Well, another week has flown by. At this rate, I’ll be home before you know it! Well, maybe not. If the Army keeps extending tours they’ll eventually have to make this a PCS move! I wonder when they will start to build the family housing?
This week went fast, but it ended on a sad note. One of the best things about a deployment is the friendships you make; friendships forged in shared suffering. One of the worst things is when those friends leave. This week my friend and comrade-in-arms, COL Don Sawyer, departed, on his way back home.
He was my Chief Surgeon and a great partner in commanding this hospital. He will be missed. And he left as he arrived, in the middle of a busy time, filled with casualties. He worked in the operating room almost until the end, almost until his plane departed. It reminded me of the episode in MASH where COL Blake is leaving, but the casualties keep coming and everyone is too busy to say a proper goodbye. And finally everyone realizes that there is no right way to say goodbye and sometimes a simple salute is the best farewell for a Soldier.
But this week also had its positive moments. We had a return visit from one of our patients. The boy pictured below is Zaidullah, one of our burn patients from several months ago. At one point it appeared he might lose his foot to infection, but this week he was back and walking! And wearing shoes! It’s nice to see a success. Thankfully for Zaidullah, we have a wonderful orthopedic surgeon and she was able to save his foot and give him hope for a productive life. As a trauma hospital we don’t always see the results of our hard work. And with the Afghan patients follow-up care can be difficult. The nice thing about surgery is that is can be very definitive. In our clinic we identify problems that can be resolved surgically, hopefully with minimal follow up care. It allows us to improve quality of life without requiring frequent trips back to our clinic, which can be expensive, difficult and dangerous for our Afghan patients.
This girl is typical of our Afghan patients.
I’m always amazed at how nicely dressed they are when they come to our hospital. I’m still not sure if they are wearing their “Sunday best” to visit the American hospital or if this is everyday attire. I do know that kids around the world love their parents and enjoy toys, books and games. I watch the kids cling to their parent’s legs, pull on their hats or glasses and calm down when they get back in their parents arms, just like kids in the US. With this little girl, I thought it was interesting to see her with “Curious George” as she sat outside our clinic waiting to be seen. I remember Curious George from my childhood (many moons ago!), so I just had to get a picture.
One other recent patient was the girl pictured below. She’s from an Afghan nomad family. She lost her arm when her family’s tractor hit a landmine. Several other family members were killed and the tractor was destroyed. Lucky for her, she only lost her arm. This is just one example of the patients we see; innocent victims of wars past and present. We were able to save her life, and give her a chance. Hopefully one of the many NGOs operating here in Afghanistan will be able to provide her with a prosthetic arm. Unfortunately, amputees are not uncommon in Afghanistan, so although there are a lot of organizations providing help, there are always more patients than capacity.
On a brighter note, the construction of the new hospital continues. It seems like it’s ahead of schedule to me, but that’s probably just because I am excited. It is rising like a forest in an empty lot beside the existing hospital. It started with the big dig (pictured below)
and has risen to be a forest of steel and concrete (as seen here).
Before you know it there will be floors and walls and, eventually, a roof. And someday we will be working inside a hardened structure, but we will always remember our days in the “original” Salerno Hospital, the tents and wood floors and walls that have stood so well for so long, through too many patients to count.
And finally, on another happy note, I turned 45 last Friday! I celebrated one more birthday away from home; one more birthday deployed. We celebrated in traditional Salerno Hospital style, with Afghan cake and the singing of Happy Birthday in the EMT tent. Then we all went back to work. With all the extensions across the Army, I just hope I am home in time to celebrate my next birthday with my family! I like it here, but enough is as good as a feast.
Take care. God bless you all and may God Bless America.