22 DEC 2007 Rollin' with my homies
It's amazing how I get to meet shot up Iraqis from all walks of life here in the hospital. Today I treated a 30-year-old man who is a soldier and a seven-year-old boy who just plays. Both got shot.
The soldier was in our local province. He took some small arms fire and felt a burning pain across his chest for a moment. He had some blood on his uniform and could tell he was shot. He put on a bandage and hopped a ride with one of his buddies into a base. When they peeled off his uniform, he had a hole in his chest that went from his neck to the top of his shoulder. You could have fit a Subway 12-incher in there. His ribcage was still there, but his right collarbone was shattered. Shiny white pieces of it poked out of the wound like dinosaur bones at Peabody Museum. He was pretty comfortable, just didn't want to use his right arm. I was impressed. We got some tests, and then operated on him to remove shards of bone and dead muscle. He was very calm and thankful as he woke up after surgery. He, Translator A., and I had a very nice conversation. Almost as if we had just finished an elective operation he had requested. In two days I will close his wound. Even though his arm will be in a sling for a couple of months, he should get everything back. A few inches to the right, I never would have met him.
The boy was playing with friends. They heard gunfire afar off. the boy suddenly fell. His playmates ran for help. When the adults arrived, he was on the ground. There was no one with a gun to be seen. He was in an Iraqi hospital for two days. His uncle came with him to our hospital. He told us that today that Americans had said that he would be better off at the American hospital. So they came to see us. The boy was confused and thrashed about. Our neurosurgeon removed the bullet from his brain. I hope he will live. If he survived for two days with a bullet in his brain, I can imagine that he is rather tough!
The boy who was shot two days ago is hanging in there. Today I operated on him to put a breathing tube in his throat. He was all puffed up from his head to his hips. It is odd how extremely sick people seem to look more alike than they do their kin. His swollen skin was shiny, and his tongue protruded from between his teeth. His short neck was spongy with fluid and his chin almost touched his chest. He had lost all of the curves and features in his face. Still, when I prepared him for surgery, he fought me with his hands until the medicine took effect. I liked seeing that sign of life. You have to be alive to be pissed off. I hope he hangs in there.
The injured soldiers left. The seriously injured ones including the troop with the self-inflicted injury were evacuated out of the country. As I was entering the hospital yesterday, two young soldiers saluted me. I recognized at once that they were two of the men who had been involved in the suicide bomber attack. They were looking strong. They had lost a leader in the attack. I thanked them for their hard work and asked them if they were feeling well. The were calm and answered to the affirmative, but their expressions were non-committal. Imagine that, going back to war and they were the lucky ones.
I do wish that the self-injurious troop gets good help. This war is a grinder, and some nuts get torn up in it. How bleak it must be to get so lost that the only choice seems to be to hurt yourself. We have to look out for each other. I'm sure the troop's battle buddy is wondering if there was something that could have done to have prevented this. We have a far less stressful job here in the hospital. Still, it has made me look around at my friends and wonder if I have been doing my duty well enough to look out for them. We came together, we're going home together.
It has been hectic, but from time to time there is a break in the clouds and a ray of sunshine beams through. Be well, dear ones. I can't wait to get home to you.