A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A MILITARY DOCTOR
This is Kuwait, and this is Dr. Laura (not Schlessinger), and she has allowed us to spend a day with her on base in Kuwait. Now I know that we have troops overseas, but it rarely crosses my mind when I am hitting my snooze button and stumbling around the kitchen trying to get coffee in my veins. I don’t think of soldiers wanting to hit the snooze button as well. As I try to get my kiddos a breakfast and start them in school, I don’t remember that many soldier mamas and papas are wishing that they could see their kiddos over a breakfast table and off to school. As I buy groceries, I don’t think that our soldiers might not have fresh lettuce, a variety in menus, and their family to share supper with them. I am ashamed, but I forget to count each and every little detail as a blessing instead of as a dull duty. Let’s meet Dr. Laura and walk through a day in her shoes–or rather regulation army boots.
The blonde in the white hat is Little Laura.
Who grew up and got married and joined the army.
Today starts just like every other day in Kuwait. That’s one of the biggest challenges of this deployment. Each day is dreadfully similar to day before and the day before that and is probably nearly identical to tomorrow as well. That’s not to say that our situation here is bad. The facilities are really quite nice (the women’s Port-A-Potties have real sinks!).
(This is my home away from home. It’s actually pretty cozy. I just hope the air conditioner can hang on through the summer months…)
As one of the higher-ranking Soldiers out here, I was assigned to really nice living quarters. I live in a small trailer with two bedrooms and a shared bathroom connecting them in the middle. It has running water, clean enough for showering and brushing teeth, but we only drink bottled water. The electricity has been very reliable, and I even have wireless internet (not so reliable).
This morning, my cell phone alarm goes off at 6:45, just as it does every single other morning except when I have a morning off. I try to take one day—or at least one morning—off each week, and the other Soldiers in my medical section do the same. Some sections only give their Soldiers one day off for every 14, so I feel a little guilty whenever I take a day off. However, I firmly believe that happy Soldiers are productive Soldiers, and I’m glad that my section’s work load can accommodate a day off per week most of the time.
I hit the snooze button, as I always do. One of my favorite things in the world is to roll over, snuggle down in my bed, and fall back to sleep. Unfortunately, my nine-minute snooze passes all too quickly, and I drag myself out of bed to the insistent bells of my cell phone.
One perk of being in the military is that your morning routine doesn’t take very long. I perform the most basic of hygiene tasks, put my hair into the same bun it has been in every single day for the past four months, and put on the same uniform I’ve been wearing for the last four months. Before walking out the door, I shake the dust out of my patrol cap and put it on my head.
I left it upside down on the dresser below my window last night, and now it’s full of the sand and dirt that blew in around my window during the sand storm last night. Stepping outside, I am hit by a blast of sandy, hot air.
I expect the Aid Station to be a little busier than normal, because the aircraft won’t be able to fly in this weather, so it will be a good time for people to get their aches and pains checked out without missing much work.
(This is the front door of my aid station on a windy day.)
As I walk to the aid station, even with my head ducked and sunglasses to protect my eyes from flying dust and debris, I can still see that everything everywhere is the same color. The tents are tan, the ground is tan, and there is so much blowing dirt that the horizon is obscured and the sky is an identical shade of tan.
As the flight surgeon for my unit, I am in charge of our medical section which consists of a physician assistant with special aeromedical training (Aeromedical PA) and three medics. We run the aid station that provides basic medical care for Soldiers in our helicopter battalion. I have a great section, and everyone works hard and gets along well.
(Inside our under-construction aid station. My PA and my three medics. We like to keep things fun. )
We also do a good job of having fun.
One of my medics has managed to order a ton of groceries, cooking supplies, and small appliances on the internet. It’s possible to buy some limited grocery items here on post (think of a convenience store), but they are all well past their expiration date (the signs say everything has been frozen, so it’s okay to eat the expired food, but I still don’t trust it). When I walk into the aid station this morning, she has already whipped up some blueberry pancakes. Awesome!
The dining facility (DFAC) here isn’t terrible, but the food is definitely not very healthy, and it’s on a 21-day rotation, so every three weeks we have the exact same meal. Now, with our fridge, our small appliances, and our internet groceries, we don’t have to eat there very often!
