Surgeon Soldier in Iraq – Part 8: Family Hardship
Letters home from Major Eric Stark, in the OnSurg series describing his Iraq experience spanning from 2008 to 2011.
Letter dated 8/10/2011
Greetings from COB Leitner,
The last two weeks have been good. I am settled and have made a great new group of friends. My first admission to the hospital was last week. I was taking call for the Emergency Dept and was called to evaluate an Army Special Forces soldier. We begin talking and come to find out he’s a good ole boy from Fort Payne, Alabama. He tells me that there is a reserve SF unit here at COB Leitner and that they are all from Alabama. I admitted and treated him for pneumonia and during the course of his hospitalization I met all of his unit pals from Alabama. It was great. They are a great group of guys from all over the state. They have offered to pick me up next week and take me out to their shooting range. Sounds fun…
I finally met my boss. When I arrived he was on emergency leave in the states because his father recently died. We spoke for about two hours. I felt really bad for him. He seems rather depressed actually. He is a little over sixty years old. This is his fourth deployment. He was supposed to be home several months ago but was extended. Then his father gets really sick and ends up dying. He flies home and has been lead to believe that he did not need to come back. His deployment is supposed to end in October. He gets called to come back and is not very happy about it.
Meanwhile both of his sons are officers and pilots in the Navy and one is actually deployed here in Iraq. He told me that when his sons decided to join the military he felt obligated to go into the reserves. He has had an interesting and successful private practice career for over twenty five before getting into the reserves. Very nice man. He has been here now almost fourteen months. Another one of the older Docs that I have become good pals with is about 55yo and both of his sons are on active duty in the Army. Both have deployed multiple times and this is also his third deployment. The deployment schedules have been so hectic for both of these guys that they tell me that this is it for them. They are both getting out. They both tell me that it has been too hard to continue a practice and ask your partners to cover for you during these deployments. They also acknowledge that it has been really difficult for their wives.
I dealt with my first trauma last Fri night as well. A convoy of MRAPs was rolling through northern Tikrit and an insurgent came out off of the side of the street and threw a grenade at the lead vehicle. The only one injured was the driver. He came in with his right foot almost blown completely off. He turned 21 yrs old two days ago. The young medic in the field saved his life. He got a tourniquet on his leg very quickly and got him to the hospital. One of the main arteries to the foot was completely severed and the patient would have eventually bleed out without the tourniquet in place. A lot of the muscle and tendon over his ankle and foot was destroyed and he had multiple broken bones in his foot.
I took him to the OR and ligated the open bleeding vessels with the tourniquet off. I washed him out real good and there was some debate as to whether or not we should amputate the foot. I elected not to, and to transfer him to a Combat Support Hospital with an OrthoDoc could evaluate him. He had good blood flow to remainder of the foot; I just did not know if the foot and ankle would be functional with the large soft tissue injury. The patient saw Ortho in Balad and was in Germany in 72hrs. He will be heading back to Ft Hood shortly and his foot is still with him. He has regained some neurologic function, but I am not sure what the endpoint will be. I am just glad that he is out of here and will be taken care of.
I just ate lunch with some of my buddies and the soldiers Commander approached me outside after lunch. I spoke with him at length on the evening of the accident and discussed with him his soldier’s injury. I explained that it was difficult to know how much function the foot and ankle would regain if any, and that it may eventually require amputation. Anyway, today at lunch he approached and was so nice and grateful. He gave me a Commander’s coin and filled me in on the soldier’s progress. He also told me some things that cannot be repeated about the insurgent group that conducted the attack. I will say only that there are some brave souls out most nights representing our country and taking care of business.
I miss and love yall