Monday, December 29, 2008

Re: Latest Update

Well, finally it is here.  Sorry theree are no pictures on this one, and it is going to be short due to having to share the computer with a whole to of people who want to communicate back home.  But, in a nutshell, we are on our way home.  About a third of our hospital left in Mid-December, our replacements arrived about a week after that.  The we finally got to leave the walls that have confined us for the past 15 months late on Christmas day.  But fully decked out with Christmas hats, and plenty of good cheer to be getting out of there, we hopped a ride on some Chinooks (really big helicopters) and flew over to BIAP (Baghdad Airport).  In typical Army fashion of 'Hurry up and wait', we then sat around the airport until late last night when we flew off on some C-17s and arrived here in Kuwait (one giant pile of sand and porta-potties) early this morning.  We should be out of here in a day or two!  Then finally back to New Jersey and the girls about a week after that.  Despite the propect of returning to the state of New Jersey (sorry Lavemen), I am pretty damn excited.  As are most people.  Thankfully traveling with a good group of friends makes the torture the Army dishes out a little more tolerable.  It is hard to believe in a little over a week, this group of people who became my friends and family will scatter back to all over the world.  Some back to Hawaii, Texas, Germany, wherever.  There is a strong bond between us that I will truly treasure, but I am very happy to see farewell to them.  At least in the short term.  So I will update the blog with the final pics when we get back to the US.
I hope you are all doing well and are planning for a great New Year.  I know I am!  Thank you all for the support you have given me and the girls over the past 15 months;  and the support for the soldiers you see on a daily basis.  Those kids that are out there on the front lines, literally living in holes in the ground - have become my heros.  So thank one if you pass one on the street. 
Can't wait to see you all.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Well, I know I just wrote in this blog a week or so ago, but I figured in celebration of the end, I would try to keep up a little better. At least for a little while longer. Besides, with the end so close now, I feel a whole lot more energized. As do most people here. The advance party of the incoming Combat Support Hospital should be arriving here today or tomorrow. We are very excited. In fact I can't remember the last time the entire unit was excited about the same thing at the same time before.

The first 'wave' or group of people will start leaving soon, to be replaced by the 10th Combat Support Hospital. Once the new unit is up and running, the rest of us will start our journey home. I hope the incoming group has a great deployment (it is at least shorter than ours by 9 months) and I hope they have as great a group as we lucked out with in our ER.
Again, to pass the time and to show some of our visiting ER docs around the International Zone, we took a lesiourly stroll to some of the sights. Found a few new interesting things, including a collection of old Iraqi aircraft that had been taken apart for spare parts (or maybe to make IED's, I don't really know). They were on the back side of the Iraqi Monument to the Unknown Soldier. I had been there before, just never been on the backside. It had been turned over to the control of an Iraqi Army Honor Guard, so you have to get permission to go onto the property, something not so easy since I don't speak Arabic, and they don't speak English. You basically point and grunt, and they grunt back and nod their heads. It doesn't hurt when you bring a female nurse along, either.
We headed over to another FOB, 'Prosperity', for some lunch and to check out the local shops. Luckily they were selling the 'Barbie' beach towel I was looking for. Found a few interesting areas, including another stone relief made by Saddam of the US killing children (sick man). And later, we got a chance to play on some artillery units that were parked nearby.

In between our explorations and adventures, we continue to do the healthcare thing. The mission that we were sent over here to complete. Thankfully, the amount of combat trauma continues to be low compared to months ago. It is definitly looking like a better Christmas and New Years season than last year in that regard. We do continue to take care fo the regular emergency patients, though. Including the recent birth of twins here (neither were named after me). Not the usual Combat support mission! In a twist of fate (maybe), we currently have a neonatologist (working as a general medical officer) here and a perinatologist (working as a researcher). Both of their skills were called into use.

That about sums it up since last time. I hope you are all doing well and that the winter season hasn't gotten too cold back home (I am sure my blood has thinned out over here). We will keep trying to have fun to pass the last of our time here, and I hope you do too.

