Operating With Dr. Paul Brand

Dr. Paul Brand

Dr. Paul Brand

One of the highlights of my four years of surgical training at Charity Hospital in New Orleans was the privilege of operating on two separate occasions with Dr. Paul Brand. The LSU General Surgery Department had a separate orthopedic division apart from the LSU Orthopedic Department, and the general surgery residents spent three months on our own orthopedic service caring for major fractures, repairing fractured tibiae, hips and performing tendon repairs on injured hands. It was a very busy rotation because there was only one resident and an intern on the service caring for a large number of patients.

One evening while on the orthopedic service our Chief Resident announced I would have a visiting staff surgeon assisting me the following morning on a patient needing a major tendon repair on his hand. I asked who would be staffing me and was told it was Dr. Paul Brand, a hand surgeon who worked at Carville Hospital near Baton Rouge. I knew Carville was the only hospital in the continental United States which treated patients with leprosy, but I had never heard of Dr. Brand. I had no idea Dr. Paul Brand was recognized at the time as one of the greatest hand surgeons in the world!

For many years previously Dr. Brand was a missionary surgeon to India and worked with the Leprosy Mission Trust in Vellore. As a pioneer hand surgeon working to reconstruct diseased and crippled hands and feet he had devised a number of unique tendon transfer procedures all of which bore his name. His experience and expertise was vast and surgeons all over the world learned from him. Some even traveled to India for the privilege of working with this hand surgery legend. I knew none of this when he arrived the morning at Charity, introduced himself, and we scrubbed our hands to go into the operating room to don our sterile gown and gloves.

As he began asking questions about this particular patient and then described the condition of his hand, I immediately knew I was in the presence of a phenomenal man and surgeon. I was not a Christian at the time, but as he spoke he interwove the spiritual relationship an injured body part plays to prevent the body from functioning as God intended. He was the first physician I ever heard speaking about the importance of the power of God in the healing process, and how necessary it was for a physician to know and cooperate with the Lord Jesus in the process. He allowed me to do the procedure but showed me certain techniques which improved the quality of my work and lessened the trauma to the tissue which always occurs when tissue is handled too roughly.

At the conclusion of the procedure he said he was very pleased to have been with me. (I never had a staff surgeon speak those words!) Had I not had on a mask he would have seen  my mouth remained open in awe of him the entire time. I couldn’t wait for him to return, and we scheduled another case about two weeks later. It was interesting when I discovered the staff of the LSU Orthopedic Department was angry Dr. Brand had joined the general surgery staff instead of their orthopedic staff. He had trained as a general surgeon in London during the Battle of Britain and always considered himself a general surgeon who worked on the hand.

Years later in the mid 1980’s our pastor at First Baptist Church El Dorado, Dr. Mark Coppenger invited Dr. Brand to speak at our Sunday morning worship service. Since those days in 1967 at Charity Hospital I had become a believer and had read Dr. Brand’s biography Ten Fingers For God, so I was very excited he was coming. By this time he had collaborated with Phillip Yancey and authored 2 magnificent books; Fearfully and Wonderfully Made and In His Image. 

At the time of his visit to El Dorado he was still living in his home on the grounds of Carville Hospital (US Public Service Hospital in Louisiana) and had retired from his surgical practice. He continued working as the Chief of Rehabilitation Services. His wife Margaret, whom I never met was a distinguished eye surgeon and had a wonderful career of her own.

We made arrangements for him to speak to the doctors at South Arkansas Medical Center on Saturday prior to his talk at First Baptist on Sunday. He spoke on the topic “The Insensate Foot” which is a common problem for patients with diabetes. I took notes of that talk which I still have, because the things he taught were so informative and practical.

Later the same day he came to our home for a short visit and to enjoy a piece of Cathy’s famous Key lime pie. While there he demolished my years of reasoning to Cathy she should not go barefoot in our home for fear of stepping on a foreign object such as a pin. As he entered the house Cathy had her shoes off and said to Dr. Brand, “Excuse me while I slip on my shoes. John has fussed for years I should always wear shoes.” He looked at me and said in his deeply British accent, “Oh no, you mustn’t fuss at Mrs. Moore for doing something very healthy for her feet! Walking barefoot strengthens her feet and makes them more sensitive to foreign objects.” So much for my endless arguments.

Several years later Dr. Brand wrote his last book with Phillip Yancey, Pain, The Gift Nobody Wants, which was very practical for me in my practice as a wound care physician. One of the truths he taught in the book was people in America spend billions of dollars each year to free themselves from pain, while there are millions of others suffering from neuropathy (numbness) who would pay any amount of money to experience a return of feeling to their feet even if it was pain. What most don’t realize is pain in most situations is a God-given mechanism to protect us from further injury.

