29 NOV 2007 Going Home
Every day after rounds our hospital has discharge planning rounds. A small group meets in the conference room in the command building. It is attended by some of the nurses who tell the group what progress the patients are making. Representatives of the medical evacuation team come to get some estimates of how many will be requiring a flight to the hospital in Germany or elsewhere. One of the staff in the patient movement office joins in to let us know what assets are available to fly where. The hospital representative from the Iraq Army, Captain H., and our liaison to the Iraqi healthcare system, Doctor A., join to coordinate transfer efforts. The person presiding over this meeting is our chief of staff, Gastroenterologist B. Each day, they hear the condition of every patient in the hospital. They consider how close each one is to leaving the hospital, and what their destination will be when they depart.
For a month now, we have had a small boy named S. living in our hospital. He is nine-years-old, and he is a real charmer. He has had all of the nurses catering to him, and he spends the day playing with them and sitting in their laps. Sometime he and translator N. toured around the hallways and perimeter of the hospital, N. wearing his tattered NY Yankees cap, and S. wearing his plain blue one. S. slept in a mattress that the nurses placed on the ground. This was because he liked to get up in the night and wander over to the nurses’ desk or the ward television. With the mattress on the ground, he wasn’t going to fall climbing over the rails of a hospital bed. Next to his bed was a pile of toys and stuffed animals donated from people back home.
I met S. about a month ago when he was flown to the hospital by a Blackhawk helicopter. He had been injured when an explosion threw fragments into his face and neck. I cut open his windpipe and placed a tracheostomy tube so he could breath. Maxillofacial surgeon W. spent nearly the entire night washing and repairing the many cuts on his face. He quickly recovered. He was able to breathe well through his mouth and I removed the tracheostomy tube. His body quickly healed the hole in the front of his neck. He had trouble seeing at first because of the abrasions across the surface of his eyes. But with the help of antibiotic ointments he quickly regained clear sight. He was silent at first, and very fearful of any men in the hospital. He would cling to the female nurses and bury his face in their chests. Bit by bit, he became more outgoing, and began to speak and play with the hospital staff.
We didn’t know where any of S.’s family was. We thought that his mother had been killed in the attack. His family had recently moved in Iraq due to conflict. The military medical aid station that had sent him in to us had no contact information. We had been faced with dislocated children in the hospital before. With the disorganization in the country, it is always had to know what is truth and what is rumor. There had been cases of people attempting to remove children who were not theirs from the hospital. We had to be very careful since their lives and futures were in our hands.
Chief of staff B. had been making inquiries and sending email ever since S. was admitted to the hospital. Finally he had some response as one of his counterparts in a different province of Iraq said that he was in contact with a mother who was looking for a son who fitted S.’s description. They arranged for her to visit our hospital. She brought with her an older son. As soon as S. saw them, he immediately recognized his mother and brother. He ran to them. The tears in S.’s mother’s eyes told us all we needed to know. His big brother gave him a warm embrace. This reunited family headed out of the hospital to the helipad for their trip home. We were somewhat saddened to see our little friend go, but that feeling was completely overwhelmed by the satisfaction of seeing him reunited with the people who love him.