The hidden perils of alternative therapies

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The Independent Online

Virginia Ironside is not the only one on the paper who gets problem letters from readers (I wish she were), so today I am going to enlist the help of my readership to tackle the quandary of a reader who has written to me for help, following a visit to an osteopath. Here is what he says.

Dear Mr Kington,

As I had recently started to limp with ankle pain, I went to an osteopath, and he recommended exercises, starting with a simple one which involved standing on the first step of my staircase, then raising myself on tiptoes with my good leg and lowering myself on my bad leg to strengthen the muscles - well, the details don't matter. What matters is the sequence of what happened thereafter, and luckily I kept the following diary.

DAY ONE Today I start the exercise on the stairs, using good foot to raise myself and bad foot to lower myself. There is immediate improvement! I can feel my foot getting better.

DAY TWO Improvement is so quick that good foot is now not as good as bad foot, so I swap over and make the good foot the bad foot and vice versa.

DAY THREE When I come to do the exercise, I cannot remember which is the bad foot, so I do it both ways. While changing over, ie making good foot bad foot and vice versa, I slip and fall off step, getting a limp in the leg which I had not limped with so far.

DAY FOUR I am now limping in both legs, which makes me look drunk. The solicitor across the road inquires after my health, and when I tell him, he gets very excited. "I smell a malpractice suit!" he tells me. "Why not let me help you sue your osteopath?" I tell him it is out of the question. He tells me there would be a lot of money coming to me. I change my mind, and ask him to initiate the action.

DAY FIVE Bad news from the solicitor. He phones from his office to tell me that, to get the details straight, he tried the osteopath's exercise himself, and managed to fall off a slippery brass-edged step. He says he has hurt himself quite badly and is now determined to sue.

"Won't it look a bit funny, both of us suing the osteopath?" I say.

"I'm not suing him," he says. "I'm suing you! You were the one who introduced me to this wretched exercise!"

Can a solicitor sue his own client? I did not know that.

DAY SIX The matter has become more complicated. Apparently my solicitor went to his doctor to show him the results of the fall, and get evidence for his case against me. The doctor asked the solicitor to show him the exercise, so the solicitor did.

"I really don't see how that could have caused you to tumble," said the doctor, and he repeated the exercise to show how safe it was. Unfortunately, a piece of carpet slipped under him and he fell heavily against his desk, breaking a rib.

The doctor is now suing my solicitor.

DAY SEVEN It seems that the doctor was due to go away on holiday the next day, but cannot go because of his broken rib. If it were just a case of a ruined holiday it might be an insurance matter, but apparently his marriage was going through a shaky period, and this holiday was meant to bring them back together again. And although the doctor cannot go, his wife has gone by herself. Well, not by herself. She has gone off with another man, who, it seems, was her secret lover all along.

DAY EIGHT Well, if nothing else, I have been keeping up my exercises, and my ankle is now much better. I went back to see the osteopath. However, he was not there. He has gone away on holiday, it seems. "But not alone," winked the receptionist. "He has taken a doctor's wife with him, just to be on the safe side."

Well, Mr Kington, you see the dreadful chain of events I have set in motion. Can you suggest what I should do about it?

Anyone got any ideas?