I have to admit, I did not exactly volunteer for the deployment, and I was a little anxious about how it would all turn out. I ended up making the best of it, and surprisingly, I actually had a pleasant, life changing, experience.
I decided to keep the blog up and running because I kept on hearing, "Why is it that you only hear the bad news coming from Iraq and Afghanistan." I figured that I was helping spread a positive message about what we are doing over. Even more important, I wanted to continue to spread the word about the plight of the Afghan people, 99.9% of which are the most incredibly friendly people that you will ever meet. The title picture is a great example of that. I have never encountered such genuinely warm and friendly people. It was so strange to see so many people with so little material objects, yet at the same time, filled with so much of the joy that comes with close family ties, abundant friends, and a close knit community. We could definetly learn a lot from them.
You may notice, as you read the blog in its entirety, my arc. I shift from focusing on myself and my personal comforts, to shifting my focus on the Afghan cause. It is very easy to get distracted by the hustle of daily life and the comforts that the U.S. provides. It is really a challenge to awake from that coma and to start to care and think about the welfare of other people unrelated to you. I think it really took me about 4 or 5 months before I really opened my eyes and became personally affected by what I was experiencing. I hope I was able to recreate it.
I have tried to keep the blog squeaky clean so as to not offend anyone (or get me in trouble-I am still in the military). Even though I am a political junky with very strong personal opinions I have been steadfast in keeping this site free of any politics. I was called to do a job and I tried to do it to the best of my ability regardless of my political stance.
I recreated the blog to read more like a book, or should I say blook (get used to the corniness it only gets worse from here) just to make it an easier read. I have removed some names and pictures just to keep it more anonymous. I hope that it helps in making it less about me and more about the cause.
Lastly, in the spirit of the blog, I decided to include the Chipin Widget that I used to raise money for Nazia. If I get any additional money I will send the funds to The Women of Hope Project and someone over in Kabul will discretely give it to her (unless I hear otherwise). You can also contribute directly to the Women of Hope Project website. They are a wonderful cause. If you enjoy this blog then feel free to contribute. I am sure that once you read her story you will be very moved.
So kick back. Get ready to hopefully laugh and definitely cry.
If you like what you read then post a comment. I will be continuously editing this site in an attempt to improve it. Who knows maybe one day it will become a book!
Enjoy. Thanks for reading.
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
Today is the first day of my blog from beautiful Kabul, Afghanistan. I decided to start this blog because I have had such an overwhelming response from all of the wonderful people that have written me through Soldier's Angels and Any Soldier. I have received so many letters and care packages from people back home that I thought that it would be a great way for everyone to keep in touch. I have received mail from class rooms, senior centers, and people young and old throughout the U.S.. I had no idea that there was so many wonderful people out there. I encourage you to post a comment. I would like to know what you think of my site.
I decided to title my blog 6 Months In Kabul for obvious reasons. I actually today I only have 19 weeks, or 137 days, or 3,197 hours or 191,823 minutes left, but who is counting. In case you were wondering what a shazdoc is, I am not sure either. I was told by one of the students that writes to me that being a doctor is the shaz. I thought that it was a really funny word and it gave me a good laugh when I heard it. She guarantees me that it is a good thing.
For those of you that do not already know, I am a Family Practice physician. I was told one fateful day in June, while I was busy with a full schedule of patients, that I needed to pack my bags because I was going to deploy to Kabul, Afghanistan for 6 months. Of course, my initial response was shock, then I have to admit, a small bit of grief, then later I decided that like any other challenge in life, you just have to make the best of it.
My favorite quote of all time was from Richard Nixon's final farewell speech from Aug 8th, 1974:
"It is only a beginning, always. The young must know it; the old must know it. It must always sustain us, because the greatness comes not when things go always good for you, but the greatness comes and you are really tested, when you take some knocks, some disappointments, when sadness comes, because only if you have been in the deepest valley can you ever know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain. "
Yes, I was in that deep valley for a short while because, after all, I was going to be away from my family for 6 months and, like everyone else, I had heard of all the really bad things that were going on over here.
