This issue’s “DO’s that Do” features Dr. Chris Hull, a.k.a. the “Hat Doc”! Dr. Hull graduated from TCOM and completed his orthopedic residency at Mt. Clemens. He has practiced solo in Fort Worth for 35 years. His home is also in Fort Worth with his wife, Karen, of 46 years. They have four grown children and two granddaughters.
Although he technically is Assistant Clinical Professor with North Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, he is unofficially Professor of Hat Collection and Genealogy! Read on.
When did you first start collecting hats?
One of my patients gave me a hat from the Russian occupation of Afghanistan in 1994 as we visited about his malady at my satellite office. I wore it the rest of the day and people were entertained by the story of the Russian soldier that must have worn it. During that occupation we were asked to volunteer to operate for some Mujahedin Freedom Fighters. I had an elderly man with a three-year-old hypotrophic midshaft nonunion femur that he would wrap to stabilize and walk the Afghan mountains.
We put in a 14-holed blade plate and the next day he was squatting in the corner of the room drinking a Pepsi. I asked the interpreter what he was doing and he translated, “Drinking a Pepsi”. When asked to get back in bed, he simply stood and walked to the bed and sat to finish his drink. He asked how to thank me, and I said, “With a hat of your country”. The translator indicated that they would send me a Russian hat with the ear or nose of the captured soldier. I said no thanks!! But three years later he sent a pakol hat for my collection indicating that it took so long to make each hat.
What got you interested?
When I noticed that people were distracted from their pain and problem, I decided to wear a hat at that office once a week. After a year, the main office employees wanted to see the “Hat for The Day” and so I wore hats three days a week. Then the nurses at the hospitals wanted to share in the fun of the hats so now I wear a hat every day!
What are the different types of hats you collect?
I collect every type of hat except ball caps (the cancer of hats). I say that because if there is a region that has a special hat and a ball cap is worn there, the people soon begin to wear ball caps and not their unique and original ethnic hat. Collecting religious hats, vocational hats, ceremonial hats and headdresses, sporting hats and helmets has become extensive. Here you see the collection of English, Welch, Scottish and Irish Military hats of a collection included in the collection.
How many hats would you estimate are in your collection?
The current count as of November 5, 2019 is 2,328 hats with no ball caps!
How in the world do you store so many hats?
I am allowed one hallway at the house which has to be culled frequently to prevent overstuffing which causes the hallway to smell like an attic. There are about 900 hats displayed on the walls in exam rooms and hallways at the office. The rest are in plastic stackable bins in my closet and one of the son’s bedrooms.
Do you still wear a hat every day, and how do you decide what hat to wear?
Every morning, I look at the Chase’s Calendar of Events book and Checkiday.com for the ‘Hat for The Day”. I pick one of the designations for that day and a hat that will coordinate with the day for an entertaining story for folks to enjoy. Some days are standard like October 10th which is Leif Erikson’s birth anniversary so I will wear my Viking horns all day.
Has this crazy hobby affected your family?
My lovely bride, Karen, always answers this question stating that there is a noncompete clause for hat usage in this family. Everyone asks my kids if their hat habits are similar and they just laugh it off. They are not indicating who will manage the hats after my passing. We have however started the “Hats of the World Museum” which will be up and running in the near future as a 501(c)3. Currently the display at the office suffices.
As you can see, we enjoy being in the moment and yet there still is no competition seen.
How about hats and patients from your practice?
Most of the hats in the collection are gifts from patients. Some come from their businesses, some from their travels and many from their closets. Grand Dad’s old Army hat makes a fine addition to the US Military room display.
If the patient is wearing a hat to the office, we take a polaroid of their hat and mine for the day placing it on the “Hat Wall of Honor” in a frame to decorate the rooms and office spaces. When we ran out of polaroid film, we started putting the photos on the iPhone and in the computer to rotate for viewing.
Hang loose at the “Hat Wall of Honor”.
Tell us some cool experiences your hat hobby has influenced.
One story is that of the welder’s hat. My Mom was in the rehab unit of the hospital recovering from the total hip we did for her. As I sat to eat lunch with her there was an elderly man sitting at the table as well. He looked over and saw my welder’s hat and said, “That’s a welder’s hat, and I was a welder”. I nodded as we had a 15-minute conservation over the rehab lunch. When I said goodbye to him and my Mom, I walked out into the hall and the nurse stopped me. She asked if I had been talking to the gentleman at the table and I indicated that we had enjoyed a nice conversation. She was excited and exclaimed, “Well that man had a stroke six weeks ago and we have not been able to get him to talk!!” The hat did it!!!
Here you see a bone man and a welder man in welder hats.
Do you teach medical students and how do they respond to the hats?
I usually have a third year and sometimes a fourth-year medical student as well as an occasional PA, Nursing or X-ray student. I always put a hat on them for a photo that I send to their parents with a nice note. This is fun to do as I know that I would love to have a note from my children’s professor. These photos go in the room that they use to study.
Here are two enthusiastic students!
Leave us with your thoughts on how hats have changed your life!
- The hats have encouraged me in many ways.
- Faith is first.
- Family is close behind.
- The professional practice is next.
- Have a diversion to enjoy away from medicine.
- Interact and laugh with people.
- God made us so we can heal. Our job is to entertain until we do.
- I always look at the hat first in movies, pictures, crowds etc.
- Plan to collect that which you have space to store!!
Another diversion from the use of hats is the fun portraying the ancestor of a famous scout for General Sam Houston for Texas school children in the 4th and 7th grades. Even more gratifying is representing Erastus “Deaf” Smith for the kids at the Texas School for the Deaf in Austin.
Of course, the presentation is so much better if your grandchildren can participate. The older granddaughter, Fiona plays the nephew of Deaf Smith’s soon to be wife as they move the cattle from the coast to San Antonio. The younger actress is Maeve and she asked, “What can I be?” I replied, “Why don’t you be my horse?” to which her face shined with glee as she exclaimed, “I will be your unicorn!!”
The hats have created so much fun, diversion and interaction with so many people, patients, family and employees. After the initial reaction has subsided, I can be very serious with the evaluation and recommendations for people even though I am wearing the headdress of Tutankhamun!