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April 04 , 2009

Citizen - Surgeon


“Citizen-Surgeon” presents the story of U.S.M.C. 1st Medical Battalion’s Alpha Surgical Company as it mobilized and deployed to southern Afghanistan in support of Operation Moshtarak, the 2009-2010 battle for Helmand Province, Afghanistan, as experienced by a U.S. Naval Medical Officer. In addition to those outward events, it presents the inward story of how that Medical Officer made a fundamental transformation, that from being a physician who happened to be in a military uniform, into being a Naval Officer that happened to be a physician. The story is more than the retelling of some guy’s exciting and momentous deployment; there are enough of those, whether “medical” or not. This narrative, working through a combination of timeline, flashback, and carefully selected vignettes, will leave a watermark on its readers because it takes this foreign, unusual experience and brings the reader inside, brings her along through its vicissitudes, making her or him reflect upon certain universal, timeless issues such as life and death, personal victories and personal defeats, reflect upon the unique character arc that any one of our lives may describe, and importantly, reflect on personal choice and how choice puts us where we are even if we did not fully see how the choice would change us both in good ways and maybe in ways which were not so good. Massively injured casualties are flight-lifted in by helicopter, stabilized, operated upon in field medical facilities, and transferred further down the line. The patients are U.S. and NATO/ISAF troops, enemy fighters, local civilians, and more children than any of us would have wanted. Some injuries are fairly straightforward whereas others are complex in the way only war traumas can be. Civilian practice and pre-deployment training cannot fully prepare one for confronting such horrific traumas: not practically, not psychologically. The teamwork required to successfully address them is particular to military units, and the camaraderie to buoy the staff, nurses, and physicians is unique to them as well. The stress of Operation Moshtarak demands that the narrator, CDR Roach, drill down to emotional bedrock in order to find the courage of his convictions. His relationship with Death evolves through the course of the book from one of mystery into one of familiarity, and his search for meaning —precipitated by the crisis of combat— becomes the means by which he is able to justify the conflicting universes of the citizen and of the combat surgeon, to work towards becoming whole again, and to gradually recover from the war. The fact that the reader has been invited and drawn into this narrative allows the reader to see himself or herself within this unlikely mirror, and to authentically explore their own emotions and opinions regarding their life’s choices, losses, victories and struggles. Each person’s experience of combat is his or her own to carry on their back, wear on their sleeve, or bury. Any personal recount is bound to be defined by its originating perspective. Mine was as a surgeon; someone removed from many of its dangers and if there were any from its glories, but steeped in its injuries. This war story is not the epic perspective of a flag officer in command of legions, nor the gritty tactical regale of a Marine Recon infiltrating and sniping the enemy. It is a hands-in-the-belly, blood-in-your-socks tale of a team of medical professionals confronting the stream, and occasionally the tide, of misery that war brings to man, woman, and child.
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