“Non, je ne regrette rien…”

A chiropractor looks back

By Alain Michelotti

Having recently retired I’ve been reflecting on my career, starting with the early days when I was living in my native France and when I would have never believed I’d end up a chiropractor in the UK. I consider myself to have been very lucky in the people I have met along the way.

I started as a physiotherapist. In France 50 years ago physiotherapists had to follow, to the letter, the treatment plan established by a medical doctor allowing for few possibilities to take initiative. Gradually, my frustration at the limits imposed on me started to grow.

Then one day I was introduced to a chiropractor. I clearly remember my meeting with that inspiring man, who galvanised me and motivated me to investigate chiropractic. Soon I realised that the training was rigorous and long enough to equip me to become exactly what I wanted: an independent practitioner able to make a differential diagnosis and establish and implement a treatment plan.

Initially, there were a number of obstacles to overcome: the length and location of the training; the language of instruction – English and, on completion of my studies, if I wanted to practise in France I would have been breaking the law as chiropractic was considered an illegal practice of medicine there. I was still young then and I must admit that the prospect of becoming a pioneer in my native country fired me up rather than frightened me.

Aided and abetted by my future wife (who is English) I moved to Bournemouth for my training. After graduation we decided to settle in Cahors, a small town in the South West of France. I had been warned that, in addition to the open hostility of the medical profession, I should not expect a very warm welcome from the chiropractors already established in the area as they would regard me as a competitor. This proved completely false. My two closest colleagues (in Agen and Toulouse) did everything they could to help me get established, passing on files of patients living in the vicinity of Cahors.

A year later saw me in the public gallery of a court room providing moral support to a friend and colleague who had a complaint lodged against him for illegal practice of medicine by a disgruntled rheumatologist. This was a pretty daunting experience, especially for my friend, who fortunately had already established his reputation and had a lot of support in the courtroom. He was given a suspended sentence and, in true French style, started to practise again the following day.

A few months later, I was myself the subject of a brief enquiry from an official from the Health Authorities who, at the end of a pleasant but frank conversation, told me that he wouldn’t pursue the matter. I had decided right from the beginning that I would always stand up for my profession and on this and a few subsequent similar occasions I was fortunate to avoid prosecution.

After a few years, I decided to leave France and settle in the UK where chiropractic enjoyed a more positive status. Here, again, I was very lucky. I had stayed in touch with a few of my college peers and one offered me the opportunity to work with him in Cardiff. He also did everything to make me feel very welcome and helped me to adjust to the British chiropractic culture.

We would have stayed longer in Cardiff had I not realised that travelling to Marseille to visit my ageing parents wasn’t going to be easy. I needed the proximity of Heathrow or Gatwick. Through another college friend, I was lucky enough to become an associate at the Guildford Chiropractic Centre. I worked for 15 years with Russell Bennett, whose professional support and friendship was invaluable.

In fact all my British colleagues made me feel at ease right from the beginning for which I am very grateful. For most people, living in a foreign country poses a challenge so a smile, a handshake or a simple acknowledgement makes a big difference. Attending the BCA and the RCC meetings has always been a pleasure.

Returning to my career, when Russell retired, I took over the leadership of the Guildford practice for 12 years. Here again, I was extremely lucky with my associates who were all highly professional, reliable and honest. Among them was my colleague, Philip Hehir, who has now taken over from me. I am delighted to leave the Practice in safe hands.

Last, but not least, I am grateful to all the patients I have been privileged to treat over the years. Without their trust and loyalty we wouldn’t have gone far. They are our “raison d’être”. The remarkable tributes I have received on retirement have made me realise how valued the chiropractic profession is in the community. We are fortunate indeed to belong to this profession!