16 NOV 2007 Muffled
I write this from my hooch at 1600. I’ve yet again slipped into a routine of sleeping during the day and staying up through the night. A couple of every other call nights served to reinforce the pattern. I wake up at 1500 and realize another day is gone. And now I’m older still. Cruel Intentions just finished on AFN, and now Tammy Duckworth, the Blackhawk pilot who lost her legs near Baghdad, is speaking from the VA about people with disabilities. Soon I’ll head back to the hospital for family dinner.
Last night I treated two enemy prisoners of war. The confusion in this war makes it hard to even choose a title for the persons that our security forces take into custody. Sometimes they are internees, sometimes insurgents, and other times they are security detainees. I don’t know what term to use for them, I only know that when they make it to our hospital, we try to help. There have been times when new intelligence surfaces and patients classified as Iraqi civilians have been taken into custody. Other times, patients classified as enemy prisoners of war are determined to be harmless and custody is lifted. Detainees get the same treatment that our US troops receive. They are under constant guard by security forces, military police, or the Ugandan sentry contractors who protect our hospital. They are always blindfolded. At times they are secured to their gurneys with restraints. But they receive the same antibiotics, the same dressings and undergo the same operations as all other patients. Some staff may remark “this one’s a bad guy” or “he got what he deserved” but these same staff sweat blood and give 110% effort to keep these prisoners alive. If a detainee is hemorrhaging and needs blood, there is no shortage of troops who roll up their sleeves and give of themselves unhesitatingly.
I struggle with the concept of participating in the care of prisoners, but I don’t struggle long. I will not willingly be party to detention, maltreatment, or interrogation. The concept may be difficult, but the practice is easy. They come to me injured, I treat them. That is my job and I do my job. I have no misconceptions about the danger of these men. These poorly equipped, hungry looking men with torn clothing and dirty cracked feet from going barefoot across the dusty ground of Iraq don’t look like they could ever touch the US military. But I know the reality that a few insurgents with three anti-tank mines, a shovel and some detonator cord can rip the limbs and lives away from our young soldiers crossing the roads of Iraq. I have seen the infrared videos taken from thousands of feet in the air showing these men planting IED under the roads our brave 19-year-old troops travel. Sometimes I have difficulty distracting myself from the idea that these are bad guys who got what they deserved. I take a moment to center and focus on the fact that even when that is true, my mission to provide healing is a simple and clear one with no role for judgment.
The two men I treated came to us late last night. They lay on the NATO gurneys, gauze wrapped loosely around their heads to cover their eyes. They both had shrapnel injuries to their legs. They told me a new variant of the Sumdood story. You may not know Sumdood. Sumdood has been the cause of the lion’s share of the traumas I have treated in my career. When I was a resident surgeon, I would be called to the ER to see men who had been shot, beat up, or otherwise jacked up. I’d ask how this had happened. I don’t know why I asked, because I’ve learned that anything that happens outside of the four walls of my hospital is a questionable reality that I can never fully ascertain or trust. Invariably the injured man would tell me that they had been just going to the corner store to fetch their grandmama a carton of milk when Sumdood came out of nowhere and laid them low. I’ve never come up against Sumdood, but I hope I never do because he is one bad motherscratcher.
What the prisoners told me is that they were cousins. There had been three cousins, but now there were two. According to the men, they were walking to the market when Sumdood in an airplane launched a missile at them. I’m glad that Sumdood is on our side. We gave the men pain medicine and antibiotics, wet their lips with water, and cleaned their wounds.