Luke, Benjamin (Dr.)

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                                     DR. BENJAMIN LUKE
                                     By Joanne Cadogan

MIRAMICHI – He has been going through a lot of Kleenex over the last couple of months, says Dr. Benjamin Luke.

He’s easing out of his 38-year practice as a chiropractor, acupuncturist, and homoeopathist, cutting his hours down to two days a week until June, when he plans to retire from work completely.

It has been a traumatic time for many of his patients, some of whom he’s seen once a month for years. Many consider him more than a doctor. To some he’s a kind, trusted friend and saying goodbye is hard. So he’s been drying a lot of tears and doing what he can to find other health professionals who can meet his patients’ needs. “I’m trying to help patients make the transition. They can go to other chiropractors or go to Sue (Butler),” he said. “For my many patients from away, I’m going to find someone closer to them to provide the service.”

Luke may be recommending some of his former patients to see his son, Kumar, who offers massage therapy, nutritional consultation and cranial sacral (body realignment) services, and is working on becoming a certified acupuncturist. He’s working from his father’s office on the King George Highway, while Luke has shifted to his two day a week practice to Sue Butler’s Physioworks clinic on Water Street.

                                  Baby face runs in family

Looking at Benjamin Luke’s face – his sparkling eyes and baby smooth skin – it’s hard to believe he’s 73 years old. He says his baby face is a family trait.

Benjamin Luke was just 17 when he left India bound for the United States on an academic scholarship. He spent the next 12 years as a professional student. He started out getting a bachelor of science, then his masters, and taught biology in public school in Iowa city for a couple of years before heading back to school to become a chiropractor.

It was during that four year period that he met his wife-to-be, Elinor. She was a social worker. “Without her, I’m not where I am today,” he said with a soft smile. Luke believes it was his interest in making a life with and for Elinor that prompted him to leave academic life and join the “real world” as a practising chiropractor.

He was reluctant to move to a large centre where he would be competing with many lots of other chiropractors for patients. So he followed the advice of his friend and mentor Dr. Edward Steeves, who was two years ahead of him in chiropractic school.

                                    Coming to Canada

Steeves was from Moncton and acted as Luke’s sponsor when he decided to emigrate to Canada and open a chiropractic clinic on the Miramichi. Luke arrived in March of 1962 and spent three months setting up and building his practice before returning to Iowa to marry Elinor and bring her to their new home.

He recalls her friends and family were worried about their plan to move to the wilds of Canada. “When we were leaving some people gave us an electric toaster and asked me if they had electricity in Canada,” Luke recalled, smiling.

And, on her first day in the country Elinor might have wondered. She arrived in the country and the province via the Plaster Rock highway. “There were all these trees and she kept asking me, ‘Is this Canada?’”

Fortunately, Elinor settled into the area well, becoming a Sunday school teacher and gradually coming to consider herself a Miramichier. She and her husband had and raised three children here.

Luke built a good practice as a chiropractor, but it didn’t take long for his academic learnings to surface and tempt him to expand into other fields. “After my second or third year here, I started expanding my practice, first into acupuncture.”

After receiving Elinor’s permission, he went abroad for a month to learn the foundation of the ancient Chinese art. His training continued in a series of week-long sessions throughout Asia and Europe until he had acquired the couple of thousand hours of practical experience needed to earn his certification. “It’s a different discipline. You even have to learn a little Chinese to appreciate what they are thinking. It’s a very cultural thing as well.”

                            Nixon’s China trip drums up business

Under normal circumstances it might have taken Luke years to coax his patients to consider acupuncture treatment, but as he was finishing up his training U.S. president Richard Nixon made a high profile trip to China. Members of the press corp received acupuncture treatments for a variety of ailments while there and came back raving about its effectiveness. “Overnight it became a panacea for everything. A lot of people were looking for the treatment even though the country didn’t have it. I was in the right time, in the right place. People came from far and near to see me.”

Luke went on to expand his treatment base to include homeopathy, which he returned to India to study. Luke said homeopathy stimulates the body’s own defenses to cure illnesses. “If you expose a healthy person to poison ivy it gives them a rash, but if you give a person with a rash poison ivy in a very diluted form, it cures it,” he said.

                                 Treating the whole person

Luke said his approach to treating patients was designed to take in as many facets as possible from their habits to their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. If a patient was suffering leg or back pain after years of jumping out of trucks, his job was to help them change the behaviour contributing to their problem and do what he could to undo the damage. In a lot of cases, patients couldn’t get the quick, feel better fix they were looking for, but with time and patience, their situations would improve.

Some cases were more complicated. “A lot of people came to see me out of curiosity or desperation. For most people I was their last straw and I had to pick them up from the bottom up.” Luke used every skill at his disposal to help people who had not been able to find help elsewhere.

“Sometimes you need more than just one method, you need all kinds of help to heal a body. I’m a believer in whatever helps. If a prayer helps, if a witch doctor helps, it helps. Sometimes the success of a treatment is in how it is administered. If you offer a patient tender loving care it can work because they believe it will and their mind helps make them better. The spirit and the mind have a lot to do with healing.

                                    Truth wins friends

“I had the advantage of having all these disciplines under my fingertips, but if there was something I couldn’t do, I would tell them I couldn’t do it. Patients appreciated that. I got more referrals from patients I couldn’t help than from those I could. Sometimes I would refer patients to other professionals – vascular or orthopedic surgeons or psychiatrists. If the problem was beyond my scope I would send them where I could for help.

“Through the years this is what built up my rapport with the traditional medicine community. I couldn’t do everything and would refer patients to them. If they couldn’t help, they would sometimes refer patients to me.”

After 38 years of treating and counselling thousands of patients, Luke figures he’s earned the right to a few lazy days. “I have so much to catch up on – reading a little, travelling – and it’s going to take me six months to clean up this mess on my desk.”

In the meantime his son, Kumar, area physiotherapists, chiropractors and holistic practitioners will begin to fill in the gap his retirement leaves.

“I’m going to miss people,” Luke said. “I’m a people person and after so many years of treating certain patients they become part of my family and part of me.”

Source: Miramichi Leader Weekend – February 4, 2000

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