A Divine Legal Appointment

When a physician gets a phone call from a lawyer’s office it can strike fear in his heart. There is often an overriding anxiety of a medical malpractice suit lurking somewhere in his mind whether he will admit it or not. Even the wording of the allegations in a malpractice document such as, “–did willingly and knowingly commit  the error of —” are painful and distressing for a conscientious doctor. Just the mention of certain lawyers’ names evoke the same fearful response. Such was not the case when I received a phone call at my office one Monday afternoon from the El Dorado attorney Dennis Shackleford. I made an appointment to be in his office on the following Thursday afternoon.

Dennis was a personal friend well-known in Arkansas for his outstanding legal defense work in medical malpractice cases. He occasionally asked me to review a case for him regarding allegations made against a physician from another part of the state but never against a local doctor. In addition to the generous monetary benefit I received from such a review I really enjoyed the legal discussions with Dennis, because I always learned something new from him. At one point during my training years I considered law school in addition to my medical training and had an abiding interest in the law. Pop used to tell me in a half-kidding way, “If you have a degree in law in addition to a medical degree you can write your own ticket working for a big insurance company!” I liked the part of “writing your own ticket”, but was not enthused about the “big insurance company” part!

Before my discussions began with Dennis he would frequently ask about our son John who was in law school during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.When John graduated from the University of Arkansas School of Law in Fayetteville in 1992 he began searching for just the right professional fit to begin his practice. He and his wife Gina enjoyed their three years living in Northwest Arkansas, had many friends and a great church in the First Baptist Church of Springdale (now Cross Church). Initially their preference of location was to remain in the area, but available positions for a new and inexperienced lawyer were scarce. Gina had a good job working as an accountant for J B Hunt Trucking, which supported them financially, and to supplement her income John got a job in the produce section of Harp’s Grocery. He also worked for a short time at George’s Chicken in general maintenance. Cathy and I were greatly concerned for our lawyer son doing such non-legal work and were very diligent in those days to pray for John’s employment.

This particular afternoon when Dennis asked about John’s status I told him John had graduated but was having difficulty finding the right fit for employment. By this time John had taken and passed the Arkansas Bar examination, so he was ready to start his legal career. Dennis said, “I’ve got a good suggestion for him. Judge Harry Barnes from Camden has been just appointed by President Bill Clinton as Federal Judge for the Western District of Arkansas, and he is waiting for confirmation from the United States Senate. Federal Judges always hire legal clerks to assist them, and those clerkships are highly sought by young, aspiring lawyers. “Why don’t you give Harry a call and see if he would consider hiring John as his clerk? I doubt he has hired anyone yet.”

I was acquainted with Judge Barnes because about a year previous another attorney friend, Worth Camp invited Cathy and me to join him and his wife Janice along with Harry and Mary Barnes for an evening meal. Cathy and I really enjoyed our time spent with the Camp’s and Barnes’.

I went back to my office and called the number Dennis gave me and Judge Barnes immediately answered which I considered miraculous. I identified myself and the judge remembered our previous dinner meeting. I told him about my conversation with Dennis and wanted to know if he had already hired a clerk which he hadn’t. I told him about John, and he said he would love to interview him because he had “a stack of applications” from all over the country but liked giving preference to local people. “When can John be here for an interview,” he asked. I said, “I think he can come down from Fayetteville tomorrow afternoon.” “I look forward to meeting him,” the judge said as we concluded the call.

John was excited to meet and interview with Judge Barnes the following afternoon, and they immediately clicked. At the end of the interview Judge Barnes told John if he was confirmed by the Senate then John would be his law clerk. How excited we all were with this sudden and unexpected blessing! Both Cathy and I firmly believe Judge Barnes saw the outstanding character qualities in John and made the best choice for his first law clerk.

The two years John spent clerking in Judge Barnes office were the perfect beginning for him. He not only learned the many intricacies of jurisprudence from an outstanding judge but  was able to meet and know a large number of attorneys in the Western District of Arkansas. The law department at Murphy Oil Company, whose national headquarters are in El Dorado saw the great potential in John and hired him as an Associate Attorney in 1995. He has since risen in the corporate ranks of Murphy Oil, and when the corporation split to form Murphy USA in 2013 John became Senior Vice President and General Counsel for Murphy USA.

We never know the impact of a phone call or a meeting until looking back we see where God has directed. His promise is made real when we trust Him with all of our heart and don’t lean on our own understanding (Proverbs 3: 5,6). Cathy and I will always believe the appointment that afternoon with Dennis Shackleford was ordained by God.

