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EmCare Clinicians Remember Dr. James H. “Red” Duke

Posted on Tue, Sep 15, 2015
EmCare Clinicians Remember Dr. James H. “Red” Duke

Several EmCare clinicians reflect back on Dr. Duke's life and legacy.

By Adam Corley, MD

Texas lost an icon last month. Dr. James H. “Red” Duke, known to many from his long-running syndicated television segment “Texas Health Reports,” passed away from natural causes.

He was a fixture in the Houston area and was the face of trauma surgery, Memorial Hermann Hospital and the University of Texas Health Science Center Houston for more than four decades.

Dr. Duke was a trauma surgeon, EMS pioneer, television personality and medical educator. Since 1972, he served as a professor of surgery at the University of Texas Health Science Center Houston where I attended medical school and where I completed my residency in emergency medicine. He was one of my teachers, both directly and indirectly, for the seven years that I trained in and around Memorial Hermann Hospital.

As much as anyone else in my formal training, Dr. Duke taught me medicine. As an attending trauma surgeon, he taught me the nuts and bolts of how to care for critically injured patients as an emergency physician. But more than that, he taught me – and thousands of other medical students and residents -- how to be doctors.

There have been dozens of articles written about Dr. Duke since he passed away: an obituary, newspaper columns, television coverage and social media chatter. I could write for several weeks on Dr. Duke and his influence on medicine, trauma surgery, EMS and on me, personally. However, I thought that the best way for me to pay my respects would be to gather memories, thoughts, quotes and “Dukeisms” from my friends and colleagues who knew Dr. Duke or were influenced by him.

Rest in peace, Dr. Duke. You will truly be missed.

“Once when I was an intern, I was walking across Fannin and noticed a lot of honking and commotion and an old beat up blue truck heading my way. The driver had rolled down the window and was waving at me. It was Dr. Duke. He had gone out of his way to say hello to me while driving down the road. He treated everyone with respect and like they were important to him,” Dr. Kevin Rittger, Medical Director for Emergency Services, Brazosport Regional Health System, Lake Jackson, Texas.

“When I first encountered Dr. Red Duke I felt that I had encountered one of those individuals who makes an everlasting impression on everyone he meet. I was immediately drawn to this lanky, bespectacled man with his distinctive mustache and Texas twang. He effortlessly dealt with the most critically injured patients and appeared to thrive in the most intense situations. He was able connect with every person he encountered and exuded a genuine love of medicine and his patients. All of his patients, regardless of circumstance, were treated in a friendly, down-to-earth manner. His truisms were legendary, and I remember him responding to a medical student who commented about a patient having multiple medical problems. He said, “Son, do you know what that patient has? He’s got fleas and ticks!” Dr. William O’Malley, Medical Director, Cypress Fairbanks Medical Center Hospital Emergency Department, Houston.

“In the early morning hours of a weekend shift, the Life Flight trauma pager signaled that a double-loaded chopper was inbound with two Code 3 (highest acuity) patients - ETA 5 minutes. Dr. Duke was on call as the attending trauma surgeon that night. As the teams assembled in two adjacent resuscitation bays, Dr. Duke arrived in the Emergency Department. In his usual style, he surveyed the personnel occupying each bay. Realizing that a disproportionate number of the team was occupying one of the rooms, he said, ‘Some of you move over to the next room and even out the team.’ We all paused briefly, then continued our discussion that as I recall had little to do with the inbound patients and more to do with our pending end-of-shift breakfast venue. A few minutes later Dr. Duke appeared at the door of the bay once again and said, ‘Did y'all hear me? I said some of you move to the other bay and prepare to receive the patient.’ We once again paused briefly when Dr. Duke said, ‘Don't just stand there staring at me like a bunch of calves looking at a new fence ... some of you move to the next room.’ We all busted out laughing while several team members began moving to the adjacent resuscitation bay, having learned an important lesson regarding trauma team logistics a la Red Duke." Dr. Rick Robinson, Vice Chairman and Emergency Medicine Program Director, John Peter Smith Health Network, Fort Worth, Texas.


Adam Corley

Dr. Adam Corley is a practicing emergency physician with more than 10 years of clinical and leadership experience. Dr. Corley serves as Executive Vice President for EmCare’s West Division. He also serves as the medical director for several EMS services and the Anderson County Texas Sheriff’s Department. Dr. Corley lectures and writes on a variety of topics, including decision science and behavioral economics, management of disruptive behavior in healthcare, conflict resolution and healthcare leadership.
 

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