22 NOV 2007 Thanksgiving
A holiday in military life can be quite an adventure, for lack of a better word. I’ve had my share of holidays apart due to overnight call shifts in different hospitals during residency. But a call night was different. There was always the promise of heading home the next day after operations and rounds were done. Family was only a short drive away. If I was lucky, there wouldn’t be too many traumas, and M. would bring the boys in so we could dine together. We would see what was being offered in the cafeteria, or M. would bring food from home in Tupperware containers for us to reheat in the call room microwave. The boys loved the novelty of cafeteria food and enjoyed watching a video in the call room or climbing on the sculptures in the lobby. They would create murals on any available surface with the dry erase markers. Even though I couldn’t leave the hospital, it was a treat just to be together. We would hope that there would be no emergencies while they visited. The nurses would try to keep things quiet for a few hours so we could enjoy a protected moment together. After they had left to go home, I felt like I could face any challenge through any sleepless night.
Over here, there are so many of us together, but apart from our families. We may be missing our spouses and kids, but we do have each other’s company. It seems like people have been planning Thanksgiving in Iraq activities for weeks. There were USO shows for the troops. Yesterday Aaron Tippen gave a show in the Sustainer Theater. He has visited the troops in Iraq for the past three Thanksgivings. That is an impressive dedication to show his appreciation. Maybe next Thanksgiving, he won’t have to come over. Before his show, he visited injured soldiers in the hospital and gave them all autographed pictures. He also gave one to S., the little Iraqi boy whose face had been injured in a blast. He even gave one to the Iraqi policeman who was in a coma. Today there was a USO review which included Cuban model sensation Mayra Veronica! I didn’t make it to the show, so I don’t know what she did. I guess she modeled. Maybe she brought cigars.
The chow halls have been decorated from floor to ceiling with crepe paper, banners, and fold-out turkeys. DFAC three had a nice mural of a horn o’ plenty superimposed on a US flag. They had all the classics on the menu: boneless turkey roll, stuffing, ham with pineapples, roast beast, and potatoes. After dinner there were tasty treats with pumpkin pie, pecan pie, and ice cream. The dinner was filling, nutritious, but it wasn’t in danger of eclipsing dinner back home. What made the dinner special was the time shared with my military family. We are all in the same boat together. We work so hard side by side each day; it was good to share a moment of rest.
The hospital was abuzz with excitement over the first annual Turkey Bowl touch football tournament. Each section of the hospital had put together a team. The day was cool and clear, bright sun shining down on the helipad from blue skies. Those who weren’t on a team turned out to watch and cheer. The competition was fierce. Surgeon and tech, nurse and administrator, all turned in their A-game. Once during the maatches, we had to clear the helipad to let two Blackhawks land to drop off casualties. One team went inside to perform an amputation while the others returned to football. The elimination tree grew thinner as teams advanced. In the end, the ER team took home the trophy. The surgeons delivered an admirable performance for fourth place. Surprisingly there were no major injuries to report.
I missed the first part of the games because I was working on a four-month-old child who had come in the night before. He had pneumonia and was having difficulty breathing. We started him on antibiotics, but he lost his only IV. After the nurses tried to find a good vein, they called me. He was a handsome little guy with olive skin, long eyelashes over brown eyes, and a tuft of dark hair on his round head. I could see by the needle holes that most locations had already been tried. After getting translator J. to explain things to his father, I gathered what I needed and placed a central line, a long soft IV in a large vein. It took quite a while to find the vein because he had become dehydrated. He cried, and it was hard on his father. His father had to step out of the intensive care unit for part of the time. Eventually, I got the IV in place. One of the nurses wrapped the boy in a soft blanket and fed him a bottle. He smiled a bit then went to sleep. His father was relieved.
After the game, we climbed onto the roof of the hospital. Some of the guys lit up cigars. We shared stories about our usual Thanksgiving traditions. The midafternoon sun shone down on us and from time to time Blackhawks would land. I drifted off to sleep fat on turkey roll and egg nog. Later on when I knew it was late enough that the sun had risen in Texas, I called home. To hear M.’s voice and my children’s’ laughter was the best part of the day. I was truly thankful.