The Elevator Operator

Charity Hospital Elevator

Cathy and I endured a harrowing experience on the night  Hurricane Betsy struck New Orleans. Of all the close-call experiences I had in driving for fifty eight years, there is not one which even comes close to the forty five minute round trip drive to Charity Hospital on September 9, 1965. With the winds over 80 miles per hour and driving a small convertible I was fighting every second just to stay on the road. It was definitely not a trip for the faint- hearted.

I had no choice in making the trip. My sweet new bride Cathy was alone in our apartment and scared for her life. When I called her from the hospital to check on her she begged me to come and rescue her from danger. I had to be in the hospital that night, because I was on surgical call, and we anticipated multiple traumatic injuries from the hurricane. When she called I told my chief resident I had to get Cathy and bring her back to the hospital for her safety and any emergencies which came in would just have to wait for my return.

The initial leg of the round trip was scary enough, because I wasn’t sure at any moment whether the wind might blow me off the road or some flying object might crash through my windshield killing me instantly. There was no one else driving in the storm so I didn’t consider stopping for any stoplight which might still be working. I’m not sure how high my pulse rate reached during the trip, but would not have been shocked to discover it was at least twice normal.

I was almost surprised when I arrived safely at our apartment, but ran up the flight of stairs and hugged Cathy, while grabbing her overnight case, and told her to get into the car quickly. The phone rang, and I don’t know why I stopped to answer, but I did. It was Cathy’s Mom from Fort Lauderdale, and she asked, “How are you and Cathy doing with the hurricane?” I quickly responded, “Mom, I can’t talk; I’ve got to take Cathy to the hospital – good bye,” and I hung up. That was the very worst response I could have given, because shortly thereafter the phone service to New Orleans went out, and Cathy’s parents had no idea of the reason for my taking her to the hospital, nor of her present condition. It took me a long time to repair that damage to their trust of me.

Our return trip to Charity Hospital was equally frightening, but I was calmer, because we were together, and I felt we had a chance to make it back. I do remember we were praying out loud with great fervor. Neither Cathy nor I were believers at the time, but I’m confident this experience helped us understand in a dramatic way, our fragile condition and our need for a comforting Savior. We made it back to the hospital without injury, but there was still another hurdle I didn’t anticipate.

Charity Hospital was 20 stories tall, and the first 12 stories comprised the hospital portion, while the next 8 floors were the on-call rooms for the doctors. These were the days of an increased sense of morality, and there was an irrevocable rule by which no women  were allowed above the 13th floor. The women who were doctors had their rooms on the 13th floor so above that no women were allowed. The elevators were not self-service, but were the old fashioned type with a hand lever requiring an operator. The operators who were hired by the state of Louisiana were all handicapped in some way and most of them were mentally challenged. As we got on the elevator in our rain-drenched clothes, I told the operator to take us to floor 18 where my on-call room was located. Without even looking at us the operator said, “No women above floor 13.” I said, “Its ok, we are married.” Perhaps he had heard that excuse before, so he again said, “No women above floor 13.” I had him look at our wedding rings to prove our marriage to each other while I said in a very agitated manner, “Look, we’ve risked our lives driving from Kenner to get here so my wife can spend the night during the hurricane. Please punch floor 18!” For the last time he said, “I’m not taking her to floor 18.” I looked the man in the eye and said to him in a tone he could not misunderstand, “If you don’t push #18 right now, I’m going to kill you!!” We immediately were taken to floor 18 with no more discussion. I had never made such a threat in my life, but was reacting to the whole life-threatening event we had just experienced. Cathy was beginning to wonder just what kind of man she had recently married.

Cathy spent a restless night in the room while I spent most of the night working on trauma victims from the hurricane. She was safe from the storm which raged outside, and this was my goal for her for the night.

The next morning before the shift change I found our elevator operator and apologized to him for my angry behavior while telling him I would not harmed him in any way. For the next four years I worked at Charity Hospital I would frequently encounter this same operator and joke with him to try to establish a trust and a friendship. I’m convinced he never did trust me and was never quite sure whether I could ever get mad enough to kill him! At least we never had to go through another hurricane to test my resolve.

Dr. John

A Wedding Gift We Didn’t Want

Metairie in Hurricane Betsy

Hurricane Katrina was the deadliest and most destructive Atlantic hurricane of the 2005 hurricane season. It struck New Orleans on August 28 resulting in flooding of about 80% of the city and causing untold millions of dollars in damage with loss of more than 1800 lives. The other major hurricane which hit New Orleans with severe destructive force was Hurricane Betsy, and this one occurred on September 9, 1965. I remember the date and the event well because Cathy and I lived through it, and it occurred one month and two days following our wedding.

I began my surgical training at Charity Hospital in New Orleans on July 1, 1965 following a year of internship in Atlanta, Georgia. There I had met and fallen in love with Cathy Young from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She had come to Atlanta in the fall of 1964 to begin her elementary school teaching career, and had only been there a few months before a mutual friend introduced us. Following a courtship during our one year in Atlanta we decided to join our lives together in marriage.

