There are a lot of people in the rehabilitation professions who go about their work quietly, always thinking, always pushing the envelope with individual patient relief with satisfaction their goal – not for them the PhD, the international lecture tours, the politics, the managerial positions, going off on the latest treatment fad, or even toeing the line in some clinical algorithm. They reek of clinical honesty. They are the kind of person you would want your mum or daughter to go to.
My mate Anton Harms is one of these people. Never was there a more inappropriate surname!
I completed a year-long manipulative therapy course with Anton in 1985. There were 9 of us on the course. Anton and I came bottom of the class. I like to think now that perhaps we were ahead of the field already! Anton certainly was – he was the first person to do his assignments on a computer. How we mocked him! The rest of us lumbered away with our handwritten assignments. Anton was never too sure about joint manipulation. We laboured for hours to get clicks out of joints, Anton preferred the gentle touch and a good chat.
When the first international pain conference came to Adelaide, and probably Australia, Anton was the only one of us in the course to go. We couldn’t understand it – why go to a pain conference when there are necks to crack, the golden click to elicit, fascia to unload, nerves to tweak and muscles to rev up? Anyway, Anton came back after listening to a young Clifford Woolf lecture and said “Guys – it’s all in the brain”.
I have “borrowed” lots from Anton over the years – he introduced me to the word ”allodynia”, and he showed me how theratube could be used to educate people about how nerves glide and slide and how the nervous system is a mechanically continuous structure, his shoulder brace is absolutely brilliant for severe neuropathic pain. I will even plug it here –www.nerveprotectionbrace.com . He was one of the first to really “get” Graded Motor Imagery. The manual technique for notalgia paraesthetica (entrapment of thoracic cutaneous nerves) which I will present in forthcoming blog pieces came from Anton. He has given me an awareness of effective compassion. On reflection, Anton was probably a phenomenologist before anyone knew what it was. Anton rings me often- sometimes once a month, full of ideas, some weird but some brilliant. Many of you may remember him as the guy who did a strip at the NOI 2010 conference in Nottingham as he demonstrated his shoulder brace. Quite hunky for a 60 year old!
In my previous blog I talked about finding your moral compass as a therapist. Anton has always known exactly where his moral compass pointed, he has always been on the side of his patient. He has not followed the crowd and seems comfortable in his own skin. We should celebrate the Antons of this world- you won’t find them on the Australia’s 200 richest list (just out – no physios amazingly!) – but perhaps that’s where they belong, as they carry with them a very different store of riches.