My experience of having Dr. Paul Brand assist me with the two orthopedic hand procedures years ago was worth a year’s added knowledge in surgical technique. But the spiritual lessons I  learned from his Christian wisdom and witness in providing loving care for my patients are priceless and eternal.

Dr. John

PS: Because of Dr. Brand’s recommendation Cathy continues to walk barefoot in our home.


An Important Lesson Learned From Mrs. Turner

A Patient

Depressed Person

My Dad (Pop) was a family doctor in a generation of physicians far removed from the present doctors. He learned many of his doctoring skills from his Dad, Dr. J.A. Moore who was a family doctor in South Arkansas from 1898 until his death in 1943. Medical technology in the first half of the 20th century did not advance as rapidly as it did in the second half. The success of a medical practitioner was dependent on his interpersonal relational skills, and his ability to make an accurate diagnosis with only a few diagnostic tools for help. CAT scans and PET scans were unheard of, and even x-rays were not as widely used as now. Listening carefully to a patient’s complaints was paramount and required unusual patience. When I entered medical school I remember Pop telling me, “Listen to what your patient is saying without interrupting much, and more often than not, they will tell you their diagnosis.” He emphasized the critical importance of observation and the necessity of careful palpation while not overlooking the sense of smell. He said, “I can smell a person and diagnosis kidney failure without running one lab test!” I later discovered what he meant when I began treating people with renal failure.

Pop never had an unlisted telephone number. There are few if any current physicians who do not have unlisted numbers. He said he wanted his patients to be able to find him when they needed help, and that made an impression on me. I never had an unlisted number in the forty-six years I practiced medicine. It made an impression on Bubba also, because he practiced family medicine for 54 years and his home phone was always listed. He would get twice as many medical calls at home as me, and I asked him once if he ever thought about an unlisted number, and he said the same thing as Pop; “I don’t want a patient who needs me to be unable to call for help.”

Pop had certain patients who called on the telephone at least once per day. Some called more than once. This was long before the invention of cellular phones, so he was contacted either on his office phone or on our home phone. The frequent callers to our home recognized my voice when I answered and would call me by name. Likewise, I could recognize many of them them before they identified themselves and asked to speak to Dr. Moore. One of those regular callers was Mrs. Turner (not her real name), and her calls were regular and predictable.

Mrs. Turner knew our family always had our evening meal together at approximately 6 PM. Pop was so busy and would leave for work so early each morning the evening meal was the only time we were all together. It was not uncommon for him to go back to the hospital or make a house call following supper. When the phone rang in the evenings usually my sister, Marilyn or I would answer hoping it was one of our friends calling. Most of our friends knew not to call around 6 PM because that was meal time. When Mrs. Turner made her evening call Pop would usually be the one to answer.

On this particular evening at precisely 6 PM the phone rang and Pop answered. Mom, Marilyn and I were seated at the table along with Pop, and our meal had already begun. By the tone of his voice and the words spoken I could tell it was Mrs. Turner. He spoke to her in a kind and patient voice, and whatever he said seemed to resolve her particular problem that evening. When he hung up the receiver I just couldn’t resist saying what I had thought for a long time but had never spoken out loud for our family to hear. “I can’t believe Mrs. Turner continues to call us at 6 every night knowing we are eating, and she is disturbing our meal.” I continued with my indignant commentary by saying, “I doubt she has ever had anything really wrong other than being a needy, grouchy person!”

With my last words Pop held up his hand without speaking, and I knew this was his signal for me to be quiet and listen. He said, “I want you to know Mrs. Turner has put clothes on your back, food on our table and kept you in school. Whatever problems she may have, I don’t want you talking about her any more.” All I dared say was, “Yes sir.” There was dead silence at the table when Pop said, “Now let’s continue our meal.”

As a result of Mrs. Turner’s call that particular evening I learned several important lessons, some of which I applied when I began my own medical practice. First it was not my concern nor my right to comment on a person’s medical condition unless I had first hand knowledge of their problem. Those comments could then be discussed privately with the person or one of their immediate family members or another health care professional involved in their care. My personal opinions concerning the validity of a person’s complaints must be kept to myself. Probably the most important lesson Pop (and Mrs. Turner) taught me that night was I needed to listen more and speak less. (James 1:19)  I later met Mrs. Turner when I accompanied Pop on a house call, and she was very polite to me and glad I had come with Pop to see her. I was never able to tell her how she helped me become a more compassionate doctor in the years ahead.

Dr. John

In Need of a Russian Translator

Russian Translator

A Russian Translator

Cathy and I travelled overseas with The International Congress on Revival for over ten years and established wonderful relationships with some of the most Godly people we have ever known. The purpose of the Congress (ICR), which was founded by Manley  Beasley in the 1970’s, was to encourage pastors and their wives to continue preaching the message of grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. The ministry started in western Europe and spread to eastern Europe, South Africa, Ireland and Australia. Many of the eastern European pastors at the time were laboring under conditions of discouragement and in some cases persecution for preaching the gospel. When Brother Manley died in 1990, God called Brother Bill Stafford to lead the ministry and this led to Cathy’s and my involvement in the ministry. We had been good friends with Brother Bill for the previous ten years.

