My Dad served in a surgical practice with Dr. Wendell Mitchell Levi, Jr. in Sumter, SC from August 1971 to August 1975. They formed the Sumter Surgical Associates. They built a new office during their time together. Dr. Levi penned a memoir of his surgical experiences in a self-published book Fifty Years of Surgery: A Personal Experience in 2011. He mentioned Dad in three places in the book. Four years is a small segment of the fifty years that Dr. Levi covers in his short book, so one can’t expect too many references to a particular doctor even if he was a partner.
Dr. Levi first mentioned Dad (pp. 38-39) in regard to a case that Dad was working on at Shaw Air Force Base in the early 1960s. Dad served there from 1959-1963. Dad needed Dr. Levi’s assistance on a surgery case for a woman in which a large vein was injured and the bleeding couldn’t be stopped. Dr. Levi stopped the bleeding and was paid $300 for his assistance. Dr. Levi didn’t give any background as to why Dad would think to contact him for assistance on the case, but there were two main reasons. First, there was a cooperative relationship between the civilian Tuomey Hospital in Sumter and the military hospital. Second, Dad and Dr. Levi had taken their medical board exam together shortly after Dad arrived at Shaw. They were both surgeons who were developing a professional friendship.
This story illustrates an important principle for all areas of life. When we can’t solve a problem with our knowledge or resourses, call skilled outside help for assistance to resolve the matter. I tend to be a lone ranger and when it comes to problem solving, I don’t like to admit that I can’t solve a problem by myself. I like this story because Dad used the principle of calling for help. I am also impressed that Dr. Levi is the hero, not my Dad. Don’t get me wrong, I’d like for Dad to have been the hero, but he wasn’t. This illustrates a second principle that is a great philosophy to live by. Help others be the hero. When we’re asking for help, we’re taking the second spot and allowing another person to shine. Looking back on this case, I wonder if it came back to Dr. Levi’s mind when Dad approached him about the possibility of needing a surgical partner in 1971? Dr. Levi respected Dad as a surgeon, but was his respect for him also influenced by his knowledge that Dad was humble enough to admit that he needed help? I’m sure Dad’s respect for Dr. Levi grew because of this particular case. Why wouldn’t Dad reach out to him when he was looking for another place to relocate? Dad probably believed that they would cover each other’s back. After telling this story about Dad, Dr. Levi concluded it with this cute comment about Dad: “He had five boys, what a crew.”
The second reference to Dad seems to contain one of the errors that Dr. Levi said was sure to be in the text since he was eighty-four years old when he was writing it. (p. 44) Dad finished his tour of duty at Shaw Air Force Base in August 1963. He joined Dr. Levi in private practice in August 1971. Dr. Levi gives the reader the impression that Dad joined him in practice right after finishing his tour of duty at Shaw. However, earlier in the book, Dr. Levi was more clear about the time frame for he wrote, “Later, Dr. Fred Stone, would leave the Air Force, and we were in practice together for many years.” (p. 39) It was eight years later. Those eight years included five more assignments: Travis AFB in Fairfield, CA, K.I. Sawyer AFB in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, Nellis AFB in Las Vegas and a second assignment at K. I.Sawyer. Dad retired in November 1970 followed by a short stint of private practice in Negaunee, MI, not far from K.I.Sawyer. Dr. Levi’s opinion of Dad agreed with other people when he wrote, “He was a wonderful person and a fine surgeon.”
Dad is also mentioned on the last page of the main body of the book. (p. 56) Dr. Levi wrote about a doctor who joined the Sumter medical community with training for a new flexible bronchoscope. Dr.Levi wrote that Dad had used a flexible scope but it was very large and difficult to use. The medical community was improving and the availability of newer and better equipment advanced with the passing of time. This story reminds me that we are in one of three stages of development: at the beginning, during its heyday or at the transition stage to a newer phase. Dad’s instrument was being eclipsed by improved models. I would like to think that Dad used the newer model when he relocated to Watertown, NY and continued his surgical practice. We can ask ourselves, Will I flow with advancements in my career field?
Dr. Levi did a nice job of covering his medical training and experience as a surgeon without getting bogged down in details that most readers wouldn’t appreciate. There are many stories of success in helping people. He also included cases where the outcome was fatal for some patients. He included a few humorous stories too. The most humorous one to me was about a man that Dr. Levi operated on for hours after having been shot multiple times. After the surgery was over, Dr. Levi met with the family and reported on the patient’s status: no blood pressure, no urine output, faint heart beat and unconscious. After Dr. Levi finished the report the family asked, “Doc, is it serious?”