At Life Chiropractic College in Marietta, Georgia, solicitation of patients was aggressive. Students at Life spent more time in the teaching clinic than students at Western States Chiropractic College in Portland, Oregon, the school where I matriculated in 1976 and graduated from in 1980. At Life students started treating other students in the fourth or fifth quarter. By seventh or eighth quarter students were seeing real patients in the on-campus outpatient clinic. In 1979 there were around 2000 students at the college, so the competition for patients was fierce.
About half-way through my training at Western States, I transferred to Life Chiropractic College (now Life University). A lot of students at the Portland school believed they were getting a medical rather than a chiropractic education. After struggling through all the -ologies in the lower quarters like physiology, pathology, microbiology, and histology—much of which seemed and would later prove to be useless, except for passing the all-important National Board Exams—we students looked forward to learning practical applications of chiropractic in the upper quarters. I recall being very disappointed by the seventh quarter class in orthopedics. The instructor, Neil Cohen, DC, was a graduate of National Chiropractic College in Lombard, Illinois, a school we believed to be even more medically oriented than Western States. Dr. Cohen was only fulfilling the course requirement by teaching us about the numerous musculoskeletal diseases. We were taught how to recognize maladies like Paget’s disease and the various kinds of bone cancers, which Dr. Cohen told us were not treatable by chiropractic means but should be referred to medical doctors. Some students, myself included, saw this as capitulation to organized medicine, and we voiced our displeasure to the instructor. (Later, when I had grown up a bit more and knew better, I apologized to Dr. Cohen who practiced in a small town outside of Portland. He was very gracious.)
Our discontent was fueled by several sources. The college was struggling to attain accreditation by the Council on Chiropractic Education (CCE). In 1977 it had been granted status as a Recognized Candidate for Accreditation, which carried a time limit or expiration date. (1) Immediately after the notification from CCE, the Washington Board of Chiropractic Examiners informed the college that its graduates would not be allowed to take the licensing exam in that state. At the time, Washington was a straight state (2) with a scope of practice limited to adjustment of the spine to correct vertebral subluxations, and the decision may have been an attempt to get Western States to teach straight chiropractic philosophy. (3) The following year the CCE identified two areas in which the college was not compliant in addition to several areas of concern. And time was running out. Lester Lamm, in his book Oregon Pioneer: The Journey of Chiropractic Education in the Northwest, put it this way:
The concerns identified by the CCE did not surprise the campus community. Students had been complaining for some time about overcrowding, tuition increases and the clinic experience. They saved their harshest criticism for the faculty, whom they considered underqualified, disinterested and/or chronically absent. Even more problematic for the administration was a resurgence of the chiropractic philosophy issue. A troublesome group of students was fomenting dissent across campus. The students were insisting that a “straight” philosophy be equally represented on campus and proprietary technique courses be taught in the curriculum. (4)
I was one of those dissent-fomenting students. I had attended at least two lectures by Reggie Gold, a straight chiropractor, and I listened many times to an audio tape in which he claimed the superior ability of chiropractic adjustments to cure various diseases including cancer. I believed him, or at least I wanted an opportunity to see for myself if chiropractic was capable of performing such miracles. Several students had transferred to Sherman College of Straight Chiropractic in South Carolina, but I was more attracted to Life Chiropractic College in Marietta, Georgia (pronounced May-retta by the locals). Paradoxically, Life appealed to me because of the medical methods such as blood tests they claimed to use to document illness and chart the patient’s improvement following adjustments. So in March 1979 I loaded up my yellow 1969 Datsun 510, “the poor man’s BMW,” and my pregnant wife and I drove 3000 miles so I could pursue a straight chiropractic education.
Life Chiropractic College was a monument to the ego of Sid Williams, its founder and president. Dr. Williams must have seen himself as another B.J. Palmer, an ardent advocate for chiropractic philosophy. He graduated from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1956, so he no doubt was well-acquainted with B.J. Dr. Sid, as he was called, opened a chiropractic practice in Austell, Georgia with his wife, Dr. Nell Williams. (5) They went on to run 20 chiropractic clinics in the Atlanta area. (6) By the time of my sojourn to Marietta, the school was well on its way to becoming the largest chiropractic educational institution in the world with 3500 students. In 1979 it was housed in two large warehouses leased from the Lockheed Corporation, which were divided into classrooms and lecture halls.
Students at Life were taught to aim high. Chiropractic was not just a career, it was a calling, a higher purpose. The goal of seeing 300 patients per day was held up as the ultimate measure of success. Some of the instructors at Life claimed they saw this volume of patients in their practices every day. Doing the math, I figured that in such a practice each patient would have to be seen for no more than two minutes, assuming 10 hours of doctor-patient contact time in a day. And really, how much time does it take to adjust a spine? But proper chiropractic care entails more than just correcting subluxations. Even if these docs relied on staff to perform ancillary patient care functions, how could these extremely brief visits allow for updating a patient history beforehand or giving home-care instructions afterward. And when did they have time for new patient physical examinations? (I found answers to these questions in later years when I performed independent medical evaluations and record reviews.)
