“When You Cross the Bridge at Memphis”

Memphis Bridge

In the early 1980’s I was invited to speak at the First Baptist Church in Camden, Arkansas which is a 20 minute drive from El Dorado. The occasion was Laymen’s Sunday and the pastor, Dr. Francis Chesson asked that I challenge the church, particularly the men to be more involved in the work of the church. I was scheduled to speak to a Men’s Bible Class at 9:30 AM and preach the morning service to the entire church at 11 AM. I was honored to have been chosen as the speaker, and learned I had been recommended as layman’s speaker by Dr. Herman Sandford, a Professor of English at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia. Dr. Sandford and I had become very good friends during the time he was Interim Pastor Of East Main Baptist Church in El Dorado approximately 2 years previous. Dr. Sandford was well-known by the people at First Baptist Camden, because he also served their church as Interim Pastor just prior to Dr. Chesson being called. Dr. Chesson’s previous pastorate was in Florence, South Carolina. I wasn’t aware Dr. Sandford would be there that morning to introduce me to the congregation until I arrived in the auditorium about 10 minutes before the scheduled worship service.

When it was time for Dr. Sandford’s introduction he took a few moments to thank the congregation again for being so gracious and kind to him and his wife Juanita during their time with them. He then told a story he claimed Dr. Chesson had related to him about his calling to the church in Camden. Here is Dr. Chesson’s alleged account;

“As I was praying one evening following my meeting with members of the Search Committee from First Baptist Camden I asked the Lord if I might ask Him a very serious question.” “What is your question Francis?” the Lord asked. “Lord, I feel the sense of a call to Camden and First Baptist Church.” After a brief pause the Lord said,  “Where is Camden?” Francis responded, “Lord it is in South Arkansas about 20 miles from El Dorado, and I believe it is your will for my wife and me to leave Florence and move to Camden. My question for you Lord is, will you go with me?” After a bit longer pause the Lord said, “Francis I will go with you as far as Memphis, but when you cross the bridge into Arkansas you’ll be on your own!”

When Dr. Sandford finished the story the congregation broke into uproarious laughter while Dr. Chesson seemed a bit embarrassed. I think he was more serious than the mischievous Dr. Sandford, but he joined in the laughter. After I was introduced I didn’t know quite how to open my remarks except to say how thrilled I was to have been invited by Dr. Chesson, and by all indications I could discern, his ministry was being greatly blessed by God. Of course the account of his prayer was simply a funny story with absolutely no truth to it whatsoever. Among many other promises of our God He tells us to ask and it will be given you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened for you. (Matt.7:7). He also promises He will never leave us nor forsake us (Heb.13: 5b, 6), and the Bible also assures us it is impossible to flee from the presence of the Lord (Ps.139: 7-12).

Since that wonderful morning with the brothers and sisters in Christ in First Baptist Camden I have never crossed the bridge at Memphis and not remembered the tale told on Dr. Francis Chesson. I am reminded to also thank God for His abiding presence wherever I am (even South Arkansas!)

Dr. John


The Hidden Leg

Artificial Leg

Artificial Leg


During my years of surgical training at Charity Hospital in New Orleans I was either the operating surgeon or first assistant on many lower limb amputations. A large percentage of the patient population of the largest teaching hospital in the country (at the time) were disadvantaged elderly, and a very large percentage of that group had peripheral vascular disease related to diabetes. I became skilled at amputations, both above and below the knee since those procedures were life-saving for the patients, and not because I sought to do them or even enjoyed that type of operation.

When I began my private practice of general surgery in El Dorado, Arkansas in the early 1970’s I discovered the orthopedic surgeons in town seldom if ever did limb amputations, so the procedure was done by the general surgeons when needed. An additional skill I learned in private practice involved the fitting and maintenance of the prosthetic device (artificial limb).

One afternoon I admitted a patient from my office named Alvin who had classic symptoms of acute, severe gall bladder disease, and because of his gender and physical findings I knew he needed an immediate operation. He had been tolerating his gall bladder symptoms for several weeks thinking he had a “bad case of indigestion.”  Throughout my years of experience in surgery I observed men in general delayed seeking treatment, and when they did come for an evaluation their condition was more severe than a woman of comparable age and health status.