The war in Vietnam was raging, and I had an obligation to fulfill in the US Air Force. I had been commissioned as an officer in the medical corps during medical school, and unless I could get a four year deferment, I could not be accepted into the surgical training program I desired. I applied for the deferment and waited for four long months with no answer.  Finally, I received word from the Pentagon of my acceptance into the the deferment; I was accepted into the surgical training program at Charity Hospital, and we set a wedding date for one month after starting my residency. It was as simple as that. Or so we thought!!

Charity Hospital was a massive twenty story hospital which had been the training center for tens of thousands of doctor and nurses for nearly two hundred and fifty years. The surgical training was second to none in the country, and I was thrilled to finally begin the four year program on the LSU Surgical Service. My residency chief was allowing me to work the month of July and take my month-long vacation in August for our wedding and honeymoon. Cathy and I married on August 7, 1965 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida where her family lived and where she grew up. Our wedding was perfect in a perfect setting, and we began our life together so full of big plans for the future.

The honeymoon was certainly not fancy, because we were living within our budget which at best was very meager. We drove toward Arkansas where we visited my family, and then we drove around the state to see some sights in a state in which she had never travelled. When the month ended we returned to New Orleans where she began her elementary teaching position in Kenner, Louisiana, a suburb of New Orleans, and I returned to my work at Charity. We lived in a beautiful new apartment near her school in Kenner, but it was a twenty-five minute drive to the hospital.

In the first week of September there were advanced warnings about Hurricane Betsy which had formed in the Atlantic Ocean, and it was tracking toward the Gulf coasts of Louisiana and Texas. Cathy had prior experience with hurricanes from her life in South Florida, but this was all new to me, and I was very nervous. My unrest bordered on fear when I learned I was on call at the hospital on the night of September 9 when the hurricane was to make landfall and strike New Orleans.

Cathy had made advanced preparations by filling our bathtub with water which we might need if the water supply became contaminated. She had all the windows taped to avoid flying glass, and she seemed very secure in our apartment which was on the second floor. As the evening progressed I called her every hour to make sure she was safe, and she reassured me she was fine. When I called her at 8 P.M. and the winds were up to sixty miles per hour I told her I had to be in the operating room for two hours, but I would call as soon as the surgery was over. When I did call at 10 P.M. the winds were now at eighty plus miles per hour. Cathy’s voice had changed and her confidence had waned. She said the Mayor of Kenner had ordered the evacuation of low-lying areas because of the prospect of severe flooding, and she was now scared and alone. She said, “Would you please come and get me?” I said to myself, “Live or die, I’ve got to go for my new bride, so no matter what happens, she won’t be alone!” I told her I would be coming right away and not to worry!

When I ran out to the parking lot I could hardly stand upright because the winds were so strong. My car was a small convertible which is the worst possible vehicle to be driving in these conditions. In fact there was no one else in New Orleans I could see who was driving in these dreadful conditions. This was the most frightened I have ever been. Trees were being bent and snapping, power lines were falling and electric sparks were jumping across the highways. Flying debris had to be dodged as much as possible, and when I would cross an overpass, the winds would catch under the top of my convertible and literally move me over one full lane. I never stopped for any red light which still happened to be working. I was not a Christian then, but I was so scared I was praying out loud.

When I finally made it to the apartment I ran up the stairs, hugged Cathy quickly, grabbed her overnight case and just before exiting our telephone rang! It was Cathy’s Mom from Fort Lauderdale, and she asked, “Are you two okay?” Not thinking clearly I said, “Mom, I’m taking Cathy to the hospital and don’t have time to talk.” Just as I hung up I knew I should have also said Cathy and I were both alright and are going to the hospital for safety.

As we began the trip back to the hospital I told Cathy, “I’ll drive but we both can pray.” At least there were two of us praying out loud in the car, and I was not quite as frightened because we were now together. I know we made the return trip in record time. In all of the trips I made to Charity Hospital over the next four years, I don’t recall ever seeing the huge hospital as a place of personal safety and peace like it did that night in 1965 on our one month (and two day) wedding anniversary.

Dr. John

“Looka He’ah Looka He’ah”

Lady Wearing Wig

The Bluford family all lived in South Arkansas and to the best of my knowledge never traveled much outside of Union County. There were two generations of Bluford’s who were faithful patients of my Dad (Pop), and then switched over to my brother Berry Lee (Bubba), when he joined Pop in their general medical practice. The Bluford’s were by no means one of the prominent families in El Dorado, but were average, hard-working people who were intensely loyal to the Lord Jesus, to each other, and to their doctors. Usually when you saw a Bluford anywhere in town another member of the family was close by.

I was introduced to most of them at Bubba’s office when I would visit there even before I became a doctor. There were so many of the Bluford’s one of them was likely to be in the office with some complaint on any given day. I was always impressed by their humble and grateful attitude toward the doctors and the staff. One frequently heard all of them say, “Yas suh, No suh, Please and Thank yah!” depending upon the situation or the question. I don’t think I ever met all of the Buford’s, but was closely associated with four members of the family, Mittie, Major, Willie and Sister Missionary Ruth Foster (as she was known within the family and her church).

