February 10, 2000
'I thought I was going to die'
By MICHAEL COREN
Kim Barton was a working mother. A probation officer, she had also just given birth to her second child. All was well. Apart from a headache that wouldn't submit to medication. She went to see a chiropractor.
The usual manipulations took place. Lower back, upper back, neck. But when Kim left the office she felt dizzy, uncomfortable. She drove home, made it to the bottom of the stairs in her house and then collapsed. Her husband carried her upstairs and called the chiropractor.
"If she doesn't improve, bring her back in," he said.
Kim didn't improve so she was taken back in. The chiropractor said the problem was that he'd allowed just a little too much blood to flow to her head, that's all.
The following day things were so bad that instead of driving to the original chiropractor Kim went to see someone closer. She explained what had happened. The new chiropractor manipulated her back, then gave her neck the usual sharp turns, resulting, as it does, in audible cracks.
"It was as if this was happening to someone else," says Kim. "I could no longer speak, I couldn't see, the entire left side of my body had no feeling."
The woman chiropractor then did the unthinkable. She lifted Kim into a sitting position.
"I was totally powerless, and this woman was moving me when I had assumed my neck was broken. I thought I was going to die."
Eventually an ambulance was called. Kim had had a stroke. Her doctors thought she would not make it but she did. Three years later her left leg drags a little, she sometimes drools and she must never turn her neck too quickly or, for example, take her kids on the roller-coaster.
She also suffers mood swings, possibly leading to anger. So the job of probation officer is out of the question.
"What else could I do but sue? I thought that even if just the house was paid for I could stop worrying about having to work to pay the mortgage. I could look after my children," Kim says.
It was not to be. After a long and often humiliating process of mediation Kim and her husband were tired, poor and were willing, in their words, "to make a deal with the devil." They walked away with a fraction of what they had asked for and were told that the name of the chiropractor could not be revealed. She is, by the way, still practising.
Is this typical? No. Chiropractors do some tremendous work, changing lives as they eliminate pain from people who have suffered for years, sometimes decades. My mother thought she would have to tolerate back problems for the rest of her life - until a chiropractor said otherwise. He was right, and my mother will be forever in his debt.
Lower back problems, shoulder pain, stiffness and much else can be healed by the skill of the chiropractor. But know this. The largest chiropractic college in Canada estimates that a stroke can occur every million neck manipulations. Some have estimated that 25 million such procedures are performed in this country each year. Doctors who work with stroke victims estimate the number of chiropractic-caused strokes to be much higher.
People have also died from neck manipulations, and the real number is only now beginning to surface.
Then we have those chiropractors who believe babies should be treated and that the spine deteriorates from birth. I have met several such people. There are those who claim they can cure asthma. I have met several of these as well. Further still, there are chiropractors who believe multiple sclerosis and other such profound problems can be cured by the manipulation of the spine.
In my view, these people are quacks. As are those who make instant judgments for almost everything.
Three chiropractors I myself saw gave radically different diagnoses to my problem, which turned out to have nothing at all to do with my spine. One of them tried to sell me a special cushion, another a set of neck weights. Both were totally unnecessary and potentially harmful.
Conclusion: chiropractic treatment is a small but important part of any medical armoury. But at times it claims far too much and must be strictly monitored.
Michael Coren is a Toronto-based writer and broadcaster
Letters to the editor should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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