“Turn It Up To 300 and Hit It 3 Times!”

Circa 1965

I met and worked with some outstanding doctors and surgical residents during the four years I took my surgical training at Charity Hospital in New Orleans between 1965 and 1969. One of the surgical trainees with whom I did a large number of operations was Dr. John Piker who was from Clinton, Louisiana.

John and I rotated together from “Big Charity” in New Orleans to “Little Charity” in Lake Charles, Louisiana during my third year of training and spent three months operating together at this facility. We were responsible for all the general surgical procedures done at the hospital under the supervision and assistance of a staff surgeon. John and I seldom asked the staff surgeon to scrub with us as we had become very confident in our operating abilities and self-sufficient in our management of surgical patients.

John Piker was a few years older than most of us and had lots of other experiences outside of his medical training. He was an excellent story-teller and could spin some of the funniest tales I had ever heard from a Cajun. One of his funniest involved an episode when he was a medical student at the LSU School of Medicine. I will tell the account in the first person just as he told me:

“I was in my senior year of medical school and had a two weeks-long clinical rotation on anesthesia. My job was to assist an anesthesiologist in the operating room for that two week period, and it included taking night call for emergencies when he was on call. The anesthesia resident whom I will call Dr. Smith (not his real name) had the reputation of being especially hard on medical students. Perhaps he had been treated this way as a student and wanted to continue making life as miserable as possible for hapless and gullible students. He had a way of calling me “Piker” with a few added unmentionable adjectives which constantly irritated me, but I had to keep my mouth shut and my attitude hidden as much as possible. It was by far the worst two weeks rotation I had in medical school.

We had an on-call room with comfortable chairs and a TV to watch to help pass the time when we were not being called out for an emergency. I tried to use the spare time to read and study, but Dr. Smith had the television on so loud it was difficult to concentrate. On this particular night we were between emergency surgical cases when we got a Code Blue call from fifth floor which was the medical floor. The patients there had various medical problems including MI (heart attacks), CVA (stroke), and diabetic emergencies. There were no surgical problems on the fifth floor.”

Dr. Smith said, “Piker, get your lazy butt off the couch and bring the crash cart with you. We’re going to fifth floor and be quick about it!!” The crash cart had all the supplies necessary for a cardiac arrest, including a very large and antiquated defibrillator. The modern ones were compact, but this one was about ten years old, stood tall on the stand and required two people to operate it. One person had to set the dials on the console while the other one held the paddles to the patient. The one on the console was responsible for firing the electrical charge by means of  a firing button located on the console.

When we finally got to the fifth floor and the patient’s bed we found a typical scene for a person who had a cardiac arrest. It was a large open ward with approximately twelve beds, and this person was in a bed in the middle of the ward. The beds were all metal with wire springs. They were not like the modern beds which have electric controls to raise and lower the  bed and the head of the bed. A few beds had a manual crank for raising the head of the bed, but most did not even have this feature. The mattresses lay on springs which precluded any effective chest compressions should they be needed. This patient was a large woman in her late sixties in age, and probably had an MI (heart attack) which caused her heart to start fibrillating. There had been several failed attempts to start an IV, and there were small puddles of saline on the floor beside the bed. In order to apply the paddles effectively to the patient, she had to be rolled slightly on her side to apply one to the front and the other to the back. Because of her size Dr. Smith was stretched out almost to his limits and his knees were touching the side of the bed. He didn’t notice he was standing in a small puddle of saline.

When he was in position he said, “Piker, turn the power to fifty volts and hit it once.” I did what he said and nothing happened. “Turn it to seventy-five and hit it again”, which I did with the same result. “Come on Piker give me some power quick! Turn it to three hundred (maximum for this machine) and hit it three times.” When I pushed the firing button after setting the machine to deliver three hundred volts, the electricity made an arc with Dr. Smith touching the side of the bed and standing in saline, and it was Dr. Smith instead of the patient who got the full charge. The electric shock lifted him up on his toes, caused his facial muscles to grimace and his arm muscles to straighten in spasm. You could hear air being sucked into his lungs with the spasm. I saw what had happened, but had my head turned slightly away from him toward the console and pretended I didn’t see him being shocked. I hit the button the second time with the same results, and then for a third and final time!

When he finally came back down to neutral, the air rushed out of his lungs as he said with a grunt, “Don’t hit that button again!” He thought I didn’t see him being shocked and knew I was doing what he had told me, so he didn’t blame me or punish me for shocking him. He did have a whole new respect for me though, and not once after that did he ever criticize or belittle me. I guess he was afraid I might think of something worse to do in retaliation. Maybe the shocks just made him sweeter.  🙂

Dr. John


” Do You Have A Coil In?”

The following is one of many unusual and often hilarious stories told me by Dr. Bill Scurlock, my surgical associate for twenty-five years at The Surgical Clinic of South Arkansas In El Dorado.  Dr. Scurlock has the wonderful skill of story-telling, and although some of his medical stories seemed incredulous I assumed all were truthful. I will relate this one in the first person just as I remember him telling me:

“I was on surgical call for this particular weekend and responsible for all surgical emergencies which might come to the emergency rooms of the 2 local hospitals. I was also responsible for any phone calls or surgical problems of my partners at The Surgical Clinic. The weekend was busy as usual, but by Sunday afternoon I was taking advantage of some free time and taking a much-needed nap. After about thirty minutes of calm my rest was interrupted by the ringing of the telephone. (This was prior to cellular phones.) I answered without identifying myself, and the woman who was Black-American recognized my voice and identified herself as Lillian J. from Warren (not her name nor home town). I recognized her as one of my patients. I said, “Lillian, what in the world is wrong with you?” She said, “Dr. Scurlock, I’ve been bleeding.” I knew she wasn’t talking about gastrointestinal bleeding, but was concerned about gynecological bleeding which was outside my area of practice. Thinking of ways I could refer her to someone else for her problem I asked, “Good grief Lillian, do you have a coil in?” I knew women with birth control coils in place frequently have problems with abnormal bleeding, and the coils have to be removed, usually by the doctor who inserted it.

