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The secret of magic hands.

Osteopathy seeks to help the body heal itself. THEO PANAYIDES meets the president of the island's association, who treats the body as a whole

You can read these 2,000 words on Evangelos Evangelou, but words can't really evoke what's special about him. We have a doctor here, he explains -- 'here' being the Dikteon Medical Centre near the Metro roundabout in Lakatamia, where Evangelos is the resident osteopath -- called Dr Lucy Melisian, "one of the best internists in the whole of Cyprus", and Dr Lucy often refers her patients to him for treatment. One day, he recalls, Dr Lucy asked: "Do you do anything other than osteopathy?".

"What do you mean?" replied Evangelos, puzzled.

"Well," she explained, "you know, some of my patients and friends that I refer to you -- they say that you have magic hands, and you do healing!"

The story is told without embarrassment, albeit still with a necessary caveat. "In my line of work as osteopathy, what I do is purely scientific," he makes clear. " But you can feel healing taking place," he adds firmly -- and of course 'feel' is the operative word, because osteopathy is a hands-on profession. Osteopaths are not doctors, nor do they claim to be -- though Evangelos himself is a graduate of the British School of Osteopathy, the largest such establishment in Europe, and his course was a four-year training course with 1,500 hours of clinical experience working on real patients. What he learned, most notably, was the secret of magic hands, the art of feeling the workings of the body simply by laying hands on it.

I've come as a journalist, not a patient, but a short demonstration seems in order. Evangelos looks a bit reluctant: this is most irregular, he says, ordinarily I'd take your case history before even thinking about any hands-on treatment. His clear blue eyes (a "genetic mutation") and bald shiny pate give him a wistful, mildly dazed expression. He seems vaguely anxious, as if permanently on the point of realising he's forgotten something. His office is almost bare, except for a desk, an exam table and an icon of Jesus.

In the end, he agrees to carrying out a brief examination. I take off my top, and am instructed to bend forwards and backwards. "You're very stiff," he notes; my back is very stiff, it's not bending properly. His fingers go to work, palpating my spine to feel what's going on beneath the skin. This is what osteopaths do, indeed during training "we develop a very, very acute sense of palpation". He compares it to a blind person's knack for 'reading' faces by feel -- though it's not just palpation, he's also doing more mechanical things like testing reflexes to check for dysfunction.

Evangelos says he'll "release" my back; you might hear a click, he adds a little ominously. I lie on my side, clasp both hands together and draw one leg up, as instructed. I can't see what he's doing -- but I feel his hands on my spine, then he makes a quick sudden movement and I hear a slight click; there's no pain involved. This was a "high-velocity thrust", it appears, though quite a gentle one. "If you know exactly what to do, you don't need to use a lot of force," he explains later. "If you place the patient in the position which you need to mobilise the joint, and you've got your forces right -- and believe me, I'm 50 years old so I've been doing this for ages! -- you can move that joint without causing any pain whatsoever". Patients will sometimes "freak out" when they sense him about to go to work, then invariably sound a bit surprised after it's over. "Is that it?" they'll say, then explain why they thought it would hurt: "My friend went to someone, and they..." Evangelos shakes his head, glossing over the rest of the familiar horror story.

Thereby hangs a tale: osteopathy is regulated in most European countries, for obvious reasons -- but in Cyprus it remains unregulated, "so anyone can call themselves an osteopath with minimal training". One guarantee

of quality is to check whether the practitioner is a member of the Cyprus Osteopathic Association (there are 14 members in all; Evangelos himself is the president) -- but the general public don't know about that, nor can they really be expected to; we need laws, to weed out the cowboys. Evangelos has been practising here for 24 years, since 1992 (he was the second male osteopath in Cyprus, and the fifth overall), and for 18 of those years he's been trying to get a law passed to regulate his profession. "There is a bill, it's been drafted and everything," he reports ruefully; two years ago it was almost finalised, he and his colleagues were asked for their comments, they duly sent those comments to the Ministry of Health -- "and we have yet to hear from them. We have sent numerous letters to the Ministry of Health, we have told them osteopathy is being regulated in Europe, but unfortunately we are not getting any response". Typical, but still disappointing.

It makes a difference, even more so than for medical doctors (who of course are strictly regulated): Evangelos tells me of a woman who was pregnant with triplets through IVF, and came to him for treatment. She successfully avoided the back pain that's almost de rigueur in such pregnancies, but her gynaecologist was still dubious: "Can you trust him?" he asked, when told of Evangelos -- and that's the point, it's a question of trust. Going to a doctor is impersonal by comparison, because a doctor gives medicine and (perhaps naively) we trust the medicine as much as the doctor -- but an osteopath is someone who'll touch and twist and manipulate our body, wield physical power over us, potentially cause us pain. It's a very intimate relationship.

Avoiding medicine, whenever possible (of course there are cases where medicine is necessary, he concedes straight away), is a basic tenet. Dr Andrew Taylor Still, who founded osteopathy in the late 19th century, was a very devout man -- Evangelos too is devout, hence that icon of Jesus -- who concluded that God can't have meant for us to keep figuring out which medicines we need to get better, "He must've put the medicine inside us. And that's the point. Everything we need to heal ourselves is within us.

