23 October 2007

23 OCT Cha Ching!

23 OCT Cha Ching!

Good Afternoon. Hope things are good with you. I'm just stopping to write for a spell before I leave the hospital. It has been an easy morning. We make rounds and tend to patients and nothing is too exciting. I have been preparing a report for morbidity and mortality conference. Things don't always go well after surgery. Sometimes we act when we shouldn't have, and other times we wait to long. Sometimes we make the right choice, but our hands and stitches don't fall just right. In any event, whatever happens to a patient in my care, being a surgeon means it is always my fault. I will be reporting on a man who had an infection after an operation I did. He is better now that the infection has been detected and treated. In morbidity and mortality conference I will describe my choices in front of my peers. They will give me their thoughts and advice. In this way, all will learn from the mistakes of one. That is surgery. The stakes are high, and mistakes are made, but to do nothing at all is death.

I've read a bit from "The Kitchen God's Wife" by Amy Tan this morning. Such a surprise to find that two characters are Chinese Air Force wives, following their men in the early days of World War Two. They move about as the military chases its tail in a battle against a superior Japanese Air Force. The women's fortune is no better or worse for the war, but the stress of the war brings the troubles in their lives to the surface. I think that is how it must be for all marriages. They may be strong or weak, and stress such as separation due to war doesn't change the core of the marriage, only illustrates it for what it truly is in a harsh light. I am a very lucky man. M. is my core. She is beautiful and strong.

Those of you not in the military may not know, but our corporation tries to quantify the personal risks and demands of war in financial terms. You may have heard of hazard pay in movies, but it isn't just a Hollywood fantasy. The other day I wove through the concrete bunkers to visit the helpful troops at the base finance office and start my Family Separation Allowance. No sum replaces the absence of a loved one, but the intention is appreciated. Here are some of the financial benefits of being sent to war:

Hostile Fire Pay/Imminent Danger Pay is given for any month you spend in a designated Imminent Danger area. It is $225 per month. The Combat Zone Tax Exclusion relieves you from paying income tax on wages you collect in a war zone. Hardship Duty Pay gives another $50-$150 per month depending upon how primative the camp. The Savings Deposit Program allows you to collect 10% interest on a portion of your pay you elect to deposit during your deployment. While deployed, you can also request a travel voucher accrual for each month. Anyone who travels for their corporation is probably familiar with this concept: the per diem. With the travel voucher accrual, you can claim your per diem each month as you earn it, rather than one lump sum at the end. Personally, I don't want anyone making interest on my money! The most bittersweet sum is the $250 Family Separation Allowance given to you for being away from your spouse and/or dependents.

I am immensely grateful that Congress has acknowledged that the rare honor of serving my country, separated from my family, is worthy of notice. The amounts are nice, but it is the fact that it is recognized at all that I appreicate. That brings up another point. I work for you. You have paid your taxes. They have gone into our national budget, and 67% of the $1.1 trillion dollar budget goes to national security and defense, some of which trickles it's way down into my pocket. Thank you for the job. Thank you for letting me work for you. I say this on my own behalf, and that of the less than 2% of the US population who choose to serve in the Armed Forces. But I can't stay here forever. I need to get back to my core.

Cin cin!



Liz said...

Chris, no matter my personal politics, I am honored that I support you in some small but direct way. Thank you so much for writing every day. You help me see some of the people who are working, suffering, and healing in Iraq.

Holly said...

Chris, you just amaze me. First, you blow away the stereotype of the arrogant surgeon. Then you thank US for the pittance you are paid for making the sacrifices you [and your family] must make in order for you to be in a freakin' war zone so that you can deliver care to our injured soliders, allies and civilians.
Does it give you a headach when you put on you surgical cap and it squashes that halo down onto your head? *g*
I know you're not really an Angel, but I bet you seem that way to your patients.
BTW, thanks for the comments on my blog. I am crazy about my dawgs.
Stay safe, and does chocolate mail well?

Chris said...

Dear Liz and Holly, thanks for the sweet words! I'll repeat, I'm just doing my job! Holly, keep in mind that I'm a pediatric surgeon :) different breed! (Until I don't get the clamp I want, haha!) Chocolate mails well from about this month on! Once I got a bag of the green chocolates that look like kisses with the sprinkles on the bottom (non-pareils?) and they had fused into one big minty chocolaty nugget! Mmmmmm.

Take care!