I had a week to gather my stuff and fly off to Fort Riley, Kansas where I spent 2 months preparing for my deployment. At Fort Riley I did a lot of Army basic training. I got qualified on a lot of different weapons, I learned to drive a HUMVEE, operate radios, practiced convoy exercises, land navigation and many other combat related activities. I also had a number of Dari classes and "Leader Meets" where we practiced the art of communicating with Afghan nationals through the use of an interpreter. The Army tried to make the training as realistic as possible. We regularly heard Muslim prayer through a loud speakers and we even had a number of exercises where locals from the community were dressed as Afghans. There was also a "Heat Trainer" which is a real HUMVEE that is rigged to spin 360' to prepare us for a rollover.
I arrived in Kabul in Aug after a short stop at Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan. I am currently staying at Camp Phoenix. The best way I could describe this base is it is very flat with wall-to-wall concrete. It has a ton of small wooden houses staked in real close (we call them B-huts). It gets very dusty at times especially when helicopters fly in. Outside the base the landscape somewhat reminds me of Phoenix, AZ but with a lot more pollution. Camp Phoenix is actually one of the better bases. It has a lot of very nice amenities. I hesitate to mention all of them because I afraid that everyone will stop sending me care packages when they learn how nice it is over here. : )
I work with 3 other really nice people, one of them is also a doctor and the other 2 work in health care related jobs. Our mission is to open up a new clinic. We recently toured their old clinic. Their current clinic does not even have running water! The clinic will not only be available to the police but also to their family members as well. I know that when it opens it will have a big impact on their lives. I am really proud to be a part of this mission.
I hope you enjoy this blog. Please feel free to add a comment if you like.
Monday, June 2, 2008
I spent a good part of the day working on a mass casualty plan for the new clinic. For those of you that do not know, a mass casualty is when a medical facility receives a large number of casualties that exceeds their normal ability to care for them. Patients are brought to a hospital or clinic and they are categorized based on their injury either Immediate, Delayed, Minimal or Expectant. Obviously, the Immediate patients require the most urgent care and so forth down the line. The idea is to focus your care on the people who need it most and are most likely to survive. I am curious how receptive my Afghan counterparts will be to my plan and whether or not it will be implemented. It will also be interesting lecturing with the use of a Dari interpreter. I will keep you posted on how it goes.
The highlight of my day was beating my office rivals in pool. We have a ongoing daily pool match where the winner gets to wear a 1st place medal. So far me and my partner have claimed the prize 2 days in a row. Tonight is poker night. I play twice a week. Last week I finished #1 out of 66. I won a casino PC game. It was pretty exciting. I doubt that I will be able to continue my winning streak. I am just hoping to place in the top 25 tonight. Poker is probably one of the activities that I enjoy the most at Camp Phoenix.
We are still awaiting the end of Ramadan, also called Eid ul-Fitr or just Eid. It typically ends with the next full moon. In case you did not already know, Ramadan is a Muslim holiday where the entire month is spent fasting. I copied a short summery of Eid from Wikapedia in case you are interested in learning more info.
Eid is an Arabic term meaning "festivity" or "celebration" while Fitr means "to break the fast" and can also mean "nature" from the word "fitrat" and therefore symbolizes the breaking of the fasting period. On the day of the celebration, a typical Muslim family is awake very early and then after praying the first normal everyday prayer, is required to eat in a small quantity, symbolizing the end of Ramadan. They then attend special congregational prayers held only for this occasion in mosquess, in large open areas, stadiums or arenas. The prayer is generally short, and is followed by a sermon. Worshippers greet and embrace each other in a spirit of peace and love after the congregational prayer. After the special prayers, festivities and merriment are commonly observed with visits to the homes of relatives and friends to thank God for all blessings.
For Muslims, Eid ul-Fitr is a joyous occasion with important religious significance, celebrating of the achievement of enhanced piety. It is a day of forgiveness, moral victory, peace of congregation, fellowship, brotherhood and unity. Muslims celebrate not only the end of fasting, but also thank God for the help and strength that they believe he gave them throughout the previous month to help them practice self-control. It is a time of giving and sharing, and many Muslims dress in holiday attire.
Sunday, June 1, 2008
Radio Command: "I am an admiral with the U.S. Navy. You are in the direct path of a battle ship. Alter your course immediately."
