Wednesday, December 21, 2011
I helped them place of the soldiers in a body bag. I won't describe it except to say that even his crewmates couldn't recognize him, and it was disturbing even for those of us who work in battlefield trauma bays. When you're praying for the U.S. soldiers, take a moment to include the Polish ones and their families as well.
Sunday, December 18, 2011
I am still practicing denial about the wall, but I think I did put my foot through the screen door this weekend. I have been working all week to finish the shelving in the Lyons Den so when one person wants to make a snack, they don't have to feel sheepish about interrupting the movie that's going on in the same 10ft by 10ft room.
I had this crazy idea that when I finished the shelving and countertops, I would get to put things where I think they should go. I built the spicerack only four inches deep, so it wouldn't jut into your face like in the old room. It had this fanstasy of putting spices at eye level (instead of the 7-foot shelf like before), and using the Szegedi paprika Jen sent me to make my favorite dish in the whole world, chicken paprikash.
I measured the space for the microwave, the toaster oven, cut holes for the cords, meticulously cut vinyl flooring to use as a cleanable countertop and shelving surface. I constructed a slide-down curtain from a tarp, to cover everything up in case we need to use the room for a mass casualty. Saturday at 1130pm, I called it a day.
Church #1: Protestant services. Four of us from the FST (two Mormons, one Baptist from Compton, one Methodist from Tennessee) make up the choir. We use a projector to let everyone know the words to sing during the eclectic mix of hymns and contemporary worship songs. Today, we couldn't find the projector, the nurse who usually sets it up gets called in to take care of a patient, and when we do find it there is no extension cord. I run from the chapel to the FST to get one while the preacher stalls by asking, "all right, I know there are some MORE prayer requests...let's hear them..." The songs some twenty minutes late.
I have time after practicing for our New Year's program to grab a quick lunch of disappointing honey-sausage taquitos (yes, they are as unappetizing as they sound) before Church #2: LDS services. Jared and I give the sacrament to each other and watch the Christmas Devotional. We don't get to hang out aftewards and sing Christmas hymns like last week because we get called back to the FST to meet some Lieutenant Colonel Whatshisface who is our new commander in Bagram that we will never see again. Salutes, speeches, gladhanding, blahblahblah. I am glad to be a lowly Captain that has no leadership responsibilities whatsoever, so I slip out.
1600: maybe the day will turn around. It's time to practice my favorite Christmas song, O Holy Night. We missed practicing the last two Saturdays because of traumas coming in, so I really want to get our little quartet together to work on the harmonies (or harnomies, as Jen's family likes to quote from a movie I don't know). But this is a no-go because the Polish are setting up for evening mass. Their musician pulls out a flesh-colored sphere that is uncomfortably reminiscent of female anatomy and jokes "five dollars to touch." Not the uplifting experience I was hoping for.
So I decide that darn it, I'm going to practice O Holy Night by myself in the iso-shelter (a medical container pod no one is in 23.5 hours of the day) because I love the song so much. I get through two verses when Ryan, who is my best friend here, comes in to restock the books for United Through Reading, where you videotape yourself reading children's books and send the disc to your kids. I step out to use the restroom, only to remember that all port-o-potties within half a mile have been removed because they are changing companies this weekend. By the time I walk through the 30 degree air my fingers and spirit have lost all enthusiasm at practicing the song on guitar.
I make the mistake of noticing Paprika's Last Stand was a losing battle; it is back in the old room.
So I eat dinner and do the only thing I know how to do when I am bitter and irritable and feeling anti-social. I take a nap.
I feel much better now, and talk myself through my emotions. I do not hate the world, I do not hate people in general. I don't hate coffee drinkers. I built the shelves for everyone to enjoy, and 20 of the 22 of us drink coffee, so it makes sense to put it on the low shelves and countertops. I do not hate the Sabbath Day or the people worked on moving the food over while I was at church. I should be happy that they took the initiative and helped out instead of waiting for me to do it.
I don't hate patients, projectors, extension cords, Polish musicians with portable silicone mammary glands, my best buddy Ryan, children's books, or people who don't appreciate the difference between sweet Szegedi paprika and cheap McCormick peppery paprika, and the reasoning behind four inch shelves.
I am simply having a bad day because I (can't) sleep fifty feet away from the helicopter pad, live my life within 1 square dust-covered mile, have not seen a healthy plant in three months, can't help my wife change diapers, and feel bad that my daughter asked Santa for a "transporter to Afghanistan" so she can visit me for Christmas and not have to cry when she misses me.
So, after my nap, I am awake at 2:47 am recounting the good things of the day: We haven't been rocketed recently, I am safe, family at home still loves me, God is there, the internet works today and I can read emails from my family, Jen sent me the volleyball I wanted for Christmas, they had provologne cheese at the cafeteria today (so I can make pizza this week), one of the Polish medics brought me two pieces of frozen chicken to make Paprikash with, and one of the techs shared his wife's cookies with me. And our trauma bay sat empty the entire day. So it was a good day after all.
