Tuesday, April 22, 2008

So on to the next installment...

Not all that much to really report as going on here. Things overall have continued to calm down here in terms of casualties - haven't had one of those angel flights in quite a few days actually. As you may have seen in the news, we do continue to get the daily reminders from Sadr City that there is still a war going on in the form of reminder rockets and mortars.

Luckily they remain more of a nuisance without any casualties, just the occasion to get our heartrates up and run into the bunkers or into the closest building.

We did have a nice sandstorm for a few days. Really more of a duststorm in all honesty. Cut visibility quite a bit and at times so much you could barely see 20 feet in front of you. Kind of like thick fog back home, except you could feel the sand get sucked in as you breathed and taste it whenever you opened your mouth. Lots of people with breathing complaints as you might imagine.

I did have the opportunity to celbrate Passover relatively close to where the actual event took place 3000 years ago - being in the middle east and all. There was actually a seder held right here in the International Zone that drew a fair number of people from the local area and from some of the other surrounding FOBs. About half the people were US military, the rest a mix of State Department, Australian military, and even a few Iraqi Jews. I hadn't realized there were any left in this country. Got to go with a bunch of people from the hospital - some fellow tribe members, others who were just along for the experience. Overall it was a lot of fun - and definately a change from the usual around here.

We did have an interesting day a few days ago when we were given the opportunity to explore one of Saddam's palace's - actually the Republican Guard's palace and the bunker complex beneath it that was supposed to serve as a nerve center for the government if there was an attack. Apparently the government fled the city, though, prior to the actual invasion of Baghdad by the US troops. The doors were 'unlocked' by the first forces in the city to find an abandoned complex including everything from kitchens to dorms to media and lecture rooms. Supposedly meant to withstand a nuclear blast - a bunch of American doctors were able to 'conquer' it without oo much problem. It was built in the late 1990's and finished in 2000 (so much for the embargo) by a German company - can't recall which one it was. Anyway - it was definately an interesting trip. The palace itself (sitting on top of the bunker to disguise it) was hit pretty hard during the bombing campaing prior to the invasion and offered an up close view of some of the destruction that follows when one of those things hit.

Part of the day was actually a farewell to a good friend who is rotating back home to Walter Reed. Although we affectionately called him 'Melon Head', we will definately miss Pat Hickey as he heads home to his wife and kids. As a pediatric infectious disease doc - he only had a 6 month deployment, but we try not to hold that against him.

That's it for now. Hope you are all well.

Jason Cohen, DO
Emergency Physician
United States Army

86th Combat Support Hospital
Task Force Baghdad
Ibn Sina Hospital
APO AE 09348

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

March Madness

Well the end of March was an exciting time here in Baghdad. As you may have gathered from my last email and the news - things here in Iraq got pretty busy from the military and medical standpoint. Starting on Easter Sunday morning and really continuing until yesterday - the skies were busy with a whole bunch of mortar and rockets being launched at various places in the Green Zone and some of the surrounding FOBs. Unfortunately two civilians who work with the embassy were killed and quite a few injuries - but for the most part the attacks were thankfully poorly aimed and didn't cause any casualties. From what the rumors are, most of the firing seems to come from areas in Baghdad called Sadr city. It is mostly poor slums that are heavily controlled by Muqhtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi militia. If you have a few minutes, you may want to google them to get a better idea of what they are about. As far as I can tell, they are mostly about being a gang of criminals with really big weapons who use religion as an excuse to further their own ends violently.

Sadr city itself is only a few miles from here, making it a convenient launching point for most of the indirect fire (IDF - rockets, mortars, and artillery). There had been increased combat that was taking place there and some of the surrounding areas and had accounted for the increased patient workload with injured soldiers and local national Iraqis coming to the CSH.

The hospital was almost at capacity during the week - even with the multiple evacuations out of the hospital -both to Iraqi facilities for local nationals, and to the Air Force hospital for our soldiers to be evacuated on to Germany. We did lose a few soldiers despite some really heroic attempts at resuscitation both by my colleagues down here in the ER - and the dedicated surgeons and intensivists up stairs. Even in the midst of the dozens of tragedies that surrounded us, people were doubly affected by the loss of the troops. Due to the threat of the indirect fire, we were unable to give all of them our last respects with their angel flights. It is strange that one ceremony really has quite an impact on those that work here, and people seemed to be almost as upset about not being able to salute the fallen soldier as about the death itself.

We have since gotten back to some sense of normalcy. At least back to the way it was before last week - as I don't think we can ever call this place truly normal. We have started to be able to return to the gym which is a huge part of what we all do on a daily basis. And now we can go outside again without wearing our body armor. Last night, though, I think I gave Amy quite a scare as I was talking on the phone to her on the roof of the hospital when the alarm for 'incoming' went off and I ran inside the building and hung up the phone by mistake after saying something along the lines of "oh-s*&t". I was able to call her back a few minutes later and put her at ease. And apologize for hanging up the phone on her...

More importantly - now that we can go outside without our IBA on again - we have to get back to the important monthly grilling of steak and lobster donated by our 18Delta - Special Forces medics who come and work with us. They have quite the hook-up, almost makes me want to join the Special Operations command... Just kidding.

As for the rest of the news for the month - thankfully, the moustaches are gone. They were horrendous - at least mine was. But other people were upset about looking like someone out of a B-rated movie as well. We did celebrate St. Patrick's day - even here in Iraq we celebrated. How else, by donning stupid hats and drinking green beer. Alright it was non-alcoholic beer, but still with a little green food coloring, made it just like home.

As usual, the dining facility personnel decorated to celebrate Easter in their usual Bangladeshi style... errrrrr..... whatever that means. No one can quite figure out what kind of animal that is and what it is doing. Any suggestions?

And then finally, as a little piece of home was sent to me from my friends over at UMass - a hat from LifeFlight to remind me of better times - probably the first time one of those hats was worn with IBA on and a weapon in hand.

Back at home - Amy is trying to stay as sane as possible with the girls. She really has her hands full and is doing a phenomenal job as always. I miss the three of them (and Riley) very much and can't wait to see them. 1/3 of the way done...

Anyway, back to work for me. Hope you are all doing well. Thank you for your recent emails and thoughts, very much appreciated.