Radio Reply: "No, sir. You must alter your course. I am a lighthouse."
I sometimes feel like that admiral. Aside from today being Eid, today is also 25.2% Day!!! We are 25.2% finished with our deployment.
Fridays are normally our "down day." It is our one day off during the week and we are all in our office working. It helps to pass the time. The locals normally host a bizarre on Fridays. A bizarre is similar to a flea market where you can buy local crafts, rugs, and various other local souvenirs. It was canceled today because it is a Muslim holiday. Next week I will try and post some pictures of the bizarre.
Yesterday, I received the nicest care package from the "Busy Bees" at a Senior Center in Thousand Oaks, California. They sent a very nice picture of all 11 of them. It still comes as a surprise whenever a new care package comes in the mail. I still cannot believe that there are so many nice people out there that are willing to sacrifice their time and effort for all of us over here. The seniors knitted us mittens, caps, and booties. One of our office mates runs very early every morning and he says that the mittens will come in very handy. They also sent us snacks, toiletries, and other goodies.
When I Was Little
When I was little, I ran naked.
Now I play hockey.
When I was little, I crawled.
Now I walk and run.
When I was little, I slept in a crib.
Now I sleep in a bed.
When I was little, I ate baby food.
Now I eat pizza.
When I was little, I cried.
Now I whine.
Isn't that cute. That was written by a fourth grader from San Pedro Elementary in California. I didn't include his name in case he does not want it on the web.
This morning I was working on the formulary for the new clinic. In case you do not know, a formulary is the list of medications that a pharmacy carries in a hospital or clinic. It is very interesting because they use different names for some of our more common medications. Did you know that Tylenol is called paracetamol over here? Also, when developing a new formulary you have to consider a whole different array of common ailments based on the country you are practicing medicine. Parasitic infections are a lot more common over here.
Later this month I plan on participating in 2 CMAs (Community Medical Assistance) programs. I have heard that upwards of 5,000 people come seeking medical care. It will be interesting to see how it goes. I will keep you posted.
Friday, May 30, 2008
There are a number of opportunities for me to distribute the contributions that I receive, although I have not yet worked out any of the details. As I previously mentioned, I will be participating in CMAs (Community Medical Assistance) projects. We also will have our clinic which has a peds department. There is also something called Operation Not Forgotten which is a collection drive for children done by Camp Phoenix. I believe they go out to rural towns to distribute their donations. Believe it or not, there is also the Pul-e-Charkhi prison that is just down the street. I learned from an article that I read that children have to stay with their mothers when they get imprisoned because they have no where else to go. It is really sad. I encourage you to read the article online. I posted some pics from the article.
The article is titled: AFGHANISTAN: Children share deprivations of imprisoned mothers. Cut and past this title into google. It should be the first or second result to pop up. For some reason I tried to include the link and it would not work. It is from irinnews.org
I do have to mention that the success of my site also brings with it somewhat of a bittersweet feeling. I am concerned that the more people that visit my site then more people that will send us care packages which is not my intention. As I mentioned in my 1st posting, I earn decent income and we are very well taken care of over here at Camp Phoenix. There are some soldiers in Afghanistan that are on a 15 month "camping trip." They eat MREs (meals ready to eat) for every meal, they basically live in small Afghan villages, literally "embedded" with their Afghan counterparts, without any access to internet or phones. I included a number of soldier support links where you can send care packages at the bottom of my blog. Here is my recommendation, find out which ones live on a small FOB (a FOB is a Forward Operating Base). Those are usually the ones with the fewest amenities. Also, bases in Afghanistan that are in the southern region are usually a more hazardous place to live. They get more rocket and motor attacks then in the northern regions. This is a generalization of course. We have our own share of dangers in Kabul such suicide bombers and VBIEDs (vehicle borne IEDs) .
For those of you that still want to send us stuff we would love to receive it. I just wanted to set the record straight so I could have a clear conscious.
Last night I did my boxing class. I dragged my friend along- we call him "Puffy." We call him that because his last name is Combs. Parents, ask your kids for further explanation. I did not warn him how rigorous the class was going to be. I got a good laugh watching him struggle to do some of the ab exercises. The best was watching him bob and weave. He made the instructor crack up. The instructor said that it looked like he was doing the Macarena.
