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On a more serious note, there was the time a distraught mother brought her child in, saying it had recently stopped breathing. The badly bruised infant, Mullen quickly surmised, had been dead for more than an hour. "It was pretty obvious that the child had been beaten to death," he says, "so I had photographs taken, and we measured the progress of lividity in order to help determine the actual time of death."
Ultimately, a murder case was made against the mother and her boyfriend.
And, of course, in the small county in which he works, there is always going to be some overlap of professions. Once, he remembers, he arrested one of his former surgical patients. "He was drunk and passed out in his car on a service road just outside town," Mullen says. "When I tried to help him out of his car, he became belligerent and wanted to fight. He didn't recognize me as his doctor until after I got him to jail and he'd sobered up a little. Once he realized who I was, he was surprised and apologetic."
Today, it is not unusual for fellow lawmen--local police, Texas Rangers, or fellow deputies--to stop by the emergency room while Mullen is on duty, hoping to find him not busy so they can discuss a particular case they're working on.
"He's one of those rare people," says Titus Regional Medical Center CEO Steve Jacobson, "who has found the best of both worlds. We're just as happy to have him working for us as the sheriff's department is. Dr. Mullen earned a great deal of respect during his career as a neurosurgeon and now has that same kind of respect as an emergency room doctor.
"I used to kid him about all of this being some kind of midlife crisis thing, but the truth is that had nothing to do with the decision he made. He's obviously had a long and burning desire to work in law enforcement and now that he's realized that dream, he takes it very seriously. Just as he does his work here at the hospital."
Only Mullen, it seems, fails to see anything unusual about his dual careers. "My whole life has been spent in some kind of public service," he says, "and I get a strong sense of reward from that. Just as I've done as a doctor, my work as a deputy sheriff has provided me an opportunity to help people. I enjoy what I do, and I'm comfortable with who I am, whether I'm in scrubs, a uniform, or jeans."
Who he is, then, is a crime-fighting doctor, a man whose Joe Friday sensibilities guide him in every aspect of his life.
One final example: When a teen-ager was brought into the emergency room, bleeding profusely and weakly explaining that he had "fallen on a knife," Mullen quickly examined the young man and detected four stab wounds to the chest and stomach. "Son," he told the patient, "nobody falls on a knife four times."
By the time the patient was wheeled from the operating room, his wounds tended, the doctor had switched hats and, as a deputy sheriff, begun his search for the assailant whose name and address he'd coaxed from the victim. Dr. Cop was on the case.