Tuesday, January 10, 2006

It's A Wonderful Life? Iraq

This Email came via RG (Marine, Vietnam)
This article was in the 29 Dec 05 San Antonio Express News.
Capt. James S. Eadie: Media ignoring all the George Baileys on Iraq's front lines

The emergency rooms in Iraq can be eerily quiet or suddenly explode into a flurry of action, such as the day a Bradley troop carrier was hit by a roadside bomb, engulfing the occupants in flame and twisted metal. As an emergency physician, these are the days I trained for, but dread to see.
The tent hospital shook as the Blackhawk helicopters landed with seven injured soldiers. They had blast injuries from the explosion, shrapnel wounds and extensive burns across their arms, legs and faces. The sight was horrific.
I focused on one soldier who was the most severely injured. His face, arms and legs were severely burned. His gloves were welded to his fingers by the heat, though he remained conscious and able to talk. His concern was for his men. "How are they doing?" he repeatedly asked.
I encouraged him to hang on. I told him his men were in good hands and getting the care they needed; everything would be all right. I desperately wanted to believe it, but my experience as a physician told me otherwise.
Before he was placed on a ventilator, he said the Bradley had been hit. The large troop door was damaged and could not be opened, trapping the men inside. The only escape was through a small front door.
What he didn't tell us but we later learned was that he had gotten out with minimal burns, but then went back into the vehicle to rescue his trapped comrades. This soldier had sustained severe burns in the process of single-handedly saving the lives of his fellow soldiers. In spite of our efforts, he died days later. He had given his life to save others.
As one of the doctors later captured it, "We met a hero last night." I often reflect during the holidays on the classic story of George Bailey in "It's a Wonderful Life." I, too, find myself standing at that metaphoric bridge wondering if I have made a difference here in Iraq. Is the poignant story still valid? The answer for me is a resounding yes.
I met the first of many heroes on the night of the Bradley accident. The courage and sacrifice of this soldier is not isolated; it is the norm here, a daily occurrence. What I have witnessed has profoundly affected me. I was completely unprepared for this.
Why had I never heard these stories at home? As a physician in a stateside military hospital, certainly I should have heard these stories, but either I had not listened or, more likely, they were not told. The news that I was accustomed to at home seems but a shell of what I see before me.
Every day, I meet ordinary men and women displaying profound compassion for each other and doing extraordinary things. I cared for a Marine who dove onto an enemy grenade, shielding his men from the blast and saving their lives. He lost his hand, took multiple shrapnel wounds and was in critical condition, yet all he wanted to know was how his comrades were doing.
I spoke with another Marine who stayed on patrol during the constitutional election, instead of seeking medical attention for a gunshot wound he sustained to his arm two days prior. When I asked him why he had delayed medical attention, he said the election was the next day, he had a job to do and he would not let his men down - his arm could wait.
Before I deployed to Iraq, I opened the paper and saw little of these heroic acts. Where are the front-page stories on my fellow soldiers and Marines? I wish the public and our policy-makers could look into the eyes of these soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines and see what I see - hope and commitment. I see it every day. They have burning hope behind their eyes, deep compassion in their hearts and a steadfast belief that each one is making a difference.
As I celebrate the holiday season here in Iraq, I am filled with a great sense of wonder and appreciation for what our men and women in uniform have volunteered to do. They have answered the call of their country, and they have served with dignity, pride and honor. It has been a tremendous privilege for me to be able to care for these true American heroes.
This holiday season I do not need to watch "It's A Wonderful Life," for I have come face to face with many George Baileys.
James S. Eadie, a captain in the Air Force, is a Harvard Medical School-trained emergency physician stationed at Wilford Hall Medical Center in San Antonio. He is deployed to the 332nd Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Flight at Balad Air Base, Iraq

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