After I returned home to establish a private practice in general surgery Bubba was an immediate referral source and many of my surgical patients were referred by him to me. He called me late one afternoon to say he had admitted Mittie Bluford to the ICU at Warner Brown Hospital. She had suffered with severe abdominal pain for three or four days, and now had nausea and vomiting with an extremely high temperature. Mittie was in her late 60’s, and had been treated for a number of years for hypertension associated with obesity. Bubba suspected gall bladder infection and needed me on stand-by in case the initial medical treatment was ineffective.

When I arrived there were at least six members of the Bluford family in the waiting room, but the only ones I recognized were Major and Sister Missionary Ruth. She was easily recognizable because in addition to her large size she always had on a red Afro wig which never seemed to fit quite right. I didn’t know the name of the church in which she was called as a missionary, but it must have been a Pentecostal church, because even in a conversation with her she would emphasize the things I would say to her by chanting such things as, “Yes, yes, or Thank yah Jesus or Amen, amen!” Her encouragement to my normal conversation almost made me feel like I was preaching, and it always spurred me to say more than I normally would. I’m sure if I had ever preached in her church her encouragement alone would have caused me to preach with greater zeal and fire!

Mittie was indeed sick, and her initial tests confirmed gall bladder disease, but we wanted to wait another 24 hours to let the infection subside, if possible. The following day she was getting worse so the decision was much clearer, and she needed an emergency operation. I told the nurse to call the family together at her bedside, and I would explain to Mittie and to them what needed to be done. The four members of the family whom I knew and several others I assumed were family gathered around her bed with Sister Missionary Ruth standing closest to me. I was sure they were all Bluford’s because they had their heads slightly bowed, and none of them had any questions which might indicate the slightest mistrust of me or of Bubba. Even Sister Missionary Ruth had her head turned more toward Mittie than toward me.

I directed my words toward Mittie so she could understand to the best of her present ability what was needed. She was very weak and not able to carry on much conversation. The only other voice beside mine which was heard over the next few minutes was not Mittie’s but was her sister, Missionary Ruth, and she was emphasizing what I was saying. The conversation went something like this;

“Mittie, you are sick- you are real sick.”

Sister Missionary Ruth: “yas Lawd, yas Lawd!”

“Mittie, your gall bladder is infected and the infection is real serious.”

Sister Missionary Ruth: “Dr. Mo, Dr. Mo!”

“Mittie, you have to have surgery right away.”

Sister Missionary Ruth: “Looka he’ah, looka he’ah!” (translated; looky here, looky here).

Mittie had no questions for me concerning the operation nor did any of the family members.  I always knew this was a sign of total trust of the patient and family in the Lord’s power to use me, and I never took the trust lightly. When I prayed at her bedside for her deliverance and healing from this illness every one of the Bluford’s were also praying fervently out loud, so it was impossible to discern all of their words. I just know the Lord heard each one as clearly as if he were the only one praying, and it was a sweet offering to His ears.

At the operation I discovered her problem was a diseased and abscessed gall bladder which could be removed for a cure. When I saw what was wrong my response was, “Looka he’ah, looka he’ah!” not in jest, but in gratitude to the Lord for his healing, for Mittie’s trust in Him and in me, and for all the Bluford’s. I knew where they all were at the moment. They were in the waiting rom praying and thanking Him for healing Mittie.

Dr. John

“We’ve Done Everything Except Pray”

Prayer

When I began private practice in general surgery in my hometown a large part of the decision to return home was based on the fact my older brother Berry Lee (Bubba) was in a family medicine practice there. I was excited to have his fourteen year practice experience to lean on. I also loved just being around him because of my love and respect of his wonderful character. One aspect of Bubba’s personality which made both Cathy and me very uneasy was his spiritual life. According to him he had a spiritual conversion four years earlier, and we couldn’t relate to the changes which occurred in him. Although we were moral in our character and religious in nature neither of us had experienced life changes like the ones he described. Whenever the topic of faith arose in our conversation we changed the subject as quickly as possible. His zealous attitude towards everything related to faith did not affect our professional relationship, and he referred every one of his surgical patients to me.

Barbara H. was a woman well-known in our community because of her father’s excellent reputation as a businessman, and she was married to a prominent businessman. Although she was several years older I had known her and her siblings since childhood. She suffered with childhood diabetes and even at her young age was beginning to have major complications, because she was not managing the disease well. She had been admitted by Bubba to the hospital with severe abdominal pains and fever and was getting worse despite large doses of intravenous antibiotics. Her tests showed  gall stones and her symptoms indicated an acute infection. We were hoping the infection would subside so the gall bladder could be removed at a later time instead of as an emergency. She grew worse on good treatment, and  immediate operation was necessary. Both she and her husband were made aware of the dangers and complications of an operation under these dire conditions.