Alvin was a Deputy Sheriff of Bradley County and lived in Warren, Arkansas which is about 50 miles from El Dorado. Another important part of his past history involved an injury to his right leg sustained by a gun shot wound years before while doing security work in South America. The injury was so severe his leg could not be saved, and  he had a below the knee amputation of his leg. He had successfully worn a prosthesis (artificial leg) for approximately 10 years..

The gall bladder operation done that same afternoon was difficult because of his size and the severity of the infection, but he was a very strong man and tolerated the procedure much better than I thought. When I visited him in his room later in the evening he was sitting up in bed with his glasses on reading the local newspaper! He even said his right side “felt much better” despite having a long incision with multiple staples in his skin. Laparoscopic surgery was not done in those days, and gall bladder surgery was generally much more painful with a longer incision and a longer recovery period. I told him I would see him again in the morning and was confident he would continue to improve rapidly. I noted his prosthetic leg had been removed prior to the operation and was propped against the wall and behind a curtain which partially concealed its’ presence.

The following morning I was making rounds to visit my hospitalized patients and in particular the post-operative patients. With his chart in hand I was walking to the end of the hall where Alvin’s room was located when I saw the door opened quickly, and a man who worked in housekeeping came bursting out of the room and running down the hall. Thinking perhaps Alvin had fallen out of bed or had some severe event such as a heart attack, I began running to his room. As I pushed the door open widely I saw Alvin sitting up in bed holding his right side and laughing as heartily as his painful side would permit. “What in the world just happened Alvin?” Between laughs he said, “The man from housekeeping knocked on my door, and when I gave him permission to enter he asked if he could clean my room to which I consented. He started sweeping first and when he swept the broom into the curtain against the wall he accidentally bumped my artificial leg, and it fell out into the middle of the room with a loud thud! The housekeeper’s eyes widened not recognizing this was an artificial leg and he turned and ran. He was scared to death!”

Later that morning I spoke with the housekeeper and asked him why he was so scared when he saw the leg fall out in the room. He said he didn’t know if it was “alive or dead.” I told him in a joking fashion for him not to worry because Dr. Duzan (the pathologist) kept the legs removed that day in that room before taking them to the basement, and they were not alive. I don’t think he believed me, but occasionally when I would see him working I would ask if any more legs had gotten after him. It took him awhile before he could laugh about the incident with the hidden leg.

Dr. John


Water-Skiing On Calion Lake

Ski Boat

ski jump

Calion Lake is well-known to South Arkansans but is little known to folks outside of the area. Perhaps the reason is because the lake is relatively small and there is not much room for anything but fishing. Over the past forty to fifty years bass fishing which attracts many fishermen has not been very good in the lake so it is not on the radar of the serious bass fisherman. The lake is only 10 miles north of El Dorado, and because it is so convenient to the locals it is the recreational spot for many. At different seasons bream fishing is very good, and I have heard from some that white perch fishing is also good.

During the years I was a teen and always looking for something new and exciting Calion Lake presented an option. Water skiing didn’t sound too exciting because there were lots of stumps in the water and the lake was not wide nor long enough to ski for very long stretches without having to turn around. Also none of my good buddies had one of those sleek and speedy ski boats so it seemed skiing on Calion or any lake, for that matter was not an option

My closest friend was Eric Richardson and the two of us spent many hours during the summer months camping, hunting in the woods and fishing on the Ouachita River with its’ sloughs and tributaries. Many times I had no idea where we were, but I depended on Eric and his knowledge and expertise to keep us from getting lost or in serious trouble. GPS technology had not been developed so knowledge of the rivers, lakes and large tracts of land were very important.

Although Eric did not have a ski boat like a few of our wealthier acquaintances he did have a very nice flat bottom aluminum boat with a 18 hp. Evinrude with which we safely and quickly navigated the waterways. We had considered giving a try at water-skiing behind his boat but had never acted on it until one beautiful Saturday morning when the weather was perfect. The closest lake for excellent skiing was D’Arbonne Lake in Farmerville, Louisiana, but it was at least an hour’s drive away, and Calion seemed like a very good option for our initial skiing adventure. We had heard most of the stumps in the middle of the lake had been removed which made if safer and easier to maneuver in tight turns. We also heard a ski jump had been added in the middle of the lake for the real adventuresome skier, but this option was completely off the table for us.