A hallmark of Dr. Sid’s leadership at Life was his weekly lectures to the student body. The lecture hall used for the auditorium could seat no more than half the student body at one time, so students attended Williams’ lecture on a rotation schedule every other week. Sid could deliver a speech the passion and volume of which rivaled the most spirited evangelist—and earned him the title of Chiro Evangelist. His lectures were invariably about the miracles chiropractic was capable of, and the prop he used most often was the jumble of keys he carried on a ring in his suit pants pocket. Just as surely as the keys will fall to the floor when released from my hand, he would rant, so is Innate (7) released with every adjustment. “Chiropractic, like gravity, works whether you believe it or not,” and the keys would crash to the floor.
Williams frequently criticized chiropractors who used therapies such as ultrasound and electric muscle stimulation in addition to adjusting subluxations. Instruction in physical therapy—chiropractors called it physiotherapy, probably to distinguish these modalities, and themselves, from the same ones performed by physical therapists—was banned at Life even though many states required classes in the subject for licensure. For those students, the school had arranged for classes at a nearby college—for an additional fee, of course.
One of Sid’s favorite topics was appendicitis. He was highly critical of chiropractors who weren’t brave enough to stand up for their principles by adjusting an appendicitis patient every half hour and then checking the white blood cell count until it came down to normal. Note that he didn’t exhort the audience to see if WBCs returned to normal. Rather, the frequent adjustments were to continue until the count was normal. I don’t recall him ever saying how long that took. On one occasion Sid had invited an older chiropractor to speak to the assembly. This doctor, who was in his geriatric years, told us of his chiropractic practice in the 1930s. He would be flown into remote areas of Louisiana where he would adjust patients with a variety of illnesses, all of whom presumably recovered. “But,” he said innocently, “I never saw a case of appendicitis get better with chiropractic.” Sid let that one go.
Each assembly ended with Sid leading a recitation of the Money Hum. It was really more like a cheer. A thousand students, even those who up to that point had been dozing or studying for an exam, would raise their voices in unison:
I FEEL HAPPY!
I FEEL HEALTHY!
I FEEL TERRIFIC!
Next a buzz, rising to a crescendo:
Two experiences at Life soured my enthusiasm for the school and for straight chiropractic. While I attended college in Marietta I worked part-time as a massage therapist at the Jewish Community Center in Atlanta. Desperate to see patients at the college clinic, I finally convinced one of my regular customers, an older man with chronic asthma, to schedule an appointment. I told him that chiropractic adjustments could help his asthma. On the first visit his spine was x-rayed, as was done routinely of all patients at the clinic. I treated him on several occasions, but his asthma did not improve. I was never able to elicit an audible release—a pop—from his spine. A look at his x-rays explained the difficulty. They showed advanced arthritis throughout his back. The bone spurs growing from each vertebra had joined together and virtually fused his spine. There was no way adjustments could produce any motion between his vertebrae. The x-ray images also showed a lot of fecal matter in his large intestine. I concluded he needed a series of colonic irrigations, a treatment not offered at Life.
The other experience was far more troubling. At Life, each student was paired with another, forming a mutual doctor-patient relationship. My student patient was a tall man who warned me not to adjust his atlas (the uppermost vertebra in the neck, just below the base of the skull). Why not? I asked. Because every time someone does that I pass out. When I questioned him further he revealed that before he was a chiropractic student he had worked on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico where an explosion had knocked him unconscious.
At that time, every student at Life was exposed to a full-spine set of x-rays upon matriculation. In addition, a special upper cervical set of x-rays was obtained because Life had its own upper cervical technique. On viewing the x-ray films I saw that one side of his atlas (one of the lateral masses) appeared crushed. Although I had never seen such a finding on the x-rays I had studied at Western States, it looked similar to a vertebral compression fracture, with which I was somewhat familiar. I asked the clinic doctor in charge of x-rays what he thought about the finding. Unlike Western States, the chiropractor who filled this role at Life when I was there was not a board certified radiologist. He was tasked with reading every x-ray study performed at the clinic, but apparently he had missed this abnormal finding. He stared at the x-ray for a while without saying anything. When I asked him if he thought the lateral mass could have been fractured in the oil rig explosion he responded, “I guess.” I wanted to scream and run out of the clinic. I felt a bit like Yossarian in Catch-22 when he sees the nurse exchange the patient’s IV bottle with the urinary catheter bag.
After two quarters at Life I was ready to go back to Portland. I called Western States College and spoke with Robert Tolar who was in charge of admissions. When I explained my situation he spoke kindly and invited me to return. The fall term was about to start. We made the cross-country drive in four days. I had left Western States at the end of seventh quarter and returned six months later, only to begin eighth quarter classes. I remember thinking that eventually this course shift and subsequent correction wouldn’t look like the huge folly it seemed at the time.
1. Lamm L. Oregon Pioneer: The Journey of Chiropractic Education in the Northwest. Portland, Oregon: University of Western States; 2014, p. 73. back
2. Straight chiropractic refers to the analysis of vertebral misalignments or subluxations and the correction thereof to remove interference to the healing power of Innate Intelligence, which is transmitted through the spinal nerves. See my post on Straights and Mixers. back
3. Lamm, Oregon Pioneer, p. 73. back
4. Ibid., p. 74. back
5. “Sid E. Williams.” Accessed July 31, 2020. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sid_E._Williams. back
6. “‘He Was Bigger than Life’ – University Founder Dr. Sid Williams Dies at 84,” December 28, 2012. https://www.mdjonline.com/news/he-was-bigger-than-life—university-founder-dr/article_0482977c-11e7-56be-ab21-0352c4199d69.html. back
7. Innate Intelligence, a healing force inhibited by vertebral subluxations. back