You Should Know Rob Radtke

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

On September 16, 2010 I found out that one of the best men I have ever known, my chiropractic mentor, Rob Radtke had been diagnosed with Stage IV Pancreatic cancer. The diagnosis is a death sentence, and a quick one at that. It took me three weeks to muster the gumption to call him; three weeks to swallow my grief so that I wouldn’t be a self-indulgent mess when I talked to him.

Today, I discovered I was four days too late. Rob died October 2, 2010 at the young age of 59. His funeral was two days later. I missed both. I’ve had crying jags all day.

The world needs more Rob Radtkes. Rob loved his wife and girls. He loved his patients. He loved nature. He loved Michigan. He was full of life and love. He was just good. You know, one of those people who radiates light and you want be like him; to live up to his high standards and example.

“Melissa, the world needs more women doctors, more women chiropractors, you do it,” he said when I was 15.

I whined about the science classes and he laughed at me. My senior year of High School, I decided that he might be right and loaded up on science taking AP Anatomy & Physiology and Chemistry, to add insult to academic load. Forget skating to graduation.

In college I avoided science again and went for the marketable Theology B.A. with a minor in Mass Communications–I’d have all the qualifications necessary for a televangelist. But Rob’s admonition wouldn’t leave me alone and so, I went back to school, finished the pre-med stuff and followed in his footsteps to become a chiropractor.

More prestige would have come from being a medical doctor–and probably more money and worse hours, too, but Rob’s example persuaded me otherwise. He helped prevent disease. He “fixed” problems. His sunshiny optimism, clinical deftness and brilliant treatment innovations saved and transformed lives. I wanted to do that too. It was an intimidating prospect. Little did I know that I had stumbled into and been treated by one of the foremost chiropractors in the country, if not the world.

When I got to chiropractic college, I was stunned to find that not all doctors ran their office like Rob did. He was special.

Rob treated every patient the same which is to say he treated every patient like he was the only patient. In the waiting room, you’d see NBA stars and little old ladies, babies and teenagers. Status or lack thereof, wealth or lack thereof, reputation or lack thereof mattered not to Rob. If a man ever judged the heart, it was he. And his patients felt privileged to be treated by him.

In fact, Rob’s patients were so eager to see him, they’d wait. Sometimes, for hours, they’d wait. Another doctor friend of ours, Lance West, would shake his head about Rob’s horrible habit of being overtime. “Terrible business practice,” Lance once good-naturedly grumbled to me. But Lance was Rob’s friend and mentor and Lance had never been Rob’s patient. I had. I knew why they waited. They waited because fifteen minutes with him could transform your day, month, life. He heard you. He saw you. He cared for you.

Empathy alone won’t help heal a patient, though. Smarts matters, too. And Rob Radtke was brilliant. Do you know that the treatment for sub-clinical thyroid malfunction was innovated by Rob Radtke? It was. He taught a local medical doctor everything he’d discovered. He explained it to him and the MD wrote the book–crediting Rob for the work. Rob was too busy treating patients to write books, but he could have written many. He researched all sorts of disorders and came up with novel, often nutritional, solutions.

In Rob’s spare time, he’d hike up North (Michiganders know what I’m talking about) and hunt for naturally gown herbs. I kid you not. He was overjoyed when he found wild comfrey. (Great for joints!) He biked to work. He fished. He loved communing with the outdoors.

Rob was better than me in this: he walked the walk. Religiously. That is to say: He ate organically. He exercised. He lived an utterly congruent healthy life. If he bitched at you about your diet or exercise, he was negotiating from a place of strength. His work life mirrored his own life. This makes his loss to pancreatic cancer all the more mystifying and horrible. Of all the people I know in the world, I don’t think Rob could have done one thing healthier. Rob’s life demonstrates that there is much we don’t know yet about diseases like cancer. If good living and strong genetics guaranteed long life, he would have never gotten this cancer.

I wish I had more time. I wish I could have told Rob what his example meant to me. He was my doctor, mentor and to my great honor, a friend. I remember when he told me, “Call me Rob” after I had graduated from chiropractic college. For years, it felt strange to even think, little less say. He was Dr. Radtke.

Who will I call when I’m stuck with how to treat a challenging patient? Who will I call when one of my family members is ill and I need advice and a clear-eyed perspective? When I’m cynical about all the mean, ruthless people in the world, who, by his very existence, will be there to remind me that there are good and decent and kind people?

I’m reduced to clichés. Life is short. It’s fucking unfair who lives and who dies. It goes fast. But it’s all so true. Rob is gone in a blink and it just seems so wrong.

Funny aside: Rob was averse to all new technology. His appointments were in an old-fashioned appointment book. His practice 100% cash. I cannot find, anywhere, one picture of him online. Not one. I’d like you to see his picture, to get a sense of him. I guess that won’t happen.

Rob was one of the good ones. He deserves to still be here. He should be growing old teaching his grandchildren how to fish. But Rob Radtke is gone.

The world is darker today.

May Rob rest in peace. May God bless his family. Surely, their loss is a great one.