Reflections on the death of a dear colleague
This was written before I voluntarily deregistered as a chiropractor. I no longer practice as a chiropractor. J Hanstead December 2016.
Nick Shipton died unexpectedly following a short illness in March 2016. He lived in Bristol, and practiced in Bristol, Castle Cary and Frome. He used a combination of McTimoney chiropractic, zero balancing, and in recent years, the Emmett technique. Originally a physics and maths teacher, at forty he changed careers, teaching and practicing McTimoney chiropractic. Nick lived life passionately, and put consideration and commitment into his work, family and leisure. He spent several recent autumns supporting the olive harvest in a village in Palestine on the West Bank.
He leaves behind his beloved wife Naomi, his four children and five grandchildren. Nick will also be sorely missed by his colleagues and the thousands of patients whose lives he deeply touched. Many report that he was far more to them than simply a caring and talented therapist. One patient said “I would choose Nick as my desert island luxury.”
Nick had been a McTimoney chiropractor for over 25 years. We both used to teach at the college, and for over ten years worked in the same clinic in Frome. Yet for years I hardly ever saw him. Somewhat like Superman and Clark Kent, we were rarely in the same place at the same time. Although we enjoyed each other’s company we didn’t actively meet socially, and worked in the clinic on different days. We shared a room, a head stool, a bench, and patients, who seemed happy to come to the other if one of us was away, which was often in Nick’s case. He travelled widely.
I can’t say that I thought of all this very much, until it wasn’t there. Nick’s passing in many ways does not affect my day to day existence, but I learn that the death of a colleague is a profound experience. In that first week, there was a feeling that the other wing of the bird had been cut off. A sense that a comforting other was not contributing to the feeling in the room, the vessel for rebalancing in which we both worked. An invisible part of my courage had gone.
McTimoney chiropractors are very much a family, and the loss of a dear and respected colleague is deeply felt. I have waxed lyrical over the years about the connection between us all, the McTimoney stream that feeds us, and the field we contribute to. I ponder about Nick’s skills and wisdom. Have they gone, where do they reside? I feel the therapeutic field is enhanced by all of our skills, and that we tap into this resource when we work. Soon after he died, I spontaneously started working from a place of less effort. Perhaps this was a jolt of awareness by the suddenness of Nick’s death, or was it support from, or a subtle realignment in the field?
Practically, we quickly arranged a meeting of local McTimoney chiropractors. This was to share our sadness, our memories of Nick, and to come up with a plan should a similar circumstance happen again. We discussed how to action the General Chiropractic Council’s (very sensible) guidelines on leaving instructions in the event of our death. We realised that there are circumstance other than death which would benefit from intervention, such as injury, or sudden short or long term mental or physical illness, the aim being to make things as smooth as possible for patients and colleagues. We decided that since it is not possible to pre-empt any specific situation, we would authorise this small group of colleagues to advise or act if ever needed. This could include advising family/executors on current GCC regulations, an announcement or article in a local paper, taking responsibility for record cards.
Some actions we considered professional and kind, even if not legally required, like making sure active long term patients, and other colleagues are told by phone, rather than hearing the news third hand. Many of Nick’s patients were deeply affected on hearing of his passing. Nick had a breadth of life experience, and shared his wisdom and warmth in a way that inspired many to explore with him their dreams, and have the courage to follow them. Our long term receptionist Pam knew which of Nick’s patient would want to be told promptly. She also made sure that when someone rang the clinic to book with Nick, the issue was addressed sensitively. All these are things that family may not even know are needed, and anyway would have no emotional space to carry out. When treating Nick’s patients I create the opportunity for them to talk of him should they wish. Some value keeping his memory alive in this way.
We also agreed at our meeting that selling a patient list in these circumstance felt inappropriate. Partly ethically, partly because it would require writing to large numbers of mostly inactive patients, and because it rarely benefits the incumbent. Several McTimoney chiropractors now make a donation to the local village school in Palestine for every patient of Nick’s that they treat. This is a lovely way of honouring his memory. A notice in a local paper on the whereabouts of records is required, but there is no legal requirement to write to every patient.
So whereas Nick’s death for me is absolutely not like say the loss of a very close friend – no shattering grief or overwhelming practical change, it is nevertheless life changing. It has made me more actively aware of the invisible support we all give to each other. It may be just ourselves and our patients in our clinic rooms, but we are never really working alone.
Jo Hanstead, July 2016