One-on-One with Dr. Boyd Flinders
Dr. Boyd Flinders, 61, grew up in Van Nuys, attended Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, graduated from Loyola University and got his M.D. from USC Medical School in 1976, after which he completed four more years in their Orthopedic Residency Program. He practices orthopedic surgery in Burbank.
Tony: How did you become a doctor?
Dr. Flinders: I never really had any aspirations or goals to be a physician when I was in high school, or even when I entered college. When I was a junior in college I decided I didn’t want to go into math or physics for a living but I wanted to deal more with people. So I thought maybe I’d like to be an oceanographer because Jacques Cousteau was in the media at the time. However, shortly after involving myself with that, I realized that I would be cold, wet and alone most all of my life.
So I said to myself, “Well I like people. I get along well with them.” Some of my friends were going to be doctors, so I asked them why and they said that it sounded like a good thing to do. So between my junior and senior in college I got a job as an orderly at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Burbank, where I currently practice.
I started on Sunday evenings in the admitting department and helped the staff bring the patients in for their surgeries the following day. I really enjoyed my involvement there and met some very interesting people.
For example, one day a gentleman came in. He was probably in his mid to late 30s. Very robust, athletic young man, coming in to have some orthopedic work done.
I said, “Sir we’ve got your work all done, will you sit down in my wheel chair and we’ll take you to your room. He said, “Son, I don’t sit in no wheel chair.” I said, “Well, I’m sorry but this is my job and I’m supposed to take you upstairs and you are supposed to sit in my wheel chair.” He said, “Son, you don’t understand. I don’t sit in wheel chairs. You don’t know who I am, do you?” I said, “No sir, I have no idea who you are.” He said, “I’m Evel Knievel, and I don’t sit in no wheel chairs.”
I said, “Mr. Evel, I’m sorry, but will you please just sit in my wheel chair so we can go up?” Whereupon he sat down in my wheel chair and I pushed him upstairs to his hospital room. I had no idea who Evel Knievel was at the time but within a few weeks, I did learn who he was and I was really quite impressed.
Flash forward about 25 years. I’m here in my office one evening, 3-4 years ago, and a friend of mine calls me up. He knows everybody in town. He says, “Boyd, I have somebody who would like to talk to you.” He puts him on the phone and the guy says, “Son, I don’t sit in no wheel chair.” I laughed and said, “Is this Evel Knievel?” and he says, “Come on over, boy, and have a drink!” So I went over and had a drink with him.
Tony: How could you not know who Evel Knievel was?
Dr. Flinders: Well, when you are 19-years-old and Evel Knievel hasn’t yet smashed himself up at Caesar’s Palace, you don’t know who Evel Knievel is.
Tony: What year was that?
Dr. Flinders: 1969; I was at Loyola University.
Tony: How did you start your practice?
Dr. Flinders: I got out of the Residency Program in 1981 and started my practice with a doctor I had met and who had been a mentor to me, Dr. Hutter, who was well established and well known. I had actually held retractors for him in the 1971-72 when he was a pioneer in doing hip replacements. So, fortunately, I was actually getting on-the-job training in doing total hip replacements before it was something that everybody was doing.
Tony: So you weren’t even in medical school when you were doing that?
Dr. Flinders: No, I was an orderly.
Tony: How did you get the job of helping Dr. Hutter?
Dr. Flinders: I was an orderly at St. Joe’s. I started out in admitting and then wanted to go up to surgery to see what it’s like to find out if I wanted to be a doctor. So the head nurse in surgery said OK. She told them you can have this young man and he can work this summer. So I worked that summer and then worked part time the rest of my school year. The nurse who was in charge of the orthopedic surgery room became a good friend of mine, kind of like a surrogate mother in a way. She said, “You know, son, we are going to have to have a dedicated orderly when this Dr. Hutter comes over from Hollywood Pres to do his hip replacements. We’re getting all these new rooms built with laminar flow and all this stuff. Would you like to do that? I said, “Sure.”
Tony: What was her name?
Dr. Flinders: Kay Justice. So I would go to pick up the patients, get them set up, help them get on the operating table. Then I would get to go and scrub in and don my space suit, because they used these special vacuum suits to try to decrease the possibility of any infections, and got to know Dr. Hutter by holding the leg during the surgery. And he would say, “Set that blood,” and “Buzz this bleeder,” and do this and, “Here, let me show you what I’m doing.” He taught me so much that when I was a resident in orthopedic surgery, one of the premier surgeons in Los Angeles didn’t know exactly what to do one day when I was assisting him as a student. I said, “Doctor, why don’t you do this?” He said, “Oh, that’s a very good idea!”
Tony: He didn’t know how to do it?
Dr. Flinders: He got in a predicament that I had seen many times before by assisting on a couple hundred hip replacement cases. It was probably the third or fourth hip replacement he had done. I had seen so many, that I knew what to do.
Tony: Tell me about your parents.
Dr. Flinders: My mother got polio when I was two months old and she was 23. She was electrical wheel chair bound. She was in the hospital for three years, in an iron lung for a year. When she got out she could walk a few steps, very cautiously, almost like a stilt walker, she didn’t have any muscles in her legs. I saw her fall down many times. When I was about 10 I saw her do a face plant on the linoleum floor when it was old-fashioned linoleum and hard as concrete. It broke her jaw and busted out all her teeth. She strove to bring my sister and me up in the most normal environment possible. We lived with our grandparents for the first three years but then my father and mother took care of us. My sister and I assumed a lot of responsibility for our own well-being under her guidance and tutelage and supervision.
Tony: Did your father stay with her?
Dr. Flinders: My father stayed with her for the next 20 years. I have to hand it to him. You are looking at two youngsters, 23 and 24 years old. They start a family and all of a sudden you’re married for two years and your wife is in a hospital in an iron lung.
Tony: I thought when you were in an iron lung, it was for life.
Dr. Flinders: No. As the virus dies out, some of the nerves that were preserved will come back. My mother probably had 10% muscle function in her entire body when she recovered. She had been totally incapacitated. Even her diaphragm, which is the muscle that lets you breathe, wouldn’t work. That’s why she was in an iron lung.
Tony: Are you married?
Dr. Flinders: I was married. My wife, Kathie, was a nurse who worked at St. Joseph’s Hospital, although I met her when I was an intern at County Hospital. We got married about a year after we met. Unfortunately, in 1996, at the tender age of 43, she developed breast and ovarian cancer. The valiant and very strong-willed woman that she was, she survived for the next eight years.
Tony: You’ve lived with illness all your life.
Dr. Flinders: Pretty much so, yes.
Tony: How has it affected your outlook on life?
Dr. Flinders: It has probably improved my outlook on life. Even people with significant handicaps have the opportunity to lead a normal life. As a matter of fact, one of the things that I’m now venturing off into it helping to educate people who have disabilities. I’ve talked to Santa Monica City TV about developing a program and they are on board with it, which will be called “Independent Living with Style.” We will interview people who have had injuries or illnesses that have significantly affected their ability to interact in the “usual fashion with their environment,” and what they have done and what obstacles they had to overcome to achieve a level of independence and reestablish themselves as unique individuals. I’m going to continue my practice but I’m going to curtail it to a degree so I have more time to do these things. I would like to share my experiences with other people and, I hope, affect them in a positive fashion.