The first year we attended the western European conference, which was held in Salzburg, Austria we met and became good friends with Mia and Costel Oglice. They were Romanians who lived in Chattanooga, Tennessee while working and ministering with Precepts Ministry founded by Kay Arthur. Mia and Costel were ICR’s translators for the Romanian and Russian pastors who attended the conferences. When Mia discovered I was a general surgeon who specialized in gall bladder surgery, she said, “I have seven pastor’s wives who are suffering death on a daily basis because of gall bladder disease.” I told her if she could get them to El Dorado, Arkansas I would work out an arrangement with the hospital to have their operations done at no cost. Amazingly she was able to get four of the wives and their husbands to El Dorado where they received care through the generosity of The Medical Center of South Arkansas.

Late one Thursday evening I received a phone call from Mia who proudly announced she had arranged for Pastor Sasha and his wife, Tamara from the Ukraine to come to Chattanooga in anticipation of travelling to El Dorado to have the hysterectomy she desperately needed. She said they would be in El Dorado by the weekend in order to have the operation the following week. I told Mia this was very short notice, but thought I could get it arranged. I said, “Of course you are coming with them, aren’t you?”, knowing her friends could not speak English. Mia said, “Unfortunately Costel and I are leaving tomorrow for a meeting in Moldova and already have our plane reservations.” I told Mia I had to have a translator because there was no way I could take Tamara through a major operation without the proper communication. Mia’s response was typical for her as she said in her heavy Romanian accent, “We will pray to the Lord He will provide the right one.” I thought to myself, “I am already praying, but who in the world can I call?”

There was no one I knew in El Dorado who spoke Russian, and my only thought was calling South Arkansas University in Magnolia which was thirty miles away hoping to find someone on that campus who spoke Russian. I asked the switchboard operator if there was a Russian Language Department, and she said there was. “Please let me speak to the Chairman,” I said as I anxiously awaited for her to connect me. When she came back on-line she said, “I’m sorry but he is out-of-town for the next two weeks.” In a low tone I said, “I’m ruined now,” to which the operator asked, “Is there any way I can help?” When I briefly explained the situation and how badly I needed a Russian translator she said, “One of our switchboard operators is from Belarus. Perhaps she can help. Would you like me to connect you?” I held my breath as I waited for her to answer.

Innesa Divisova was an exchange student at SAU from Belarus and worked part-time as a switchboard operator to help with her college expenses. She spoke excellent English, and agreed to come to El Dorado and stay with us for the week while Sasha and Tamara were there. She understood she would have to go into the operating room, at least for the first part of the procedure, to which she said, “That will be exciting for me!” As we were making those plans I could hear Mia’s voice in my head, “We will pray to the Lord—.” I was embarrassed at my lack of faith.

The following week could not have gone better. Innesa was a delight to have in our home because of her cheerful, positive attitude. Pastor Sasha and Tamara were more subdued in their outward expressions, and Cathy and I thought it was because of fear and anxiety of what was taking place and their inability to openly communicate. The actual OR experience for Innesa went smoothly, and she had no problems with the sights, sounds and smells of this new and strange environment for her. By the end of the week of healing and recovery, Sasha and Tamara were more relaxed and expressed gratitude for all that had been provided and done for them in the name of Jesus.

Cathy and I were grateful for the many doors of opportunity opened to us through the ministry of ICR. We experienced the joy of saying “yes” to using our skills and especially Cathy’s hospitality in opening our home to brothers and sisters in Christ who were in need of medical care. At the hospital I was chided by a few physicians for having such an international referral practice but was confident God used the witness of those pastors and wives with all the hospital staff. The language of love of the Lord Jesus Christ is universal and transcends all cultural barriers.

Dr. John

The Final Four in 1978

Sidney Moncrief

Sidney Moncrief

When I was an undergraduate at the University of Arkansas in the late 1950’s the basketball team was pretty uninspiring, and I was not alone in my assessment. Our fraternity required all freshman pledges to attend the home games because the attendance at Barnhill Arena was so poor. On a good night there would be less than three thousand in attendance, and this number included the student body who would be loudly cheering for their beloved Razorbacks. Coach Glen Rose was a good coach, but his talent pool was not able to regularly compete in the Southwest Conference. He was followed by two coaches, Duddy Waller and Lanny Van Eman who collectively coached from 1967 through 1974. Arkansas basketball needed re-vitalization, and it came with the hiring of Eddie Sutton in 1975.

