When I was a new student in chiropractic college, I was eager to absorb everything I could. Through my eagerness, however, I questioned everything I was learning. I wanted so much to believe the stories of miracles that occurred in the offices of my educators and mentors, yet I would have to see it and live it first.
During my first year, one of my professors spoke of the many times he had adjusted birds who had flown into the front window of his home. If, after impact, the birds were still alive, he would check them for spinal fixation and dysfunction (in the chiropractic realm, this is known as spinal subluxations). More often than not, he explained, the birds would respond well to the adjustment and fly off unscathed.
I finished school, and opened my first practice a few months later. I was still fresh, but I was educated and skilled enough to care for people in my community. I felt confident seeing pregnant mothers, babies, and children because of my additional training with the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association.
Years later, while I was pregnant with my second son, my family and I moved to Ashland, Oregon, where I opened my second family practice.
We rented an old white house in the country, with a large front window that faced the mountains. Within two weeks of settling into our new living space, I was cleaning the living room when I heard a loud thud on the window. I was sure that my oldest son had thrown his plastic ball at it. But when I looked outside, I noticed a robin in the dirt below the windowsill, flapping its wings in distress.
That was the first of many birds I adjusted while living at that house. I adjusted robins, blue jays, sparrows, and, once, even a crow (although I would be lying if I didn’t say that my heart rate elevated a bit during that adjustment). And just as my professor described years ago, most of the birds flew away moments after.
I was now on the path of not just believing in, but knowing the power of the chiropractic adjustment. Through my work with babies, kids, and pregnant mamas, I witnessed miracles every day. Adjusting birds became par for the course.
Recently, my family took a vacation with two other families to Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. We rented a two story open-air house, right across the road from the beautiful Caribbean ocean. We all settled in for 10 days of rest, relaxation, and time to soak up the lush environment that was bursting with life.
During our trip, many creatures were gracious enough to allow us to cohabitate peacefully with them for a time. We had 4 a.m. wakeup calls each morning from the howler monkeys, heard the nasal squeaks of baby sloths in the trees above, watched the rummaging of the capybaras in the nearby shrubbery, slept with huge, bright green crickets at night, and admired the multitudes of parrots, toucans, and other tropical birds.
One bright morning, as I was cleaning up our humble jungle abode, I heard a faint knock on the large front window that faced the swimming pool. It was a familiar sound to me, reminiscent of past experiences, but a little softer. As I looked outside on the ground, I saw a bird who, unbeknownst to itself, cleverly chose to fly into the window of a vacationing chiropractor. This time, the injured bird was the tiniest of hummingbirds. Its iridescent blue and green feathers shone in the sun like the turquoise sea. Its little head was bent to the left. It was stunned, barely moving.
I hurried outside to see if I could help. I gently picked up the hummingbird. It was breathing hard, and licking the air furiously with its long, needle-like tongue. As I cradled its warm little body in my hands, I could feel the race of its heartbeat like a ticking wristwatch in my palm. It was surely in pain, and had a droplet of blood coming out of its right eye. I did what any mother would do with a baby experiencing angst: I gently shushed it, and whispered, “It’s okay, little one, I am here.”
I cupped the bird’s body into my left hand, with its tiny feet underneath it, and with my right index finger and thumb, I gently stroked the sides of its beak and face, to let it know that I was a friend.
I placed those same fingers, one on either side of its small neck, and gently palpated its spinal movement. Its cervical spine was clearly stuck and subluxated from the impact, so I began the gentle process of adjusting. With tiny movements and precise specificity, I made subtle corrections to the bird’s delicate spine. I was able to move its head back to neutral, and as I did, I felt the tiniest “click.” In that moment, I knew that I had adjusted and freed its spine and nervous system.
The hummingbird closed its eyes. Its breathing slowed, and I no longer felt the thumping of its tiny heart. I held the bird gently while it went inward, integrating the experience—moving from trauma through adaptation, and into restoration.
I began to sing softly my favorite Bob Marley song as we held space together: “Don’t worry/ ’bout a thing/ ’cause every little thing/ gonna be alright.”
After a few minutes, the bird took a big, life-filling breath. I felt the tiny muscles in its breast and legs contract in my hands, and it shook its head. The hummingbird then turned its head up and to the right and looked right into my eyes, as if to say, “Thank you.”
And then it flew away.
As a pediatric chiropractor, I am often asked why a baby or small child would need a chiropractic adjustment. I speak about trauma during the birth process, and how children fall often when learning to walk. I talk about how those experiences can create tension in a child’s tender spine and nervous system. I explain that the nervous system is the first system to develop in utero, and that it coordinates all other systems in the body.
As I describe how the spine must be free for the nervous system to function optimally, people begin to understand. The follow-up question I usually get is: “How do you adjust a baby or a child?”
Currently, my most recent answer: “Have I told you the story of when I adjusted a hummingbird?”
By Kacie Flegal, DC Appearing in Pathways to Family Wellness Magazine Issue #61