I first read Ten Fingers For God about Dr. Paul Brand by Dorothy Clarke Wilson some 25-30 years ago when we attended a church with a solid lending library of mostly biographies. After reading this book I read the same author’s book about Paul’s mother, Granny Brand, and I believe I also read her Take My Hands: The Remarkable Story of Dr. Mary Verghese, after seeing her story mentioned in this book. I reread Granny Brand a few years ago, and that caused me to want to reread Ten Fingers, so I found an inexpensive used copy online.
Originally my primary interest in Ten Fingers For God was stirred when I was told it mentioned Dr. John Dreisbach, who attended our church whenever he was in the country. But I was soon caught up in Paul’s story on it’s own merits.
He was the son of unconventional pioneer missionaries to India, Jesse and Evelyn Brand. He and his sister were allowed to roam pretty freely, his mother even letting him do his school work up in a tree and drop finished assignments down to her. “If [his work] was wrong, he had to climb down and get [it], reascend, and start over again” (p. 14). So it was a pretty strong shock to his system when, at the age of 9, I believe, he was taken to live with two maiden aunts in England for his schooling. Some of my favorite parts of the book are his and his sister’s antics there, like hanging upside down on the crosspiece of a streetlight in front of the aunt’s house, smiling at passers-by, or pretending the floor was lava and trying to make it around the room on the furniture without touching the floor. The aunties handled it as well as they could.
Paul’s father died when he was 15, and his mother returned to England for a time, devastated, but eventually she went back to India. It was understood that Paul would follow. Initially his main interest was in carpentry, so he apprenticed to a man his mother knew. When he applied to be a missionary, however, he was turned down. His father had had to build structures, which is one reason why Paul was interested in building, but it wasn’t accepted as a main missionary occupation. Medicine had originally been repulsive to him, with memories of his father treating gross and disgusting conditions. But once Paul decided to go that way and got into it, he marveled at the way God created the body and its systems and saw it as a wonderful way to help people.
He married and went to India and was thrust into more than full time medical ministry. Leprosy was still a mystery with a huge stigma attached. Sadly, most lepers were not actively contagious, but once the disease began they were ostracized. It was thought that their flesh wasted away, so much so that they couldn’t even be operated on, but Paul discovered that the cause for their ulcers and even lost digits was lack of pain sensation. He pioneered a surgery to transform their hands from their clawed version to workable, usable hands.
But that actually created more problems. People would not hire them because of the stigma of leprosy, but they couldn’t successfully beg any more because they no longer could garner the sympathy their clawed hands had elicited. Paul found employment for some at the hospital, but of course he could not do that for all of them. Eventually a training center was built where patients could not only learn a trade, but learn how to handle their tools in safe ways that wouldn’t damage hands that couldn’t feel, and in turn, as Paul and his crew became aware of problem areas, they could adapt tools or processes to the patients’ needs. Paul’s carpentry experience was valuable many times over in these endeavors.
Not many doctors were treating leprosy patients, so when possible, Paul traveled to other parts of the world to gain more insight (which led him to Dr. Dreisbach in Africa).
Eventually treatment expanded to include operations on feet, noses, and restoration of eyebrows. Paul’s wife, Margaret, became an expert in her own right on how leprosy affects the eyes.
I had forgotten that Paul worked in the ministry founded by Dr. Isa Scudder, someone else whose biography I enjoyed.
The last third or so of the book was not quite as interesting to me, as it got further away from Paul himself and more into how his procedures and methods gained worldwide attention, what organizations he became affiliated with, which organizations sent people or set up additional centers in Vellore, etc. There’s a nice epilogue in this edition which I don’t believe was in the one I first read, telling what happened in the lives of Paul, his wife, and each of his children.
He was so incredibly busy, I don’t know how he found time to even have a family. Yet he was known for being unflappable in just about any circumstance.
A lot of his insights into pain are in this book, but perhaps his best known book was originally titled Pain: The Gift Nobody Wants, which I’ve not read. It’s been republished and retitled The Gift of Pain with Philip Yancey, but I don’t know if the text has been altered or what Yancey’s contribution to the book was. They did collaborate on other books, Fearfully and Wonderfully Made and In His Image (I’ve not read these, either.)
Overall this was a fascinating look into a unique and remarkable man, perfectly fitted to what God called him to. I’m glad I read it again.
My rating: 10 out of 10
Objectionable elements: None
Recommendation: Yes, I highly recommend it.
(Sharing at Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)