Surgical Lessons Learned From Pop and Bubba

Pop Operating With His Sons Assisting

Pop Operating With His Sons Assisting

Pop practiced medicine and surgery in El Dorado from 1934 until his death in 1966. The first eight years were especially wonderful for him, because he had the privilege of practicing with his Dad, Dr. J.A. whom he greatly admired and loved. Their personalities were totally different because Granddad Moore was very serious in demeanor, seldom joked in his conversations and only occasionally smiled. Pop was jovial, extroverted, joked easily and was a master story-teller. Their personalities were professionally compatible however, and together they developed a large medical and surgical practice during that eight year span.

Pop became a physician later in life than his peers, because he spent his early adult years in vain pursuit of multiple careers. His Dad was long-suffering concerning him, and when Pop was twenty-eight years old and had been married to Mimi for six years he finally decided a career in medicine was suited to his talents and gifts. Granddad and Grandmother (Deeji) Moore assisted them with their finances, and it must have been very difficult for all of them because this was during the years of the Great Depression.

After receiving his M.D. degree at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock in 1932 Pop, Mimi and Bubba who was four years old went to New Orleans for a two year medical-surgical internship at Charity Hospital. One of Pop’s fellow interns was Dr. Michael DeBakey who later became the most well-known heart surgeon in the world. Pop had some interesting stories about Dr. DeBakey and his other colleagues there. I even have photos of their intern baseball team which was coached by Dr. Arthur Vidrine, the Superintendent of Charity Hospital. Dr. Vidrine later became well-known as Huey Long’s personal physician and the one who unsuccessfully operated on him when he was shot by an assassin in Baton Rouge.

When his training in New Orleans was complete Pop was not only qualified to treat patients with medical problems, he had a large repertoire of surgical procedures he had learned at Charity Hospital. He and Mimi had decided years before they wanted to live and raise their family in El Dorado where Pop could practice with his Dad. They were general practitioners who treated medical illnesses, delivered babies, provided pediatric care and treated surgical problems. When one of their patients required an operation Granddad would administer the anesthesia and Pop would  do the procedure. In those days the preferred method of general anesthesia was open-drop ether or chloroform which is no longer used because of safety issues.

The economy of the country was beginning to recover from the Great Depression of 1929, but the winds of war were blowing in Europe and Germany with the rise to power of Adolph Hitler. When our country’s involvement in war was inevitable several physicians from El Dorado enlisted in the Army Medical Corps which made the work load much greater on the doctors remaining at home.  Because Pop was thirty-seven years old he was exempted from active duty.

In 1954 Bubba graduated from the University of Arkansas Medical School and he and his wife LaNell moved to Dallas where he completed a 1 year rotating internship at Parkland Hospital. Those were the years of the Korean War, and young physicians just out of training were required to serve in the military. Their active duty assignment was Brookley Air Force Base in Mobile where they spent the next two years. They decided to move back to El Dorado where Bubba joined Pop in a medical-surgical practice similar to the one Pop and Granddad had fifteen years earlier. I graduated from high school that same year, which was also the year our sister Marilyn married George Berry. There were lots of changes in the Moore family in 1957.

During my high school years Pop would occasionally allow me to spend time in his office observing how he interacted with patients and learning some of the medical vocabulary. By this time I was absolutely convinced I would pursue a career in medicine and probably become a surgeon. When Bubba joined the practice I began spending more time in the office. Bubba initially had more free time than Pop because his practice was new and relatively small, and he loved teaching. Between the two of them they taught me the principles of wound care and suturing, and I learned the art of handling instruments as well as the essentials of sterile technique. Upon entering medical school I could suture a wound as well as any intern.

During college and medical school years Pop allowed me to assist with his surgical cases when I was home for Christmas and spring and summer breaks. On their operative cases Bubba was always the first assistant, and I was the one who got to hold the retractors which was the most physically taxing of the OR jobs and the most boring! I was so excited to be in the OR environment, I was seldom bored. Prior to beginning my formal surgical training as an intern and resident I had assisted Pop and Bubba with as many as fifteen operations and had sutured at least twenty patients who came to the ER with various minor wounds. In today’s atmosphere of malpractice litigation, the things I was allowed to do then would not be tolerated even under the close supervision of Pop and Bubba.

The techniques I used in the forty years of my own surgical practice I learned from many gifted surgeons, including the men I served with at The Surgical Clinic of South Arkansas in El Dorado. Those surgical techniques were essential for the science of medicine, but an equally important aspect of any practice is the art of medicine. I was fortunate to have a grandfather, father and brother who were gifted at both the art and the science of medicine. I am very grateful to the Lord for the heritage of medical service Pop and Bubba received from Granddad Moore and then passed on to me.

Dr. John

“Dr. John, This is Lill-ian!”

