Our two years of active duty in the US Air Force in many ways were good ones. Because I was the sole surgeon at the base hospital I had been able to work pretty much independently with only a few of the usual military restrictions. I had avoided duty in Viet Nam, and our country’s military involvement there was beginning to wind down. Our family had increased by one with the birth of Mary Katharine on February 10, 1970. Our son John Aaron was almost four years old at the time of her birth. We lived close enough to Cathy’s parents in Fort Lauderdale, Florida which allowed us the freedom to visit and enjoy her family every few months. We loved the small town life of Valdosta, Georgia, and although there was an abundance of good churches there was no spiritual hunger in either one of us. We occasionally attended First Methodist Church and had Mary Kay baptized there when she was several months old.
By the middle of 1971 we made the final decision to move our family to El Dorado, Arkansas to begin my surgical practice. Cathy’s family wanted us to move to South Florida, and it was very tempting on many levels. My family’s medical ties in El Dorado and the relatively quiet and peaceful atmosphere were huge deciding factors. We certainly did not pray about our decision but relied on our best judgements. Our moving date was August 17, 1971 when I was released from active military duty.
Cathy and I moved into a very nice 3 bedroom rental home on East Ninth Street in El Dorado which was about 4 blocks away from my Mom’s home on North Madison. It was owned by our friends, Henry and Venie Craig who lived two doors west of us. They had maintained the home very well and had it freshly painted inside and out just before we arrived. Our rental payments were very reasonable, and we were happy with our arrangement and new friendship with the Craig’s. Our plan was to rent for a year or two until we could save enough money to either build or purchase a permanent home.
On the fateful day of Cathy’s accident which was on November 11, both she and I had been recovering from upper respiratory tract infections. As I left the house very early my last words to her were, “Why don’t you open our bedroom window and air out the room for a couple of hours.” My attitude that particular morning was not the best, and my statement was more on the order of a command rather than a suggestion. I had one surgical case scheduled morning and it was a gall bladder removal which usually took 1-2 hours.
As I finished the procedure I was in the recovery room writing post-operative orders when the hospital telephone operator notified me I had an urgent call from my wife. (This was long before cell phones). Upon answering Cathy was almost screaming, “You need to come home right now. I’ve cut my foot!” I thought perhaps she had dropped a glass and cut the sole of her foot, because she usually walked around the house bare footed. I didn’t delay however, but dressed quickly and drove home in about ten minutes.
Upon arrival there were three cars in the driveway which increased my anxiety. As I opened the door to the kitchen, Cathy was sitting on the floor in a huge pool of blood with a thick towel wrapped around her right ankle. I estimated there was 1/2 pint of blood on the floor. Mary Kay was standing behind her holding her security blanket and with her eyes widened in fright. My Mom was standing in the kitchen in an almost a state of shock, but said she had called an ambulance. As I applied more pressure to the wound I told Mom to get me a sheet for a tourniquet, and because of her shocked state of mind she said, “But they are brand new sheets.” After applying the tourniquet I could examine the wound more carefully. Cathy was more calm and said she had tried to open the bedroom window, and because of the new paint the window was stuck. She lay on her back on the bed and with her right foot kicked against the window sill. Her foot glanced off the sill, broke through the glass, and when she reflexly pulled back her foot she deeply lacerated her ankle. The Achilles tendon was severed as well as the main vein to her foot. Fortunately the artery was not severed or she might have bled to death before she could get help. We got her to the hospital quickly, and I had already alerted my surgeon friends Drs. Yocum and Tommey who met us in the ER.
Following the successful repair Cathy had to remain in the hospital overnight and was discharged the next day on crutches with a long leg cast on her right leg. I hired a full time care giver for the children because I had to continue in my new medical practice which was very small. Managing crutches and the discomfort of an ungainly cast was initially difficult for Cathy. Her pain was significant but controllable, but not being able to do her usual household tasks and care for our two small, active children was very difficult for her.
The woman we initially hired to care for the children seemed ideal. She had children of her own and was skilled in child care. In addition she was an excellent cook and prepared wonderful meals for our family. However, after about three weeks I received a phone call one morning at my office from the police department saying there was a problem with our care giver. She was caught in a grocery store stealing items for her own use. The embarrassing thing was she had our one and a half year old daughter Mary Kay with her. Someone recognized our daughter prior to them being transported to the jail, and this prompted the call to me. I drove to the jail to get Mary Kay, and found they were releasing the lady without bail while charging her with petty theft. I fired her immediately, and we began searching for her replacement.
So many people in El Dorado offered various kinds of assistance which showed us a depth of love we had not previously experienced. Neither Cathy nor I were Christians, and we saw the love of Christ poured out on us in kind acts and also in healing words. We began to deeply examine our life goals and our lack of any spiritual hunger with each other and with our children. We wanted to raise our children in a good environment which included church involvement. Early on we had joined First Baptist Church because that was where our family had been members for many years. We learned later church membership and faithful attendance are not the only indicators of Christianity.
There were some wonderful Christians who ministered to us during those weeks of recovery. They included Dave Dawson who lived in Greenville, Texas and was a Navigator friend of my brother Berry Lee. The Shepperson sisters and others along with Mrs. Garland Murphy Sr. who was 80 years old visited us and prepared meals for us often. Cathy’s Mom came from Fort Lauderdale to stay for a week to assist us in so many ways but especially with our children. There were others, but these made the largest impact. They not only served us food and kindness but also by healing words of what Jesus Christ was doing in both of us. All of these experiences were impactful at a time when we were young, inexperienced and vulnerable.
We learned among other great truths the Lord Jesus comes to the weak, the sick and the helpless with healing, with hope and with salvation. Cathy’s painful ordeal and the experiences of physical and emotional healing led us finally to surrender our lives to the salvation of Christ in 1977. What initially was a tragic accident was used by God to totally transform us. To Him be all the glory!