An engrossing, eye-opening account.
This is the memoir of Air Force neurosurgeon, W. Lee Warren, who was sent to Iraq.
In a war zone, he worked with a team of specialised medical personnel, in a facility that received severe casualties from the front lines.
We read of horrific injuries (and I mean horrific, mind-blowing injuries), and mass casualty situations when the hospital is inundated.
We follow Warren and the team as they attempt to save man after man whose bodies have literally been blown apart. The medical team work in a hospital made up of tents. They frequently lack blood supplies and essential equipment. They work around the clock until they are exhausted. Many people who are brought to them, die.
Warren must make terrible, split-second choices about who lives and he recounts these experiences with honesty. Never before, as a civilian surgeon, has he been faced with such decisions. They have four operating theatres and very few sets of sterile equipment – so he is forced to choose between who gets the first emergency operations (and hence, who will live).
As a reader, we feel his agony at the decisions they had to make and the patients that they could not save. Also, the bombings of the hospital, the constant state of alert, the exhaustion – were all conveyed with humanity.
The author includes emails he sent home to his family and these emails recount the worst moments, and some small moments of hope. As well as military personnel, the hospital treats civilian casualties, terrorists, and occasionally, children who have been injured. These are poignant moments and there is one particular girl with extensive burns (which would have been challenging to treat in the USA with full facilities, let alone in a desert facility), whose story we follow.
Alongside the author’s story in Iraq, we learn of his struggle to come to terms with his own, failing personal life and his imminent divorce. Warren is candid. He is a highly successful neurosurgeon, respected in his field and respected by his church, his peers and his family. He sees all of this falling apart because of his failed marriage and it was fascinating to understand that, before Iraq, his life was so shallowly lived (my words, but Warren comes to a similar conclusion) – a sham in which he had all the trappings of success but did not feel happy inside – perhaps had never felt happy inside.
His four months stay in Iraq changed his perspective on himself and on his life. Four months may not sound long, but once you've read his accounts, you will see that Warren and other personnel were on the verge of a breakdown after such a long stretch in terrible conditions. He is forced to change by the mental torment he is faced with daily at the hospital. Moments of crisis at the hospital push him to confront himself. He is a Christian and he talks much about his faith and his worries about his own faith. I found these aspects a fascinating insight into Christian American life and values.
I appreciated that Warren does not idealise the war, neither does he denounce it.
This is an account of what he saw, what he had to do and how he struggled to survive, mentally and emotionally. The support of his fellow doctors and the personal strengths they each brought to the team, are recounted very well, again with humanity.
This is not the type of book I would normally pick up, but I’m really pleased to have seen it on a kindle offer. (Don’t be put off by the boring cover!) Recommended.
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