Well it is another cool clear day in Balad. I wore my long johns under my uniform for the bike ride into work today. The hospital is warm and toasty. We control the temperature in the brick and mortar hospital so much better than we used to in the old tent hospital. This is the kind of day where I would have worn my watch cap and insulated sleep shirt all night long in the hospital. The sky is clear. The only break in the morning pinks and blues was the column of dingy gray smoke rising from the burn pit. The recently concluded environmental found that the burn pit is releasing dioxin into the air. Shame it is upwind from the hospital, but guess they just wanted the particles to act as an irritant to help my post op patients cough more vigorously and expand thier lungs after surgery.
Colorectal Surgeon J. gave a nice grand rounds presentation on rectal pain in the combat environment this morning. In my opinion, the whole deployment is one big pain in the rectum! I've really enjoyed operating with Colorectal Surgeon J. Since he focuses on one specific body part in his stateside mission, he has a high degree of expertise and has taught me a few new tricks in the operating room. He had a big finish with the "Ode to the Colorectal Surgeon"
The brother and sister recovering from shrapnel injuries have made the push and are ready to go home today. Their mother joined their father to bring them home. OB/GYN nurse C. toured the hospital with the girl in tow to say goodbye to everyone who helped take care of her. It may not have been as extravagant as the West Haven "Festival of Lights", but we entertained her briefly with a performance by all of the mechanical Christmas toys in the menagerie at the surgeon's desk. She had been a very worried little girl most of her stay, with furrowed brow and scowling eyes. Yesterday we got her to smile with a nice pink unicorn sent to me by my boy R.'s class. We got a good laugh or two out of her with the dancing musical toys. Just to avoid an international incident, we kept the marching mechanical pig that oinks jingle bells behind the desk.
OB/GYN nurse C. told me she was bringing the girl around because she thought it was so rewarding for the hospital staff to see a young patient recovered to health after surviving such a harrowing ordeal. Just that day she had performed an ultrasound on a woman who was in her middle trimester of pregnancy. It made her happy to see the healthy unborn baby, and it gave her a little flash of her job back home to help keep her going. Her mission in Balad is to care for the many postoperative patients who need numerous complicated wound treatments and medications. It can seem like a endless assembly line in that ward. New patients arrive from the intensive care unit and operating room as fast as others are shipped out in ambulances to the airfield or the gate.
The pregnant woman is being treated for cuts to her face and scrapes to her eye. Her daughter is still in the intensive care unite, on a ventilator. The girl had fragments and bleeding in her brain. She required an emergency operation to take off part of her skull and evacuate the blood clots and destroyed pieces of brain. When her sedating medication levels drop, she wiggles her hands and feet some. This gives us hope that her brain will work well enough for her to wake up. We shall see, but I never count a kid out, after having seen them come back from what I thought would be devastating injuries.
The pregnant woman's husband and son are still at (redacted) hospital. According to the last word we have received, they are alive. The story of how they were injured was very disappointing to me. About a week ago, I read that some Iraqi refugees in Syria were returning to Baghdad. There are abut 2.4 million Iraqis that have fled Iraq since the war began, and there are anywhere from 1-2.2 million that have fled their homes, but are still in the country. Since the surge in US troops, there has been a decrease in violence in Baghdad. On a local note, we have seen an increase in incidents in the (redacted) province, which feeds our hospital more directly, but we are pleased to see that the overall numbers of injured have steadily declined since summer. This decrease in violence has been great news to those who fled Baghdad to Syria, and many board busses for the trip back to Baghdad. The pregnant woman and her family were on one of those busses. Now I have to insert here that all the mysterious stories I hear about how injuries occurred outside my hospital are about as trustworthy as all of the "Sumdood jumped me" stories I hear back home. But the story she told was this. The bus approached a security checkpoint improperly and the guards opened fire with machine guns. What a shock it must have been to have finally gotten up the nerve to return home, then have the journey interrupted when they wrere nearly there.
Christmas approaches. I've seen all sorts of pieces of flair througout the hospital. Last night I went to the OR core to pick up some equipment. I found the night crew making Christmas hats with glue and glitter. I couldn't resist the temptation and stopped to make a B.A.D.A.S.S. Christmas cap with a big gold peace symbol. There are trees popping up all over the hospital. My boy R.'s class sent me a whole bunch of beautiful construction paper trees with shiny foil stars. They make the surgeon's desk look very festive. The treatment facility where my sister A. works got together and sent a boxful of decorations including oversize multi-colored Christmas lights. They are going to adorn the new rooftop lounge so we will be well visible from the dustoff landing pattern. It's going to look like Christmas in East Haven! As for Christmas dinner, I can only imagine what mass-produced freeze-dried concoction is ominously trucking it's way here on the road from Kuwait. Make mine Who-hash, please.
Peace and mistletoe,