People

‘I’m Dr. Red Duke’

An excerpt from Bryant Boutwell's recent biography on the late surgeon


By Maggie Galehouse | March 5, 2019

The late James H. “Red” Duke Jr., M.D., was a Texas original. A trauma surgeon at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) and Memorial Hermann, Duke also launched Memorial Hermann’s Life Flight program and appeared in a popular nationally syndicated television spot in the 1980s and ’90s. In his recent book, I’m Dr. Red Duke, Bryant Boutwell, a former professor at UTHealth’s McGovern Medical School, examines the man behind the legend.

Excerpt:

Working with Red Duke always involved a few hidden sermons on patient follow-through and perseverance. More than a few of his surgical students remember his Duke-speak directive: “You take them, you raise them.” For the students who responded to his stock question, “Who’s the most important person in this OR?” by answering “the surgeon” rather than “the patient,” a reprimand that would make Red’s irascible father proud was soon to follow. Linda Mobley, a veteran nurse who worked beside Red for years, recalls, “I’d see the new residents tell Dr. Duke that the surgeon was the most important person in the room and just cringe behind my mask as he spared no mercy reprimanding [them]. Working with Red was always, without compromise, giving your best and putting your patient first.”

Tank commander Lt. James Duke Jr., Texas A&M University.

In surgery Red could entertain, teach, and pontificate on the problems of the world without missing a beat on the procedure at hand. Country music might be playing and the atmosphere relaxed, but he was dead serious when it came to attention to detail.

His Seldin training in internal medicine [Donald Seldin, M.D., was a mentor of Duke’s] married to practiced skills with the scalpel gave him a reputation for saving patients others considered beyond hope. He could bark at a team member and call someone out in strong language when occasion arose, but generally he approached the teachable moment with a constructive message.

Many veteran surgeons marveled at his ability to work long hours, far longer than most. One surgery stands out as his longest—fifty-four hours. “Yes, fifty-four hours without sleep.” The procedure was not typical, fortunately. The victim was a deputy constable serving papers on a member of the criminal element in Houston when things went wrong.

And somebody shot him right here with a shotgun [pointing to his belly button]. His belly was full of green stuff. I honestly believe that guy had eaten a quart of guacamole. And it hit the vena cava and his duodenum and pancreas—bad injury. So, hell, what do you do? And then when you have a pancreas and duodenum that messed up, and you take that out—you take out the duodenum, the head of the pancreas, and then you’re supposed to put it all back together so that the bile drains into the jejunum. . . . And because he was so contaminated, I decided to remove his entire pancreas which is not that hard to do, [but] if that connection between the pancreas and the jejunum leaks, you got a mess.

In telling the story Red was lost in the moment, describing intricate details of the epic procedure while simultaneously sketch-ing on a napkin his approach and multiple complications along the way. Clearly he was not going to give up on his patient and did not (the patient survived, as best he remembered). Why attempt such a long procedure? “Yes, that’s crazy, but there wasn’t anybody else to do it.”

The cover image from Bryant Boutwell’s biography, ‘I’m Dr. Red Duke.’

For many procedures, improvisation and bucking the status quo were not out of the question. Afghanistan, the army, and the Boy Scouts had taught him that if you don’t have what you need, you make do. For years Red’s surgical residents would hear him preaching during surgery on the value of leeches and maggots for cleaning wounds and brown sugar to promote healing. One surprised resident was sent from the operating room to the grocery store during a long surgical procedure to buy additional brown sugar. “Brown sugar, not white sugar,” Red yelled out the door as his student headed for the store scratching his head. It worked time after time, and Red rejoiced in proving his point. He also pointed to support in the medical literature for the position that alternative medicine should not necessarily be dismissed out of hand.

Looking back, Red summed up his teaching career with satisfaction. “I’ve had some really great students over the years, and I can proudly say not a one was taught to do half a surgery or to think of anything beyond the patient as the focus of everything we do.”




Social Posts

profile_image

CHI St. Luke's Health

@CHI_StLukes

Last month, our Health-eNotes subscribers received early access to $10 @Lyft discount codes for safe rides to and from the #rodeo cook-off. Sign up so you don't miss out on the next giveaway: https://t.co/6wUwj4oiNI https://t.co/Kcf4PRJO8C

8 mins ago
profile_image

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

VeteransAffairs

In case you missed the #ExploreVA Facebook Live event on the revamped VA.gov, check out the recap and watch the video.