The operation was more difficult than anticipated because she also had pancreatic infection in addition to the abscessed gall bladder with gall stones. The combination of these two problems in a diabetic patient made her condition critical so she was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit. Unfortunately she did not awaken from the general anesthetic, but was breathing on her own so she didn’t require the use of a ventilator.

Bubba consulted an internist and a pulmonary specialist to get their best thoughts and recommendations regarding her management. Despite our best efforts she steadily worsened over the next three days and didn’t awaken from the coma. Her temperature reached a level I had never seen. It was so high our thermometer then couldn’t accurately measure it, but we extrapolated it was 108 degrees F. We placed her on an ice blanket to try to bring it down.

On the evening of the third post-operative day her vital signs were beginning to worsen while her temperature remained off the chart. Bubba and I went to the waiting room to give her husband Bill this new and dreaded report. Bubba said, “Bill, it looks like Barbara won’t make it through the night unless a miracle occurs.” He began to cry and said, “She has been a wonderful wife and mother to our children, and I don’t know how I will get along without her. I am going to miss her so much.” We assured him we were doing everything possible, and he said he was confident she was getting the best care possible.

Bubba went back to her bedside while I went to the nurse’s desk to write my progress note for the evening. I heard Bubba say, “We have done everything for her except pray, so I want all of us to gather around her bed and pray.” I had never done anything like that in my professional or personal life, and was not interested in any public display of religion. Bubba was insistent I join them, and to keep from making a further scene in the ICU I reluctantly went to her bedside. There were two nurses and a nurse’s aid, and he had us hold hands while he prayed. I was so embarrassed with all of this, so I don’t remember exactly what he prayed. It was something like, “Lord, we’ve done all we know to do, and it hasn’t worked, so would You take over and heal Barbara.” I was glad when he finished, and went back to the desk to finish my charting. Before I got to the desk I heard a stirring from the direction of her bedside and turned in time to hear her voice as she said weakly, “I am so cold. Could I have another blanket?”

I was shaken to the core, because not only had I never been part of a bed-side prayer by a physician, but I had never witnessed such a dramatic physical change in a patient so near death. Although we were all very excited for Barbara and for her family, Bubba acted like he had expected this result from his prayer. His confidence only added to my amazement.

When I arrived home Cathy was standing at our kitchen sink, and told me she had been praying for Barbara since I left for the hospital earlier in the evening. When I told her what had happened we rejoiced and were beginning to re-consider our belief in the power of prayer.

Barbara fully recovered from this problem and lived another fifteen years. As a result of this experience and a number of other things both Cathy and I had a spiritual conversion two years later. Everything changed for us and among other things, I began praying with and witnessing to my patients.

Subsequently when I saw Barbara as a patient or in a social setting we discussed how God  used her illness and near-death experience to teach me the power of believing prayer. I was also taught as a physician prayer should be primary in my care of every patient not waiting until all medical efforts fail before praying. Christ alone has the power to heal all our illnesses. Ps. 103:3

Dr. John

The Fireman’s Band

Dixieland Band

One of Pop’s favorite stories concerning his two years of training at the world-famous Charity Hospital in New Orleans in the mid 1930’s concerned a bar in the French Quarters called The Fireman’s Band. This favorite hang-out for many of the doctors and nurses at “The Charity” was partially owned by one of Pop’s friends who was also an intern at the hospital.

At the time Pop and our mother, Mimi had only one child, Berry Lee who was five years old. They lived in a small apartment a few blocks off St. Charles Avenue near the downtown. Pop said the two years of their life in New Orleans were very happy years, because he had finally settled into his career path in medicine. He had spent eight years in failing business ventures prior to deciding to follow in his father’s footsteps into medicine. It wasn’t easy to go back to finish college and then medical school at a later age and stage in life, but he had finally made it this far.

There wasn’t much time for recreation, but occasionally they would join several of their married friends for an evening of relaxation at The Fireman’s Band. This was not a typical boisterous and bawdy type of establishment often found in the French Quarters. Alcoholic beverages were served, and there was always a Dixieland band playing. The atmosphere was light, the customers were mostly married couples, and there was even a back room for their children to play with their toys. Pop said Berry Lee was always excited to go with them to The Fireman’s Band.

Shortly after moving to New Orleans they began attending St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church and found a perfect church home for them to attend. Mimi had never been baptized by immersion, and it was decided she should be properly baptized as part of their membership. It was scheduled following an evening worship service. After the baptism at the conclusion of the service the pastor had Mimi, Pop and Berry Lee standing at the front of the church, so the members could come by and congratulate her and welcome them into their fellowship. One particular lady in the long line of members leaned over to shake Berry Lee’s hand, and she asked him, “Young man, how are you going to celebrate your mother’s baptism tonight?” He stood up straight and proudly said, “We’re going to go to The Fireman’s Band.” Pop was speechless at Berry Lee’s answer, because there were no such plans for the evening. Pop said if he could have gotten under a pew, or hidden from the  view of those around he would have done so. To make things even worse the lady asked Berry Lee, “Well, young man, just what do you plan to do at The Fireman’s Band?” Thinking perhaps he might entice her to join them he proudly said, “We sing songs, we tell jokes and we drink Coke and Clear!” Pop said he doubted the lady knew “Clear” was a slang term used during Prohibition for a type of gin. He was absolutely certain Berry Lee had no idea  what he had just said. He probably had heard someone at The Fireman’s Band use the word, and he added it to the Coke which he loved drinking with the other kids in the back room.

