“So, why did you become an osteopath?”
This is the most common question I get asked by my patients; and it’s also the question I love answering the most. Every day when I leave clinic, I smile when I think about how much difference the gift of osteopathy has made to my patients’ lives.
My journey began when I hit my 30th birthday and started to have problems with my back – I was struggling to sleep, I was in constant pain and, after googling my symptoms, I was convinced I had about three weeks to live. Motivated by the desire to avoid death, I went to see my GP.
“A saviour,” I thought. “Someone who will assess me, tell me it’s nothing to worry about, and have me back to my normal self in no time.”
I however had the misfortune to visit a GP who, when presented with back pain and its associated effects (low mood and lack of sleep) diagnosed…depression. Not a question about the condition of my back and how it might be affecting my general demeanour, just an unhealthy desire to prescribe antidepressants. I wasn’t depressed at the start of the appointment… Luckily I was able to get another appointment with a different GP, who was fantastic.
(NB: This is not a criticism of General Practice in general – GPs have a vital and often thankless job to do, with limited time and resources; but this experience was comical at best. It’s worrisome because most people place absolute trust in their GPs and would have walked away with a depression diagnosis, some pills to pop and just maybe a feeling that that’s not quite the right answer...?)
GP #2 was everything I could hope for. He listened; he cared; he tapped away on his keyboard and next thing I knew I had a tramadol prescription, a referral to a specialist, and my faith in General Practice restored. I left elated – my apocalyptic vision of a future filled with Jeremy Kyle re-runs was fading away like a bad dream in the morning. All I had to do was wait for the appointment with the specialist…
One month of tramadol and pixie visions later, and I felt like I was sinking through my sofa. Enough of the painkillers.
Two months later, I needed something else, so I tried acupuncture. Bad reaction. Enough of the acupuncture.
Three months later – the appointment comes through! Only two weeks to wait; soon I will be fixed. Soon, I can put this year from hell behind me. My faith was still strong…
One week after my X-ray, I was sat in front of the consultant who was looking at the results. “Oh yes,” he said. “As you can see you have degeneration of the lower two discs in your back. They have become smaller and they might be irritating the nerves.”
“OK,” I said. “So how do we fix it?”
The consultant stared at me with all the warmth of a hungry shark. “There is no ‘fixing it’ - there's nothing we can do. You'll just have to find a way to manage the pain.”
And like that, my faith was gone. I was abandoned in the medical wilderness to fend for myself against the raging, all-pervading monster that is chronic back pain, convinced that my life as I knew it was over. I went through work in a daze, barely making it through some days, with only the mild relief of a hot bath and collapsing on the sofa to look forward to. Day in, day out, week after week after week; I was turning into Victor Meldrew at the ripe old age of 30. Then one day a colleague said something to me that would change my life.
“Have you been to see an osteopath? Mine sorted me right out.”
To be fair, had she said “have you tried taking a peanut butter bath whilst singing the Eritrean national anthem?” I would have legged it to ASDA and cleared the shelves of both smooth and crunchy, I was that desperate. Did it matter that I had never heard of osteopathy? Not really. Five minutes and one Google search later, I had a next-day appointment booked. I was like a child on Christmas Eve, full of excitement and anticipation. My back had been a raging inferno of unholy anger that day – this appointment could not come quickly enough.
My osteopath was brilliant. She listened, she cared, she focused on me and what was going on and not once put any of my symptoms down to depression. She assessed me, got me moving around to see how I was functioning, and shared all her findings and hypotheses with me. And then, she got to work.
Call it magic, or witchcraft or voodoo or hocus-pocus or whatever you like but, as she laid her hands on me and began to work, I could feel the pain start to ebb almost instantly. Was this some trick? Was I hallucinating? After only five minutes I was feeling so much better, but she carried on. By the time she was finished I could stand up from the couch without doing my best impression of someone fifty years my senior. Within four weeks my pain was no more than a niggle. Within twelve months I’d completed the Birmingham half-marathon.
So how does this answer the question of why I became an osteopath? I’d always worked in care industries and after 15 years supporting children with ASD and SEN, as well as training and developing staff, it felt like a good time for a new direction. So after this experience, how could it not be into osteopathy? After five years of training at Staffordshire University with the College of Osteopathy my goal was achieved – and what a journey it’s been. I’ve met amazing people and made wonderful friends, and I’ve had experiences beyond what I could have ever imagined – a particular highlight being volunteering in Bali on an osteopathic humanitarian project.
But most satisfying of all is the ability to bring relief and happiness to those suffering with chronic pain; the sense of wonder that osteopathy works, and is accessible to anyone. Being able to leave work every day with a smile on my face is priceless, and knowing I’ve done it by putting smiles on others’ faces makes it feel even better.