There was a story which circulated regarding the ski jump which Frank Thibault Jr. had attempted going over while skiing bare-foot. Frank who was a year younger than us was well-known for some of his antics, and the story didn’t surprise us. I never checked with Frank to verify the story, but we believed it was true.

Eric’s next door neighbor, Jimmy Moody was with us that morning, and although he was a bit reluctant at first he was in complete agreement with our plan. Jimmy had friends with nicer ski rigs so he was a more accomplished skier than either Eric or me. In those teen years we were each skinny and didn’t believe our individual weights were too great to prevent the relatively small motor from pulling us behind the boat. When we arrived at Calion we launched the boat with ease. Neither Eric nor I had any experience skiing with a single ski, and although Jimmy knew how to slalom ski, we believed the motor was not powerful enough to pull even a skinny slalom skier.

I remember only one or two other boats with skiers that morning, but we still were going to be cautious and conservative because of the small size of the lake. There would certainly be no attempts at going over the ski jump! None of the three of us were as brave as Frank Thibault and skiing bare-foot was totally out of the question.

Jimmy went first since he was the “expert,” and with Eric driving the boat and me as spotter Jimmy was successfully pulled up on the skis. What great fun it was that morning with the wind in our faces, the sun on our backs and flying along at about 10-15 mph! Despite our small size the speed generated at full throttle was barely enough to keep us up on skis. No matter–we were successfully skiing despite the fact we looked the part of three rednecks skiing behind a fishing boat!

I was next and was able to get upright on the my first attempt. I made a couple of rounds on the lake, even though I was pretty sure Eric was making more turns than necessary trying to get me to fall. Eric was mischievous enough to do that. When it came Eric’s turn to ski I was the designated driver. I had previous experience with the boat and motor from many of our fishing and camping outings.

I got Eric up on skis on the first attempt and things were going smoothly as I made a couple of good turns while Eric stayed up. What happened next is a little blurred, but here is my recollection. The motor began to sputter while losing power and speed. As we slowed Eric sank into the water about twelve to fifteen feet behind the boat. With Jimmy in the front I began pulling on the rope crank to restart the engine while Eric remained in his position behind the boat. I assume a spark from the ignition and a little spilled fuel in the bottom of the boat were the culprits, but a rather large fire ignited in the floor of the boat very near the large gas can! Jimmy would have no part of a possible rescue attempt, so he dove into the water swimming as fast as possible to get some separation before the expected explosion. I figured since I was now captain of the ship I had to at least try to save the boat. There was a lot of screaming and shouting while Eric used the ski rope to pull the boat closer. Without climbing into the boat he was able to reach the gas connect from the motor to the gas can and we moved the gas can as far away from the flame as possible. We were able to extinguish the fire with water from the lake while stability and more calmness was restored. Jimmy was staying afloat about ten feet from the boat and swam back with the fire now extinguished. A near-by boat of skiers was watching this scene and came over pull us back to shore. We were glad we still had a boat left to pull.

We never blamed Jimmy for abandoning the boat when he saw the flames, and in fact I was about ready to dive into the water with him when Eric came to the rescue. I believe his fear of losing his boat and motor gave him the extra motivation to attempt the rescue. We were all glad he did. The boat and motor survived to run once again but were never used again for skiing to my knowledge. Besides within a year or so we had all gained too much weight for this rig!

Dr. John

“I Have A Check For You”


The Free Medical Clinic of the Ozarks was opened and became fully operational in November, 2008 as a medical ministry to people with no medical insurance in Taney and Stone Counties, Missouri. The Free Clinic (FMCO) has been a prominent part of my medical professional life since its’ founding. One of the more amazing things about the Free Clinic has been the funding.

In the initial planning phase of FMCO which began in mid-2007 it was the founders’ desire to provide free medical care, free medicines and the free gospel to everyone who came. The planners had no idea what the annual expenses would be but trusted God to provide. We were not presuming on God to supply that which was not in His sovereign will, but firmly believed the formation of this clinic was His will.

