Operating With Dr. Paul Brand

Dr. Paul Brand

Dr. Paul Brand

One of the highlights of my 4 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 3 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 that Carville was the only hospital in the continental United States that treated patients with leprosy, but I had never heard of Dr. Brand. I had no idea that Dr. Paul Brand was recognized at that time as the greatest hand surgeon 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 that 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 believer 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 that process. He allowed me to do the procedure but showed me certain techniques that 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 tell me that!) Had I not had on a mask, he would have seen that 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 2 weeks later. It was interesting when I discovered the staff of the LSU Orthopedic Department was angry that 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 and not a hand surgeon.

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, but continued working there 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. 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 that day he came to our home for a short visit and a piece of Cathy’s famous key lime pie. While there he demolished my years of reasoning to Cathy that 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 that 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 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 to experience a return of feeling to their feet, even 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 those 2 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!

Dr. John

PS: At Dr. Brand’s recommendation, Cathy continues to go barefoot in our home.

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One thought on “Operating With Dr. Paul Brand

  1. I remember Dr. Brand’s visit to FBC. Moving talk. As for Cathy, she sounds just like a forever Florida girl serving key lime pie while barefoot. May have to pick up some of Dr. Brand’s books. Oh, and I have decades worth of notes, too. Could probably find some from Berry Lee’s sermons at the Good Shepherd Mission in El Do.

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