How are you? Things move along well here in Balad. Today was a great refresher. After two out of three nights on call, it was good to have a day off. I reported for morning rounds, and then hit the road to nod off in my hooch as I watched Armed Forces Network. After a good catnap, I was able to do the Balad quadrathalon: running, swimming, biking, weights. When there is no one to go home to, I feel a little less guilty about a couple of hours working out. Plus, it clears the head, whets the appetite and keeps airmen like me fit to fight!
A few days ago, we exited our modern ER in the new hardened hospital structure, crossed the helipad, and entered the adjacent grounds of the old tent hospital. I had worked there for four months in 2005. The place was a wasteland. Only about half of the tents were still standing, and most had rips in the fabric and missing panels. Most of the electronic equipment had been cannibalized for the new hospital, but a few fluorescent tubes hung crooked from the tent frames. Every where there was garbage, broken two by fours, and toppled walls of sand bags. We had to strain our eyes to see the orderly corridors and hospital wards that used to stand there. We found the old DFAC, the command tent, the intensive care unit. We climbed through a broken door frame to enter the old PLX where the surgeons used to hang out. I found get well letters to troops that schoolchildren in New Jersey had sent to me two years ago. I took some down to move over to the new hospital. The ER still had the bays for trauma patients marked out and numbered on the floor in duct tape.
After leaving the old entrance to the ER, I found my name on a list of troops recored on a concrete barrier. Behind the hospital, the old swamp still stood. The old swamp had been a barracks before this Air Base was taken by troops in 2003. We used it as a call room when we had to stay overnight at the hospital. On the roof was a tent frame hung with camoflauge netting and recliners where we used to watch the stars at night. It was just a short distance from the wire marking the edge of the base.
It brought back many memories to see the old hospital. It also made me feel very lucky to have the advantages of the new hardened structure. Mud doesn't flow an inch thick on the floors. Dust storms don't blow a cloud through the gaps between the tent and the cement floor. The sound of helicopters doesn't drown out conversation. It is easier to safely and cleanly treat and move patients. I hope that we can translate these advantages into even better results for our patients.
I will send pictures so you can see the difference between the hospitals for yourself!
Be well, and bye for now.
LTC Christopher Coppola, USAF
APO AE 09315-9997