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.