Just about a year ago my business partner of 20 years, chiropractic physician Paul Rubin, began our private Monday morning meeting (This Week at WholeHealth Chicago) with an ominous “I think I should tell you something important.”
Naturally, I froze. He’d never use that tone if it were simply a broken heating system or phones on the fritz.
His voice dropped an octave. “I’ve decided to retire. I’ve been working for years and I’ve loved almost every minute, but there’s a lot Marla and I (more about Marla later) want to do while we’re still relatively young and healthy.”
“Uhm…uh…well, OK.” I glibly answered.
But as I collected my thoughts and pondered Paul, his decision seemed utterly sensible. He’s a Renaissance man when it comes to his range of skills and interests. A T’ai Chi instructor, he travels the country teaching and learning. He and Marla love long trips to adventurous places, sending back photos of mountain climbing in New Zealand or flying a two-seater plane over the African veldt. They own a working farm up in Wisconsin that the two of them complain they never see often enough. Their boys (now men) are good guys. Cody’s married, Tanner’s engaged.
Yes, it sounded like he was ready to retire.
I must tell you a bit about our partnership, 20 years long and every year both peaceful and fun. You’ll just have to accept the fact that in two decades we’ve really never disagreed on anything of significance. And honestly, if an issue came up and we sensed a conflict (on something like room design), I’d say, “OK, let’s stop and just let Marla settle it.”
Undeniably they’re a great couple. Paul is calm, sedate, and thoughtful, perfect for T’ai Chi. Marla is nonstop energy. Her college nickname, Shpilkes, is Yiddish for being incapable of sitting still. They’re always glad to see each other and reluctant to part. Every greeting begins with a kiss hello and every departure with a kiss goodbye.
Paul and I had known each other for years before WholeHealth Chicago came to be. Our four boys are about the same ages and attended Chicago Waldorf School together. In 1993 or so, I was putting together a since-renamed entity called Chicago Holistic Center (CHC), which would combine conventional and alternative medicine, as WholeHealth Chicago does now.
I set about interviewing dozens of practitioners to learn something about each of the roughly 50 so-called alternative medicine fields that my conventional medical training had long dismissed as quackery. I opened CHC with a very young Mari Stecker as my front desk manager (her original CHC photo looks like I’m violating Child Labor Laws). Unbeknownst to either of us, her impressive acupuncture career was years ahead.
Paul Rubin was a successful chiropractic physician with a Gold Coast practice and, although he gave me a tour of the place, at the time he wasn’t interested in making any changes. However, three years later, our situations changed considerably. CHC, renamed American WholeHealth, had been successful enough for a venture capital firm to want to take the concept of integrative medicine national by buying practices like Paul’s and mine and rolling them into large centers.
This time Paul was interested and we joined a bevy of other physicians, both in Chicago and around the US, in a network called American WholeHealth. This was in 1996.
Well, it all sounded good on paper. But four years later, for a variety of reasons, the concept flopped and the many physicians involved in American WholeHealth were asked to take their practices and equipment back and re-open their old offices.
At this point, in December 1999, Paul and I agreed that we’d learned a lot from the experience and thought if we started something new together, a 50-50 partnership, we might get it right.
There was no polar vortex in January, 2000, when we built out the space at 2522 N. Lincoln Avenue, but believe me it was very cold. The building, now gone thank heavens, was easily one of the most poorly designed and physically unattractive in Chicago. But it was a rent we could afford and soon we’d assembled a stellar team of practitioners. If we provided our patients with exceptional care, maybe no one would notice the urine scent of the homeless who peed in the below-grade doorway at night. Marla, who has a good eye for these things, did the interior design and, all-in-all, the place looked pretty good.
Back to the future
Most of you know the rest. Almost three years ago, when we were informed 2522 was being torn down, we moved to our current Clybourn location, again designed top to bottom by Marla in tandem with Josh Hutchison of 34-TEN architecture. Everyone, both patients and practitioners, liked the place so we deemed the move successful.
With Paul’s and my partnership, WholeHealth Chicago became the first professional corporation in Illinois co-owned by a medical doctor and a chiropractic physician. Paul agreed to take on the role of managing partner and handle the day-to-day operations, a task I knew I was constitutionally incapable of. With a then-distant eye on retirement, we brought chiropractic physician Cliff Maurer into our partnership, with Paul training Cliff on the subtle art of being a managing partner.
Then, more than a year ago, we hired a practice management consulting firm, Zupko and Associates, to teach us how to run a better operation. Our consultant Cheyenne Brinson put it well when she said, “You guys run the place like a mom and pop grocery. That sounds homey, but you’re overworking for little return. Really, you need a professional practice manager at your helm.”
And so she identified Jamie Ozga, who has cleared away the duct tape that held us together and replaced it with smoothly running gears. I’ve been told by outsiders that WholeHealth Chicago is operating as efficiently as a health care center can in these years of health industry turmoil.
As the year following Paul’s retirement announcement sped along, Jamie and Cliff solidified operations. I can say with confidence that both the professional and ancillary teams at WholeHealth Chicago are stronger than ever in our 20+ year history.
Obviously I’ll feel an ache in my heart when my partner of two decades and his wife sell their house, load up a truck marked “Wisconsin or Bust!” and a year or so later put everything into storage and move on to their traveling adventures.
In his years as a chiropractic physician, Paul helped thousands of patients not only with the musculoskeletal magic that chiropractic docs perform, but also with chronic illnesses, preventive maintenance, nutrition, and compassionate counseling whenever it was needed.
I, we–the entire WholeHealth Chicago staff–wish Paul and Marla fun, excitement, good health, and long lives as they step into the opening chapter of their next big journey. Join me in wishing them a wonderful life together.
David Edelberg, MD