This story has been retold many times in our family whenever Berry Lee was present, and he would always smile and sometimes chuckle. He had no recollection of the conversation. The rest of the  story is what everyone in the family knew about Berry Lee. Not once in his lifetime did he ever taste “Clear” or any beverage alcohol. The only time he visited Cathy and me when we lived in New Orleans, he didn’t request we go to the Fireman’s Band, or any other night spot in the French Quarters. Perhaps he was afraid someone might ask him about it.

Dr. John

The Visiting Doctor Has A Bad Day

As a fourth year surgical resident at Charity Hospital of New Orleans in 1969 I considered myself to have “seen it all and operated on at least one of everything.” I was a young enthusiastic surgeon and wanted my family to share in as many of my medical experiences as possible. On many occasions I tried to get my wife Cathy to come into the operating room dressed in a surgical scrub suit to watch her “famous husband do miraculous deeds!” She always graciously declined by saying something like, “I’d rather not draw attention to myself by getting sick.”

Cathy’s brother George and his wife Dawn, who lived in Valdosta, Georgia at the time were visiting us one particular weekend I happened to be on call for emergency surgeries. I had reached the enviable status I could take calls from home unless there was a case which was too difficult for the junior resident to handle. Our enjoyable time together was being interrupted by numerous calls from the junior resident who just needed reassurance he was making the right decisions, and  I didn’t need to be there. I had told George in case I did have to go to the hospital for an operation he could accompany me if he desired, and he could see first-hand what a “great surgeon” his brother in law had become!

George was the Dean of Students at Valdosta State College and had an earned PhD in Higher Education. With his title, “Dr. Young” it would be much easier getting him into the operating suite without arousing any undue concerns. He said he was hoping he might have the opportunity of observing what takes place in that environment so he could share the experience with the students at his college who had an interest in the medical field.

Just after lunch on Saturday the resident called to say he had two patients who were trauma victims needing emergency surgery, and a third patient who was in immediate need of a vena cava ligation. This patient was throwing multiple blood clots into his lungs and the operation would be life-saving, so I knew I had to get to the hospital as quickly as possible. The junior resident was capable of handling both of the trauma patients. While driving to the hospital I told George I would introduce him as a “visiting doctor,” and he could simply observe rather than scrub up and be part of the operating team. His lack of knowledge of those procedures would be an immediate giveaway he was not an M.D., and I didn’t want any unnecessary attention drawn to George.

We got to the twelfth floor operating suite and quickly donned our scrub suits. Because this was his first experience in such an environment I wasn’t too concerned about the initial anxiety I could see in George’s face and detect in his voice. Charity Hospital was a huge facility, and there were twelve operating rooms on each of two sides of the large operating suite. The two trauma patients awaiting their procedure were on the gurneys outside their respective rooms, and both patients though stable were receiving blood transfusions. My attention was focused on the patient on whom I was to operate, so I wasn’t paying close attention to George. I had simply introduced him to the many doctors and nurses in the hallway as “Dr. Young a visiting doctor from Georgia.” As we were waiting to take our patient into the room a student came rushing up to George and asked, “Dr. Young, the patient by Room 10 has received two units of blood already. Do I need to start a third unit?” George quickly said, “I’m not sure. You need to ask Dr. Moore.” Fast thinking for the visiting doctor.

Our operation began with George standing at the head of the table next to the anesthesiologist where he could get an unobstructed view. After I made a very long incision and quickly exposed the vena cava I pointed out to George various organs and what we were planning to do in this procedure. George was leaning over the table intently observing and seemed to be absorbed in his new learning experience. I did notice he was not asking any questions. When I had to focus all of my attention to the delicate portion of the procedure I didn’t notice George had left the room. When I came to a point where I could turn over the responsibilities of the operation to the younger resident I took off the sterile gown and began looking for George.

When I asked one of the nurses if she had seen Dr. Young, she said he was in the utility room adjacent to the O.R. I found George sitting near a window which had been opened with his head as close to the window as possible. A student nurse was fanning him and giving him as much comfort as possible. George said to the nurse, “That’s the last operation I will ever watch. I darned near passed out!” The nurse said, “Oh Dr. Young, please don’t quit surgery because of this.” George said, “Ma’am, I’m a PhD, not an M.D., and this is the last one for sure.” The nurse responded, “In that case, you better lie down!”

We didn’t talk much on the way back to our apartment where I knew our wives were anxiously awaiting a report of our experience. Finally George said in a refreshingly honest way, “I don’t mind if you tell them I fainted because I’ve seen all the surgery I ever want to see.” To this day I’ve not been able to convince George every doctor has at least one bad day in the O.R.

