by Anthony Massingham
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Myron Fongmeyer was a frustrated health care worker who lacked the financial resources, confidence and aptitude to follow a career in medicine. In what he initially saw as his “vocation to cure the sick”, he began exploring alternative medicines and soon had developed a large suite of foul smelling herbal remedies, suspect physical therapies and what courts would later unsuccessfully argue were potentially lethal treatments for many common ailments.
After years of little to no actual success with his patients, except for those who, despite his best efforts, were on the mend anyway, Myron decided a change was necessary. After borrowing his mother’s sewing kit, he came upon a startling discovery: if you poke with a pin something that ails a patient, pretty soon the patient learns to stop complaining about it. Unaware of recent conditioning and stimulus-response research, he assumed the noted lessening of complaint amongst his patients was entirely due to his skill with the needles. Reenergised with his medical breakthrough, he quickly produced charts, joined the dots and decided where it worked best to plunge his points for maximum medical benefit. News of his success spread quickly, despite not actually being able to attribute his treatment to the cure of a single patient. At least, he would argue, he was not making their condition any worse.
At his peak, he toured mining settlements in a covered wagon emblazoned with the legend ‘Marshall Fong – Frontier Acupuncturist’. He decided a name change and Chinese disguise made him appear more legitimate, and it hid the fact that he knew very little about his supposed ancestry except what he could glean from superficially skimming the newspaper. His act was more theatre than medicine, and involved esoteric and poorly played Asian music, gongs and clashing symbols. A flurry of fireworks mixed with clouds of foul smelling herb-infused steam would reveal his treatment table: a circular pivoted wheel where an unsuspecting patient would be strapped and treated, to a live and repulsed audience.
His final recorded appearance featured a much advertised treatment of a popular but sickly cowpoke suffering headache, dislocation, arthritis and a hangnail. After whipping the already rowdy assembled crowd into a frenzy with a rousing chorus of “heads, shoulders, knees and toes”, Myron, for added dramatic effect, donned a blindfold and began his treatment. The more he ‘treated’, the quieter the crowd became, transfixed he thought by his apparent dexterity and skill, oblivious to the initial frantic screaming of the patient. A quick peek from under the blindfold revealed Myron he had more than done enough. After the smoke cleared from one final flourish of fireworks, Marshall Fong was never seen again, even after the hastily convened manhunt or subsequent manslaughter trial, frustrating the large assembled lynch-mob.
In the end, Myron was remembered in an obscure memoir of a colonial mining magnate as “this little prick with a needle”.