Wednesday, November 27, 2013

JFK's Pioneering Pain Doctor

Lost in the flood of John F. Kennedy images last week was the physician who took him off crutches and into the ubiquitous Oval Office rocking chair.

Janet Travell kept JFK from being bed-ridden and went on to write a two-volume medical text that has relieved the pain of millions since, “Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction. The Trigger Point Manual,” to become the bible of physical therapists and masseurs.

I was a patient of hers before Kennedy and helped find a publisher for that text, receiving as a bonus along the way a sure cure for hiccups (more about that later).


 JFK was so dependent on Dr. Travell that he took her into the White House with him as the first woman ever to serve as Personal Physician to the President. Without her, he might have had to face the television age as another wheelchair-bound FDR.

He gave her a framed picture for her White House office inscribed, “For Dr. Travell—Who made the smile possible—With affectionate regards, John Kennedy.”

Years later, she mentioned to me a paper she had written on one form of trigger-point treatment-—for hiccups.

Herewith Dr. Travell’s little-known but, in my experience, absolutely effective cure:

There is a small flap at the back of the upper palate called the uvula. Pressing the end of a butter knife or spoon handle firmly against it for three seconds or more will make the spasms stop. The only problem is to keep the hiccupper calm enough to avoid gagging.

In dozens of attempts with friends and family, I found it worked every time. As a magazine editor, I ran a brief item, and scores of readers confirmed that it did.

This treatment may also stop snoring, if you have the nerve to wake someone and try.

If you do this holiday season, spare a thought for Dr. Janet Travell who did so much for JFK and the rest of us.

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