15 August 2009

The Third Jar

The Third Jar

When our boys get allowance (when we remember to dole it out!) their money is split into three jars. One is for fun. They can keep the money to save up for a toy, a video game, or maybe treats when they get to go out with friends. The second jar is for (parent enforced!) savings. The third portion of their money goes into the donate jar. After a little time has accumulated a bit of scratch, the three boys pool their money and we help them pick a charity.

Usually they try to help out kids in need, and often the cause is related to what they have seen in the news or heard about at school. They have donated to help out kids made homeless by Katrina. They have donated to the Red Cross to help out kids uprooted by earthquakes. They have donated to UNICEF to help hungry children around the world.

When I read about War Kids Relief, it immediately struck me as a cause the kids would want to support. They provide help for children in Iraq whose lives have been uprooted by the war.

This campaign was started by Gunnar Swanson, a soldier who patrolled the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers when he was deployed to Iraq in 2003 and 2004. He saw firsthand the tragic effects of war on children, including the betrayal of recruitment of children by insurgents to become child soldiers.

He is currently marching from Texas to Minnesota and has made it as far as Kansas. Tune in to follow his progress on A soldier's march for peace:

Is anyone out there reading along his route? You can find it here:

I often speak about the combat support hospital at medical or educational events. I usually show this picture, one taken by my brother's friend as he patrolled around Iraq. It shows how children, happy smiling children like our own, are walking to school on the same roads travelled by Humvees. They are in constant danger from insurgent attacks in the form of IED's, suicide bombers, and VBIEDs. We hope for a future when they are safe.

14 August 2009

Burn Pits and Electrocution

One of the most common Iraq questions I receive is "What was the burn pit like?"

Well, quite simply, it stank!

The burn pit is a facility for open pit burning of solid waste. Bit by bit, the base in Iraq has gotten three or four high temperature incinerators online, but as far as I know, the pit burns on today, for a portion of the waste.

It was in the news recently as two OK veterans sued Haliburton and KBR over health risks associated with the burn pit:


As for my experience, I found that when the wind was blowing the smoke plume from the burn pit to the hospital, it was tougher breathing and I would cough up dark phlegm. We called it the "Balad Crud". It reminded me of how I would feel when I was laying down tar on summer jobs during high school.

War is war, and the conditions are not ideal, but I was disappointed that the smoky haze over the hospital produced by the burn pit continued year after year. It isn't the only situation created by the suboptimal environment in theater. Faulty wiring has been found responsible for the deaths of several soldiers, including Special Forces soldier, Staff SGT. Ryan Maseth, who was electrocuted in the shower in Baghdad 2 JAN 2008.

More info on other soldiers killed here:

A great patriot and concerned citizen, Deb, AKA "Ms. Sparky" has worked tirelessly to keep the public informed about dangerous conditions for troops and holding contractors responsible for protecting their lives.


We Americans should all strive to keep the welfare of the troops ever-present in our minds.

Have you had an experience with poorly constructed or dangerous base facilities? Do you have any ideas on how to better protect our troops? Please post your thoughts in the comments.

Below is a picture of the burn pit in action.

Be well, love life, and remember our troops!

13 August 2009

Contest: Laptops for Flattops

Hey, All,

I got a message about a contest for troops' families:

All-American Direct


An online retailer, is going to give away two laptops and webcams to contest winners, so that a family at home can have video conferences with their deployed troop.

Families can enter the contest here:


The contest is over 4 SEP so pass it on to military families you know. I really appreciate it when companies take notice of the sacrifice that families are making when a troop deploys.

I couldn't have made it without email when I was away. It was my lifeline to home, family, and friends. M. and I tried the video conference once. I went to the MWR room in the hospital, signed my life away to check out a webcam that had been authorized for the government computer, and waited for a booth. The connection kept coming in and out, and it was a choppy conversation, so we decide that simple email was good enough for us! It was actually more reliable than the phone lines. For two deployments, our laptops were our conduit of contact.

I would love to hear from others how they kept in touch while they were apart. Post it here in the comments!

Here's a shot of the MWR facility in the old tent hospital from which I sent many a longing email.

12 August 2009

Operation Purple

Today I read about Operation Purple

a free summer camp for kids of deployed troops. I think this is a great idea, because it recognizes children for the sacrifice that they too make when a parent is deployed.