Saturday, December 10, 2011
1800: move furniture, entertainment center, and TV into our new building so we can watch a movie for Denise's birthday. Connect wires, and drill hole through walls for TV wire so we can watch college football after the movie.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Monday, December 5, 2011
No, Dana, that's all I have. You go ahead, knock yourself out with 6 more miles in 40 degree weather. I'm done.
I was taught in cultural awareness training back home that the men here respect womanhood and value respectful distance during interaction with any female, fearful of insulting her honor and reputation. I'm sure my teachers are correct, but Dana and I sometimes have a different experience when we run. All of which is an unnecessarily long introduction into the events of today.
Today was especially bad. There were 6-8 local men sitting on top of a cargo truck sitting quietly. As we jog past, they all stare unabashedly at her and point and holler like they just saw Elvis. It was as if seeing a redhead in shorts was some kind of visual catnip for them and they just went nuts! I couln't help it. This is not how real men act towards a woman. I stopped in my tracks, turned around, removed my sunglasses and looked right back at them. "Is there a problem?" I hollered back, in a tone that I hope conveyed my annoyance clearly (I was feeling pretty brave because I know Afghan civilians are searched for weapons before coming on base, and there was a group of US soldiers across the street, each of them carrying an M-16 or larger weapon). They immediately looked away, and pointed to a pretend object in the opposite direction, as if to convince me that what they were *really* looking at was a dust-covered hill that they somehow just became aware of in all its drab brown majesty. Whatever, guys, I don't speak your language but I'm a man and I know a cat-call when I see it.
Nodding to them as if to say, "Yeah...that's what I thought!" I turned around and kept running. They had disappeared by the next lap.
Probably the least culturally sensitive thing I've done since I've been here, but I'd do it again tomorrow in a heartbeat.
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
I have done a lot of new things here: build furniture, anesthetize cats, sleep 50 feet from a helicopter landing zone and now yoga. One of the nurses is very into it, and thought it would be relaxing, fun and a way to let go of some bitterness that sometimes happens when you spend several hours everyday in stressful situations and in company you didn't choose.
It was a lot of fun.
My favorite is the "tree" that you can see above. If you need to bring your focus in your own feelings, you close your fingers. If you want to send out some peace and tranquility to others, you spread your fingers. Mine were spread very wide and pointed toward the nursing dorms.
Saturday, November 26, 2011
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Saturday, November 5, 2011
Monday, October 31, 2011
We made the most of a pointless holiday in a foreign country, on a base where children are not allowed. And we had a great time. During the daytime, a bunch of us from the Forward Surgical Team went reverse trick-or-treating, knocking on doors and handing out Halloween bags of candy. Americans, Polish, Afghans, and others all got some candy. It seemed like most of the locals had been here long enough to understand that October 31st means free candy.
Later there was a Halloween party at the dining hall. I expected very little from it, but I thought I should go out of social obligation since the staff had worked so hard decorating the place. Those of you who remember my teenage years will not be surprised that I was among the first on the dance floor when "Ice, Ice Baby" was played. Did I request Billy Jean and do the Michael Jackson dance, throwing my military cap to the side after a high kick? You KNOW this!
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
We rushed him into the operating room to control the bleeding from the main arteries to the legs, both of which were torn open. The surgeon firmly took the hands of a terrified 22-year-old surgical technician and placed them around the patient's heart, talking him through how to squeeze the heart as the surgeon himself placed a clamp around the aorta, and hurriedly sutured the arteries. And so I found myself trying to reassure this kid who joined the Air Force to be a mechanic, "Keep it up, you're doing great. I feel the pulse in his neck when you squeeze like that. Good job." "I don't know what I'm doing! I'm scared s***less!" was his panicked reply. Even through the surgical mask, I could tell the color was gone from his face. So I tried my best to help him see that he, more than any of the doctors, was keeping the patient alive.
Soon freshly drawn blood arrived, some of which was from the base commander who happened to be the same blood type, and some from his buddies on his team who were with him an hour before, when he found a detonation wire for a bomb. Perhaps the enemy wanted him to find it so they could shoot him from their sniper holes. I imagine some of his buddies were the ones shooting back, and some were the ones carrying him to safety, but they were all there to try to give blood.
Even with all the blood I gave him, and many kinds of heart medications, his heart just wasn't squeezing enough on its own for him to be stable for long. I gave him what little anesthetic medications I could, and found myself talking gently in his ear. "Partner, I'm so sorry if you're feeling any of this. We're doing surgery on you, and I can't give you very much pain medicine right now because your heart is too sick. Just hang in there." The other anesthesiologist is my friend and a devout Christian, so I asked him to pray quietly with me. We asked God to bless this soldier so he won't hurt, bless all of us taking care him to know what to do, and bless his family back home. Then we quickly went back to infusing blood as fast as we could get it from the many volunteers.
When the wounds were all repaired, they sewed him back up as I gave him more and more heart medications. We took him to the recovery room, and the surgeon asked me,
"Is he stable enough to fly?"
"He has a chance, but the longer we wait, the lower it is."
"That's not the question- can he fly or not?"
Well, if I'm going to err, it's on the side of optimism. "Yes. Send the helicopter."
