“A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq” does not disappoint

by 911Doc, MD

I can’t help but stand in awe of surgeons. I thought I was going to be one when I went to medical school, but my short attention span and my lack of true interest in the procedures spelled doom for that. Still, when I work in the ER and I have a surgical patient, I especially want to dot my i’s and cross my t’s because I want to set the surgeon up for success.

Now amongst the surgeons, the pediatric surgeons are, perhaps, the studliest of studs. Something about the 9 to 10 years of hell they go through after medical school just flat out floors me. And they do it all to become excellent at performing surgery on kids of all ages. Talk about pressure. My hat is off to them and may God bless them.

Dr. Chris Coppola, a United States Air Force surgeon, wrote A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq. He wrote it after two four-month tours at Balad Air Base Hospital, just outside Baghdad. It does not disappoint.

So what is a pediatric surgeon doing in Iraq? Well, he’s doing surgery and lots of it. It is an inevitable consequence of war that kids end up in the line of fire, and he operates on adults as well. The book is worthy on this account alone for Dr. Coppola moves heaven and earth for the children of Iraq that somehow arrive in the Balad ER.

I found the book compelling for other reasons as well:

* Dr. Coppola does not take a stand for or against the war, but, in a variety of personal encounters, tells us what the Iraqi people that he meets think of the American effort.

* Dr. Coppola tells us his gut reaction to seeing a female American soldier who had died in combat and failed resuscitation. This consequence of the change in military policy following tailhook is not often spoken of and it’s very disturbing.

* Dr. Coppola speaks of the terribly conflicting emotions he experienced while taking care of terrorists who had sent so many people to their deaths. It is US policy to treat all wounded, sick, and injured, regardless of their affiliation.

Dr. Coppola also weaves his daily emotional state into the narrative and all I can say after reading it is “thank you, Sir.” His world of sleeplessness, separation from family, mortar blasts, and bloody messes in the OR truly helped me to realize that however much the ER sucks, it could be worse.  It could be in Iraq.

911Doc is an emergency physician who blogs at M.D.O.D.

Submit a guest post and be heard.