We should be getting actual boxing equipment in soon, like punching bags and gloves. I still need to order tape and a mouth guard online. I am not sure how far I will go with this. I may need to stop once the sparing starts. I do not want to get hurt. After boxing they had salsa dancing. I usually go just to watch them dance. Tonight they have Karaoke over at the Coffee Bean (yes, we have a coffee shop on our FOB, you see what I mean about all of our amenities). I am trying to get my team to participate. Maybe in the future I can learn how to post short video clips. It should give everyone a good laugh watching us try to sing.
Today we worked on the clinic layout. We have a copy of the floor plan on the computer and we were mixing and matching who should go into which room. I have been calling the new clinic a clinic but that really is not accurate, it is more like a small hospital. It has just about every subspeciality, including neurosurgery. One of the first things we will need to do before the clinic opens is give the doctors training on all of the new equipment. Most of the equipment is state of the art, and therefore, very foreign to them. I have started to contact some U.S. doctors in the area in an attempt to get them to provide some teaching for things like the optometry equipment. So far everyone has been really nice and has enthusiastically agreed to help out.
I am posting our address in case you would like to participate in my drive. Don't forget, you can send children's cloths, toys, toiletries, and anything else you think would be helpful. Used clothing is encouraged. Don't go spending a lot of money. Just send me the old stuff that you already have and want to get rid of. You know all of that stuff that it is just collecting dust in your garage or attic.
Thanks again for visiting. Now don't just log off- post a comment!! I would love to hear what you think. : )
I am beginning to learn a lot more about the world of blogging. My knowledge has been growing by leaps and bounds. My first accomplishment was to install a site counter. For those of you that do not know, it involves cutting and pasting HTML. I really know nothing about HTML but I do know how to cut and paste. Here is a good tip you can take with you- holding down the Ctrl and C key at the same time is a short cut to copy and holding down Ctrl and V key is a short cut to paste. The second slightly challenging thing I did is I created a photo album as you can see on the right column. I plan to add pictures daily so be sure to check it regularly. I plan on taking pictures of all of the major Phoenix events. For instance, there is a body building competition taking place in early Nov. That should be interesting. I also will try and showcase all of the various activities around Phoenix even though I do not participate in them, like Cigar Night which takes place 3 times a week (they actually give away free cigars!).
I anticipate that there will be many people logging on searching for info on Kabul and Camp Phoenix since they will be deploying here in the near future (like I did at Fort Riley). Hopefully, I can give them a taste of what it is like over here and somewhat put their mind at ease. I have a really funny thought, we could take it even further if we wanted to and we could really simulate what it is like over here. First, after blindfolding a person, you can burn a bunch of tires near them to recreate the smell. I have been told that tires are part of the ingredient that they use to make bricks and that is why they are always burning them. Next, you will need to add the occasional low flying airplane, a lot of dust and dirt in the air, and pesky flys buzzing in your face (but only when you are in your office typing on the computer). You also will need to add the sound of Muslim prayer in the distance 5 times a day along with Revele and Taps played over the loud speaker every morning at 06:00am and 21:00. If you recreate all of these sounds and smells then it will prepare you for Camp Phoenix. Maybe I should contact Fort Riley and let them know.
I think that the idea of a locations having unique scents and sounds is very interesting. If you can think of any other place that has an undeniable and distinctive ambiance then write them in the comment section. It would be fun to read them all.
Today I also came across a site called milblogs. It is a site that lists all of the military blogs listed on military.com. I registered mine. Here is a link, I hope it works:
It is fun but kind but overwhelming to see all of the different blogs that are out there. I think that I am going to favorite a few of them and read them on a regular basis. I should probably mention the blog that actually introduced me to and got me interested in blogging which was A*W*A*C. by Capt Traversa. He was also deployed to Camp Phoenix and he had a great way of describing his experience in a fun and entertaining way. Here is the web link:
Surfing all of the blogs also inspired me to create a goal for myself. I would like to try and get 50,000 hits on my site and win the Air Force Milblogs Blog of the Year Award. Hey, if you are going to try for something you may as well go big. I think I can do it. After all, I have 6 months and plenty of time on my hands. Here is the award that I would like to win.