Dr. John


Experiencing One of the Pains of Crucifixion

The Wrist Nail of Crucifixion

As Christ believers and followers it is important we understand as fully as possible the price He paid for our salvation and redemption. It is a simple statement to make, “Christ died for my sins,” but the depth of the cost escapes many. In about a  week all Christians will celebrate the holiday we call Easter, and for us the two most important days of the Easter weekend are Good Friday, symbolizing the day He was crucified, and Resurrection Day the following Sunday signifying the day He rose from the dead. Because He now lives all who believe and profess faith in the Lord Jesus have been redeemed, and one day our bodies will also be resurrected from the grave, and we will forever be in His presence. (I Thess. 4:17)

Not much is written in Christian literature about the methods and process of crucifixion which our Savior suffered, but I think it is important to understand a portion of the sufferings He endured for our sake. Crucifixion was not devised by the Romans but was used extensively by them for punishment and execution during the first century, and is arguably the most painful and horrific death sentence ever carried out. Tens of thousands were crucified by the Romans, and the guards responsible for carrying out the process became very skilled in their duties.

The prisoner was required to carry the cross-piece (patibulum) from the place of imprisonment to the site of execution. The cross-piece typically weighed between 75 and 125 pounds. The carrying of the cross-piece was made more difficult, because immediately preceeding the prisoner had been scourged or beaten with a whip called the cat of nine tails. This whip was made up of 9 leather thongs with balls of metal and sheep bones attached to each thong which would rip and tear the skin, soft tissue and even the bones of the back and legs. The extent of the beating depended on the disposition of the ones doing the scourging. Most would try to stop just short of causing death.

At the site of crucifixion the prisoner was stripped of his clothing, usually left naked and humiliated while being thrown on his back. His wrists were nailed to the cross-piece while his feet were nailed to the vertical part of the cross. Most pictures of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ show the nails driven through the palms, but this was not the case, because nails driven into the palms would have torn through the soft tissue of the hand due to the continuing weight of the victim. The nails which were 5-7 inches in length and about 3/8 inch in width were driven through the wrist between the radius and ulnar bones. At this position the nail was in constant touch with the median nerve or completely severed the nerve. The pain of this alone was excruciating (meaning derived from the pain of the cross). The irritation of the nerve sent continuing electric shock waves into the hand and out all 5 fingers. This is only one of many horrific pains suffered by the one suspended on a cross. It took our Savior 6 hours of enduring such humiliation and pain before He gave up the ghost. (Matt. 27:50).

Recently I had open heart surgery for a triple coronary artery by-pass and had a number of uncomfortable experiences during the prolonged pre-op and post-op periods. As a surgeon and one who has personally had multiple other operations, I was well-aware of most if not all types of pain which patients experience. There was one in particular of which I was not aware which was sudden, shocking and immediately reminded me of a tiny bit of what our Savior endured.

Prior to every open heart procedure a routine blood test done as a baseline study is an arterial blood gas. The blood specimen is obtained by an arterial puncture usually of the radial artery at the wrist. This was done on me the afternoon before I was to be admitted to the hospital. The phlebotomist (technician who draws blood) introduced herself and proceeded to accomplish the draw. Having been told I was a physician may have made her nervous, because her first attempt at the radial artery stick was not successful. While I held pressure on the puncture site at the wrist she felt for my pulse on the inner aspect of the arm at the elbow which on me is easily felt and bounding. She inserted the needle in the artery and got a blood flow, but then advanced the needle too far going through the artery and stabbing the ulnar nerve which lies just beneath the artery. I have never experienced such a sudden and explosive shock as the pain shot into my hand and the fingers. It felt as if blood had shot out the end of each finger. When I jerked back my arm reflexively she removed the needle from the site, and mercifully called for a more senior and experienced technician who completed the task on my opposite wrist.

When I walked out of the examining room my chief nurse told me he had never seen a technician miss an arterial puncture, so I felt I had set some kind of new unbreakable record by having 2 misses on me! I quickly recovered from the shock, but I will never forget the experience, because I was immediately reminded of what Jesus Christ did for me. The nerve pain he felt was not just for an instant but continuously for 6 hours. And this was a just small part of what He endured. Only God would do such a thing for a sinner such as me! I can’t even fathom such courage and such love, but I bless and praise His holy name!!

Dr. John