(If you are wondering - we are trying to capture a small bird that had managed to wander into the ER. Very funny to watch a group of adults try this)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Tick-Tock. The clock is continuing to tick down. The end of November is here - which means as of one hour from now I can say... "this month". Most people are starting to get very excited about leaving, a return to normality, the ability to wear jeans and whatever hat we want. Hopefully nobody opts to wear my Halloween outfit ever again. I say 'most people' because being here has a strange effect on some. It is like we live in a bubble where the real world (i.e., back home) doesn't really exist. People's problems and issues that are home are easily forgotten. We are in our own world here where we don't have the stresses of decision making in real life - what to wear, what to eat, who to be friends with. While I can't wait to get out of this 'bubble', there are people who are stressing over the return home more than they stressed about coming over here.

As for what is happening here - just more of the same. With the negotiations and recent SOFA (Status Of Forces Agreement) signing, unfortunately, work in the hospital has picked up. But we are still making time for the usual time killers. Trying to stay as sane as possible by... well... knitting. It passed the time for a few hours anyways. And now I can make a small 3x5 inch piece of knitted something or other. We have been running as usual to pass some time as well. And then there is another really stupid thing we did. In somthing called the 'DANCON March' or the Danish Contingent March, we actually paid money to march around the Green Zone for no real reason. One theory was that it was a giant prank prank played by the Danish to laugh at the stupid Americans and maybe even post it on 'You-Tube". Supposedly it is a ceremonial march that the Danish have everywhere that they have a military contingent deployed.

There is, of course the ever present need to exercise. We continue to look like giant fools and use the Nintendo Wii for regular boxing matches or other pseudo sporting events. I am sorry to say that I consistently lose to a girl... oh well. I have been able to continue on running pretty regularly, even up to the checkpoint of the red-zone. That has all stopped lately, though with the very special way that the various insurgents have been celebrating around our Thanksgiving (actually the signing of the SOFA much more than the holiday, I presum). But we do miss the freedom fo being able to run outside the hospital FOB. We did find a local "golf" course, though. Complete with 9-holes, par 3. It was a little 'ghetto' in that the holes were made of tin cans buried in the ground and they were marked by torn dish-towels with numbers on them. That and we were surrounded by cement T-walls and Barbed wire. The course is on the grounds of the NATO mission in the Green Zone and it has some nice inspirational signs up for us to contemplate.

In addition to the golf course Kristy and I found during one of our bike trips around the IZ, we also found one of the light towers that illuminate the Crossed Sabers parade ground unlocked. We took a trip to the top and were treated to quite a view of the Green Zone. Although inspiring a little bit of vertigo from the top, it was well worth it.

In addition to the views that we got, we also stopped for some food at a local restaurant. Surprisingly, we did not get the runs despite the swarms of flies that surrounded the place and dive-bombed our food and our faces.

Speaking of food - Thanksgiving was interesting again. The interpretation again by the caterers from Pakistan and Bangladesh was comical at best, disturbing at worst. It was our second Thanksgiving here, and it actually felt quite a bit different than the last one. For one thing, we knew what to expect both in the food and in the decorations. But at least it was like eating with family having spent the equivalent of a lifetime or two here in Iraq already. The people make it just about bearable. I have told them that while I feel pretty strongly about my friends here - I really don't want to see them again for a long time.

In the meantime, we will keep trying to stay sane for the time that we have left. Todd will keep trying out new patterns of Army camouflage. If you are interested in investing in some property in the Green Zone - there are some phone numbers that you can call. We hear there is quite a demand these days. And hopefully, the next time I send one of these out, it will be when we have started to pack our bags and are heading out the door.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

November 1st... I can honestly say I am leaving this place soon. It is even better to say "I am leaving next month!" Everytime one of us gets upset or angry about anything here, we just repeat it over and over again... "we are leaving next month!". It has such a great ring to it...

So the rest of October was pretty routine. Things have continued to be relatively quiet in the hospital, and we continue to make definite plans for the arrival of our replacements. In case it is not yet apparent, we are leaving soon. The only small downside is that we will nto be leaving together as a unit, but broken into a bunch of smaller groups to head home. It is only a downside because we came together, it would be nice to leave together. To have a uniting moment, a farewell after having spent so much time and sweat together. Despite the horrible part of being away from home, the past year (plus) has been a remarkable experience for me in humanity. While I speak mostly of the ER crew, we really became a second family over here, and I will miss the people here quite a bit. There are memories that were made here that I will treasure... while there are definitly some that I hope to never think of again.

