"Two wounded inbound. IED attack" the Army coordinator says. We go to the OR, turn on the lights, start warming fluids, ensure the oxygen generator is turned on along with the anesthesia machine. After that we wait, always with a mixture of anticipation and anxiety.
"Headlights coming down the alley" yells one of the surgeons. Four soldiers quickly unload a casualty off the humvee and run into the trauma bay as we direct foot traffic. I'm standing in casualty receiving and start to follow the patient in when I'm frozen in my tracks: he is so dark from dirt and mud that he doesn't look like he has a uniform on and I can't make out his facial features. He has to be Iraqi civilian. I'm a little confused because the word was two Army soldiers? I do a double take and don't see anything beyond the upper portion of his thighs. Nothing there but empty space....
The medic is on their heels, and he looks as pale as a silverlit moon. His uniform is caked with dirt. Sweat streaming down his face into his eyes; he doesn't even notice, because he's practically running blind into the trauma bay when the chaplain and I stop him. Chaplain asks him if he's the medic, and he can only shake his head in the affirmative. We quickly thank him for doing such an outstanding job of getting the patient to us, and "chaps" takes him aside to talk to him and comfort him.
I, on the other hand, follow on the heels of the litterbearers into the OR. Staff is streaming in to help. I position myself on the soldier's right flank and establish IV access while simultaneously putting monitor equipment on. Quick scan of the room to see if crowd control is needed, and I spot an unknown visitor wearing a tan flight suit with no identification. I quickly walk over, introduce myself, and request he immediately identify himself. "Company Commander" he says. We talk for a bit, and I ask about the patient. "Just married a few months ago while on R and R. Such a good guy" he says. What to say back....? We both stand in silence for a few moments. I ask him if he's OK with staying, and he seems fine. I quickly go back to work. The orthopeadic surgeon, Tim, and general surgeon, Martin, are working on the extremities at the same time. Mark and I take great care to package him up for the flight to Al Asad....we start giving sedatives and pain medications immediately.
His unit: their love for him is unquestionable. His buddies press into the OR the second we finish working on what's left of his legs. A few with shellshock and patched up arms and legs from the blast are at his side and don't want to leave, hollow look in their eyes and mouths stuck permanently in "O" mode. Eric talks to them about how well their battle buddy, their brother in arms, did with the surgery....they are so upset with themselves as if they were to blame. Eric gives one a bear hug; reassures them it isn't their fault. We let them....no, we are honored to let them, be the litterbearers back to the ambulance for the short ride to the helo pad.
They all walked behind the ambulance to the helo pad, and helped Mark and I load him onto the Blackhawk. We stand together one last time as the Blackhawk spins up rotors and gently wisks him to the 399th CSH at Al Asad. Not a muscle twitches until helo and patient are out of sight.