Moss book recounts ‘traveling in the raw’


JASPER — There came a time in Dr. Richard Moss’ life when he bucked convention, security and comfort. At age 33, done with medical school and residency, the Jasper doctor rolled the dice and took a chance. He recounts the ensuing journey in his new book, “A Surgeon’s Odyssey.”

Dr. Richard Moss

He had a plan before he left the United States to become a vagabond, volunteer cancer surgeon throughout Asia during the late 1980s and early 1990s. He was a trained and licensed ear, nose and throat doctor and head and neck cancer surgeon. He always wanted to experience life outside the country. And he had a passion to help others. But nothing could prepare him for the incredibly complicated journey he embarked on or the incredibly colorful characters he met in the three years he was away.

“I gave up financial security,” said Moss, who lived off of a few thousand dollars he’d saved up as well as stipends from university hospitals during those years. “I could have been making a lot of money.”

Instead, he made very little. But when Moss thinks back on it, he remembers his time working abroad as one of the most rewarding periods of his life.

He described the book as an adventure story, but said it is also about the cultural and spiritual passage he wandered through during his time on the continent of Asia. After 14 years of studying and training to become an otolaryngologist, he was more than ready to get out and satisfy his deep wanderlust.

“For me, I had such a deep wanderlust and a desire to get out there and just see the world — bare bones and naked,” Moss reflected in a Tuesday interview. “And see it at its most beautiful and most destitute and impoverished and miserable. You saw it all. It was really traveling in the raw.”

He worked in university hospitals in Thailand, India, Bangladesh and Nepal, which allowed him to both help patients and teach medical students modern techniques he’d learned. He removed tumors and completed other ear, nose and throat surgeries for everyone from average citizens to the extremely wealthy and politically powerful. And he never charged anyone for his work.

During the journey, he met his wife, Ying, in Thailand. He interacted with and operated on political elites because of his highly sought-after American training and board certification. But eventually he ran out of money and had to come back to the states.

Someday, he said he might go back and complete more volunteer work overseas. He wishes now he could have figured out a way to both make money and continue his volunteer efforts in The Orient, but remembers how focused he was then on not accepting any money at all for his services.

And while Moss looks back on his time as a volunteer fondly and considers volunteerism a positive and noble pursuit, he stressed the importance of individual nations promoting free markets and the private sector to actually end suffering and elevate their societies.

“It’s a thimble full in an ocean of suffering and wretchedness,” Moss said of volunteer efforts. “Ultimately, all the volunteers in the world, all of the government aid, all of the NGOs (non-government organizations) and the international organizations will not touch the problem. What ultimately will elevate a culture is when the people and their government decide to create liberty and opportunity and have a robust free market with innovation and research and development and strong civic institutions.”

Signed copies of his book can be purchased at Moss’ Jasper medical office, 721 W. 13th St., Jasper. Physical copies and e-book versions are also sold on Amazon and through Archway Publishing.

Moss is a board-certified head and neck surgeon with a private practice in Jasper, where he has lived for more than 27 years with his wife and four children. Moss earned his medical degree at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis. He is also a columnist, local businessman and investor, and has sought political office. He is the author of “Matilda’s Triumph: A Memoir,” a book about his mother’s encounter with a devastating stroke intertwined with vignettes of her as a young woman, raising her five sons as a single parent in the Bronx.

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