You’re constantly reminded of war, if not by the sounds, than certainly with the injuries. And people were carrying their guns all the time. It was strange to be a physician carrying a gun.
Q: How did your background in geriatrics come into play?
A: Believe it or not, many of the Iraqi civilians we treated were not chronically aged, but were physiology aged. We saw a lot of geriatric syndromes, even in 45-year-olds. Diet and access to care were common issues.
Q: Did you have enough resources?
A: As far as combat hospitals go, in my limited experience, I think we had excellent resources. But sometimes, if patients required extended intensive care and if we didn’t have the dialysis or the level of burn care, we just couldn’t treat them. It was a challenge every day to deal with certain patients who we knew under normal circumstances we could take care of, but because of the circumstance we had to stop care. That made it really hard.
Q: Is there one case that stands out as an example of what can be done in a combat zone?
A: There was one young baby who was a medical case. He was 28 days old when he first presented. He came to the gate with his parents with an infected arm. He had been seen at an outside facility and was treated for some kind of infection.
We thought from an initial admitting diagnosis that he had pericardial infusion. He had a long, protracted course where he required intubation. He was quite the enigma, and required a lot of attention and care and resources. Everyone at the hospital, from the nursing staff, to the medical technicians, to chaplains, would stop by say hello to the baby. We all did our best to keep him alive. He ended up getting discharged; the last we heard he was doing all right. My hope is that he would grow very strong.
It was nice to have a child around. It was also great because the family had entrusted us to take care of him. They seemed grateful when they were finally able to take him home.
Q: Would you go back?
A: Definitely. It was probably the most amazing experience in my life, professional and personally. It’s a wonderful place to do medicine because you’re forced to practice outside your comfort zone. You also feel that your efforts are playing a positive role. You get out of that whole humdrum, “beaten-by-the-system” feeling that I think people may feel here. I got to meet interesting people and be a part of history. And I survived, so that was good. TH