When a new group takes over the hospital, there is a period of overlap. I arrived a few days ago, and later tonight the surgeon I am replacing is headed out. Additionally, the staff replacement takes place in stages over the course of a few weeks. The wisdom in this is that there is never a point in time when the hospital is completely staffed by a brand new crew. The overlap does make for a bit of a burden back home because for those few weeks, there are two chunks of personnel missing from our home station. Our hospital back home is responsible for a heavy share of the hospital staff here in Iraq, so the crew left back home has to hustle to take care of business with a thin staff.
It is a feeling of accomplishment to be able to send the departing crew home to their families. In the past 24 hours, the hospital has been abuzz with announcements of departing flights and lists of manifested passengers. The halls are full of troops laden heavy with equipment and baggage, their faces alight with the promise of embracing family after a few short days' journey.
I've had a great time hanging out with my roommate for the past few days. He was gracious enough to let me bunk in until he left, rather than rack it in a crowded barracks. He is an experienced trauma physician assistant, and we had the good fortune to take care of a few patients together in the past week. I could tell right away that he is a skillful, caring worker and we would have had a blast working together for a full rotation. But he has the good fortune to have a seat on a plane home. I helped him pack up his bags and truck them out to the rally point. He was a chalk facilitator and had to start gathering his flock to transport them to the flight line. I wished him well and told him clearly how jealous I was that he was rotating back to the world! We took a picture together, and I know we are going to have a good time someday in the future when we can get our families together. I wish him a fast, safe journey home to his loving family.
I enjoyed a fake beer with a few remaining members of the departing crew. We went up on the roof of the hospital and watched helocopters and bats alike flutter through the air. The beams from the floodlights filtered through silty Iraqi dust and smoke from the burning garbage. We reclined on beach chairs and laughed at nicknames and jokes, and asked what everyone's first meal would be when they made it home. We were a happy community of doctors, nurses, techs, and visiting pilots. Again I was jealous of those who would be headed home shortly. But I do know that our little family in the hospital will support each other, come what may.
I don't know much, but I do know this: you can't stop the clock. One day soon it will be my chalk headed out to the flight line.
Sleep easy, friends.