Excerpted from Dr. Moskowitz’s book: “Plain Doctoring”
In the summer of 1970, I moved back to Boulder, my default Alpine paradise, seeking refuge and asylum yet again. That winter I rented an old log cabin in Ward, Colorado, altitude 9200 feet, located 20 miles west of Boulder near the Continental Divide, a ghost town whose gold-mining career ended abruptly one night in the winter of 1900, when sparks from somebody’s coal stove set the town ablaze, torching hundreds of homes, and leaving survivors with nothing but whatever they could carry down the mountain on their backs.
Within weeks of my arrival, even before moving to Ward, women were calling on me for help with their home births; and soon I was as busy as I could be, attending maybe 40 births by spring, and something like 120 in the two-and-a-half years I lived there, long enough to watch Dorothy’s crazy idea catch on and spread like a prairie fire through the subculture.
With no office, nurse, or appointments, I was always on call and totally available to my patients by phone if they needed me; so they had to make it their business to know where I was at all times, an arrangement clearly inadequate for some, but quite in sync with the frontier ethos and flourishing grapevine of that time and place.
For my part, I would also teach them the basics of emergency childbirth in case I didn’t make it, and drop in on anyone close to term whenever I came to Boulder, a journey of twenty miles over rough mountain roads in my old ’48 Plymouth coupe that in winter became an arduous and sometimes thrilling adventure. The best part was what happened when I got there, whether finding the labor already in progress, or just being treated to a hot meal, good company, and a warm bed for the night.
In any case, by some miracle, I never missed a birth, lost a baby, or needed to take anyone to the hospital in those days, a perfect record that I can’t explain and certainly never equaled in later years, when I opened an office, hired nurses and receptionists, hospitalized people when I had to, and witnessed my full share of complications like everybody else.
Only in retrospect can I fully appreciate how fortunate and indeed in a state of grace I must have been, as if blessed by the vision that Dorothy had entrusted to me, and determined to do everything in my power to be worthy of it.
Whatever the reason, it can’t have been any particular skill on my part, since I knew only the barest rudiments of pregnancy and childbirth, felt even more keenly than my patients my unworthiness to supervise this most womanly activity, and could only justify it as an anomaly of medical history, which the home birth movement itself would and did eventually rectify.
A number of those births still remind me of the wide-open, experimental atmosphere and flair for self-discovery that seemed so characteristic of those years. Bored with successful careers in the New York theater and art scene, one newly-married couple set out on their honeymoon in an old school bus that they had transformed into a romantic bower of velvet hangings, silk brocades, and other offerings of beauty and magic to the new life they dreamed of.
Aiming for California, like so many others, they never made it past Boulder, at which point they ran out of cash, discovered they were pregnant, and fell under the sway of Chögyam Trungpa Rimpoche, the charismatic Tibetan Buddhist master who lived and taught nearby.
Taking advantage of electric and water hookups at a friend’s house in town, they continued to live and hold court in the bus, where we met to prepare for the birth. When the labor began one raw November morning, dozens of friends and well-wishers gathered in the house, carousing and drinking heavily to celebrate the event as if it had already taken place.
By nightfall, Maggie was tired and panting rapidly, but her cervix was still only minimally dilated, and all the patience and encouragement I could muster failed to help her over this seemingly huge and insurmountable obstacle.
With her labor at a standstill, I went back into the house and solemnly announced that she needed the moral support and collective energy of everyone there, without any definite idea of what that might or should consist of.
Nevertheless, as if on cue, they filed out into what had become an icy drizzle, lined up alongside the bus, and began chanting the sacred syllable in a loud, insistent drone that sounded as if it meant to continue until something pretty impressive happened.
Thus, summoned to what would become perhaps the greatest performance of her career, the former actress revived in the presence of her audience, inviting everyone inside the bus, passing out candles, and no longer in any doubt about what to do next.
Opening the I Ching at random, I read aloud from the hexagram that lay before me; and although I have no memory of the passage, it elicited a chorus of nods and murmurs as if cosmically appropriate to the occasion. Taking hold of two ropes that her husband Don had hung from the ceiling for just this purpose,
Maggie pulled herself up to a squatting position on the bed and held on tight, bellowing like a heifer with each contraction, although by no means fully dilated, feeling no definite urge to push, and teaching herself by sheer force of will how to recognize and direct an instinct that still lay hidden deep inside her.
When her daughter finally emerged, weighing almost eleven pounds, her prodigious size amplified the physical, emotional, and moral challenges of her birth into the stuff of legend by Maggie’s heroic mastery of them.
