Paul Brand: Helping Hands

Chapter 1
On the Road to Chingleput

Paul Brand walked along the side of the dark road, his two helpers beside him, boxes of specimen jars and instruments hoisted onto their shoulders. The trio had walked two miles from their fire-ravaged vehicle, hoping that someone would come along and pick them up. As they trudged on, their hope faded. Not a single car or bus had passed them. Only bullock carts were heading in the opposite direction, passing like shadows in the night. Paul kept a weary eye to the east, wondering whether they would still be walking when dawn broke. By then it would be too late.

Paul’s mood brightened when he realized that the next town was home to a Christian mission school. Perhaps they would find someone at the school who could drive them the rest of the way to Chingleput. When they reached the school a short time later, Paul roused the teacher from his bed.

“I’m sorry. I don’t have a car, but I can offer you all a bed for the remainder of the night,” the bleary-eyed teacher responded.

“No, no, you don’t understand. We have to get to Chingleput as soon as possible. We haven’t come this far to give up now.”

Paul persuaded the teacher to get dressed and go in search of a car and driver they could hire. Even Paul knew this was a tall order. It was after midnight. To Paul’s relief, the teacher returned with a driver willing to take the team to their destination.

Soon Paul and his assistants were bumping their way along the potholed road toward Chingleput. At two-thirty in the morning, weary from the journey, they pulled up to the gate of the leprosarium. Everything was dark and quiet. Paul banged on the gate, and an old watchman carrying a kerosene hurricane lamp shuffled over to see what the commotion was.

“I’m Dr. Paul Brand,” Paul announced. “Dr. Harry Paul has given me and my team permission to enter the grounds to perform an autopsy. Please take us to the body.”

The night watchman recoiled at Paul’s words and signaled with his hands that he wanted nothing to do with the conversation. Paul took a deep breath and told the watchman that he was not about to turn around and leave, especially after all he had been through to get this far. Eventually the night watchman relented and told the group to follow him. Once again the team hoisted the instruments and specimen jars onto their shoulders and followed the old man as he led them behind some huts and then upward along a winding, rocky trail.

They walked at a brisk pace, and Paul marveled at the situation. As a boy growing up in South India, he could never have imagined this scene. The one thing he had determined he would never be when he grew up was a medical doctor. And like everyone else, he had been taught to fear leprosy. But now here he was, a doctor on his way to one of the most exciting events of his life, performing an autopsy on the body of a leprosy patient. His life had certainly taken some dramatic turns from those carefree days growing up in the Kolli Malai highlands.

Chapter 2
The Strange Visitors

Seven-year-old Paul Brand sat on a branch midway up a jackfruit tree. No matter how many times he climbed the tree, he always loved to stop and peer out over the clumps of bamboo at the rolling hills beyond. The hills stretched as far as he could see. Closer to home were the fields where his father showed the hill people how to plant orange trees and sugar cane.

As Paul surveyed the countryside from his perch in the tree, a movement caught his eye. Someone—or maybe a group of people—was walking very slowly up the track toward the house. Paul squinted into the sun. There was always a constant procession of visitors who came to the Brands’ simple home high in the hill country of southeastern India.

Paul knew that his parents, Jesse and Evelyn Brand, were well loved by the local people of the Kolli Hills. Paul had lived in the highlands his entire life and had seen thousands of people seek out his parents for all kinds of help and advice. Sometimes people wanted his father to help them with a building or to check on the composition of the bricks he had taught them to make. Other times they wanted Paul’s mother to demonstrate one more time how to tuck a baby under a mosquito net at night to greatly increase the child’s chance of survival, or to explain why it was necessary to go to all the trouble of walling off a village’s water well.

Paul knew that this was not the only reason his parents had left their native England to come to the hill country of India. Every night before bed his parents prayed for their neighbors, asking God to help them understand that there was one swami, or religious person, whom they needed to know—Swami Jesus. As far as Paul could tell, his parents’ nightly prayers had little effect. No one other than a shepherd boy had ever taken an interest in becoming a follower of Jesus.

As Paul sat in the tree, his attention was diverted when he spotted his four-year-old sister, Connie, below him. Paul was tempted to drop a jackfruit “bomb” near her, but then he remembered how his mother hated it when they got the sticky sap from the jackfruit on their clothes or skin.

“Hey, Connie,” Paul called to his sister as he shimmied down the tree trunk. “Do you want to go looking for frogs?”

Connie nodded, her golden blonde curls blowing in the wind. Together the two children wandered over to a woodpile where they had heard croaking noises the past few nights.

No sooner had Paul and Connie started poking around the rocks by the woodpile with sticks than three men, the group Paul had seen from up in the jackfruit tree, shuffled into sight. Paul stared at them. There was something unsettlingly different about these visitors, and Paul strained to figure out what it was. All three men were dressed like many other poor Indian men: a dusty blanket draped over the shoulder, a faded turban, and a breechcloth. But as he scanned their feet, Paul became alarmed. The men had stubby, bleeding feet, and although Paul had been taught not to stare, he was certain that some had missing toes. Then Paul noticed that the men’s hands were much the same as their feet. Two of them had swollen hands with open sores. The other hid his hands behind his back.

“Get back, children!” Paul turned to see his mother standing beside them. Her voice was strained and high pitched. “Paul, run and get your father. Take Constance with you. And don’t come back. Stay in the house.”

