A Mercedes 380 SL and a Lesson on Contentment

Mercedes 380 SL

Mercedes 380 SL

As a 4th year general surgeon resident physician at Charity Hospital in New Orleans in 1969, Cathy and I could see the light at the end of a long tunnel at that stage in life. We had one child, John Aaron who was 2 years old and my salary level was the highest it had been in 3 previous years. I was being paid $500 per month base salary and was receiving an additional $200 per month as the Assistant Clinical Director of Surgery for Charity Hospital. That in itself was an honor because every third night I was the Director on call for the entire hospital and was responsible for every night-time administrative decision made for that massive 3000 bed hospital. Still our income was at poverty level because we had made the decision 2 years before when John was born, Cathy would stay home from her teaching profession to concentrate on raising our children. The last year in New Orleans Cathy and I also decided to sell my car (1964 Corvair Monza convertible) to save that additional expenditure for transportation. A fellow 4th year resident, Jack Welch offered me a ride to work every day, since he and his family lived a short distance from our duplex, and it was right on the way to the hospital.

Jack was an outstanding man and surgical resident with a very promising future in general surgery in his home town of Lake Charles, Louisiana. Jack and wife Marie had 4 young children, and they were a little older than Cathy and me because Jack had already completed his military obligation prior to the residency years. Jack and I were both Chief Residents of the LSU Surgical service, which was a bit unusual because normally there was only one. The head of the Department of LSU Surgery, Dr. Isidore Cohn told us one day he was unable to choose one over the other, so he made us co-chiefs.

Jack and I not only shared a ride each day and shared teaching responsibilities at the hospital, but we shared a common desire for nice clothes and fancy sports cars! Jack loved Porsches and I was extremely fond of Mercedes. Neither of us at the time could afford to purchase even the  new tires of such vehicles. Fortunately for us the dealerships of those two cars were within a block of each on St. Charles Avenue which required only a few blocks detour on the way home. Because we were “important” senior residents on the surgical service, we were able to leave for home most days before 5 PM, and if we desired could make it to the car dealerships before closing. As I recall we made a brief visit to the respective dealerships at least once every 2 weeks or so. The salesmen learned to recognize us as we browsed the showrooms and lots each time. They learned quickly neither one of us were able at the time to purchase such an expensive car, but we were certainly great future customers for them, so they were quick to be nice to us! Jack’s dream car was a Porsche 911s Targa, and mine was a Mercedes 380 SL (pictured above). I was partial to a red one because my former Chevy Monza was red with a white interior! The cost then of each car was approximately $30,000 when an ordinary new car like a Ford or Chevy could be bought for $2,500.

When we completed our resident training, Jack and Marie moved to Lake Charles while Cathy and I moved to Valdosta, Georgia to begin my 2 year obligation of active duty in the US Air Force. We then moved to El Dorado, Arkansas to start my professional life as a  general surgeon and where we were to raise our family. I had mostly lost contact with Jack except to know he was doing extremely well professionally and financially in Lake Charles. That is until I heard he had been diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus and was undergoing treatment at MD Anderson Hospital in Houston.

When I first called him, he already had the major operation for esophageal cancer and was in his second month of treatment in Houston with radiation and chemotherapy. He told me the entire story of the discovery of the cancer and the extremely difficult journey he, Marie and their kids were taking. Jack and Marie were only in their late 30’s in age. The part of the story that caused us to weep together on the phone that day was as follows; “John, you remember how we used to spend time looking at and desiring our dream cars?” I said, “I sure do, and I haven’t gotten to the point yet where I can afford a 380 SL.” He said, “Well I finally bought the absolute car of my dreams, a black 911s Targa, and I was so proud of it; not only that I could afford it, but now I owned it! But the day I knew I had cancer and got in that car to drive alone by myself to Houston for the first time, I had just hugged and kissed my wife and 4 children good-bye. I wasn’t sure I would ever see them again. While driving that 2 hours alone, I realized how unimportant owning a Porsche was for me, but how critically important my family became. John, don’t make your family secondary to a car!” We cried together on the phone that day, and I pledged my prayers for him. I so wish now I had prayed for him on the phone, but was not a Christian then except in name. I talked with him a few more times over the next 2 months as he became weaker. Jack died before the end of the year. I saw him for the first time in 4 years in his casket at his funeral in Lake Charles. I never again desired nor purchased a Mercedes 380 SL.

Jack’s words concerning life priorities impacted me greatly then and now, not just because I loved and respected him, but because they contained such Biblical truth. The Apostle Paul said in the book of Philippians, we are to learn contentment in whatever state we find ourselves, whether we are poor or rich., and to understand our God will supply all of our needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

Dr. John





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