In 1864 an epidemic of meningitis struck the Missouri frontier. Thousands died, including his three children. It was his helplessness during this tragedy that drove him on in his studies. 'Not until my heart had been torn and lacerated with grief and affliction,' he wrote, 'could I fully realize the inefficacy of drugs. Some may say that I should suffer in order that good might come, but I feel that my grief came through gross ignorance on the part of the medical profession.'
This experience crystallized his dissatisfaction with the current empirical methods of medical treatment of disease. He sought a philosophy upon which to base his practice which would not vary with every new wind of doctrine or experiment, but which would have a scientific basis. This he sought at a time when modern science and methods of research were unknown, and he devoted himself to the study and analysis of all the existing knowledge available to him. On 29 August 1874 he was registered as a practicing physician in Macon county, Missouri.
Shortly after this he announced the results of his years of study. He stated three fundamental principles upon which he would base his practice of medicine. These were:
Besides these principles he also originated a system of manipulation. Basing his philosophy of practice upon these principles he proceeded to correlate manipulative therapy with other methods, then used by doctors, such as drugs and surgery. In many instances he found that the use of manipulative methods made drugs and operations unnecessary. The concepts and theories were proved in his clinical experience. He developed the art of manipulative therapy, based on his knowledge of human anatomy, physiology and chemistry and, above all, on his new found discovery of the vital inter-relationship between the structure of the body and its function.
- The body produces its own healing substances
- Health is dependent upon structural integrity
- Perverted structure is a fundamental cause of disease.
An Early Case
One early case illustrates his approach at this time, and also shows the fairly primitive knowledge of the way the body functions that was prevalent at that time. Despite this obstacle Andrew Taylor Still was able to evolve and construct a theory and a practical system of therapeutics which worked then, as it does now, because it recognized and was based upon natural laws. In his autobiography he describes the case of a child with dysentery:
I placed my hand on the back of the little fellow in the region of the lumbar and found it very warm, even hot, while the abdomen was cold. My only thought was to help . . . and little dreamed I was to make a discovery that would bless future generations. I thought it strange that the back was so hot and the belly so cold; then the neck and the back of his head were very warm and the face, forehead and nose cold. I began to reason, for I then knew very little about flux (dysentery), more than the fact that it killed old and young and was worse in warm weather. I did not know how to reason on diseases because all the authorities I had met could not get their eyes off the effects to turn them to the cause. I knew that a person had a spinal cord but little of its use. I began to work at the base of the brain and thought that by pressing and rubbing I could push some of the heat to the cold places. While doing so, I found rigid and loose places in the child's whole spine, while the lumbar region was in a very congested condition. I worked for a few minutes on that philosophy and then told the mother to report to me the next day. She came early next morning to report that the child was well. I had seventeen severe cases of flux in a few days and cured them all without drugs.
As we shall see in later chapters, spinal manipulation is used with great benefit in many infectious diseases.