Dr. John

The Value of a Soul

A Divine Appointment

There is a passage in Psalm 142:4 which was brought to light in my soul early one morning in the emergency room at Warner Brown Hospital. I was the surgeon on call to the ER this particular night and was soundly sleeping until the telephone rang at our home at 3 A.M. These were the days prior to ER physicians who are hired to stay on-site and treat most every emergency including lacerations. My responsibilities as the surgeon on-call were to treat every surgical emergency from simple lacerations to major traumatic wounds.

The ER nurse informed me she had just admitted a patient who had been drinking alcohol in a local bar, had gotten into an argument and sustained multiple facial lacerations which needed repair. I knew this was going to take about two hours, so my sleep for the night was essentially over. While driving to the hospital I had a major struggle in my heart with a wicked attitude toward this person whom I did not know. My thinking was something like this; “Why in the world would a person be drinking whiskey in a bar at this hour and then have the ignorance to get into a fight? He doesn’t have the slightest concern for the doctor who has to come and sew him. He could care less the one to sew him up has major surgical cases scheduled at 7 A.M. and needs his rest!” By the time I got to the ER I had worked myself into a state of anger toward this man whom I had never met.

I half-heartedly introduced myself to Tony, a 60 year old man who was unshaven with a three day-old beard. He reeked of whiskey or cheap wine and was barely coherent in speech. I discovered he was unemployed and had no insurance to cover the large hospital charges he would incur and was certainly unable to pay my much smaller fee for this service. So here I was in the early morning hours, stuck in the emergency room, with no prospect of further rest and no possibility of any financial reimbursement. The more I thought about it the less I liked Tony, and the more resentful I was of him and people like him. I would describe my attitude as civil but certainly not kind nor compassionate. I sutured his multiple lacerations as quickly as I could, without taking much time with the cosmetics and engaging him in as little conversation as possible. If Tony had gauged my Christian witness to him on a scale of one to ten, I am certain I would have received a one. In his present state, however he wasn’t able to gauge much of anything.

When I finished and Tony was bandaged and ready to be released, I went into the small adjacent staff room where there was coffee available, and it a quiet place to write on the medical record. A good friend and medical colleague was there also. He had been treating a young patient with a severe nose bleed and had finally gotten the bleeding stopped. He asked me why I was there, to which I responded as I was sipping the hot coffee, “I’ve been sewing up a character named Tony who is so drunk he can hardly speak. I don’t know why we have to keep treating such sorry excuses of humanity like him, and especially in the middle of the night!” I seemed to have felt better by getting all of that out. My friend listened quietly to my tirade, and then softly said, “Isn’t it a wonderful thing our Savior died for characters like Tony just like He died for you and me.” I suddenly didn’t feel so well and was ashamed my flesh had so ruled my thoughts, my words and my actions. I failed to see just how much value the Lord Jesus had placed on Tony, and what little value I had placed on him.

Psalm 142:4 is a cry from David at a time he was hiding in a cave and could not tell whether anyone cared for his safety or his soul. The world is full of desperate people who have lost hope there is anyone who has the slightest concern for them whether they live or die. My experience with Tony in the emergency room that night combined with the gentle rebuke from my Christian colleague changed my heart. I saw my role as a Christian physician more clearly. God called me to serve others with gladness, to consider every appointment as divine, and to value everyone’s soul as much as He does. Thank you Tony for allowing me the privilege to serve you. God loves you and so do I.

Dr. John

“I’ve Killed The Mayor”

Finger Laceration

Finger Laceration

Between my sophomore and junior years in medical school I had the privilege of working in the medical office of Drs. Eldon and Julian Fairley in Osceola, Arkansas. I was there as part of the Preceptor program from the medical school, which gave students hands-on experience working with family practitioners in small towns throughout the state. Our responsibilities as students included mostly observation, but depending on the doctor and the trust they had in a particular student they would allow more active participation in patient care. Both Osceola doctors were aware that my Dad and brother were doctors and had taught me to do certain things most students at my stage in training had not done. I demonstrated to their satisfaction I was very capable of suturing most lacerations.

One morning a patient came to the office needing repair of a minor laceration to his left index finger. He had been sharpening his pocket knife and carelessly cut his finger when he became distracted. The patient was in his mid-forty’s in age, of average height, but weighing about 275 pounds. He was a cotton farmer, so he was quite strong with broad shoulders. He also happened to be the Mayor of Osceola so was well-known and beloved in the community. When Dr. Eldon examined the wound he announced to the patient; “Mr. Mayor, we have the honor of having Dr. Moore with us, and he happens to be an expert in laceration repair. He has graciously agreed to repair your finger!” With such an introduction I knew I had to do my best suturing job on this dignitary from Osceola.