Our patient load here is pretty low. We only take care of a few hundred patients, so we only see a handful of patients on a daily basis, and it’s usually for things like allergies, aches and pains, and colds. We also get the occasional cut that needs to be stitched up, toenails that need to be removed, and broken bones. Rarely, a soldier has a more serious condition that we suspect may need surgery or at least a CAT scan.
These patients are flown by MEDEVAC helicopter to the larger American military hospital in Kuwait. Thankfully, we haven’t had many of these since I got here. As a flight surgeon, I am also responsible for making sure the pilots stay fit to fly, so any time they are injured or take any medication, they have to come get checked out to make sure they can still fly. This can be interesting, because sometimes they will try to hide or downplay their health problems so they can keep flying.
Today’s patients are fairly routine. Nothing too interesting, which means good things about the health of our Soldiers, but my medics and I sometimes wish we had more opportunity to practice our skills. Unfortunately, that would come at the cost of the health of someone in the unit, so we don’t wish too hard. 🙂 In the afternoon, I go to a weekly meeting with the other staff officers and the commander. The other officers represent fields such as intelligence, supply, IT, and personnel. We discuss what our sections are working on and how we are planning for upcoming missions. My job includes reporting on any disease or injury trends among our patients (e.g stomach flu outbreaks, rashes among several people working in the same area) and planning for the movement of medical supplies and equipment when the unit performs missions in other areas in the Middle East. My PA was in the Army before he went into the medical field, so he is really good at the planning and coordinating aspect of the job, and I rely on him for this a lot.
This evening, our company is playing a softball game against another unit. Because of the high winds and blowing dust, we were afraid it might be cancelled, but it’s still on. When I arrive at the “field”, I am relieved to see that most of the guys have thought to wear their clear-lens eye protection. On windy days, we sometimes have to flush people’s eyes with sterile water to get the bits of sand out. If we can see a bad scratch on the eyeball when we examine it with dye under a black light, we have to send them by MEDEVAC to the nearest hospital to see the eye doctor (this happens a lot more frequently than I would like). These softball games are one of the highlights of the deployment. If you ignore the fact that there is no grass to be seen and that everyone has the same haircut, you can almost forget that you are so far from home.
This deployment to Kuwait is really not such a bad gig. It’s monotonous, and it’s hard being so far from friends and family, especially on holidays and special occasions, but we have a really good group of Soldiers out here. We’re about as safe as an American Soldier can be in the Middle East.
Skyping with my husband and boys (and my dog!) every few days helps, and I love, love, love the ability to see lots of photos and messages from friends on Facebook and in emails.
I really can’t imagine how my grandfather endured it in WWII with only letters and unreliable mail service to communicate with home. I’m making the most of my time here. I have a lot more time to go to the gym than I do back in the States, so I’m trying to use the time to get healthier.
Also, I’ve started playing the violin for some of the camp chapel services, limbering up my violin fingers that haven’t been used in far too many years. There’s also tons of downtime, which I’m using to catch up on some long overdue reading and studying.
We’re almost at the halfway point for our deployment, and I would be lying if I said I’m not ready to go home right now, but if the second half of the deployment is like the first half of our deployment, it will go by fairly quickly, and soon we will all be home safe surrounded by loved ones.
(From L-R: my PA Phil, Rescue Randy the mannequin (he’s very fashion conscious), and tool-cart-turned-crash-cart that holds our medications for taking care of an emergency heart attack patient.)
(I got to ride a camel named Clyde!)
Hope you enjoyed the day,
Dr. Laura (not Schlessinger)
Wow! Before we take off in our own directions, let’s pull off our virtual regulation, army boots and shake out the sand. Kuwait seems such a long, long way from home and family. All of a sudden the little things in life seem so much more important–the kiss good night from the baby, meals around a table together with family, bathrooms with running water, the safety of home. Thank you Dr. Laura for fighting for us. Thank you for reminding us that it is a privilege to have a bathroom to clean. It is a privilege to have a child interrupt our day with questions. It is a privilege to cook supper.
And let’s not forget those heroes who don’t get to come home. This dance is the story of a fallen hero. You will cry.
If you have any questions or just want to say an “مرحبا” (pronounced marhaba and means hello). Or if you just want to say, “thanks” or “What do you miss most while living in Kuwait,” or any other question, write it in the Comments section. Dr. Laura (not Schlessinger) will be able to see and answer your questions. And remember, any typos and misspelled words are holy my fault.
And stay tuned for the next post in the series of “A Day in the Life of a ?????”
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