Cape surgeon shares stories about medical miracles
Even after decades of training and practice, physicians sometimes encounter things that are just plain hard to explain.
A new book, “Miracles We Have Seen: America’s Leading Physicians Share Stories They Can’t Forget,” includes chapters with the headings “Spectacular Serendipity,” “Impossible Cures” and “Breathtaking Resuscitations.”
“Many of my colleagues would agree that, despite being at the forefront of medicine and science, what we don’t understand often exceeds what we do understand,” the book’s editor, Harley A. Rotbart, MD, wrote in the introduction.
One of the book’s contributors is Paul A. Skudder, MD, a vascular surgeon with Southeastern Surgical Associates in Hyannis and Mashpee. He shared dramatic stories about a rescue on a ski slope and surgery in a military hospital.
“Harley and I crossed paths early in our careers and have known each for many years,” said Dr. Skudder. “When he put together a list of people he thought might be interested in writing for the book, he was kind enough to give me a call.”
While the title refers to miracles, not all the stories in the book involve divine intervention, Dr. Skudder said.
Paul A. Skudder, MD, FACS
“The term ‘miracle’ needs to be broadened a little from the religious sense of something magical,” he said, “although in some of the stories, you could certainly conclude that it is miraculous in that kind of mysterious, beyond understanding sense.
“In other stories in the book, the term ‘miracle’ really might be defined in other ways, such as an outcome that was so much more positive than we ever could have guessed. We’re going to regard it as a miracle even if it isn’t as mysterious.”
Dr. Rotbart, professor emeritus of pediatrics at the Colorado University School of Medicine, is the author of several books on parenting. Dr. Skudder said his friend’s goal with this book was to have doctors from across America and from different specialties share some stories with unusually positive outcomes. One of Dr. Rotbart’s guidelines for contributors was that they make the writing accessible by avoiding using technical medical language.
“I’ve written a number of scientific articles, but I hadn’t done any creative writing since I graduated from Williams College,” said Dr. Skudder. “I wrote one of the stories and he responded surprisingly favorably and asked me to write another one.”
One of Dr. Skudder’s essays is titled “The Miracle of Teamwork.” It tells about a group effort in 2009 to save the life of a man who’d had a heart attack while skiing at Gore Mountain in the Adirondacks in upstate New York, where Dr. Skudder has been a volunteer member of the ski patrol for 29 years.
“There was little reason to believe that this guy would make it,” said Dr. Skudder. “That speaks to the different definitions of miracle. It is in some sense a miracle and perhaps divine intervention that the patient was blessed with survival in this particular circumstance, but the other implication is that teamwork works so well. There’s no one individual who could have brought him through.”
His other story, “Battlefield Miracles, From Generation to Generation,” takes place in Europe in two parts, in 1944 and in 2013. First it tells of a young private who was doing grunt work at a military hospital during World War II. The high school dropout was so impressed by the work of the surgeons that he used the GI Bill to go to college and medical school and became a surgeon. That was Dr. Skudder’s father.
Flash forward to 2013. Soldiers injured in battle in Afghanistan and Iraq were taken to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany and treated by Dr. Skudder and other volunteer surgeons.
In this case, the miracle is the advancement in surgical techniques that has evolved from surgery in military hospitals.
“I worked with a lot of wonderful people and I was incredibly impressed with the quality of medicine and the quality of care,” said Dr. Skudder. “We could learn a lot from the way medicine is practiced in that environment.”
He’s also impressed by the breadth of experience in the book.
“Stories come from people from all fields of medicine,” he said. “The story about the eye surgeon who had a heart transplant and then went on to extensive volunteer commitments was incredibly moving. The stories about how families dealt with tragic loss and turned it into positive growth experiences represent miracles of a different sort.”
Proceeds from the sale of “Miracles We Have Seen” will be donated to charities selected by the contributors, including the American Cancer Society, Save the Children and the Wounded Warrior Project.
The book is available at some local book stores, including Eight Cousins in Falmouth and Barnes & Noble in Hyannis, as well as online.