46 mins ago
profile_image

Veterans Affairs

@DeptVetAffairs

#ICYMI, check out this recap of the #ExploreVA Facebook Live event on the revamped VA website https://t.co/Q1HPRAjWvA

46 mins ago
profile_image

University of Houston

@UHouston

RT @CPezman: Congrats to @UHCougarWBB on their @WomensNIT selection! The program continues to grow with @CoachHugheyUH and his incredible…

1 hour ago
profile_image

CHI St. Luke's Health

CHIStLukes

Are you an experienced Polysom Technologist looking for new opportunities? Join the hard-working team at CHI St. Luke’s Health–The Woodlands Hospital! This is a full-time position for the night shift. Apply today: https://bit.ly/2W3QKMS

2 hours ago
profile_image

MD Anderson Cancer Center

@MDAndersonNews

We welcome hundreds of patients and their families from outside the U.S. each year. See how our International Center helps: https://t.co/oiN2oEvDl2 #endcancer https://t.co/6tX8scP507

3 hours ago
profile_image

Veterans Affairs

@DeptVetAffairs

Daughters of the American Revolution Chapters honoring local Vietnam Veterans https://t.co/7XW9D5BLno via @KTVOTV

3 hours ago
profile_image

Veterans Affairs

@DeptVetAffairs

Return The Favor: Glowing green for Veterans https://t.co/w7LwFweRyD via @abc27News

10 hours ago
profile_image

MD Anderson Cancer Center

@MDAndersonNews

@j_rodricks1 @MJEjags @katyisd We are so grateful for these blood donations. They make a huge difference in our cancer patients’ lives. Thank you.

10 hours ago
profile_image

Memorial Hermann

@memorialhermann

Thousands of patients in need of heart surgery may soon have a new option. Read more: https://t.co/3p9SO6C3xz. https://t.co/PZ71Ui3vkB

11 hours ago
profile_image

We'cruitish

Wecruitish

Ready to hire a professional for your business?Well then search our talent pool for your perfect candidate Create an account today!Highly experienced professionals are waiting to perform at very high standards in your growing company.1. Post a Job: remote or local Post your job on We'cruitish job board and reach qualified candidates who are eager to be apart of your team. You will be pleasantly surprised when you see how easy it is to post jobs on our job board. You can also choose to receive applications by email or redirect applicants to a certain URL to complete the application process.2. Company Profile Page You can create a company profile page, which displays your logo, choose images and videos in the company descriptions section. you can add a link to your website and post any other information to attract more applicants. Such page contains all active jobs posted by this company in the second tab of the page.3. Search Workers We'cruitish created a smart keyword search system that carefully scans each candidate’s profile and each listing for the right keywords so that you can always find the best candidates for your vacancies.4. Employer Dashboard You have all the necessary tools to manage our jobs, see stats by job views, view applications from job seekers and manage profile settings in your dashboard.5. Applicant Tracking An appealing “kanban” style board allows categorizing applications by hiring status, look through all the information about a candidate, contact applicants and insert notes for each application.Click here to sign up https://wecruitish.com/sign-upOur no subscription! services let you pay only when you want Per Job Post Pay only when you need to post. Whats included?1 job postingno subscription!Featured Job Feature your Job to reach more candidates. Whats included?5X more exposure & applicationsJob stays top of search results1 Featured job postingDatabase Access Everything you need to grow your company Whats included?Monthly Resume AccessInvite candidate to a jobMessage CandidatesWith over 3,000 page views per day, once you post a job on our board you will get qualified candidates that match your job requirement. With We'cruitish Reduce your payroll up to 70%Highly educated professionals are ready to perform job/task that can be done remotely for a fraction of the cost you would pay traditionally in an office setting.Become a part of the We'cruitish team today!! Don't hesitate candidates are waiting for you

12 hours ago
profile_image

Houston Methodist

@MethodistHosp

@MDMagazine Thanks for the shout-out

12 hours ago
profile_image

MD Anderson Cancer Center

@MDAndersonNews

After a surprise diagnosis at age 36, Paula Carrillo finds success with overcoming stage 2A #colorectalcancer with Dr. Michael Overman: https://t.co/iVnpQGygSR #CancerMoonshot #endcancer

12 hours ago
profile_image

Houston Methodist

@MethodistHosp

@GKHoustonMethod Thanks for the shout-out

12 hours ago
profile_image

Houston Methodist

@MethodistHosp

@bernd_montag @SiemensHealth Appreciate the shout-out

12 hours ago