So we have tried to come up with some things to spice up our daily monotony here. The nurses have taken to crotcheting in the downtime - pretty sure it is an addiction as at any given moment you can find a few of them working on their yarn that they have squirreled away in some corner of the nurses station.

Of course part of October is Halloween. It was celebrated in style in the hospital. I think the Command locked themselves in their offices and closed their ears as almost everyone in the hospital wore some form of costume throughout the day, including while caring for patients. Todd's costume (one of the other two ER docs) with the mask frightened some of the local national patients who didn't quite understand, while my costume frightened just about everyone including me. Long story behind it, but the ER nurses picked out my costume while I was on leave, and I couldn't let them down... Marti's (the other ER doc) costume (The Head Chef... get it?) was also quite a hit with the locals who came to the door seeking care. Our nurses in the ER all dressed as 1920's Flapper girls, and even danced the Charlston on request. The day was alot of fun, and let people just relax a little after a really long year. It was a big boost on morale.

As for adventures this month - had a few low key ones around the IZ. Dena (Family Practice doc) and I started snooping around one of the FOB's that used to house the Ministry of Justice prior to the fall of Saddam. We had heard a rumor that the court house where Saddam, and later his cronies were tried. We found a little porthole that looked promising, but no one would pay attention to us and unlock the door, so we started to walk away. A few minutes later, two soldiers came and asked us if we were snooping around their compound, and when we said 'yes', they offered to give us a tour. Inside a very secure buildign, surrounded by lots of guards and snipers sits the highest courthouse in Iraq. They showed us around including the defendants "cage" where Saddam sat defiantly for his trial. It was pretty cool to see and actually touch that part of modern history. One of the 'quirky' things inside the courthouse is the largest Iraqi flag in Iraq - standing at 35 some-odd feet. In typical Iraqi fashion, though, when they recently changed their flag (removing some stars), rather than remove the stitching that holds the stars, or replacing the flag, they just painted over it.

During some of our morning runs, we stop in at some of the local FOBs and explore there as well. One such place on a FOB called 'Prosperity' features some stone reliefs that were interesting - including this one which is hard to make out in the picture, but has a bomb at the top labeled 'USA' falling on a pile of dismembered and broken children and babies. Just the kind of artwork one would expect in a government building... just another pointer to how sick Saddam was.

So the last field-trip involved the Prime Minister of Iraq (Maliki) who was in need of a flu-shot. He asked the CSH to provide it to him - not really sure why. But it opened an opportunity for us to go to his offices and give him and some of his advisors the flu shot. I really had no role to play, but I invited myself anyways on the premise that if they had a reaction, they would need an ER doctor. We also brought one of our ER nurses - Heather Cataldi - using the same rationale. So we were convoyed over to his residence in some Iraqi Army vehicles and taken into his reception area - given fresh squeezed orange juice, and Iraqi tea while we waited for an hour for the Prime Minister. In the meantime we talked with the National Security Advisor - a very interesting man - had been a physician after escaping from Saddam's torture chambers. Then he walked in, made some small talk for about 20 minutes, signed some laws that were in Arabic, and then rolled up his sleeve and got his shot. On the way out, we got a tour of the gardens surrounding the residence's - known as 'Little Venice' for the network of canals surrounding the area. An interesting experience without a doubt. He and his staff were very appreciative and incredibly amicable, thought he wouldn't tell us who he wanted to win the US election. Then a quick convoy back to the CSH. One of those experiences to remember for sure.

Nothing very adventurous planned for the rest of this month - except did I mention - we are going home next month. Hope to see you all then.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Unfortunately, I have been unable to upload pictures recently. I will keep trying and let you know.

Hello again from Baghdad. I have been gone for the last few weeks - back home at last with Amy and the girls! It was great, and very much needed. It was starting to get really old over here. It took a few days to get there - the Army has to make everything as painful as possible. Over a day to travel 20 miles to the airport in Baghdad flying in the usual Blackhawks, another almost 2 days to travel 250 miles to Kuwait using Air Force C-17s (much more comfortable then the smaller turboprop C-130s), and then one more day back home via Ireland and Georgia (the state) using chartered commercial airlines. The delays going home were easy to deal with knowing what I was heading towards. However, the delays on the way back to Iraq were agonizing. My arrival back home in New Jerey was exactly what you would expect in Newark, but then I walked out to Amy and the girls in the car and it was one of the greatest moments in my life. When I approached the car in the pouring rain, Sara saw me and started screaming "It's Daddy, Daddy, Daddy..." waving her arms and feet at me. Naomi looked at me trying to place my face with someone she knew from long ago, but after about 20 minutes, followed Sara's lead and it was like I had never left. It was about as great a homecoming as you could hope for. Even Riley (the dog) recognized me right away when I walked in the house and started howling and running like I hadn't seen him do in about 5 years.

