Past And Present

Thank you, Mr Shaw

BMJ 1994; 309 doi: (Published 24 December 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;309:1724
  1. Murray T Pheils, emeritus professor of surgery, University of Sydneya
  1. a103 Queens Parade East, Newport Beach, NSW 2106, Australia

    The correspondence between my father, Elmer T Pheils, and George Bernard Shaw has been in my possession since my father's death in 1952. Shaw first consulted my father, an osteopath, in 1924. The occasion is described by Shaw in a letter to the Times1 and in Doctors' Delusions.2 The subject of Shaw's letter to the Times, Dr Axham, had been struck off the medical register for giving an anaesthetic to a patient so that Sir Herbert Barker could manipulate the knee joint. Sir Herbert Barker was a bonesetter and not a registered medical practitioner. Shaw vigorously supported Dr Axham's case against the General Medical Council. In his letter Shaw described the treatment he had received from my father after a back injury while walking in Ireland: “It took me ten days to get to Birmingham, where an American D.O. [doctor of osteopathy], also classed as a blackleg by the G.M.C., set me right after 75 minutes' skilled manipulation.”

    Elmer T Pheils

    My father was born in Toledo, Ohio, in 1879 and trained in osteopathy at Kirksville, Missouri, under George Still, who was the founder of the American osteopathic profession. He subsequently obtained medical registration in the state of Ohio. He came to London in 1907 for a working vacation with Dr Horne, one of the few American osteopaths practising in England at that time. He moved to Birmingham, where there was no one else in practice, and married my mother in 1910. Initially my father received a hostile reception from the medical profession, and I can remember being described as a quack's son by another boy at my preparatory school. In the end his skill and successful practice was acknowledged, and he made many close friends in the medical profession; indeed, he insisted that both his sons went to medical school. …

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