The funding for the clinic was to come from any churches who considered the ministry of the clinic an extension of their own ministry, from individuals who were led to make a charitable contribution and from fees charged to legal offices for copying records. In the beginning I contacted many church administrators and pastors to make our clinic known to them and to ask for support. Both the First Baptist Church of Branson and the First Baptist Church of Hollister agreed to be regular contributing partners while other churches in the area promised their prayer support and financial help if possible. There were a small but significant number of individual supporters who gave generously to the founding and maintenance of the clinic.

The clinic was initially located in a remodeled building owned and maintained by the Covenant Life Church in downtown Branson, Missouri. The pastor and ruling board of Covenant Life told us had they not invested significant funds in remodeling we would have the use of the clinic space at no cost. The rent was to be fifteen hundred dollars per month, but from that amount Covenant Life would give two hundred and fifty dollars back into our operating budget. We believed the rent was a good investment for a very nice and convenient office with good parking.

All of the workers at the Free Clinic were to be volunteers including the doctors and physician assistants, and most agreed to serve in at least one clinic evening per month. This kept our overhead expenses down greatly, and we were able to tell all potential donors at least ninety-five per cent of every dollar donated would go directly to patient care.

Jerry Lilley, the Executive Director and I were guests on two local radio stations and Rick Beasley, a board member and I were invited to be guests on Mona Stafford’s show on Bott Radio to explain the work and ministry of the Free Medical Clinic. Our goal was to make the work known and solicit donations for our clinic. I was twice invited as guest speaker at the Branson chapter of the Rotary Club, and was invited to speak at the Lion’s Club in Branson and at a luncheon meeting of the chapter in Branson West. We were grateful to have the privilege of explaining the ministry and giving people the opportunity to partner with us. We were blessed by donors giving generously and were able to meet all the financial obligations with some to spare each month. We have never initiated a fund-raising event, although one Branson tribute artist, Keith Allyn has voluntarily performed three separate benefit concerts over a three years span for the clinic for which we are very grateful.

Approximately two years after the clinic opened the local hospital Skaggs Community Hospital approached us with an offer for a new clinic space in Hollister, Missouri. The hospital had an existing clinic building which was not fully occupied, and they offered us one of the offices on the first floor. For us the most amazing thing was they offered the space for the lease price of one dollar per year. With their offer our clinic overhead expense was reduced by fifteen thousand dollars per year. In addition to providing ample clinic space there was more parking and easier access for our patients.

One of our original chaplains, Jerri Traister told me one evening the man for whom she had been providing personal home care wanted to make a contribution to the clinic. Her patient Raymond B. had been quadriplegic for several years due to an accident, and Jerri had been providing general supportive care most of the time. When she was on duty as a chaplain she would bring Raymond to the clinic where he had been interacting with the patients. Jerri said he “loved the clinic and wanted to help out with the finances.” I told her how grateful I was for even his desire to be a part of the clinic.

About two weeks following our initial conversation I was at the clinic one evening while patients were being seen. I didn’t realize Jerri was on duty this night, but when I saw her she said Raymond was there with his check for me. She pushed his wheelchair into my office, and I noticed Raymond was holding a check between his index and long finger, and it was resting on his chest. I had known Raymond in prior years because he had been a patient of mine when I was Director of the Wound Care Clinic in Branson. I told Raymond I was so glad to see him again, and he smilingly said, “I have a donation I would like to make to the clinic,” while he lifted the check and placed it in my hand. At first I didn’t look at the amount of the check, but I told him how grateful I was for his contribution, and how we would be faithful to use his gift wisely. I then looked at the check and it was for $10,000! This was the largest single gift ever made to our clinic, and I couldn’t help shedding tears of gratitude. Who could have imagined a man with so many personal needs would give such a huge gift to help meet the needs of others!

God has demonstrated His faithfulness to the ministry of the Free Medical Clinic in so many ways, and as we have seen Him provide the needed finances at just the right time our faith has grown. We have seen many demonstrations of His Word from Philippians 4:19 where He promises to supply all our needs according to His riches in glory through Christ Jesus. Raymond B. was used of God to fulfill God’s promise to us, and I’m confident Raymond will be richly rewarded for his obedience.

Dr. John