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U. S. Doc in Afghanistan
by Dr. Bennie Wright


[Note from Ye Editor: This letter is from Dr. Bennie Wright of Cleveland, Mississippi,
a reservist who is serving at Bagram Airbase, just outside Kabul, Afghanistan.]

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Dear Friends,

. . . Our hospital is the 452nd CSH (combat support hospital). There are three surgeons: me and 2 docs from Michigan and Kentucky. We have two orthopedic surgeons and several ER docs who are either family practitioners or ER docs back in the US. We also have a radiologist, pediatrician, psychiatrist, anesthesiologist, maxillofacial surgeon, ophthalmologist, and a dentist. Our hospital commander is an internist, and the task force commander is a dermatologist.

Most of the surgery is on Afghan locals wounded in ambushes or injured by landmines, road mines or car wrecks . . . And I will never get used to the trauma inflicted on kids. I can't even begin to comprehend how the Taliban / Al-Qa’ida can torture little children as they do.

They make kids go out into the mined areas and walk around until they step on a mine; they tried to fry a little girl on the stove to make her parents “talk”; they have shot kids for target practice. I have worked on all these children. Very sad.

Of course, we also take care of the US and coalition soldiers who get hurt. We have seen every type of injury you can imagine.

We docs all stay in tents with 6 to 8 other people. Even the hospital is a collection of tents all hooked together. We sleep on cots, and fortunately each tent has a large air conditioner.

We walk about 200 yards to the shower and latrine (a port-o-potty). Shower water is limited, so we take "combat showers" where we get wet, turn off the water, lather up with soap, then turn the water back on and rinse off.

For morale and recreation, we have a tent set up with a TV, 3 phones, and 2 computers. Understandably, the computers and phones have a line of people always waiting to use them.

We eat in a plywood building called the DFAC (pronounced “dee fac”) which stands for dining facility. For breakfast, we have scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, grits . . . sounds good, but don't be fooled. Lunch is a hotdog -- that's all, or you eat the MRE’s, which I happen to like. Dinner at night is the best meal -- spaghetti, steak, chicken, or pasta, plus all kinds of veggies. A freezer contains ice cream bars, and we have soft drinks, coffee and canned ice tea.

I mentioned the patients. We also operate on the Taliban and Al-Qa’ida injured by our soldiers. We treat them as we do other patients, but we do keep two soldiers at their bedside at all times armed with M-16 rifles. Al-Qa’ida has a price on our heads of $1000 for each of us killed, so we keep the T/AQ patients tied to the beds and guarded close.

We do whatever surgery is needed. In this country, we are it. We often have to do things we’re not prepared for, but if we don't try, the patient will die. For example, we are doing neurosurgery because there are no neurosurgeons. We have done 4 craniotomies and thus far have been lucky that not only have they all lived, but none have any neurological deficits. I guess the Lord takes care of and looks after fools.

The people I work with all have a sense of honor and patriotism that would make you proud. They are professional and take great pride in their work. Around 98% of them are reservists and, like me, have left jobs and family to come here. Although we would like to be home, I hear no complaining about being here at all.

You only have to see one injured US soldier or one suffering child to realize that this mission is a good, honorable task and that we are in fact needed and can make a difference. All the people I serve with feel the same way. Don’t forget us.

Love,
Bennie

Addendum - 9/22/03:
Been busy here this past weekend. There was an explosion at a house close by where a lot of munitions were stored by the Taliban/Al-Qa'ida. There were 7 dead -- 5 of them children. They were all brought here still alive but burned so bad that they were still smoldering on arrival. There was nothing we could do except put in IVs and give them plenty of pain meds till they died. They had burns to 100% of their bodies. It's not easy having children die in front of you, knowing there is nothing to be done except try to keep them comfortable. We had only one survivor, and he has burns to 50% of his body. We're skin grafting him today.

We also had a teenage girl who was beaten badly on Saturday. We don't know the story of how she got beaten, but females here in Afgan. are almost regarded as less than human. They are treated with no respect. When children are brought here, the mother is not allowed to come to the hospital. This girl had both arms broken, lt. thigh broken, pelvis broken, liver tears, torn kidney, holes in her intestines, and skull fractures. I spent several hours operating on her yesterday.

I only have two weeks to go and I'm really looking forward to coming home. Even with that excited expectation, I do feel a sense of disappointment and depression as I can see that the mission here is not completed. I feel as if I'm deserting the people. I realize though that other surgeons will take my place, but I still feel as if I haven't completed my jog . . .

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[A final note from Ye Editor: Send Bennie Wright and the other docs a note of support at this email address. Also, when I did a spellcheck on Bennie’s letter, the computer said we’d misspelled “Taliban.” The savvy computer said the word should be spelled “tailbone.” Hmmmm.]

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