Confidently Placing Sutures

Sutured Wound

Sutured Wound

I was recently watching Cathy quickly sew a button on one of my shirts and made the comment, “I guess I should be sewing my own buttons with all the experience I have with needle and thread.” I quickly told her; however, she did a much better job which is true. I believe the average seamstress is much better in sewing than the most skilled surgeon, and Cathy is far above average. The difference, of course lies in what one is sewing. Accurately placing sutures in wounds with skill and speed are basic to the work of a surgeon. Over the course of 45 years as a surgeon, I placed multiple thousands of sutures in untold types of wounds, and in some respects I miss exercising that skill now that I am retired.

My Dad (Pop) taught me how to place sutures when I was in high school. I would go with him on house calls or accompany him to the emergency room to treat people who had sustained an injury requiring sutures. He would allow me to suture relatively minor wounds while explaining to the patients I was in training under his watch care. I don’t ever remember a patient objecting to my work since Pop was there in the room making certain I did it correctly. This was at a time when malpractice litigation was almost non-existent, and most people were thankful to get medical care, if even from a non-licensed trainee! By the time I entered medical school, I could place sutures more quickly and accurately than the majority of interns.

During my surgical residency at Charity Hospital in New Orleans, I spent 4 years learning all the intricate techniques necessary for a general surgeon. Early in my first year of training when Cathy and I were newly weds, I would bring home needle holders, sutures and scissors to practice certain types of suturing. I would sew the neck of socks together to simulate the technique of sewing intestine end to end. I don’t remember how many pair of socks I owned, but at one time or another they all were stitched to each other! I would cut them apart and then sew them back together again. Cathy got pretty tired of examining my handy work that year. I tried my best to convince her that I was able to place some of the most beautiful stitches ever done at the “Big Charity.” I know she thought I was great, but I don’t believe I ever impressed her with my surgical skills. I also practiced sewing in tight places by sewing objects together within a match box. It was certainly better to hone those skills at home with inanimate objects rather than in the operating room on a patient in need of immediate help. I wasn’t able to simulate the stress of the OR in our tiny apartment.

When I began my private surgical practice in El Dorado, I was sharing office space with Bubba, even though his practice was family medicine. Initially he assisted me in the operating room until I became familiar with the other surgeons in town and could confidently ask them to assist. I was not doing many procedures the first year, but I was sure grateful to have him in the OR. He had assisted Pop for about 12 years prior to my arrival, so he was very familiar with good surgical technique. This was when I learned that Bubba wanted to become a general surgeon, but by the time he completed his obligation of 2 years in the US Air Force, he and La Nell had 2 children (Lydia and Andy). They believed they could not afford the huge expense of an additional 4 years of training at a medical center.

I have previously written about the spiritual conversion Cathy and I experienced when we attended the Bill Gothard seminar in Dallas in August, 1977. We had been married for 12 years and had been living in El Dorado for over 6 years. God transformed us and made us new as promised in His Word (II Cor. 5:17). Bubba was one of the first to know about the change, and he began slowly to mentor me, not as a doctor who happened to be a Christian, but as a Christian who happened to be a surgeon.

One day while assisting me in the OR, Bubba asked, “Do you know how a wound is held together and heals following placement of sutures?” He was always very precise in his approach to life and medicine, and I thought he was quizzing me on the exact physiology of wound healing to see if I remembered what we had been taught in medical school. I began by saying  that with the injury there is coagulation of platelets in blood at the wound edges which leads to the formation of fibrin—. He interrupted by saying, “You are giving the scientific explanation, but God gave us the Biblical explanation of wound healing.” I said, ” alright; you have my attention.” He said the wound healing passage is in Colossians, chapter 1, verses 16 and 17. He continued, “It says that the Lord Jesus created all things in heaven and earth, visible and invisible including principalities, powers, kings and queens. It further says all things are under His control and by Him all things consist.” Bubba stopped and asked, “Do you know the definition of the word consist? It means “held together.” Jesus is the One that holds all the universe together and keeps it from falling apart. That includes the edges of this surgical wound you have just caused. Jesus, Himself will be holding this wound together! You can put the sutures in place; remove them in 7 days and assume all the invisible physiological processes have occurred, but if Jesus isn’t holding it together, it will break open.”

I have never forgotten Bubba’s explanation of that particular passage. Every time I counseled with a surgical patient before their procedure, I could confidently say I would be placing the sutures, but it would be Jesus that would hold the edges of their wound together and cause it to heal. As my preacher friend, Luther Price would say after explaining a particularly difficult Bible passage, “My, what a God!”

Dr. John

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2 thoughts on “Confidently Placing Sutures

  1. I love reading about you and Berry Lee. Thank you for taking the time to write. You challenge me to write about more than the technical stuff I usually work on (writing an article about industrial safety now). I’m reminded of how blessed I was to be mentored in a small way by Berry Lee as well.

    • Thank you Todd for all your comments and your remembrance of Bubba and all his family. It’s fun to remember and finally record those thoughts. It’s probably the age! 🙂 May you have a blessed 2015. Come see us in Branson.

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