Some doctors go kicking and screaming into an interview with the Arkansas Times. They say they aren’t the best, they don’t want people to think they think they’re the best, and the whole idea of calling a doctor the best is a crock.
Hand surgeon Michael Moore, 55, is one of them. He and Dr. Thomas Frazier, a partner at Arkansas Specialty Orthopaedics, share the “top vote getter” position this year in their specialty.
Moore says he’s just one of many in a field that is humbling. When you see a patient whose surgery was successful, he said, “You’re on top of the world.” But the next minute, a patient whose outcome was less successful will bring him back down. Those are the patients he does not forget.
In fact, he said, “If you care about your patients, and I really do, I would recommend not going into hand surgery.”
Which is not to say Moore, who sees 60 to 75 patients a day, doesn’t get great results. His abilities have long been recognized, by both his peers and patients. But he’d like to see better techniques and technology to improve, for example, surgery to repair nerve damage. The nerves of the hand are only 2.5 millimeters across, arteries are only 2 millimeters across. Hooking them back up is extremely difficult. “We don’t have nature licked. God made the perfect hand. We’re trying to get as close as possible.”
Moore is a native Californian who decided not to return home after a three-year stint at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences because his wife, an Arkansan, wanted to stay here. His undergraduate degree is from Stanford, where he meant to be a football player — he had a football scholarship — but quickly discovered he might be more nimble with his mind. He went to medical school at the University of California at San Diego not because of a burning need to be a doctor, he said, but because he had a disabled brother to take care of. He made money during med school writing comedy routines (it was pass-fail, he explained).
It was during his orthopedic residency at the University of Florida at Gainesville that Moore was inspired, by an older resident, to become “the best doctor I could be.”
Moore was recruited to UAMS from the Indiana Hand Center, where he did a fellowship. He was the first surgeon in Arkansas to reattach fingers.
Moore’s practice is multifaceted — operating to repair fractures, deformities and severed nerves, replacing joints in persons who suffer from rheumatoid and degenerative arthritis. (Moore said it’s not well known that surgery can relieve pain and return function to arthritic hands; a lot of people suffer for years needlessly.) If a patient has lost a thumb, making his hand virtually useless, Moore can microsurgically replace the thumb with a big toe. Patients don’t lose their ability to walk and the regain their ability to grasp and hold. The surgery is done in a way that makes the toe resemble a thumb.
So is it true what they say about hand surgeons? That they are perfectionists?
Yes, he says. In hip surgery, a doctor can be off a couple of millimeters. Not so with the hand, if it’s to be usable again. Procedures are demanding and can take several hours in the OR. “I’ve had nurses say, ‘It looks OK, can we please leave?’,” Moore said. But he X-rays the work at every stopping point. “We don’t leave the room until it’s perfect.” Or as close as he can get to it.
A note: To avoid the appearance of bias, this writer didn’t interview Dr. Frazier. He successfully repaired her injured right hand in 2006. She can attest that not being able to use a hand is a frustrating and depressing experience.