Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween 2011 (Home)

Maya's pumkpin is on the left and Luke's is on the right. Both are their own designs (and Maya cut hers all by herself too)

Pumpkin guts!!

Halloween made a comeback this year in the Wilde household (though a big piece of the fun was missing - wish you were here to see all the cuteness, honey). Last year Halloween was on Sunday and so the kids didn't trick-or-treat (but they had a lot of fun handing out candy). This year they hit 2 different ward Halloween parties and got to go trick-or-treating around the neighborhood to their heart's content (or until their candy bucket was full to the brim - Maya).

This year was Seth's first Halloween that he actually participated in. He's 2-1/2 now and pretty dang cute. He was a dinosaur. It was actually a costume that I made for Luke when he was 2 but he wouldn't wear it. So I was very happy that Seth loved his costume. I pulled it out on Friday afternoon to make sure it would fit and Seth was as happy as could be. He especially loved his tail. It was funny watching him try to reach behind himself to grab it. No chasing it like a dog though. Once he had the costume on he was ready to go. He actually walked out our front door (2 in the afternoon) all by himself declaring that he was going to a party. No concept of time yet.

My little witch, Iron Man, and Dinosaur

Tonight is Halloween. We went with some of our friends that live right here on our street. Seth was so funny. After each house he was so excited about the candy that he would come running to me shouting "Mommy! I got treat!" in his cute little high-pitched voice. That happy little voice tugs on my heart strings like nothing else. Unfortunately at the first house he was a little too excited and running a little too fast and totally wiped out face first on the driveway. But I turned it around by not even mentioning the fall (the big cries were starting) and just excitedly asked "what did you get? Show me!" He instantly forgot that he fell and proudly showed me his bucket. It is so fun watching the first-time excitement of a little kid on a holiday. He loved walking with the other kids and seeing the decorations. And he was so polite at all the houses wishing everyone happy halloween and saying thank you. We tried to get lots of pictures for Matt. That was the only thing missing this evening. So here are our halloween pictures (the ones that seth didn't delete off my ipod at least - that wasn't so cute of him)

Happy Halloween!

(Thanks Marlina for taking pictures!)

Halloween in Ghazni

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


A few hours ago, that one line was all I had in me to write. But there is more I want to share about the soldier who gave his life today, and about my time with him. He came to me with no pulse and did not react to my inserting a breathing tube despite giving him no medication. We all knew he may not live long, and that his brain had probably already stopped functioning. As we condsidered whether to go on with treatment, the surgeon said, "we're going to get him to see his family" as he opened the chest with a scalpel and massaged the heart in his hands. I gave epinephrine, and there was a feint but definite pulse.

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.


Two American soldiers were brought to us today. We saved one of them.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Extreme B-hut Makeover, Ghazni Edition!

I have been keeping busy to make the time go by. One of my projects was my room- I felt like I was on one of those TV shows about hoarders who cant even walk across their room because of all the junk. Jen has taught me a very important lesson as we have lived in homes of differing sizes through the years: it's all about space utilization.

So I built a wardrobe. Building furniture in a Forward Operating Base is not a straightforward endeavor. Through a series of favors and bartering, I collected the following items:

1. Plywood from the Provincial Recontruction Team

2. Nails and screws from the Information Technology Team

3. Saw blades and aluminum pipe (for the hanger rod) from the PRIME BEEF squadron (it's an acronym for something, but I really think they made up the name after they already had a reputation for holding frequent BBQs)

4. Hinges from a local pawn shop

5. Rusty saw and drill from the Forward Surgical Team (my unit)

After I had been at it for two days, one of the surgeons tactfully suggested, "They have plans you can get online..." But I told him half the fun is planning it myself, and he humored me. After one more day I think it came together pretty nicely considering my limitations:

The best thing about it is that I was able to remove the top bunk from my bed (which I was using as a giant shelf) so I don't hit my head every time I get out of bed. And it just feels more open.

I also received some shelves with fabric boxes from my sister Lisa, the Queen of All Package and Present Senders. The shelving unit fit on top of my wardrobe, so now I've got everything off the floor and bunk and have much more wall space to cover with pictures of my wife and kids, as well as drawings from nieces and nephews. So keep 'em coming, I've still got a lot of bare plywood to cover!

