As I wind down my practice preparing for my second trip to the sandbox, I’m impressed with the amount of training we all undergo, willing or not. Perhaps most dramatic is our weapons training. Last time I went I trained using a 9mm handgun, much as I did when I had my initial officer indoctrination course (yes, that’s what’s it’s called.) However for this tour of duty, I also trained using an automatic field rifle. I’ve always maintained that I was already far too dangerous with a scalpel. It was not prudent to add to that by putting firearms in my hands. I suppose the principles behind weapons trainings for doctors is that we all are warriors when we go to war, no matter what our job. However, it gets complicated when you consider the Geneva conventions rules for medical personnel. As long as I only use my weapon to defend myself or my patient, I am within my restrictions as a physician. I suppose that makes innate sense to me. My goals in going away are few: to stay true to my principles, give the best care to my patients, and return home to my family. Fortunately, there are very few scenarios in which those goals would require a gun.
Weapons training was very interesting, if nothing else. The classroom instructors were civilians who rattled off the parts of the weapon and the method of disassembly with a rehearsed patter that clearly had been given to tens of thousands before us. Range activity was conducted strictly and safely, partially allaying my fears from being in the company of several hundred trainees with live ammunition in their weapons. After classroom training it was time to test for qualification on the range. We were assigned a weapon and a shooting position; I got lucky number 13. We filed out to the stalls and of course down the entire line, mine was the only bay with an inch of muddy water puddled on the cement. As instructions blared over the loudspeaker, we fired rounds from different field positions, of course including a flat prone position. I suppose I was getting the fullest experience, shooting out of a muddy hole. In the end I was able to qualify as an expert in pistol and rifle, not a welcome achievement for one sworn to protect life. It just wasn’t very fun to handle these weapons after fighting day after day on my last deployment to fix the damage they caused. Expert wasn’t very hard, but after struggling to put sutures into two millimeter blood vessels, a five inch disc on sheet of construction paper looked as big as the moon. Imagining a living breathing head or chest is another thing entirely.
The past few weeks have been a long goat rope of trips to offices, supply depots, and training sites. We sit in classrooms to hear about preparing our wills or free babysitting and oil changes for our spouse. I have completed mysterious forms that I have never heard of with mysterious cryptic alphabet soup names. It all has an inevitable Catch-22 air of absurdity about it. There was a blank spot on my checklist for Medical Unit Readiness Training. “But, Sir, I have completed Medical Unit Readiness Training three times already. Also, I did deploy to the hospital before, which was sort of like four months straight of Medical Unit Readiness Training, except it wasn’t training.” That didn’t change the fact that my Medical Unit Readiness Training certificate would expire three days before I am scheduled to return from this deployment. Yes, I would have to do it again. At least the cadre for medical unit training was a great group with whom to work. It was easy enough to turn off my pager and my mind for a few days to play soldier on the training grounds.
It has been troubling to me to put my surgical practice on hold and cancel clinics and operations. However, since I am a solo practitioner, the start of deployment will be a disruption in the care I provide. Fortunately, I have the gracious help of another military pediatric surgeon who will relocate here while I am away and the help of civilian colleagues in town to bridge the gap. It is hard to operate on children and meet expectant parents whose unborn babies will need surgery in the future, and know that I will not be seeing the outcome over the following months. Tougher still is to not ruin this time with my family with a frantic desire to make the remaining moments count.
Hope you all are well, and I’ll talk to you soon!