The helicopter did not even have time to get off the ground from Bagram. I was wrong. He was no longer responding to the heart medications. I can't tell you how hard it was to say, "Cancel the helicopter. Stop giving the blood; we have to have save it for someone it might help. Tell his friends outside to come in and see him because he is going to die soon." I hate this decision. The surgeons have done all they can do it fixing his wounds, and it's my job to say we either keep trying to make his heart beat or declare it futile, and save resources for others. I know it's the right decision. And that doesn't help at all.
His heart kept trying to pump for few beats at a time, only to get weaker afterwards. We turn off the loud things like the suction machines and ventilator to give his friends a more dignified setting. I breathe for him quietly by hand and ask my collegues to help me clean him up a little bit before his friends come in. We can't look at each other because we are in varying stages of holding our emotions together. I tell the patient how proud I am of him, how I have a family back home that is safer because of his bravery, and how he is surrounded by friends that love him. I don't know if he can hear me or if it helps him. It helps me.
One by one, leather-skinned, battle-hardened soldiers come in. Some kiss his forehead, then have to walk out because they are overwhelmed. Some stay and talk to him, and caress his forehead or pat his shoulder gently. One of them is the other patient on his way to the operating room for his own surgery. They place their stretchers side by side, so he can reach his bloody, bandaged hand across the gap to touch my patient's face and say goodbye.
My co-workers ask me if I need a break, but understand when I tell them that I want to be there with him through everything. I feel his pulse stop, give him his last breath, nod silently to the nurse to note the time, and let his friends know that we'll step away to give them privacy and time.
I went to the ramp ceremony tonight, where they load the coffin draped in a flag onto the helicopters. No bright lights are allowed to prevent enemies in the surrounding mountains from knowing people are gathered. I can only see a few feet in front of me, but the sobs and shuffles on gravel from many directions tell me that much of the base has gathered here. We render salutes to a hero's body hidden in the darkness, carried by his friends. "Somewhere up there is the soldier I spent the day with," I think somberly to myself. Soon we hear the roar of helicopter engine, and I see blurred silhouettes of two helicopters rising in front of me. A brilliant flare in the sky makes them invisible, and renders its own dazzling salute to the fallen hero. The desert wind sends a chill, and everything inside me feels cold.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
Monday, October 10, 2011
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Men and women process stress differently. After a difficult week, the women did a lot of talking, and discussing, and sharing feelings. And yoga.
We men are not that sophisticated when it comes to stress. We went to the shooting range and fired at water bottles, plywood silhouettes, and a poor stuffed Teddy Bear, or as we named him, the "Tali-bear."
This is a video of my tactical charge. The Army commander of the base caught up with us at dinner at said "we're not going to have the doctors unsupervised on the firing range any more, OK?" Yes, sir. But that bear has it coming to him...
Thursday, September 29, 2011
It was a bad day today. We got a call that five American soldiers were being brought in after an IED. Two of them died on the way, another one on arrival. One was clinging to life with a hole cut in his neck by a medic so he could breathe. I took him to the operating room and pumped blood freshly taken from his fellow soldiers. He was bleeding so much I had to refill all the blood in his body twice. I squeezed breath into him by my hands because his lungs were too damaged to ventilate by machine, while I watched the surgeon squeeze his heart in the palm of his hands until his heart started working again. His heart stopped and started a few more times until he was stable enough to be evacuated to the big hospital in Bagram, where his nurse says he is still alive but in critical condition.
There is a custom here among the medics that you only pass on follow-up news if you have something good to tell. So I'm hoping to get an email or phone call, because if I don't I'll know what happened.
I am not allowed to tell you the name or show you the face of this brave soldier. Instead I have attached a picture of his blood on my boots, which I somehow don't have the heart to clean off until I know he is going to get better. But more than likely he will give every drop of his blood for our freedom and safety. Please keep him and his family in your prayers today. I could use a few too if you have time.
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
My greatest goal is to become a mother. I want to do this because I want to make a family. I would like around five kids; two girls and three boys. To learn how to do it, I would watch my mom and learn from her. I would ask her questions. I expect to reach this goal because it is possible to find a man who can love me and help me. Of course I would love him and help him back. I think it would be fun to be a mother!
Saturday, September 24, 2011
It was "Last of the Mohawkans" night on the porch of Forward Surgical Team Ghazni. Most of the men have concluded in much easier to have very short or no hair during deployment, and there's really no one to look good for (there is also no way to smell good for anyone). So we all shaved the sides, watched Last of the Mohicans together on the porch, and had a BBQ (as I'm sure we wouldn't have been let into the military dining facility). We shaved the rest after the movie, so right now I'm cue ball head, next week I'll be tennis ball head.
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Here is a view of my B-hut from the outside. Note the spilling sandbag decor.
This is the view from inside. The bare wood motif complements the rustic atmosphere of the local culture.
Three anesthesia providers from Travis Air Force Base in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. In the middle is Ryan Gibbons who is with me at Ghazni, on the right is Jason Bolt going to a different base to mentor Afghan anesthetists. With his last name, of course they sent him to a base divided into Camp Lightning and Camp Thunder.