I hope you all got inspired by yesterdays blog. I expect to get a lot of children's cloth very soon in the mail. When I get a good amount I will deliver them and take plenty of pictures.
Thanks for reading.
Thursday, May 29, 2008
For some reason the new information that I recently learned got me thinking of the day that I was first told that I was going to be deployed. You have to understand the context, normally the Air Force deploys its people for 4 month missions and they are usually sent to relatively safe locations, especially if you are a doctor. It was the middle of the day and I was in the thick of a busy patient schedule. Both of my bosses came to my office looking very solemn. You could tell that they had something significant to tell me. In those 5 seconds before they said anything I thought to myself, "OK, what can it be?...did someone die?..No that can't be it....Noooooo, they are going to deploy me!!" During the short conversation I was told that I was going to Kabul, Afghanistan for an yet to be determined time period. I later learned that I would be filling an army deployment spot and that the entire deployment was going to last 8.5 months. Talk about a surprise.
I was told on a Friday afternoon that I needed to be at Fort Riley, Kansas for training on Sunday!! Fortunately, I was able to get my report date extended by a week. I tell you what, I have never wanted time to slow down like I did that week before my deployment. It was truly a wonderful week. Every second I spent with my wife and kids was invaluable. I could remember being at the park with my family and just wanting time to stop. They always say you should live for the day and I really was. When I get back home I would definitely like to recreate that week indefinitely.
I have to say, I do have a bit of guilt about having left my family. My children were 4 month-old and 3 years-old when I left and I feel guilty about having my wife carry the load. Before I left I taught my wife all of the little jobs around the house that only I knew how to do. I showed her how to change the air filters in the AC, how to shut off the main gas and water, where the circuit breaker was, how to work the automatic sprinklers, and a bunch of other things. I was a little worried that now that she knew how to do everything that I would become irrelevant when I came back home. I even found someone to take care of our dog, good 'ole Huckleberry. My wife said that it would be too much for her to handle so I found an incredible coworker that was able to adopt Huck and she eventually found him a really good home. While I was at Fort Riley I even had a home alarm installed.
I am looking forward to tomorrow morning because I will be seeing my family via my web cam. I recommend bringing a web cam if any of you reading this are scheduled to deploy to Camp Phoenix. The internet costs $35.00 a month but it is worth every penny. I deployed with the Navy to Iraq in 2003 and it took 2 months just receive a letter. Now you can talk and see each other in real time. It is absolutely amazing.
I have to mention before I get off of the subject that wives are truly the forgotten heroes of this whole Iraq/Afghanistan campaign. We get all of the attention and concern and wives are left to carry on a very hard and lonely job back home with very little appreciation. The next time you see a spouse of a deployed soldier be sure to thank her for her sacrifice as well.
Thanks for reading.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
We had a lot of cultural awareness training at Fort Riley, they called it "Leader Meets." We actually had actors that dressed and acted as if they did not know any English and it took place in a traditional Afghan surrounding. We were presented with challenging scenarios that we had to work through all with the help of an interpreter. Let me share just a few cultural taboos with you. You should never sit with your legs crossed where the bottom of your feet are showing, this is considered rude. You should never place your hat on the ground (I am not sure why) but it is common for Afghans to kiss their hat after it falls on the ground. You should not give the A-OK sign because it is considered offensive.
Everyone seemed to be pleased with our layout of the floor plan so we do not need to make any major changes. Our next step is to start training the staff of how to use the new equipment. We also will be giving lectures on mass casualty and emergency procedures, and infection control. I am looking forward to it.
I learned yesterday the origin of the word blog. I believe that it comes from the combination of the words web and log. I found that to be interesting.
Thanks for reading.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Angela and LtCol Johnson went to the National Military Hospital (NMH) today. The NMH is a newly refurbished old soviet built hospital. They said that the hospital is a very modern facility with state of the art equipment (courtesy of Uncle Sam, of course). Apparently, they say that you are allowed to smoke in the rooms. LtCol Johnson relayed a funny story about a patient that was complaining about his care to them while he was talking on a phone and smoking a cigarette.
