Osteopaths were, in fact, the most common medical practitioners throughout the Midwest.
By the time my second child was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (CF) in 1993, my sister had already been living in Kirksville for a number of years. She shared her worries about his prognosis with her friends, Janie and Rick. Once Rick learned about my son’s condition, he told my sister that osteopathic treatment could help people with all sorts of ailments, and he convinced her that it would be a valuable addition to my son’s overall treatment for CF.
I myself had been treated by an osteopath in the early 1970s when I was an undergraduate student at music school in Boston. Practicing the piano hour after hour wreaked havoc with my neck, shoulders, and arms. When I complained to my mother about sporadic pain, she took me to see her osteopath in Concord, Massachusetts. The osteopath realigned my spine and neck by placing me in odd positions and gently forcing my bones to shift. The treatments were painless but quite strange—at my first appointment, I could actually feel and hear my spinal column “click” back into place. The treatments helped to reduce the pain I’d been experiencing, though I didn’t end up any wiser about how osteopathy worked or what an osteopathic treatment might accomplish beyond pain relief.
This earlier experience enabled me to be open decades later when my sister’s friend Rick suggested that I consider osteopathic help for my child. We were living in Maryland at the time, and Rick referred us to Dr. Harold Goodman in nearby Silver Spring, Maryland—an osteopath he knew personally and spoke of highly. Given my sister’s faith in Rick, I decided to follow his recommendation. After all, Rick was the protégé of Dr. Robert Fulford, one of the most revered osteopaths in the country. Rick often traveled and lectured with the elder Dr. Fulford across the country. He had told my sister story after story about how Dr. Fulford’s gentle hands-on osteopathic healing had changed so many people’s lives.
My son Russell began osteopathic treatments with Dr. Goodman in September, a month after his first birthday. Dr. Goodman was a short, round man with a delightful expression of merriment about the eyes. Even when we talked about serious matters, he looked as if he were barely containing the urge to chuckle. We were still at the beginning of our sojourn into alternative healing, and I had no idea what to make of him or his treatment approach. Luckily, there was no placing my baby in odd positions and “cracking” his spine as the osteopath had done to me many years before. Instead, for most of the first appointment, Russell lay face up on the treatment table while Dr. Goodman sat on a low stool gently cradling Russell’s head in his hands. Dr. Goodman sat very still in the same position with his eyes closed for close to 30 minutes. I didn’t have the slightest idea what he was doing, except that he seemed to be concentrating. Still a baby at the time, Russell was not at all pleased to be constricted, and he intermittently began to cry despite my feeble efforts to distract him.
When we returned for Russell’s second treatment, I came armed with an assortment of books and toys from home to keep him happy while the doctor treated him. I was worried that Dr. Goodman would be distracted or even annoyed by my redoubled efforts to entertain Russell, but the doctor assured me that it didn’t bother him at all. In fact, he often giggled (with his eyes still closed) when Russell laughed but otherwise he seemed completely undisturbed. We continued bi-weekly and then monthly osteopathic treatments for about six months, at which point I could no longer afford them. In truth, I stopped as much because I was baffled at what I now believe was exceptional healing, as because of the cost. In retrospect, I am quite sure that Russell benefited considerably from Dr. Goodman’s work, especially given how early in my son’s life these treatments occurred.
A few years later, at a friend’s Christmas party, my sister took Rick aside and asked him if Dr. Fulford treated patients anymore. Rick acknowledged that he did, but since he was now in his 90’s, Dr. Fulford only treated children because their treatments required less physical effort on his part. When she asked if I might be able to take Russell to see the renowned healer, Rick immediately wrote down Dr. Fulford’s home phone number in Ohio (where he had settled post-retirement) with instructions for me to call.
One of the first books about alternative healing that I read was Spontaneous Healing by Andrew Weil (published in 1995). Dr. Weil, a Harvard Medical School graduate, is now a renowned expert in integrative medicine—the combined or integrated use of both alternative and conventional medicine. But this early book was written way before he became world famous and his concept of integrative medicine became popularized, and the topics that he wrote about were still considered quite controversial and even strange. Dr. Weil described his global meanderings through jungles and deserts in search of “the perfect shaman” (or healer). He noted his surprise, after many years of futile searching, at finding just such a healer in his “own backyard” in Arizona, in the form of an osteopath named Robert Fulford. Dr. Fulford was revered by his osteopathic colleagues and other alternative healing practitioners as a rare and exceptionally gifted hands-on healer. He had treated thousands of people (including children) over his many decades of osteopathic practice, often treating them only once, yet somehow catalyzing remarkable improvements in their health. In his book, Dr. Weil described Dr. Fulford’s approach as “nonviolent medicine that did not suppress disease but rather encouraged the body’s own healing potential to express itself.” There were stories of people who had suffered debilitating illness for years whose problems simply went away after being treated by Dr. Fulford—stories that were as hard to believe as they were mouth-watering.
I had already read Dr. Weil’s book, and so I had an idea of just how revered Dr. Fulford was. But my sister had had the benefit of listening firsthand to Rick’s observations of Dr. Fulford’s mythic abilities—she convinced me that this was a chance of a lifetime. I figured “Why not?” based on her trust in Rick, and I placed a call to Dr. Fulford the following day. He answered the phone himself and listened quietly to my request for an appointment.
“I will be happy to see your son. But I won’t be seeing any patients again until after the 5th of January, when the earth’s energy is on the rise again,” he said. “You can give me a call back then.”
We hung up. I was both mystified and terribly let down. I called Rick for reassurance. He explained that, because the earth’s energy level is so low around the time of the winter solstice, Dr. Fulford wanted to wait until the energy level came back up before seeing patients. I didn’t really understand what this meant but decided it was a good sign for a doctor to be in touch with nature’s cycles.
A few weeks later, I called Dr. Fulford back as instructed and in late January, I took Russell out to Ohio to see him. Russell was four years old. In preparation of our trip, I bought a copy of Dr. Fulford’s recently published book, Dr. Fulford’s Touch of Life, and devoured it. I was amazed at how similar our world views were—not just about medicine and healing, but about politics and education too. I felt primed for our visit.
UP NEXT: Osteopathy (Part 2) – An Encounter with the “Perfect Shaman”
This essay is an excerpt from Dr. Beane’s memoir, Embracing the Dragon: A Parent’s Journey to Reclaim Hope, which chronicles her combined use of conventional and so-called “alternative” medicine to treat her son’s cystic fibrosis. See her previous essays ACUPUNCTURE (Parts 1 and 2) and HOMEOPATHY (Part 1 and 2) on her website: www.LindsayBeane.com.