“God designed the human body so that it is able to survive because of pain”The Gift of Pain – Dr. Paul Brand
Paul Brand was born in India in 1914. His early years were full of fun and adventure as he grew up in the Kolli Hills of Tamil Nadu. His caring parents welcomed everyone into their home. But one day this changed.
A man disfigured by Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) arrived seeking help. His father looked after him. But they wouldn’t let him into the house. And the children were kept well away from this man. The young Paul Brand saw this, and it had an indelible impact on him.
Dr. Paul Brand in CMC
Many years later, in 1946, Paul Brand came to CMC Vellore as a trained surgeon. There was still a lot of stigma around leprosy, and little was known about the disease. At that time, doctors believed that the bacteria attacked the flesh. And this directly caused the fingers, toes and feet to rot and fall apart.
Dr. Brand was determined to help these people and so started to research this topic in great detail. He found was that the damage was not caused directly by the bacteria. Instead, it was caused by ordinary, often small, injuries. The injuries happened because the person with Hansen’s disease could not feel pain. This was a completely new finding that would change the lives of many people.
Transformed Understanding of the Disease
Pain protects us when we hurt ourselves. If we touch a hot vessel, we immediately withdraw our hand. This protects our hand from further injury. But Hansen’s disease destroys the nerves that let us feel pain, hot and cold.
For example, this means that
- People affected by Hansen’s disease can’t feel a sharp thorn in the foot.
- Normally, we would quickly feel the pain and quickly remove that thorn.
- This would keep the damage to a minimum.
- But if you cannot feel that thorn, you do not know to remove the thorn. Instead, you keep walking on the thorn which causes more and more damage to the foot.
So Dr. Paul Wilson Brand transformed the way we understand Hansen’s disease. This amazing insight opened a brand-new approach to how we care for people with Hansen’s disease. Simple things can be done to prevent the damage. For example:
- You can wear shoes to prevent damage from stones and thorns.
- You can teach people to use their eyes to compensate for not feeling something.
- For example, to use your eyes to check your feet regularly for damage. So, look at your feet and see if there are any red areas or other damage.
This approach has gone on to save thousands from disability and disfigurement. And the same approach is now used for people with diabetes who have damage to their nerves.
Transformed Understanding of How to Treat the Disease
A hand deformed due to the muscles weakness due to nerve damage. Surgery meant he could work at the old AV unit Tendon transfer surgery means he could use his hands and work
Paul Brand also went on to transform the way we treat Hansen’s disease with his pioneer tendon transplant surgery. This surgery moves a tendon so that the hand (or foot) works better than it did before. This surgery is still done today.
He also introduced vocational rehabilitation. The rehabilitation, or training, will allow the patient to earn a living where previously their only option had been to beg.
Paul Brands Work Continues
The Ulcer Ward at CHAD
Today, you can see the fingerprints of Dr. Paul Brand’s work around CMC Vellore. A couple of years ago CMC rebuilt the special ward he made to care for his Hansen’s patients.
We continue to heal the wounds of people who have suffered for years from its ravages mainly through this ward and the HLRS unit (Hand and Leprosy Reconstruction Surgery).
Lives are Healed
Former patients live productive lives. Mr. Prakasam, had Hansen’s disease a long time ago and remains a testament to the benefits of rehabilitation . He had surgery and was then rehabilitated in the New Life Centre, set up by Dr. Brand. He then worked till his retirement in CMC’s Audiovisual Unit. He remains active and continues to sell eggs in the campus.
“Though I suffered a lot as a child, I am now a happy man. I owe everything to the doctors and other members of the CMC community, who have looked after me in a hundred big and small ways throughout my life,” he says with a smile brimming with confidence and contentment.
World Leprosy Day
‘World Leprosy Day’ falls on Sunday, 31st January 2021. Leprosy is still with us. We can easily cure Hansen’s Disease, but we still don’t know how people catch it. Let us continue Dr Paul Brand’s legacy of healing, combating stigma, and researching.
The CHAD hospital gives free treatment to Hansen’s patients, through the Ulcer Ward. With your gift, we will be able to give free food for these patients.
The Paul Brand Building
The new orthopaedic block is named after Dr Paul Brand. This was the student nurses hostel (SNH) but they moved to the new College of Nursing at Kagithapattarai. We hope to start to treat patients here in March 2021. The building work took longer than anticipated due to the COVID pandemic, so it will be wonderful to finally see it in use. There are wards and theatres in the block and both will be used mainly by the orthopaedic departments.
Early building work on the old student nurses hostel, March 2020. The new orthopaedic block, stands high above the other CMC buildings The scaffolding finally came down in mid-October 2020 on the new ortho block
Dr. Paul Brand’s biography Ten Fingers for God, by Dorothy Clarke Wilson, and his book (with Paul Yancey) The Gift of Pain are well worth reading.
FAQs on Hansen’s Disease
If you have any questions about Hansen’s disease (leprosy), you can visit this page on the CMC website for Frequently Asked Questions that have been answered by experts in the field.
Philp Yancey on Paul Brand
Listen to the third Ida Scudder Humanitarian oration on Dr. Paul Brand by Mr. Philip Yancey.
Mr. Philip Yancey recounts his visit to CMC Vellore where he gave his talk and his time in India in his blog. You can read it here.
More on Paul Brand
Some Inspiring Books
There are a few wonderful books that look at Paul Brands life and the effect of losing the ability to feel pain in leprosy. We can recommend them all.
The versions printed in India are a lot cheaper, the bookshop at CMC sometimes has these and other stores may have. If not, Amazon has the more expensive versions.
- Ten Fingers for God: The Life and Work of Dr. Paul Brand
- by Dorothy Clarke Wilson
- The Gift Nobody Wants
also called Pain: The Gift Nobody Wants
- by Paul W. Brand and Philip Yancey
- On Amazon
- Fearfully and Wonderfully Made
- by Philip Yancey and Paul W. Brand
- On Amazon
Blogs featuring Paul Brand
A couple of blogs have some insights into Dr Brand
- Dr John recalls the time he operated with Dr Paul Brand
- Dr Philip Yancey came to Vellore to speak at the oration (see the video above). He write about that trip to India on his blog