Lillian Thompson

Lillian Thompson

Over the thirty years I practiced medicine and surgery in El Dorado I had the privilege of serving thousands of people in the town and the surrounding communities. God opened doors of opportunity which extended far beyond the technical aspect of performing countless thousands of surgical procedures. My brother Berry Lee (Bubba) encouraged me in the ministry Christ had given me within the medical practice and helped me better understand some of the reasons God had placed me there.

When Cathy and I had the spiritual change in our lives which occurred six years after beginning the practice I began viewing each patient encounter as a divine appointment. Those appointments included people who needed not only physical healing, but needed prayer, encouragement, counsel, challenge and in some cases rebuke. There were some who were dead in their sins and needed a Savior. Some of the patients whom God appointed to my surgical care I am certain He sent them to encourage and to challenge me. One of those blessed saints He sent many years ago is a lady named Lillian Thompson.

When I first met Lillian as a patient she was in her mid-60’s in age and had a problem she feared was malignant. A relatively minor surgical procedure proved the problem was not malignant and greatly relieved her anxiety. Because Lillian was forthright in her personality and not intimidated by white coats I got to know her quickly and immediately connected to her outgoing Christian witness. She had a distinctive phone voice and when she called she would say, “Dr. John, this is Lill’-ian!” I was never in doubt with which Lillian I was speaking. I looked forward to her calls, because they were usually about someone else’s problem or a particular need for her church.

Lillian moved to El Dorado in 1940 and was married the same year to her husband L.G.  He was a hard-working man who provided well for his family. He worked faithfully for Andrews Funeral Home for many years assisting in the preparation and burial of people who entrusted their final arrangements to Andrews Funeral. L.G. and Lillian had no children of their own, but they took a nephew of Lillian into their home when he was five years old and raised him into adulthood as if he was their son. Lillian poured her life and energy into numerous nephews and nieces through the years and provided needed clothes, food and money as she was able. L.G. lived until 1999 and departed this life one year prior to their fiftieth wedding anniversary.

Early in our friendship I learned Lillian was very loyal to her church, St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church in which she was a charter member. She was one of the primary fund-raisers for improvements in the building and the ongoing ministries of the church. She was never shy about asking her friends and acquaintances to help with the financial obligations of her church, because everyone knew how much she gave of herself for the welfare of the church. She was continually visiting needy church members either in their homes or in the hospital, and her ministry to the church was not unlike one of a deacon. I greatly admired this quality in her.

In a recent conversation Lillian told me years ago when I was a small boy she assisted Lillian Singleton in cleaning our home and working for Pop. (Kisses From Lillian) I have previously written about the impact Lillian Singleton had on our family during the years of adjustment in our lives when Mimi, my birth mother died of breast cancer. The two Lillian’s lived within a few blocks of each other. I was not aware of any these facts, and in the same conversation Lillian said ,”I have loved you, your brother and sister since then.”

When Bubba was in his final illness Lillian included him in the large number of people to whom she was ministering. He had been providing total home care for his wife LaNell  for the ten years of her struggle with progressive dementia and doing the majority of cooking for the two of them. When I would visit with him by phone he would tell me he had lost his appetite by eating his own cooking. His comment was, “If you want to lose weight just start cooking for yourself. Everything will taste like cardboard.” Over the course of a year or so Bubba must have lost twenty-five pounds. Lillian would tell me when she called, “Your brother is not looking good, so I cooked him some greens and cornbread which he loves.” I told her how much I appreciated her doing this for him, and her response would usually be, “I just love your brother; he is a good man; he is a Christian. Did you hear what I said? He is a Christian!” Several times I asked her how many other people for whom she was cooking, and she would never answer. I always suspected she had five or six others for whom she regularly cooked greens and cornbread.

Lillian recently celebrated her ninety-sixth birthday and by her account had a “house-full of company” (nieces and nephews from out-of-town)) who stayed for more than a week. Lillian probably cooked the majority of meals while they were there. The photo above was taken recently, and it is not difficult to see that usual twinkle in her eyes. When I called to congratulate her on making ninety-six years, I asked how she was feeling, to which she quickly responded, “I’m doin’ pretty good Dr. John. How you feelin’? Are you taking care of yourself and are you eating right?” Her responses like this one usually made me ask myself if am I as concerned as Lillian about the welfare of others?

I have been studying Jesus account of the final judgement concerning the sheep and the goats recorded in Matthew 25:31-46. He told the sheep on His right hand to come into His Kingdom because they had fed Him, given Him drink, taken Him into their homes, clothed Him, visited Him when He was sick and ministered to Him in prison. They asked when they had done that for Him and He said, “When you have done it to the least of my brethren, you have done it to Me.” Lillian has spent most of her life doing for the least of His brethren, and she will be greatly rewarded.