These early experiences also taught me to respect my patients’ life choices even when I disagreed with them, questioning and at times arguing when I felt strongly, but in the end giving them the say about the kind of care they wanted.
With little past experience to guide me, I remember fretting a lot about the nutritional state of a macrobiotic couple who held forth as if they exemplified the highest moral virtue through their spiritual understanding of food and nutrition; but the dinner they set before me was simple, wholesome, and delicious, and won me over on the spot. The labor and birth went off without a hitch. Although the baby was smaller than average, as I’ve since come to expect, she grew to be as strong and healthy as anyone could wish.
Over the next thirteen years, I attended somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 home births; and the model of doctor-patient relationships that emerged from them remained as relevant to my office practice in later years as it was then in the field. I feel as proud as of anything else I’ve ever done in medicine to have helped those mothers and fathers come together to welcome their children into the world in a manner and setting of their own choosing, despite lackluster support and often active opposition from the medical community.
Through its gentle, family-centered atmosphere, home birth also left plenty of room for self-healing in every other way, and encouraged me to explore subtler and less aggressive modes of treatment in my medical practice as well. With my background and interest in biochemistry, I naturally gravitated to the study of plant medicines, and began combing through old herbals, learned to identify various local species, experimented with making infusions, poultices, ointments, and suppositories, and tried them on myself and my patients.
In that spirit, I would often tag along with Hanna Kroger, an elderly German woman who’d been trained as a Nurse, came to the States after World War II, and owned a health food store in town, with a large, devoted following that included people of all ages with a broad range of ailments, including quite a few pilgrims from faraway places.
Beckoning to customers she knew and trusted to follow her into the back room, she would dowse with a pendulum to diagnose various subtle energy imbalances, and offered gentle treatments that were specifically tailored to fit them, consisting of vitamins, herbs, supplements, and homeopathic remedies, which I first saw and heard of being used in her shop.
At times, she would also send saliva and hair samples to an equally aged colleague in Albuquerque, who claimed to detect trace amounts of toxic wastes, parasites, and other pathological residues by means of a radionic device that I knew nothing about.
Although a lot of what Hanna said and did seemed like hocus-pocus to me, she introduced me to a vast realm of esoteric phenomena that I was thoroughly skeptical of, having never witnessed or experienced such things myself. Often when I visited her, she would tell me things that I couldn’t believe or understand, but would stimulate me to imagine what the world would have to be like if they were true.
About two months after giving birth, one patient called late at night because of severe abdominal pain that had developed that afternoon, after returning from a trip to her in-laws to show off the baby. On vaginal examination I felt a taut, bulging mass the size of a tennis ball in the area of her right ovary, and recommended immediate hospitalization and emergency surgery to remove it; but first she begged me to call Hanna, who actually worshiped doctors, and only agreed to come after some serious coaxing and cajoling on my part.
I still remember how coyly she protested, “Vell, vut could I possibly do, since you are already dere?” and how tactfully I managed to say something like, “Hanna, I think she just wants you to put your hands on her!”
My patient was in bed, lying on her back; and when Hanna arrived, she knelt down by the woman’s left side and began to pray, placing the palm of her left hand gently on the abdomen over the cyst, and allowing her right arm to dangle free by her side.
After a few minutes, Hanna’s body began thrusting rhythmically, as if a current of energy were passing up her left arm, across her chest, down her right arm, and out her free hand. Proceeding to the other side of the bed, she then placed her right index and middle fingers on the right pubic ramus, a “pressure point” for the right ovary, as she whispered to me, and pressed down firmly on it, eliciting dire shrieks of pain from my patient that all but levitated her out of bed; but eventually, after what felt like an eternity of 15 seconds or so, they gave way to quiet moaning, whimpering, and silence at last. Applying similar pressure on various other points provoked only a wince or two; so she prescribed a molasses douche, a day of bed rest, and quietly left the house.
I re-examined her immediately afterward, and was surprised to learn that the pain and the cyst had completely disappeared; and I can vouch for the fact that they never came back in the two years I kept track of this woman and her baby before leaving the area.
With homeopathic treatment I’ve since known ovarian cysts to dissolve in a day or two, or even within a few hours, but never an instantaneous cure of a surgical emergency to rival this one, which taught me that healing is always possible, even when we least expect it, have no idea what form it will take, and can never wholly explain it by any doctrine, concept, or method, no matter how scientific it may be.
it seems as if the author is trying to impress the readers with his difficult and lenghty english text.