Monday, October 10, 2011

From the rib of man

"Women were created from the rib of man to be beside him, not from his head to top him, nor from his feet to be trampled by him, but from under his arm to be protected by him, near his heart to be loved by him."

~David O McKay~

My friend had this quote posted on her facebook page for her status. I just had to post it here. What a great quote. It makes me think of Matt and what a fantastic husband he is. He truly does love me and makes me feel protected and safe, even from the other side of the world. I miss him so much, but I am reminded most days of what a blessing he is in my life. Our sons have such a great example of what they should grow up to be as a husband and father, and Maya knows (as you may have seen in a previous post) what she deserves in a future husband and father. Thanks for being you, Matt. We love you!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Backs of heads, and a boots update

We had a memorial service for the three fallen heroes from Ghazni's sapper unit I mentioned in my last post. It is their job to clear the roads of IEDs so locals and NATO forces can travel safely. Their families have been notified, so I can tell you that they were casualties #3, 4 and 5 listed under Sep 28, 2011:

There were about 300 people there and only 100 seats, so my team stood in the back while the casualties' unit sat in front. These were the people who worked with them everyday; I was acquainted with only one of them- he came in to our clinic to have his chin stitched up three days before his death. I tried to imagine how hard it must be for those who knew them so well.

So I watched this unit of sappers as they paid respects to their brothers. Because I couldn't see their faces, I noticed the backs of their heads. Most had a distinct sunburn where their hat brim ended. I imagined them spending long days in the sun carefully inspecting every suspicious piece of debris on the road. I felt guilt that they do this every day for 12-15 months and I stay safe within the walls for a mere six months, but mostly I just felt admiration and appreciation.

Most of the heads where buzzcuts of brown and blond, but there were more than a few gray or balding. Many heads were in a respectful listening posture, but some sank under the weight of grief, and soon to be joined by a comrade's arm around the neck. Many scalps had scars from battle wounds, but some looked more like the emblems of a rowdy night at the bar.

I've come to appreciate the colorful pasts that bring people into the military. Because we have no chaplain, our Bible study is run by a 25-year old sapper who could probably out-bench and out-curse anyone else on base. He was quoting Ephesians to us Wednesday, and Thursday telling us about about getting shot at and calling in for air support to "smear those b*******s!!" There is also a crusty middle-age man who was an Army nurse for 23 years but is now a field medic. When I heard some gossip that he must have had his nursing license stripped I told them I didn't care, I'm glad he's here because he's the one who knew how to cut a hole in my patients neck so he could breathe. I'm an airway doctor and I've never done that! They seemed to catch my point.

But I've digressed from the memorial service. I heard an officer give an eloquent and touching speech, working in scriptures and expressing faith in the resurrection through Jesus (it is still safe to express religion in the military). Even more touching was the sergeant who told a story about going to their favorite "fishin' hole" together, and how it won't be the same. Another told a story about how one of the soldiers had helped him build a playhouse for his kids. Apparently he started by throwing a tool and yelling "this hammer is s***!" Yes, there were some laughs at the funeral, too, such as when they played "Gangster's Paradise" as the background to the tribute photos. Wish I knew the back story on that one...

The most difficult part for me was the roll call. The First Sergeant called the name of a few unit members, answered in traditional military sound-off with a bellowing "Here, First Sergeant!" Afterwards, he calls the names of the fallen:

"Private First Class Drake?"


"Private First Class David Drake?"


"Private First Class David Andrew Drake?"

silence, and then a gun salute accentuated the absence even more.

We had to leave the service early to take care of more casualties coming in, but it was a powerful experience for me. Especially when they prayed for the other member of their unit, about whom I wrote on my last post.

And I'd like you all to know that he left on a plane to the States today. He had to have part of his skull removed to give room for his damaged, swollen brain, and he may never wake up. However, his family will get to see him.

I have cleaned most of the blood from my boots. They are covered with dust, like everything else, and now I think I'm the only one that knows about the stains on them. But they are ready to run to the aid of the next wounded soldier.

Doctors with guns

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...

The Kids