1 JAN 2008 The year I go home
Ah yes, it’s here. Happy New Year, all! Hope you had a wonderful time. Did you go to a good party? Did you celebrate? How was your New Years Eve kiss? I hope you did not have to work today so you had a chance to recover.
My New Year’s Eve was peaceful and quiet. After helping to get the two pigs to grilling and roasting, I had a quick dinner at the hospital DFAC and then headed to the hooch. I watched “Anger Management” with Adam Sandler and wrote some letters. Some wonderful students from Daniel Hand High School in Madison, CT had sent cookies and Christmas cards. Their tasty brownies and rice crispy treats kept the hospital working through some long hours of operations. I sent them letters to make sure they knew how much it meant to us to be remembered back home.
At midnight, I called home for a kiss over the telephone with M. The boys were rowdy and excited about staying up late. Another reminder that I have it easier than she does over her! Those boys wear me out. Fortunately, recent colds seemed to be passing. Being apart for New Year’s Eve was not really too much of a new experience. Through most of my medical training, I was in the hospital for New Year’s Eve. I would always rather have Christmas Eve with my family, and it was usually easy to find a single resident who would rather have New Year's Eve off to party. Often these are the same residents who needed IV fluid started on New Year's Day! I have rung in the New Year in Yale New Haven Hospital, Bridgeport Hospital, the West Haven Veteran’s Administration Hospital, Johns Hopkins Hospital, and Wilford Hall Medical Center. Sometimes I have been able to see fireworks from the roof of the hospital. Even when I am home for New Year's Eve, M. and I have only a fair to middlin' chance of staying awake until midnight! How lucky I am that she is satisfied with cozy quiet me.
The pig roast was a marvelous affair. Even in the cold of an Iraqi January, it cooked fast. The halved carcass on the grill was ready to eat by morning after about 12 hours of cooking. It was good for picking through the night. The roast pig on the spit took the entire 24 hours to fully cook through. The whole affair was the brainchild of ER nurse G., and wouldn't have been possible without his tireless efforts. The hoops through which he had to jump would have been enough to make me pull my hair out (now that I have some again!) He has been inspected and paperworked near to death! He needed permission to drive two stakes into the ground! (We couldn't get permission to dig a pit.) Public health gave the affair a good once over to make sure that we wouldn't poison ourselves. Fire safety flagged out a proscribed burning area.
Many people assisted. Of course it wouldn't have been possible if we had not gotten one of the aerovac flight crews to fly the pigs down from Germany. We borrowed the superintendent's pick-up truck to move the carcasses from the refrigeration unit to behind the hospital. I don't know if she had planned for us to section and dress the pigs on her tailgate! The F-16 maintenance shop fabricated a spit, uprights, and a crossbar on which to roast the pig. We had cases of Bitburg near-beer and Rudy's Barbecue rub to season the pigs. I had to disarticulate the hams at the hip to get the pig to fit on the spit. There is a construction crew that is adding a defense feature to our hospital. The foreman came over with some of his men to help us. They braided cables from bailing wire and secured the uprights to the ground with stakes so that they would not tip over under the weight of the pig. When the cross member started to spin because we had stripped the nut that holds it in place, they cut some lengths of rebar to drive through the pig's chest to make a windlass of sorts to spin him. They bend longer pieces of rebar into stands for the windlass to hold the pig in each of the four quarter turn positions. After stuffing the pig with bratwurst, Thoracic surgeon J. used sternal closure wire to seal his abdominal cavity.
Once the pig was roasting over the pit, we realized that he might not get the full force of heat as the night got colder. We built a wall of cinder blocks around the spit then leaned paver tiles inside the wall to reflect the heat up to the meat. We placed a length of corrugated roofing on either side to extend this wall to a greater height. The inside of this pit above ground was lined with tin foil to reflect the maximum amount of heat. And there he spun through the night. Shifts of helpers stood watch, but ER nurse G. was there the whole time.
I awake this morning and dressed to come in for my backup SOD call. As soon as I opened the door to my hooch, I caught the delicious smell of roasting pork wafting across the base. For once the burn pit had been bested! I salivated as I biked in with vigor! Before visiting our tasty friend, I did my first operation of the day: washing a belly and reconnecting intestines. In between cases I rushed out to the back of the hospital and warmed my belly with a breakfast of freshly picked pig. I returned to the OR for two more cases. Here is an indication of how experienced this crew has become: As I closed a wound on a man's scrotum, the scrub tech did the operation on his leg. When you consider how many hundreds of casualties we have seen with thousands of injuries, it is no wonder that we can get the job done with little fuss at this point. Lunch and dinner were also pig. Our wing general visited to partake in the feast. As I raised the pig's head above mine in celebration of our great feast and great company, he just remarked that he was appreciative that I wasn't kissing it. I would have told him that he had missed that part, but I didn't want to speak when I didn't have the conch.
After dinner, a little six-month-old girl was brought by her grandmother to our gate. When I say little, I mean it, she weighed nine pounds. My boys were about that big when they were born. (Poor M.!) She had been ill for several months and had recently left an Iraqi hospital. I didn't know why she was here or what was wrong with her, but we will try. I was happy to see that her bright eyes attentively jumped from her grandmother to me and back again. She gave a hearty cry when I examined her belly. At least she wasn't so far gone that she didn't have the strength to protest. We ran some tests. I called my friend Pediatrician S. who works as a battalion surgeon at an Army clinic across base. I'm sure that her expert eye will narrow down the possibilities somewhat. For the moment the girl is with us so we have a chance to try, and try we will. Perhaps better put would be to quote Yoda, "There is no try, only do." So we will do.
May the New Year bring you your wildest dreams!