Coach Sutton was a disciplinarian and drilled sound basketball fundamentals into all of his players. There was no shot clock in those days, and the game was slowed to the extent where many games were won when a team could score 40 points. There was a premium on ball control and pin point shooting, especially free throws.

In his second year of coaching at Arkansas he recruited three players from Arkansas who helped transform the Razorbacks into a national power. They were Marvin Delph from Conway, Ronnie Brewer from Fort Smith and Sidney Moncrief from Little Rock. They later became known as “The Triplets” and individually set Razorback records for scoring, rebounding and assists.

Their first year together they led the Razorbacks to the NCAA Regionals, only to lose in the first round to Wake Forest. The following season was their best, and they made it to the Final Four which was played in late March, 1978 at the Checker Dome Arena in St. Louis, Missouri.

As soon as I knew the Razorbacks were in the Final Four I called Uncle Harry Gosling who lived in St. Louis. Earlier he told me he was best friends with the facilities manager of the Checker Dome. I asked if he could get four tickets for the games through his friend, and he thought surely it would be possible. I anxiously awaited his call the following Monday, but Uncle Harry sadly reported the words of his friend, “Harry, if my own mother wanted tickets for the tournament, I couldn’t get them. They’ve been sold out for almost a year!”

After asking several friends in El Dorado if they had any connections to get tickets I remembered Russell Marks would be a good source. His dealership, Marks Ford Company supplied the use of a new vehicle each year to the Razorback coaching staff, and he was a personal friend of Frank Broyles, the Athletic Director. Mr. Marks told me he didn’t have tickets, but I must have lots of confidence in his ability to secure tickets. He said, “I’ll take this as a big challenge and see what I can do!”

Several day later he called to say he had quite an experience in his ticket search and was only partially successful in the quest. He couldn’t get tickets through the Razorback Athletic Department but had gotten not four but two tickets from the President of St. Louis University who was also a personal friend. Mr. Marks apologized for his inability to get the four tickets I had requested, but said, “I think you’ll like these two because they are really good seats.” Indeed we discovered later how successful was his search. The two seats were on the second row behind the home bench, because they were the personal seats of the President, whose team, the St. Louis Billikins played their home games in the Checker Dome.

The Final Four games were played over the Easter weekend, and because Cathy’s Mom and Dad were visiting from Fort Lauderdale I thought it would have been rude for John and me to leave and be absent on Easter Sunday. We gave our two tickets for the Saturday games to the El Dorado Wildcat head basketball coach, Jim Atwell so he and a guest could attend the semi-final games. John and I scheduled a Monday flight to St. Louis so we could make the final game which was on Monday night.

We were hoping the Razorbacks would defeat the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday and  play for the championship on Monday night, but it was not to be. The Wildcats had some very large and talented players, and they muscled their way to a 64-59 victory with aggressive rebounding and accurate shooting. The play was so rough one of our forwards, Jim Counce had to be hospitalized following the game with an injury to his kidney.

In those days there was a consolation game so we were scheduled to play Notre Dame on Monday night prior to the championship game between Kentucky and Duke. Although John and I were disappointed in not getting to see our team play for the title, we would see a great game with Notre Dame and then watch the National Championship game live! We arrived at the airport and Uncle Harry met us and took us to our motel room. We were to call him following the game and he planned to drive us back to our motel which was several miles away.

We were very excited by the crowd and the noise outside the arena, and fans from Kentucky and Duke were anticipating their team would win the grand prize. I approached a man holding two fingers in the air and  asked him if he had two tickets to sell to which he replied, “No, I want to buy two!” I asked what he was willing to pay, and he said, “One thousand dollars apiece.” I felt those expensive tickets in my coat pocket and for a brief moment considered making a quick two thousand dollars and going back to the motel to watch the game on television. I knew however,  Mr. Marks would discover my deceit before we got ever back to El Dorado.

The game was everything predicted and even more. Near the end of regulation time the game was tied, and we had the ball on our end of the court with only ten seconds left. There was a timeout called while the coaches planned their strategy. My heart was beating so hard I asked the man next seated to me if I had a heart attack would he please see John got back home! He laughed and said, “Don’t worry Doc. You’ll both make it fine.”

Ron Brewer got the in-bounds pass and walked the ball down court with the fans of both teams loudly screaming. When he got to the top of the circle and there were two seconds left on the clock he quickly shot a jump shot that hit the bottom of the net and we won the game. It was the most exciting basketball game John and I ever saw together. And yes, we both did make it! I survived the heart scare and John got back home.

Dr. John

PS: Kentucky beat Duke, so at least the team which beat us was the national champion!

PS 2: Fast forward thirty-eight years and Dr. Jim Counce, noted heart surgeon in Fayetteville who was injured in the Arkansas-Kentucky game performed an open heart triple coronary bypass operation on me in 2016. I not only survived but did well and have not lost my enthusiasm for Razorback basketball.