Bryson City Seasons — A Tale of Two Surgeons (Part 3)

This is from the sixteenth chapter from my best-selling book, Bryson City Seasons, which is the sequel to Bryson City TalesI hope that you’ll enjoy going back to Bryson City with me each week, and that if you do, you’ll be sure to invite your friends and family to join us.


Mitch laughed. “Well, it may shock you, but all they did was cover the burns with sterile petroleum jelly and then apply sterile gauze.”

I was stunned. “That’s all?”

“Well, back then, an approach like that was revolutionary— but necessary. Using this technique a single doctor and nurse could treat people by themselves—and very quickly, I might add. Furthermore, it was much more comfortable for the patients.”

“How did their idea work?”

“Well, good and bad. The bad was that the senior physician, Oliver Cope, was initially criticized—and heavily—by both the press and others in the surgical brotherhood. To them this treatment seemed foolish.”

“Mitch, where’d Cope get the idea?”

“Well, that’s the neat part of the story. The attack on Pearl Harbor took place about a year before the Boston fire. Medical investigators had found that most of the post-attack deaths at Pearl Harbor were not from trauma or blast injuries but from burns. Because the tannic acid method was the treatment used at Pearl Harbor, and just because it was so labor intensive, it took days after the attack to complete the initial care of all the burned men. Many, many men died as they waited for treatment for their burns. When Oliver Cope heard of the Pearl Harbor tragedy, he envisioned a treatment that would be quicker, less labor intensive, and less painful. The question in his mind was whether it would be as effective.”

Mitch looked out over the pond as he slowly took a sip of ice water.

“And how’d he go about that?” I asked.

“Well, prior to the fire in Boston, his experience with the idea was very limited. He had only tried it on two humans—one of them himself after an accidental burn. However, he had experimented with animals in the lab and found that blisters protected by the petroleum jelly and gauze stayed sterile.”

“Well, what’s the end of the story? How’d it work out?”

“Well, about two-thirds of the initial survivors at Boston City Hospital lived, while at Massachusetts General Hospital, where Cope and Moore worked, all of the initial survivors stayed alive.”

“I bet that was an encouragement.”

Mitch laughed. “Especially to those sent to MGH! And this experience is what launched Moore’s career. You see, he wasn’t a better surgeon than his colleagues—in fact, he was said to have been only average. He wasn’t even a scholar. But he was willing to innovate and create and think. And because of that, he became one of the most important surgeons of his era.”

“How so?”

“In many ways. When he was the chair of surgery at Harvard— I believe, the youngest in their history—he led some daring experiments that paved the way for organ transplants, heart valve surgery, and even hormonal treatment for breast cancer.”

“Sounds like an interesting guy.”

“Yep. But lost in the bins of history.”

“What ever happened to him?”

“Well, he’s still goin’. I think I’d like to meet him one day.”

I smiled and nodded.

“But,” Mitch continued, “my point is that I don’t want you to be limited by your training. No doubt they worked overtime at Duke to train you well. But the professors at Duke don’t know everything. There are lots of facts they’ve forgotten—like skintight casts—and lots yet to learn.”

Mitch paused to take a sip of water. “Walt, I want you to be like Francis Moore—willing to do anything, even unconventional things, to help a patient, to save those others consider beyond saving. I want you to always be cautious about the costs of caution. A dose of caution is wise, no doubt. But too much of it can harm your patients. It’s only when a doctor is willing to try anything to help his patients that he can find something new to do for them. And sometimes it’ll be like walking on hot coals—it’s not easy, and not everyone’s willing to try. But if you keep your patients’ best interests at heart, I think your skin will be thick enough to handle the heat. And the rewards of doing what’s right, even when it’s not easy, are among the sweet things that make our profession so satisfying.”

After that, we just sat back and listened to the sounds of the evening. Mitch took in a long, deep breath. “Walt, summer and fall in these mountains have a sound all their own. Ever since I was a little boy, I’ve loved the evening sounds in these hills. But my favorite musician is that little ole tree frog.”

As I listened more carefully, I could discern a variety of voices in the evening choir. There were flutelike trills and melodious whistles. Once in a while, there was even a bell-like sound.

“Other than when they come up on the side of the house or I see them on a window, I hear them much more often than I see them. And their voices are a lot bigger than they are.”

As I listened to the increasingly animated concerto coming from around the house and tried to stay focused on the lecture about woodland amphibians, I found myself feeling more and more comfortable.

Mitch was a great teacher. I’d had professors who knew more, but I’d never had a professor who knew more and could practice it better. There were medical schools that would have benefited from his energy and expertise. He could have trained and influenced untold students and residents. But here he was in Bryson City—his hometown—caring for his people.

There are tens of thousands of physicians just like Mitch spread throughout the small towns of America. They too could have become academic icons like Francis Moore but chose instead a different calling—a quieter road.

Their choice was no less important than Dr. Moore’s—and certainly no less effective.

And here I was with my own private professor. It was a luxurious situation I found myself in that evening. And it dawned on me that my mentor and colleague was now inviting me to become his friend.



  1. The Murder (Part 1)(Part 2)(Part 3)
  2. The Arrival (Part 1)(Part 2)
  3. The Hemlock Inn (Part 1)(Part 2)
  4. The Grand Tour (Part 1)(Part 2)
  5. The Interview (Part 1)(Part 2)(Part 3)
  6. Settling In (Part 1)(Part 2)
  7. First-Day Jitters (Part 1)(Part 2)
  8. Emergency (Part 1)(Part 2)
  9. The Delivery (Part 1)(Part 2)
  10. The “Expert” (Part 1)(Part 2)
  11. The Trial (Part 1)(Part 2)
  12. Shiitake Sam (Part 1)(Part 2)
  13. Wet Behind the Ears (Part 1)(Part 2)(Part 3)
  14. Lessons in Daily Practice (Part 1) — Anal Angina(Part 2)(Part 3)(Part 4)
  15. White Lies
  16. The Epiphany (Part 1)(Part 2)
  17. Becoming Part of the Team (Part 1)(Part 2)
  18. Monuments (Part 1)(Part 2)
  19. My First Home Victory (Part 1)(Part 2)
  20. Fisher of Men (Part 1)(Part 2)
  21. Fly-Fishing (Part 1); (Part 2)
  22. Something Fishy (Part 1)(Part 2)
  23. A Good Day at the Office
  24. An Evening to Remember
  25. Another New Doc Comes to Town
  26. ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (Part 1)(Part 2)
  27. A Surprising Gift
  28. The New Year (Part 1)(Part 2)
  29. The Home Birth (Part1)(Part 2); (Part 3)
  30. The Showdown (Part1)(Part 2); (Part 3)
  31. The Initiation (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
  32. Home at Last (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)

© Copyright WLL, INC. 2017. This blog provides a wide variety of general health information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from your regular physician. If you are concerned about your health, take what you learn from this blog and meet with your personal doctor to discuss your concerns.