"Your body has an inherent capacity to heal itself. This is one of the principles of osteopathy. And what happens is, these self-regulating, self-healing mechanisms occasionally get blocked -- through trauma, through repetitive injury". Bad posture, for instance, is a frequent culprit: "Whether you believe in Darwin's theory or whether you believe that God created us," we are not designed, structurally speaking, to sit at a desk for eight hours, or stand in a factory doing repetitive manual work. "And what the osteopath does, he comes and removes the blockages in these areas -- mechanical blockages, mainly -- and then the body is able to self-regulate and heal itself".

It's a humble craft, in a way. Medicine is forever at odds with Nature, manufacturing new drugs to cure this or that natural ill -- but an osteopath is a facilitator, merely trying to bring out what's already there. The method itself is sophisticated, especially if you include "visceral osteopathy": unlike chiropractors, who focus mainly on the spine, Evangelos also checks the viscera, i.e. the organs. A pain in the pelvis isn't always a mechanical blockage -- there could also be a problem in the uterus or digestive system, sending impulses down to the lower back (our organs have connections that go to the spinal cord) and causing "a distortion pattern, and a twist in the pelvis". Osteopathy looks at the entire body, indeed more than the body: "We as osteopaths actually believe that the body, the mind and the soul are all inter-related". Yet its vantage point is still one of humility -- and Evangelos too comes across as a humble person, defined primarily by a lifelong compulsion to help people.

These days he lives in the village of Kapedes, up on the mountain with a panoramic view of Nicosia, in the midst of pine trees and wild lavender. Village life suits him, he says; he hails from the occupied village of Akanthou and once spent "the best year of my life" there at the age of seven, roaming freely and enjoying himself as a recent arrival from Tottenham (he lived mostly in London till the family relocated permanently in 1976). He's a man of few vices and simple pleasures, going down to the coffeeshop to play cards -- though never for money, his dad having been a heavy gambler in England -- and listen to "every Tom, Dick and Harry saying whatever they want to say"; he likes reading books, going to the beach in the summer, checking out conspiracy theories on the internet. He's lived in Kapedes since he married his wife 20 years ago (there was also a disastrous first marriage in his late 20s, which broke down -- "luckily for me" -- after less than a year). The couple have a nine-year-old daughter, the product, he says, of IVF and a good deal of prayer.

People are nosy in a village, but they also help each other -- a reflection of his own philosophy, which has always been curiously altruistic. "Ever since I was a child, I wanted to be a doctor" -- but a doctor who made people well by "touching them and talking to them", i.e. exactly the kind of doctor he is today (he's not sure how he got the idea as a child; maybe because his parents often asked him to give them a massage or walk up and down their backs as a four-year-old). He was "very, very naughty" as a little boy, forever getting into scrapes with his Jamaican best friend in Tottenham or fighting off a gang of bullies (for a while, he was the only Greek boy in a mostly Turkish class) by punching the leader and breaking his nose -- yet he was also a sensitive boy, given to "gut feelings" and occasional premonitions. In Akanthou, months before the invasion, he tearfully told his grandma they had to go back to England, "because I can see bombs falling".

Had he overheard some grown-up talking about war? Or was it something more? It's not irrelevant to wonder about this stuff -- because osteopathy too is a kind of sensitivity: years of training are all very well but it takes a certain empathy, a certain intuition, to have magic hands. "Listen, don't get me wrong," warns Evangelos. "I'm not saying I'm psychic or anything like that!" He's a scientific man, and a professional: as well as osteopathy he's also adept at hypnotherapy (he's especially successful at getting people to quit smoking), acupuncture and special techniques like craniosacral therapy. Then again, he also believes in angels -- i.e. believes that they literally exist in our world -- and indeed has treated psychics who claimed to have seen an angel in the room while he was treating them. He's never seen an angel himself, he makes clear; still, "I can feel certain things".

The office next to his at the Dikteon Medical Centre belongs to Dr Leptos, an orthopaedic surgeon with a specialisation in paediatrics. Orthopaedic medicine, unlike osteopathy, treats problems locally rather than holistically: if you went to an orthopaedic doctor with back pain he'd examine your back, without seeking to connect that pain to an imbalance in some other part of the body. Nonetheless, on the wall of Dr Leptos' office is a quote from Plato that sums up osteopathy quite well, especially as practised by Evangelos: "The biggest mistake in treating patients," it reads, "is to assume that there are doctors for the body and doctors for the soul -- whereas the two are indistinguishable".

That's his job, using his special sensitivity to heal the whole person (or allow that person to heal themselves). He came to the Dikteon almost by accident, after having to shut down his practice four years ago -- deprived of patients by the financial crisis -- but the arrangement has proved beneficial: not only is he busier than ever, but it seems that people are more willing to accept his profession now that he's next door to 'proper' doctors (as he'd be, for instance, in the UK, where osteopathy has been part of the system for years). "I think it's becoming more widely recognised," he affirms optimistically -- and looks a little wistful, as if hoping it can even be recognised by those sluggish civil servants, after 18 years of trying. As for me, I've already booked a session, hoping to unblock my dysfunctional back under the influence of those healing hands.

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Publication:Cyprus Mail (Cyprus)
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:4EXCY
Date:Sep 2, 2016
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