A Hand Is A Terrible Thing To Waste

Bruce native Dr. John Goudelock received numerous honors in Vietnam as a surgeon during the war. His medical career and personal experiences since have brought him to help lead an effort to establish a Hand Center at the University Medical Center in Jackson.


By JOEL McNEECE
John Goudelock always knew he was destined to be a medical doctor.
He grew up halfway between Bruce and Coffeeville, attending Ellard and Bruce schools. His parents, Dr. L.A. and Birma Goudelock moved to Bruce in 1939, fresh out of dental school.
His dad’s dentist office was located in the building on the northeast corner of the square, where Tycom was more recently.
“It was the only business at the time on that quadrant of the square,” Dr. Goudelock said. “There was an old abandoned service station where the City Hall is now. I remember when Mr. Denley came and built the Journal office just down from my dad’s office. Later, Ed Quillen came and built an office between the two of them.”
Goudelock would ride his bicycle everywhere. He had put the bike together from a conglomeration of parts picked up in various places.
goudelock60.jpg“I remember riding my bike to Pittsboro because I always wanted to see what it would be like to ride a bike down the giant hill,” he said. “I never found out. My axle broke about half-way down and I went bouncing down the highway.”
In addition to his dad the dentist, Goudelock’s grandfather was a medical doctor in Union County.
“I never recall wanting to do anything else,” he said. “I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my grandfather (his namesake) and become a country doctor.”
He once wrote an essay in 5th grade saying he wanted to be a pathologist when he grew up, because he had recently visited the Army Medical Museum of Pathology in Washington, D.C.
“I remember the teacher called my mother and asked ‘What’s a pathologist?’” Goudelock said grinning.
After graduating from Bruce, he attended school at Ole Miss and then medical school in Jackson. He had begun at a Greenville, South Carolina hospital when he was drafted into the Army for Vietnam. He was charged with leading a surgical team working in a Vietnamese civilian hospital, “patching up the innocent bystanders.”
“It was an unusual assignment,” Dr. Goudelock said. “I was the commanding officer of a 13-man team to work with the Vietnamese Ministry of Health.
Earning a rank of captain, Dr. Goudelock was stationed for a year at Moc Hoa, southwest of Saigon, in the Mekong Delta. It was one of the most remote areas in Vietnam. The Viet Cong had cut it off from the outside world for the past two years. There was no military protection, nor open roads. The only access was by air.
“That’s when I really decided I had to do surgery,” he said. “We were all they had. I gradually started doing more and more complex operations, for which I had no special training. I would spend half the night reading and studying getting ready for the next day’s operations.”
So much of the surgical work he did in Vietnam was hand-related, often from grenade injuries. It proved a life-changing experience.
“After I was discharged, I completed my surgical training and entered practice in New Albany,” Dr. Goudelock said. “Because of Vietnam, I had developed a love of hand surgery, but in private practice, that work was limited.”
“In many ways I was a red-headed stepchild to the world of medicine. I had all the credentials – board certification, Fellowship in the American College of Surgeons, the latest in office equipment, but barely enough money to pay the bills,” he said. “By 1991, I was divorced, broke, newly re-certified by the American Board of Surgery, and unable to find a job.”
He eventually landed in California doing cosmetic surgery for the Bosley Medical Group.
“They were happy years, but I was far from home,” he said.
He retired in 1997 and returned to his farm in Myrtle. He met Cathie Seger in 2003 and two months later they married. Two weeks into the marriage his Army experience of working with mangled hands would come flashing back.
“I was on my porch sighting in an old Winchester rifle when it exploded and severely mangled my left hand, nearly tearing off my thumb. Initially, I didn’t realize I had been hurt, but feared my gun was damaged,” Dr. Goudelock said smiling. “Then I looked at my hand.”
He was taken to Memphis where his thumb was saved, but he wasn’t happy with the final result.
“I had a cold and numb thumb, two fingers that wouldn’t work; a stump for a third finger, and the only way I could pick up anything was to grip it between my little and ring fingers, sort of like holding a cigarette,” he said.
Dr. Goudelock wanted reconstruction on his hand, not unlike many of the procedures he conducted on patients in Vietnam, but he got a “cold shoulder.”
“Six doctors told me I was too old to have any repair work,” he said.
He received a call from a friend, a former Navy SEAL in Vietnam, who shared in the irony of all the hand-work he had done in the most remote areas of Vietnam, but couldn’t get the same treatment for himself in the U.S.
In May 2004, he visited the Microsurgery Clinic at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson where, for the first time, he received a comprehensive evaluation on his left hand.
“Dr. Bill Lineaweaver was the seventh doctor, but the first to spend more than 30 seconds examining me,” Dr. Goudelock said.
He had corrective surgery the following July. His fractured index finger had healed back at a 45-degree angle. That was corrected by cutting the next bone back, bending it 45 degrees in the opposite direction, and fixating it with a steel plate. His middle finger, which was only a stump, was amputated, and the hand was brought together to make the ring finger adjacent to the index finger. A nerve was removed from his right foot and transplanted to make two nerves to his left thumb.
“An axiom of hand surgery is the rehabilitation and final results depends on the willingness of the patient to endure discomfort,” Dr. Goudelock said. “That’s medical jargon for hurting like the fires of hell.”
His hand made a full recovery with “good sensation” in his thumb.
Dr. Goudelock’s experience prompted him to begin a campaign to help others, who like him, are being told nothing can be done. He is working with UMMC officials to establish the University Hand Center in Jackson. This center will incorporate all medical specialties necessary for comprehensive treatment and rehabilitation of crippled hands.
The first big step will be the hiring of a surgeon specially trained in microsurgery. They’re also working on the nuts and bolts of starting any business – acquiring office supplies and a support staff.
Dr. Goudelock’s current role is assisting with a fundraising effort to help bring it all together.
“I know these aren’t the best of times to be trying to raise money, but I believe a good idea remains good. I don’t care how bad times get,” Dr. Goudelock said. “People like me who have a severe hand injury have a difficult time getting medical care. Our medical system doesn’t address it.”
Dr. Goudelock sees the opportunity for the University Hand Center to fill that void.
“My vision is that when a doctor in California, London, Berlin, or Buenos Aires looks down and sees a jumbled mess that once was a hand, I want the first thought in his mind to be the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi,” Dr. Goudelock said. “To do that we must have a devoted Hand Surgery Center and training program that will become one of the 21st Century beacons at UMMC.”
Editor’s Note: For more info on making a tax deductible donation to the University Hand Center, contact Dr. Goudelock at 662-988-2992 or make a check to Hand Center Endowment, UMMC and mail to Office of Development, University Medical Center, 2500 N. State St., Jackson, MS 39216.

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