Chapter 4: The Worst 72

Posted: October 18, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

This post was written almost a year ago and describes 3 of the most emotionally difficult days of my deployment.  I waited for the right time to post this, but the time never came. I guess now is as good a time as ever. These events are how I recall them and were written immediately after they took place:

The other night at 0130 I was awakened to the loudspeaker announcement “ATTENTION ON THE FOB: ALL B POSITIVE BLOOD DONORS REPORT TO THE AID STATION IMMEDIATELY.”  Disoriented,  I sat up and waited to hear it again, as I couldn’t quite make out what the voice said. Sure enough, they wanted all B + personnel down there ASAP. I jumped out of bed, grabbed my weapon, and beat feet the 100 meters or so to the aid station not knowing what I was going to walk into.

There was already a handful of half-dressed, sleepy-eyed soldiers and contractors waiting. People were running around, clearing chairs, scurrying about. I asked someone what was going on: “IED, sir. 5 casualties. Three are heading to the OR right now.”  They needed five units of B positive apparently.

Within five minutes I was laying on a table with a garden hose in my arm draining me of my precious B+. I hoped that my blood would somehow work miracles on whoever it was that was so in desperate need of it not 20 feet away. A few minutes later we were done, a lab tech came and grabbed the bag and ran a couple of quick tests and took that tomato colored juice bag of blood next door to the operating room.

“First guys dead.” I heard a SGT say. “They’re prepping the next guy for surgery.”

I didn’t know whether my blood made it into the first or the second guy, but I like to think my hemoglobin carried some oxygen to another man’s tissues. I hoped my blood gave at least one of them a fighting chance.

For those who don’t know me, I don’t usually give blood. I am not opposed, I just don’t tolerate it well. Every time I donate blood I experience orthostatic hypotension when I stand up and if no one is around, I hit the floor. Hard. I guess that is something you don’t grow out of.

As expected, I got very pale apparently. Someone got me a chair and some water. I downed the water and grabbed some Ho-ho’s I had stashed in the fridge. I sat in the hall for a good five to ten minutes waiting to absorb some of the fluid I just drank. I watched as they wheeled the second guy into the OR. In my head I wished them the best. I wanted to stand up and help, but I knew I would pass out if I did.

0630 came a lot faster than I had hoped. I was exhausted. I had not gotten back to bed until after 0230. I made it to the clinic around 0750 and inquired about the patients from last night. Two out of three didn’t make it through surgery. The third survived and was in our ICU recovering.

This is the third or fourth time this has happened since I have been here. I was honored to be able to help by giving blood that went straight into the operating room but I wish there was no need for the blood.  Sadly though, this is becoming my world. This is where I live. This is the crap that goes down in my neighborhood.

PART II: The following evening I was waiting in my office for a friend. We were heading up to the roof to smoke some cigars. Out of nowhere one of the surgeons from the Forward Surgical Team pops her head in and says “Im glad I found you! We have a guy coming in with a gunshot wound to the jaw. Would you mind helping us out?”

I spent three hours that night in the operating room assisting a neck dissection on a young man who took several rounds to the head and neck region. One of these bullets went in through his left parotid gland and came out on his neck about three inches below his left ear. Another bullet appeared to enter just anterior to the sternocleidomastoid and exited the back of his neck. This is the luckiest man in the world as not one of those bullets hit an artery, nerve, or vein. Just muscle. We dissected all the way down past the carotid to the esophagus and trachea. Everything was intact.

I wasn’t used to standing for so long. I hadn’t eaten much that day and at one point the pulsing carotid  became too much for me. Beads of sweat starting forming on my forehead and I felt my face tingling. I knew I was about to pass out or vomit or both. So instead of hitting the floor in the OR I excused myself. One of the nurses gave me a soda and let me relax for a few minutes before scrubbing back in.

I helped close up his neck and I closed up his facial wound myself. He is going to need some grafting to replace this half-dollar size chunk of face that was gone, but other than that he will probably be fine. I never thought my life as a general dentist would take me into the operating room to help handle gunshot wounds. I guess I was wrong.

Part III: How much trauma is going to happen while I’m writing this post? It was 2400 last night. Almost exactly midnight by my watch. I heard the door to my hut fly open and our brigade nurse speaking firmly, yet seeming to try and be quiet at the same time. I couldn’t make out what she was saying.

“Whats going on?” I asked, disoriented.

“A Chinook just crashed with 24 people on board. We need everyone down at the aid station. Right now.”

“Are you f*cking kidding me?” I replied. I hoped this was another MASCAL drill.

“No. I’m not kidding. We need everyone down there right now.”

My heart just dropped. I felt sick to my stomach. I could not even imagine what this could mean.

I was still waking up and getting oriented as I ran down to the aid station. People were running around all over the place. The Forward Surgical Team was up and their doors were propped open so I knew this was no drill (as they don’t usually participate in our midnight training exercises).  I tried to get some info from our platoon sergeant. All I was able to determine was that a CH-47 Chinook helicopter had gone down with 24 soldiers on board. No status as to any survivors, but we were preparing to receive 24 casualties.

In the middle of the night we executed our plan for a Mass-Casualty Event (MASCAL) flawlessly. I was really impressed at how everyone came together. We had over 30 litter-bearers show up just to help carry people. During a MASCAL my job is to triage the patients as they bring them to us. For an hour I waited out front trying not to vomit thinking about the horror that could be dropped at my feet any moment. Thankfully at 0100 we sent everyone packing. The had taken the critically wounded to a closer surgical team and we would not be receiving any of the urgent or surgical patients. We received several of the crash victims throughout the night, but they were stabilized and not surgical patients. Thankfully, not a single person was killed in the crash, though there were some very serious injuries.

That all happened in the last 72 hours. I spent most of Sunday sleeping. I was just physically exhausted.

Advertisements
Comments
  1. Brandon says:

    Thanks for sharing those stories. I am getting ready to graduate from dental school now as a member of the Army HPSP. I recently just applied for the AEGD and I can’t wait to get started. As you mentioned its crazy to think as a general dentist you were involved in those experiences but I’m sure as horrible as they were it made you feel good to able to be there to help those people especially the guy with the gunshots to the face. I appreciate what you’ve done
    over there and I enjoy the Blog because what you are doing is something I would like to do as well when I start

  2. John King says:

    Gratitude for your work can’t be enough. Your blood, sweat and (I suspect) tears were for the woounded warriors, your fellow medics and on behalf of all of us who would have been by your side if we could. Army dentists are obviously important to the combat fitness of warfighters through dental fitness — but I am sure very few have an appreciation of the role deployed dentists play in the larger mission. Thanks for educating about this; thanks for offering your story for those who have shared the horrific experience of war.

  3. Mrs. A says:

    Can’t help but think that all those Friday and Saturday nights you volunteered in the ER in college were more than checking out a possible career. God’s hands on our lives is thrilling to view when looking back over the crisis and often stunning in their scope. The way you relay your experiences is a validation to anyone who embraces it for your sacrifice and for our “survivor’s guilt” for not being able to spare you from it. Your blog is cathartic and healing to civilian bystanders and perhaps to fellow military with the way you relay and embrace the days you have been assigned. Bless you, precious “boy” and thank you for taking us with you.

  4. brian says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience. As a general dentist in private practice I am a universe removed from your reality, and cannot believe what I am reading at times. Just wanted to say thank you for your service and thank you for taking the time to share your story.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s