The nurse set up the suture tray with everything I needed, and I had the Mayor sit on the examining table without lying down. This was a critical error in judgment, and one I never made again in my forty-seven years of medical practice. I took the syringe with the local anesthetic and began injecting the small laceration after I had very carefully cleaned the wound. I was holding his finger with the fingers of my left hand while numbing the wound all the while telling him that this part would only take a few seconds. I was not looking at the Mayor’s face but was intent on getting the finger injected. I noticed he was gradually pulling the finger from my grasp, and I told him, “Just relax, it’s almost numb.” As the force of the pull increased I looked into his face and saw his eyes rolling back and heard him moan and gasp. I was so startled I released my hold on his finger and quickly grasped his shirt as he was falling backwards off the table. My hold on his index finger was the only thing keeping him upright. He was so large his weight pulled me with him off the other side of the table, and our combined size knocked over the IV stand and the light stand with a loud, reverberating crash. I could only think as I was falling over the table, “I’ve just killed the Mayor of Osceola, and my career as a doctor is over!”

When I landed atop the mayor he fortunately began to awaken from his faint and groggily asked what had happened. Dr. Fairley quickly entered the room to see this pitiful scene and teasingly said, “Dr. Moore, this is not quite what I had in mind for your suture job on the Mayor!” I was very thankful the Mayor was still alive, and I had the opportunity to continue my career in medicine. We examined him to make certain he had not sustained any injuries from the fall, and he was fine except for a bruised ego. My ego had also suffered from the fall. I did have enough presence of mind to repair the laceration after we got the Mayor back onto the table, but I don’t think it was my best suturing job. I’m confident the Mayor didn’t care, and he seemed glad to leave the office.

There was not another time in my long career as a surgeon whenever I sutured a finger laceration I didn’t remember this incident with the Mayor of Osceola, and I never allowed another patient to sit up while I injected their finger. I did have a few other patients faint under different circumstances, but at least I didn’t fall on top of them!

Dr. John

“Is You Ready?”

Office Delivery

Office Delivery

Medical school is full of many surprises for every student from the lowly freshman to the “sophisticated and highly trained” senior. Some of the surprises are not very pleasant or comfortable while others are delightful, especially when remembering them years later. Some of the most interesting and wonderful training experiences happened for me when I was serving in the Preceptor program during the summer between my sophomore and junior years.

The University of Arkansas School for Medical Sciences instituted the Preceptor program in an effort to give medical students practical experience with family practitioners in small communities throughout the state. The students spent six weeks shadowing their appointed preceptors, while learning first-hand what it was like to treat patients. Up to this point in our training we had spent most of our time in the class rooms and very little time with patients. Even though my Dad and brother were doctors, and I had spent a lot of time in their offices I was excited to get this different practice perspective. I was assigned to Drs. Eldon and Julian Fairley two brothers in Osceola, Arkansas who had been in practice together for over fifteen years. Osceola lies in the heart of cotton-growing country in Northeast Arkansas and the cultural and agricultural environments are totally different from my home in the timberlands of South Arkansas where oil production and refining are a way of life.

Their practice was unique for many reasons. Dr. Eldon was a bachelor who was totally dedicated to his medical practice. His office hours were from 8 to 5 every day, including Saturdays and Sundays. The only time he took a break from the practice was to attend Sunday school and church. Dr. Julian was married so his hours in the office did not include Saturday afternoons or Sundays. Both men made house calls and admitted patients to the hospital so they had to balance their office hours accordingly. Their patient population included a large number of Black Americans because of the demographics of the area. These were the years of racial segregation in the South, and they had a “Whites Only” and a “Colored Only” waiting room. Since many people who lived in Mississippi County had incomes below the national poverty guidelines the office fees at the Fairley Clinic were extremely low compared to other towns in the state. They charged three dollars for an office visit, and if an injection was given the total charge was five dollars.

Another interesting element of their practice was they delivered babies in their clinic. They had a special room designated for clinic deliveries, and they would deliver as many as ten babies per month in the office. The charge for a mid-wife delivery was twenty-five dollars, and the Fairley’s thought their services justified a higher charge since they were doctors, so their fee for a clinic delivery was thirty-five dollars. The day I arrived I was told I would be in charge of clinic deliveries which both excited and terrified me. I didn’t have extensive experience delivering babies, in fact I had only delivered one baby at the medical center, and it was an uncomplicated delivery. The Fairley’s assured me they would be within a few feet of the delivery room to give encouragement and help if needed.

It was about 4 pm on this particular Sunday, and the clinic staff including Dr. Eldon had left for the day since there were no more patients to be seen. I was alone in the library reading when I looked out of the window and saw a woman walking by herself toward the clinic backdoor.  As I walked toward the door I heard her knock. When I opened the door there stood a Black American in her mid-30’s in age, obviously pregnant and appearing to be in a hurry. She said, “Is you the doctor?” “Yes ma’am,” I responded. “You better hurry!” I didn’t have time to call Dr. Fairley for assistance.

I quickly took her into the delivery room which was next to the back door and helped her onto the table. As I was getting her prepped for the delivery I asked her how many babies she had, to which she responded, “This will make number eight.” When I had the sterile drape in place and took my seat on the exam stool she asked the important question; “Is you ready?” When I answered, “Yes ma’am,” I noticed  she held her breath and pushed down as hard as she could. Her eighth delivery proceeded very quickly and could not have been any easier, both for her and for her young “doctor.” As I was tending to the healthy baby, the mother asked if she could go to the rest room. I helped her there holding onto her with my right hand while holding the baby in the other arm.

