I was absolutely blindsided that Sunday in September to see in the local paper's death notices the name of Margaret Bartlett, our town's beloved physical therapist, known to some as the Good Witch of Benton County. No cause of death, just bafflingly gone, at the far too young age of 64, slender, always healthy-looking Margaret.
Clearly I cannot claim to have been her friend, or someone would have let me know she'd contracted, last spring, a fast-acting, inoperable stomach cancer. Clueless as I was, I had just put her name on my To-Do list for making appointments for my husband and myself, hoping to bring our current minor complaints to her for the benefit of her wisdom.
Her passing is such a loss to so many in our community. Another local writer, Wendy Madar, published a tribute in the Corvallis Gazette-Times, explaining how Margaret had actually healed her brain after a car accident. It sounds far-fetched, but I completely believe her. Margaret had learned certain techniques with which she was, quite simply, able to fix people. You weren't to go to her for ongoing massages; she took pride in her record of straightening people around in three sessions or less. As Wendy pointed out, so many people around here have their own Margaret Bartlett story.
I don't remember how I initially heard about Margaret, but I ended up in her office after a seven-year stretch of visiting a string of different doctors, all male, for my hip pain. After my primary care gatekeepers, I went to a surgeon, an acupuncturist, a sports medicine specialist, and did a round of physical therapy. One doc said I had one leg longer than the other, and I ended up at the shoe repair shop, having a half inch of heel added to one of each pair of all my shoes. Argh! Nothing helped, and sometimes it seemed like all these men--including the shoemaker--just wanted to point out that the other men involved here didn't know what they were talking about. I remember coming home in frustration, complaining to my husband that I just wished all these guys could get in a room together and discuss my case instead of badmouthing each other individually to me.
Then Margaret put her hands on me. No, she said, I did not have one leg longer than the other. My pelvis was merely torqued, maybe because of my weak, knee-capless knee, which might have made it look as if one leg were longer in a straight-on x-ray. She cranked me around, got me straightened out, gave me a set of exercises to do and that was that. I was fixed. For her modest one-time fee of $75, I was freed of pain.
After all those doctors? After years of appointments and bills? You can bet I was a believer.
Margaret then helped me and my husband with other issues over the years. When I was struggling with the damage done to my brain by physician prescribed Xanax, she put her hands on the back of my head and said she could feel something amiss with my amygdale. Huh? How could she actually feel my brain through my skull? Whatever, I let her poke around at the back of my neck. In the end, how could I argue with the fact that I had arrived in a fog and walked out feeling clear-headed? I remember thinking I just wished I could have her do that for me first thing every day until I fully healed.
I was always recommending Margaret to anyone around town with a physical gripe, and I was so impressed with her practice that I used her as a model for one of the main characters in a novel I've been working on called Family Trees. She was quite helpful in giving me materials explaining her techniques, and shared details of her medical training. The resulting character, Bridget Garland, is not a faithful depiction of Margaret's personality, nor is it intended to be, but I am indebted to her for her inspiration in being that rarest of people, a true healer, and hopefully I got the details of her technique right.
When an email notice arrived the other day announcing the closing of her therapy office–apparently many people hadn't heard about her death and were still calling for appointments—it was accompanied by a picture of a young Margaret that completely choked me up. I had forgotten that I had written for my character a dream of having an orchard and making cider. Here was Margaret in hers, looking for all the world like my Bridget Garland.
I think of Margaret every morning as I faithfully do her prescribed back exercises, and I know I am just one of so many who is already missing her terribly. Thank you, Margaret, for the life you lived and the gifts you gave.
Life is short and we have but little time to gladden the hearts of those who travel the way with us. Oh, be swift to love. Make haste to be kind. Henri-Frederick Amiel.