We spent most of my leave at home, going on day trip adventures with the girls - to the zoo, apple picking, Sesame Place, to meet up with more of the family. Met the new nephews in my family - Matthew and Caleb. Nothing too wild or crazy, but it was perfect. It was very easy to forget about this place and it was only on recalling that I was missing a year of memories with Amy and the girls, did I remember that I was gone at all. It is amazing to me how much Amy has done and how she has done it so well being essentially a single mother with two high energey kids. I would be exhausted at the end of each day - and that was with two adults! I also cannot thank enough our friends, neighbors, and family who have watched over the three of them while I have been here. It is an incredible relief knowing that you all are there for her. Thank you, thank you.
Then, all too soon, it was back on the airplane and back to Iraq. Surprise, surprise, nothing much had changed here. With one big exception... less than 3 months left. We had passed the one year mark in Iraq. The planning for our redeployment home were well on their way - even had some tentative dates for leaving.

Things here in Baghdad are nice and quiet. I have continued to try to get off of the hospital FOB as much as possible - including waking up at 4am to go running around the IZ. Don't have to worry about traffic at that time in the morning, and it is actually a comfortable temperature. My blood has definitly thinned out since coming over here as 80 degrees feels cool now.

Still have the occasional blips of intense activity, but for the most part we in the hospital are content to let the rest of our deployment fade out into the sunset. The next CSH to replace us will hopefully have a much different experience - and hopefully, they won't need a CSH to replace them after their 12 months here. (yes, I know they have a shorter deployment then us... actually the doctors and nurses only spend 6 months and then will rotate out). Either way, we only have one set of winter holidays left over here...
I hope you are all well. Please take care. Until next time...

Friday, August 29, 2008

Just another short update as things just continue to repeat themselves over and over again. Thanks for reading and commenting on the piece I wrote for Newsweek. As you can imagine, it was a very moving time for me and for everyone here. Having been here as long as we have with the same group of nurses and docs has been an incredible experience in many different ways. Good and bad. That soldier I wrote about was part of the life of two of our nurses in the ER. I can't imagine what they went through seeing their friend there. The nurses, medics, and docs that are here for the entire 15 months together have very much become a second family. We have been through a lot together - also good and bad. I have a hard time beliving I will ever experience the comraderie found here ever again, and I will definitly miss that. On the flip side... I REALLY can't wait to get home to the 'first' family.

Things continue on here, slowly marching forward towards that date 5 months from now - even closer, though, is my leave in just a few days. I just can't wait to see Amy, Sara, Naomi, and Riley again. The real test will be which ones of them remember me.

So - the pics... went out on an adventure again around the IZ. One of our nurses, Heather, had never been outside the hospital FOB. So we got a hold of a big old suburban and saw the sights. In the process, met some Iraqi Army soldiers who were guarding the Tomb of the Unknown. It was interesting trying to communicate with hand gestures that we wanted to go up to the monument - eventually, they let us pass. But I have to admit it was a little sketchy and we did not stick around for long.

Then up on top of one ofthe other FOB's, were treated to the rare sighting of the American Great White... just thought it was a funny picture in the middle of Baghdad during a war...

Also spent some time hanging out with some of the local British troops. Saw a few of their armored personnel carriers in the parking lot, and felt the need to ask to play inside of them. Then on the way back, saw some of the Baghdad Fire Department firefighters - and asked them for a joyride in theit Engine - which they obliged.

A little earlier we had a visit from one of the politician's in the news quite a bit lately. He caused a bit of a stir in the hospital. Of course, as one of the few democrats in the entire hospital, I missed his visit due to some other issues going on. One of the highlights of his visit, though was the way he got to CSH - he flew in on the Marine Osprey's - which landed here for the first time. Pretty impressive things.
Other than that, just passing time in the usual way. Marty (one of the other ER docs) is teaching herself guitar. While the rest of us hang out in the usual Army way...
Hope you are all doing well...