Dr. John

PS: Since writing this account of my friend Lillian she departed this life on December 9, 2020 while living with her niece in San Antonio, Texas. She had moved there a year earlier because of progressive deterioration in her health. I called and spoke with her by telephone on a number of occasions before her death, and she was always cheerful and upbeat. She always asked me, “How you feelin’ Dr. John? And how’s your beautiful wife?” She was three months shy of her one hundred and third birthday when she departed. When she came into the presence of her Savior and Lord Jesus Christ she heard Him say, “Well done my good and faithful servant. Enter now into your rest with Me!”

Our Family Home in El Dorado

1800 North Madison

1800 North Madison

Growing up in a relatively small town in South Arkansas, I didn’t give much thought to the home my parents had provided. I was aware it was a beautiful 2-story colonial style house on North Madison and had a large front yard very conducive to football games with neighborhood buddies. The yard could also be used as a scaled down baseball field, but it didn’t take a very long hit to travel into one of the neighbor’s yard. From a baseball standpoint it was mostly useful only for games of pitch and catch. I wasn’t aware of most of the details of how and when the house was built, except I knew it was constructed in the mid-1930’s before I was born. Pop always said it was a dream home for him and for Mimi, my birth mother and had taken them about 5 years in planning and building. He said the lumber was a “special cut” from Anthony-Williams Lumber Company, a local and well-known company. It was completed in 1939, and they moved into it in the spring of the year. I was born in October. The following year Mimi was diagnosed with far-advanced breast cancer and despite the best treatment options available she died in April, 1941. Pop married Athelene West in 1944, and we began adjusting to a different life style with our new Mom.

Our home was distinctive and larger than the homes of all of my friends, but was not a barrier to any of those friendships. In addition to the advantages of having a large yard for ball games there were special hiding places in the attic and basement where we could gather and plan whatever things which seemed important to us. Occasionally the basement was used for overnight camp-outs because of the presence of a large fireplace.

When Pop died of heart trouble in 1966, Mom remained in the home and maintained it as well as she could. At the time Cathy and I were living in New Orleans where I was in my residency training as a general surgeon. I completed training in 1969 but had a 2 year obligation in the Air Force. It was during our stint at Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Georgia I learned more of the details of the building of our family home.

I was the only surgeon on the base which provided medical care for active duty personnel as well as a large population of retired military families living in the area. Alex Skoropat was a retired Air Force colonel who I got to know fairly well because he developed a malignant colon cancer requiring an extensive operation. During the course of his 6-8 weeks treatment and recovery, I discovered  during his retirement years he was employed b a large lumber company in South Georgia with connections to similar companies in other states. When he discovered I was originally from El Dorado, Arkansas, he told me he had become good friends with Aubrey Anthony one of the brothers who owned Anthony-Williams Lumber Company in El Dorado. During the course of one conversation regarding his relationship with the Anthony family, he told me the following; “Aubrey said there was a doctor in El Dorado who got all the lumber for his home in an interesting fashion. During the depression years of the 1930’s this doctor was the “company doctor” for Anthony-Williams, and the arrangement provided him a fixed fee each month for providing medical care for every company family. He asked us to keep a record his account, and when he was ready to build a home, he would take his fees in lumber. When he finally decided to build, we custom cut all the lumber for his home and treated every piece with creosote, which gave life-time termite protection.” After listening to this story, I told Alex the doctor in the story was my Dad, and the home he described was the one in which I grew up. What a divine appointment to learn about my home from a surgical patient who lived over 800 miles away!

Upon completion of my service time, Cathy and I moved to El Dorado to establish a private practice and build our lives there. We had no thoughts at the time to ever move into the family home. When Mom finally decided in 1972 she could no longer maintain such a large home, she placed it on the market to be sold. Cathy and I were living in a very nice rental home but were expecting our 3rd child and were thinking about buying a larger home with a larger yard. After 6 months there had only been one offer on the home, so with much consideration and consultation with all the family members, Cathy and I decided to purchase the home at the same price as the only offer. Shortly before the birth of Ginny, our third and final child, we took possession of our new home.

Over the next 20 years we used and loved our home much more than I ever did as a child. Cathy and I determined early despite the fact the house was large and beautiful, we wanted it to be child-friendly and not a show place of fashion elegance. After living in it for several years one of our son John’s friends innocently said to Cathy, “Mrs. Moore, your home is sure fancy on the outside and when you and Dr. Moore can afford it, I know you will fix up the inside too!” We slowly began re-modeling each room to reflect our individual personalities and tastes. We also added a swimming pool in the backyard which was a huge attraction particularly for our children’s friends. During the summer months it was well used.

One of my favorite poems is “It Takes A Heap O’ Livin’ In A House To Make It Home” by Edward Guest, and I believe that we did a heap of livin’ and lovin’ at 1800. When the children were grown and gone from home Cathy and I sold the house to move to a more convenient home on West Elm Street. There was some sadness and nostalgia in our hearts when the sale was finalized, but I firmly believe Pop’s and Mimi’s dream house had accomplished its’ purpose in providing a wonderful home for 3 generations of Moore’s!

Dr. John