Not sure where the Purple comes from, but it might be a reference to the organization being applied across all branches of service. (As in green is Army, blue is Air Force, but purple is everyone.) We have a concept in the medical corps that someday we may be "Purple Suiters", that is a group of doctors that serves all branches, not Army docs, Air Force docs, and Navy docs. Who knows, a whole lot of people will have to cooperate before that happens!

So does anyone out there have any experience with Operation Purple? I would love to hear about it! Post it here in the comments section.

Haven't been Jeeping much lately, but here's a pic of a great restored Army Jeep we saw at a recent festival.

11 August 2009

Still wheeling strong!

A while back, I blogged about Brad Blauser, an American who started an organization to get wheel chairs to needy Iraqi kids. It's an impressive story. He worked in Iraq as a contractor. A surgeon he met told him how many Iraqi children who suffer crippling injuries or who need amputations never are able to get a wheelchair. This is exactly what I experienced when I was working at the hospital in Balad. There just wasn't the same access to prosthetic limbs or wheelchairs. Children would show up in my trauma follow-up clinic carried by parents, or sometimes wheeled in in a rolling office chair on little casters. Brad took this little bit of information, and he decided to do something about it. He started Wheelchairs for Iraqi Kids


and organized donation of wheelchairs to those who needed them.

A lot of people were impressed by the story, including my mother who donated to finance a chair for an Iraqi child. These chairs are heavy duty, specially fitted for children, and make a huge difference in their lives.

I know lots of people, myself included, who have tried to help a bit while they were in Iraq, but after getting home, didn't contribute much else. I have seen lots of charities form, and then peter out a few years later. What really impresses me about Brad is that he is still going strong. I read in this recent article:


that he is in his fifth year of helping Iraqi kids. His contractor job has ended, but he stays on in Baghdad, continuing to help get these injured children what they need to stay integrated in their lives. Now that is impressive, and Brad is the kind of American about whom we can all be proud.

09 August 2009

There's safety in thin patients

As M. and I settled in to enjoy a rainy Sunday morning with the paper, coffee, and twelve friends from the Dunkin family, she stumbled across a "Hey Marge!" story.

(If you don't know the "Hey Marge!" story, it was defined by David Lee Roth as a story on the TV so shocking that it causes one to yell out "Hey Marge!" and call in his wife.)

Apparently, a 500 pound man was arrested in Harris County, Texas, searched several times, but when he arrived at the prison he was discovered to have hidden a 9mm weapon between folds of fat.


It made me feel somewhat thankful that our patients at the combat support hospital in Iraq were too thin to try and get away with such a trick. In fact it was unfortunate that the majority of the Iraqi children we treated were in a state of malnourishment. They often looked years younger than they actually were because of a chronic want for calories.

We had procedures in place to be certain that no patient arrived at the hospital still armed with a weapon. In spite of this level of confidence and safety, our team still performed our double checks and triple checks to ensure that all staff and patients remained safe.

Early on, some of the insurgents we treated were mildly obese, but still nothing compered to the levels of superobesity we are capable of here in the US. I asked the interpreters about this phenomenon and they explained that many of teh insurgents had been active Baathist party members and enjoyed a relatively greater share of riches and feeding.

As the war progressed, and greater numbers of the insurgents turned out to be foreign fighters, this difference in body mass index when compared to Iraqi soldiers and civilians faded away.

I do recall one incident comparable to the skin-fold weapon concealing prisoner, but I experienced it years ago in the US when I was a surgical resident. The ED staff called me in to consult on a school-age girl who whose diagnosis had eluded them. Her mother brought her in because she "smelled funny" and no matter how many times she bathed her daughter, it wouldn't go away. The child was a pretty and friendly girl, but was obese to a level that threatened future health risks if she didn't get some sports and outdoors into her life. There was a smell very much like an abscess, but the child was happy and healthy with no pain or visible signs of infection. My examination of her belly must have been a bit more thorough than the ED resident's because I discovered a remnant of a tuna fish sandwich tucked into a skin fold near her right flank. When the child's mother saw it, she burst out "Is that tuna? I gave that to her over a week ago!" We were all pleased that we had found an explanation, and no serious trouble had been unearthed.

There is beauty in the women Rubens painted, but we have gone far beyond that archetype.


For both health reasons and keeping contraband out of prisons we need to find a happy medium between impossibly anorexic fashion models and superobesity.

Annoyed? I'll try and help!

Hi, Since I'm messing with the blog settings, you might end up getting the posts twice. If you are getting spammed from me, let me know and I'll try to fix it. (By the way, this means I'm officially old and can't figure out the young peoples' latest gadgets and gizmos.)