She said, “Y’as sir I have a coil in”, she quickly responded. “Who put it in?”, I asked. She said, “My husband did.” I said, “What? He can’t do that Lillian. Your husband is not a doctor, and he’s not authorized to do it. It’s against the law for your husband to put in a coil.” Seemingly astounded she replied, “I didn’t know it was against the law for him to put a coil in. I thought we could coil you direct without going through a doctor!”

When I recognized we were talking about two completely different things I started laughing while thinking what I might say next to straighten out this dilemma. “Lillian I wasn’t talking about coiling me on the telephone. I was talking about a coil a doctor has to put in your womb to keep you from having babies. “Oh,” she said. “I don’t know nothin’ about no coil in my womb. We was just coiling you to tell you I’m bleeding.”

The hallmark for excellent medical care is the physician understanding just exactly the nature of his patient’s complaints and being alert and sensitive to what they are really saying when they express those complaints. In this particular instance it took Dr. Scurlock a little longer than usual to understand the problem with her coil!

Dr. John

More About Luampa Mission Hospital in Zambia

Luampa Hospital
Zambia – circa 1982

It should be no great surprise the countless ways God interweaves our lives with the lives of others and in particular with fellow believers. What we consider as coincidences or chance encounters God had planned all along to encourage us and make us know how highly He values our investment in others. When Cathy and I became acquainted with Gordon and Jeanette Jones in the 1980’s we did not envision how our friendship and association with them would connect us with so many and stretch out to involve a friendship even thirty-five years in the future.

In previous posts (A Divine Appointment in South Africa, Dr. Jones and the Spitting Cobra, and An African Elephant Opens a Door) I describe a few of the doors God has opened to Cathy and me. Until we met the Jones’s when they were on furlough in El Dorado I could not have told anyone where Zambia was located. I wasn’t particularly interested in the country because we knew no one there nor anyone going there. Gordon and Jeanette changed all that. They had been medical missionaries with Africa Evangelical Fellowship (AEF) in Zambia for about twenty years when we met them, and we developed an instant connection. In addition to the relationships already established, there was yet another connection to be made to Zambia, Luampa Mission Hospital and the Jones’s right here in Branson, Missouri.

About ten years ago the Van Haitsma family joined First Baptist Branson and began attending Sunday and Wednesday night services regularly. Their oldest daughter April who had been a student at the College of the Ozarks had begun a dating relationship and finally married Corey Huddleston, the older son of my best friend Tim and his wife Teresa Huddleston. Before we met the Van Haitsma’s, Corey and April had celebrated the birth of their first child Palmer, and Cathy and I wanted to take a gift and be introduced to Palmer. They were in the process of building their home  on property immediately adjacent to April’s parents and during the interim were living with them. We took the gift one afternoon to Scott and Melinda’s home. Scott, who is a building contractor was not at home, nor was Corey who was teaching at his school when we visited. Melinda, April and Palmer were there and welcomed us.

Their beautiful country home is in Reeds Spring which is a fifteen minute automobile drive from Branson. Upon arrival we were warmly greeted and invited for a short visit in their spacious living room. Following brief introductions Cathy asked Melinda where she and Scott were raised thinking they might be native Missourians. She said they both were missionary kids and were raised literally “all over the world.” She said Scott was raised in Zambia. This caught our attention because of our connection to the Jones’s, so I asked her more questions concerning Scott. I told her the only missionaries we knew in Zambia lived and served for over thirty years in a small mission hospital in Luampa. “That’s where Scott grew up!”, she exclaimed. It was several weeks later when I had a conversation with Scott I got a few more details of his connections with the Jones’s and his life in Zambia.

Scott’s parents were also missionaries with AEF (Africa Evangelical Fellowship}) which was the sponsoring entity of the Luampa Mission Hospital in Zambia. His Dad Roger was in charge of all maintenance at the hospital and served there for five years from 1975 until 1980 when they transition to another location. When I initially asked Gordon Jones the location of his hospital he said, “Luampa is 300 miles out in the bush and 350 miles from the supermarket in Lusaka!” (capital city of Zambia). During most of the years I knew Gordon and Jeanette they were with AEF, but in 1998 the organization merged with a larger organization called SIM (Sudan Interior Mission)  in order to broaden its’ scope and outreach.

Scott spent his early formative years from age nine to fourteen years old in Luampa deepening his love for ministry to people who need to know Christ as Savior and Lord. He related he enjoyed scrubbing in and assisting “Uncle Gordy” and “Aunt Evie” (Evelyn Hattan) in the operating room on many occasions and frequently went on hunting trips with Uncle Gordy to get fresh meat for the hospital patients and staff.

Evelyn Hattan was a Registered Nurse at the hospital for over twenty years, and is the person who provided the photo above of the hospital staff taken in the mid-1970’s. She is located on the back row of the photo facing toward her left. Dr. Jones is on the back row next to the end on the right side of the photo. At the time of my last correspondence with Evelyn over four years ago she had retired to Spokane, Washington to be near family. It is my understanding she has now departed this life.

I am no longer amazed nor surprised when connections of acquaintances and friends are made in our Christian lives. God interweaves us with others in order to encourage and challenge us in our ministries. Cathy and I are so grateful for our friendship with and co-labor involvement with Gordon and Jeanette Jones during those years in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Our life in Branson, Missouri since 2005 has been wonderful and full of ministry. We fully anticipate God showing us many more connections with His saints He knew about all along.

Dr. John