I went back to the delivery room and got the baby cleaned and powdered while he calmed down from his initial crying. He was beginning to get used to his new environment and needed some rest from the ordeal he had just endured. I filled out his birth certificate and walked to the rest room door, and I asked the mother for his name to add to the certificate. “I’m calling him James, she said, “and would you mind calling me a cab?” I assisted her back to the delivery room where she held James for the first time, and they immediately bonded. I had her sign the birth certificate, and she paid me thirty-five dollars thus completing the business side of the whole transaction. The cab arrived and I helped her get into it with James, and they left for their home where presumably they would be greeted by seven excited siblings. I assumed since the father did not accompany her he was no longer in the home. I happened to look at my watch, and the entire process from the initial back door meeting to the awaiting cab took a grand total of forty-five minutes!

For some strange reason I felt I had done a full day’s work in that forty-five minute span. I know I had just experienced something very few other medical students had. I was extremely glad I was training to become a doctor and delighted they had assigned me to Dr. Fairley’s clinic for this once in a life-time experience. Since this unusual experience in Osceola I have always tried my best to “be ready!”

Dr. John

“God’s Prescription for Worry”

 

Rx Pad

Rx Pad

I practiced medicine and surgery in the same town with my brother Berry Lee for 29 years, and the professional relationship we had was wonderful. He was an older brother by 11 years, and I had idolized Bubba from my earliest recollection. Because our Dad was so busy with his medical practice during my pre-teen and teenage years, Bubba taught me many things which normally would be taught to a son by a Dad. In so many respects I looked on Bubba as a father-figure, and this type of relationship continued into our professional life. Our Dad had died during the time of my training as a general surgeon.

Bubba had a family medical practice, and he was an immediate referral source when I started my practice as a surgeon. I never quantified the referral percentages, but I suspect that at least 40% of my patients had been referred by Bubba. It was not surprising when I walked into the examining room one afternoon to see a new patient, and she informed me that she had been a patient of “Dr. Berry.” To a large number of people in our small community, he was known as “Dr. Berry,” and I was “Dr. John,” in order to avoid confusion between us.

Mrs. Johnson was a very pleasant 65 year old lady with a sweet countenance, and after a few words of conversation, I knew she was a Christian. She said she had not seen Dr. Berry for at least 6 years, because she had moved to California to take care of a disabled, older sister, and had just returned following her sister’s death. Her surgical problem was relatively minor and could be resolved with an office procedure, which we scheduled for the following week. Just before she left the room she asked, “Would you mind refilling a prescription for me?”

Normally a request like that is easily honored, but I needed more information. She said  Dr. Berry had given her this prescription well over 6 years previously, and she had taken it with her to California. With her next few remarks, I became very suspicious of her motives for the request. She said, “I use this prescription all the time, and have shared it with a number of people, and also with all of my friends in California!” Every alarm alert in my brain was immediately tripped, causing me to believe Mrs. Johnson was not only taking a controlled substance drug, but was giving (or selling) it to her friends. My fears were partially tempered when I asked her if a doctor in California had refilled it for her and she said, “No,” Dr. Berry is the only doctor who ever gave me a prescription like this.”

I asked her to tell me the medicine which Dr. Berry had prescribed, and she said, “I have his prescription right here in my purse.” She reached into her enormous purse and without any hesitation in her search, retrieved a tiny slip of paper from one of the small pockets within the purse. It was indeed a prescription which was folded into a small enough size to fit into the pocket. I could tell by the age and condition of the paper this prescription had been unfolded and folded back many times. I had to carefully unfold it to keep it from tearing. It had been written on Bubba’s pad which had his name, address, telephone number and narcotics license printed on it. Her name was in the proper place, and written as the prescription was: Philippians 4: 6&7. The prescription was signed: Dr. Jesus. She said she had told Dr. Berry she had been worrying about a number of things, and was wondering if he had any medicines which could help calm her nerves. As she was talking, he was already writing her prescription on his pad, and when he gave it to her he said, “Take this prescription as often as you need it, and it is guaranteed to calm you down.” She said, “I tried it and it worked every time! That is why I shared it with all my friends and family.” I gladly wrote her the exact prescription on my pad, and told her I would be more than glad to refill it as often as she needed. My nerves had also calmed greatly, and I was ashamed I had thought badly about Mrs. Johnson.

A paraphrase of the verses on the prescription is; don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything, and God will calm your nerves and your heart. Bubba probably gave hundreds, and perhaps thousands of similar prescriptions during his 50+ years of medical practice. I feel quite certain the drug companies that made anti-depressant pills, noticed a decrease in the demand for their pills as Bubba’s patients applied his prescription for the worries in their life. I took this lead from Bubba and began treating my own patients with worry problems in a similar fashion. I never heard of any treatment failures.

Dr. John