Barrett L. Dorko P.T.
I played the snare drum from the age of nine until I graduated from high school. Late in my career I was told of lessons given by the tympanist for the Cleveland Orchestra. I heard that during the first hour’s lesson the student got to hit the kettle drum exactly once.
Having hit drums countless times for a few years, my adolescent mind thought, “What a rip off!” Still, I never forgot this description of a lesson I never took and today I think I understand why.
William Garner Sutherland DO, the originator of cranial osteopathy, would admonish his colleagues to “land like a bird” when they palpated the surface of their patients. I imagine that any bird knows before it lands what kind of movement is available on the surface it is approaching, and landing on a roof requires a different approach than a wind-blown branch. Obviously, they plan their descent. Maybe we should as well.
I have seen it suggested that grasping anything might be likened to an act of faith. Imagine coming to the top of a darkened stairwell. Unable to see it, you reach out with your foot and feeling nothing solid, your first sensation is that of betrayal. You had placed your faith in something not actually there, and panic won’t be hard to feel soon after.
How we feel when we handle something and how that something responds to our handling has a great deal to do with what we think is in our hands. Like it or not, our patients may clearly sense our lack of knowledge, our trepidation the absence of our faith in them, and, being animated and human, they respond in kind.
To some extent I can direct their response. If I honestly believe that my patients are static; just inert tissue waiting to be examined and directed I think that they would work to act that way. This being the case I’d never get the sense of subtle (and often not so subtle) movement toward correction that is inherent to life. In short, I have to know about and respect this tendency or I’ll never see it and interpret it correctly.
These days I try to land on my patients as if I were a bird, and they the ocean. I’m not kidding. They are driven to a wide range of expressive movement by an internal “weather” they both create and endure. I navigate as I can, but once I touch, the manual therapy is pretty much over and the active movement therapy becomes increasingly dominant.
As I said, I never took that lesson from the tympanist, but today I’m pretty sure what it was he was teaching.
I wish I had.