Alarmed by the strange urgency in his mother’s voice, Paul grabbed Connie by the hand and ran toward the house as he yelled for his father.

Jesse Brand came quickly, and Paul watched him hurry toward the three visitors.

“Come on, Paul. Mummy told us to stay inside,” Connie pleaded as she ran up the four steps and into the house.

Paul shook his head. “You stay inside, Connie, and I will find out what’s going on and come back and tell you.”

Connie frowned as Paul glanced back at his parents. The three men were kneeling around Paul’s father. Paul had witnessed hundreds of strangers who came for medical attention do the same thing, and every time, Jesse would reach down and help them to their feet. He would explain that he did not want to be worshiped, that Swami Jesus was the only One worthy of their worship. But this time Paul noticed that his father did not reach down to lift up even one of the men. Instead, Jesse stood with his hands limp at his sides, a sad look on his face.

Paul slipped behind a bush. Slowly, so as not to attract attention, he crawled from one rock or clump of grass to another until he found a good vantage point to see what was going on.

Paul listened to his father and the three men converse in Tamil. Having been born and raised in southeastern India, Paul spoke the language as fluently as he spoke English. Paul’s father shook his head. “I’m sorry. There is very little we can do for you, but we will do what we can. You stay here and don’t move. I’ll be right back.”

Jesse dashed back to the house while Paul’s mother stood by awkwardly. Although she had been in India for ten years, Evelyn did not speak Tamil well enough to chat with people.

Two minutes later Jesse returned. Much to Paul’s relief, he did not seem to have noticed that Connie was in the house alone. Jesse put down a basin of water and then pulled on a pair of gloves. Paul frowned. His father wore gloves only when he was performing an operation, but there were no operating instruments, just bandages and a can of ointment.

Leaning forward a little, Paul watched intently as his father gently bathed each man’s feet, smeared them with ointment, and bandaged them. Paul’s mother went inside the house and returned with a basket of vegetables and half a cooked chicken. Paul grimaced. He had been looking forward to eating the chicken for dinner. Evelyn set the basket on the ground in front of the three strangers and gestured for one of the men to pick it up. “Basket. You take and keep,” she said in halting Tamil. This action was puzzling to Paul, since his mother used the basket every day to store her vegetables.

Paul watched as the last man had his feet wrapped in bandages, and he wondered what would happen next. The Brands often invited strangers to stay the night in the open space under the house before continuing on their way, but not today. One of the men stooped over and wrapped the food from the basket in his blanket. The men thanked Paul’s parents and walked back down the path. Jesse carried the basin and ointment inside.

This was all a bit confusing to Paul. There was something very gloomy about the exchange between his parents and the three men. His parents normally talked with their patients and gave them advice, but this time there had been none of that. A few minutes later, Paul wandered over to where the men had crouched.

“No, Paul! Don’t touch it!” Evelyn yelled as her son bent down to pick up the basket and return it to her. She came running up behind Paul. “And stay away from the place where the men were. Don’t walk on it or play there. Do you understand?” she demanded.

Paul nodded as he watched his father light a match and set the basket on fire.

“Why did you do that?” Paul asked. “Mother needs that basket.”

As Jesse turned to reply, Paul could see tears in his father’s eyes. “Because, son,” he said, “those men were lepers.”

Paul felt a chill go down his spine. He knew about lepers from the Bible stories his parents read to him. In the Old Testament Naaman had been a leper, and in the New Testament Jesus had healed lepers. But now Paul had seen three lepers with his own eyes.

Although he never had the courage to bring the subject up again, Paul often thought about the three lepers. He wondered whether anyone else was cleaning their wounds, or if any more of their fingers or toes had fallen off. But as much as he felt sorry for the men, Paul could never in a million years imagine himself looking after strangers the way his parents did. Even though he was only seven, he already thought he had seen too much.

Guinea worms were one thing that repulsed Paul. They were a constant problem in the neighboring villages, and Jesse removed hundreds of them, one inch at a time. Paul had seen it done so many times that he knew the procedure exactly. First his father would find the outline of the guinea worm under the person’s skin, and then he would have the person bathe that part of his or her body in cold water. It took only a few minutes for the guinea worm to pierce the skin with its tail and begin laying eggs in the water. That was when Jesse would grab the tail. Paul knew that once you had a grip on the tail, you couldn’t just pull the worm straight out. If you did, the worm would break in two and die inside the person’s body, causing a serious and often fatal infection. To get rid of a guinea worm, you had to gently pull about two inches of the worm’s tail out and wind it around a small stick. Each day after that, the patient would come back and have Paul’s father wind another two inches of the worm out until the creature was completely extracted. Sometimes the worm was up to three feet long.

One particular incident affected Paul so much that he could hardly bear to watch his father practice medicine again. Paul and his father were visiting a village when a man with a very swollen leg from a guinea-worm infection approached them. Paul watched as his father helped the man hobble over to a grassy hillside and sit down. Then Jesse pulled out a knife, sterilized it with a match, and cut into the man’s infected leg. Pus came spouting out, like the pictures Paul had seen of whales spouting water. The pus kept flowing until Jesse had collected a bucketful of the stuff. The smell of the pus and the sight of it oozing from the man’s leg overwhelmed Paul, who felt like throwing up. “Filthy infection! Pus everywhere! How can my father stand this? I will never be a doctor!” Paul said to himself as his father removed the dead guinea worm, the source of the infection.