LtCol Peters and I just worked on our power points that we will be giving the doctors at the new clinic. Believe it or not, one of our talks is just on the importance of hand washing.
Tomorrow is our one day off. It is nice because we get to wear our PT (our exercise) uniforms all day long. Of course we still have to have our 9mm and ammo on us at all times. It is funny how you can get used to always carrying a weapon around. There should also be a Bizarre tomorrow (in case you do not remember, that is where the locals sell a bunch of local souvenirs). I will be sure to take some pictures and upload them onto my site. They sell just about any recent movie for $1-2 dollars. The only problem is the movie is a CD of some guy sitting in a movie theater with his video camera filming the movie. You sometimes see the heads of people in the front of the theater. The box and the cover look very official but when you play the movie it just is unwatchable. They also sell just about any kind of watch and sun glasses you kind find. Of course there are plenty of Afghan rugs. The rugs can run pretty expensive.
As you walk down the isle of shops on either side of you have fairly aggressive vendors all vying to get you to buy their stuff. They all say, "Come here...just looking.....just looking." They think that they are outsmarting you by doing a preemptive strike on what you are about to say because you sound pretty silly when you respond "just looking" to their "just looking." Children with a bunch of bracelets, postcards, and stacks of Afghani currency come up to you. I bought some money and I have been sending it to some people that have sent me letters. Let me know if you want me to send you something from over here.
One of my "Angles" sent me a really good CD that I am listening to right now. It is not one that I would normally buy because it is country/blues but I am really liking it. The artist is Grey De Lisle and the album is titled Iron Flowers. Here is a link to her web site:
OK, before I sign off I have to describe my room's pet peeves. Now, don't mistaken this for complaining because, like I have said before, I probably have just about as nice of accommodations as you can have in Afghanistan. There are some people who have to sleep under a tent under the stars in their sleeping bags. I only mention them because they have become so annoying that they have become comical. My mattress is just a little larger then a normal twin mattress so my fitted sheet is always half way down my mattress when I wake up. The walls of my room are deceivingly thin. I am not kidding when I say that I live in a shed- it is exactly like a backyard shed. I literally hear every detail of the person next to me from the velcro of his uniform to the creeks in his bed. Talk about bed creaking, if you just think about moving the bed frame sends out a long and loud creek that continues after you stopped moving. The AC/heater only works through the use of a remote controller that chirps really loud. The battery on the remote is low so it will chirp loud when you press the button but not change the temperature. Throughout the night I am constantly pressing the temperature change button trying to change the temperature without any success. So every night my neighbors get to enjoy their own personal remote control chirp and bed squeak symphony.
Thanks for reading.
Monday, May 26, 2008
I discovered a great new website today called Quotationspage.com. I provided a link. They have a word of the day and a quote of the day section. I included today's word of the day because I thought it was so interesting: http://www.quotationspage.com/
Gordian knot (noun) [GOR-dee-ahn not]
1. an exceptionally complicated problem: "It took him years to solve the architectural Gordian knot, but finally, plans for an unprecedented high-rise stretched out before him."
2. the intricate knot tied by King Gordius of Phrygia to a pole near the temple of Zeus in Gordium and cut by Alexander the Great with his sword after hearing an oracle promise that whoever could undo it would be the next ruler of Asia; the knot cut by Alexander the Great at the temple of Zeus.
Some would say that the task of rebuilding of Afghanistan is a gordian knot. Go ahead and use the word with your friends. Be sure to act suprised when they do not now what it means.
Today we had a Bazaar (yes, I am actually spelling it correctly today). I took a ton of pics and created a photo book. I was not just looking today, I actually bought a dress for my daughter. Take a look.
The asking price was $60.00 and I got him down to $25.00. It is all hand made. I do not feel guilty negotiating because they actually expect it. The dress has bells and other metallic trinkets that make noise when it moves. I know my daughter will love it. I would say that she could wear it for Halloween but I think that my wife already has a costume picked out. I believe that she will be a cat this year.
I also uploaded some pics of the National Military Hospital (NMH) and my birthday in case you were interested.
I received a package today with 4 discs filled with PC games. I shared it with my office mates. I also received a very nice supportive email from a spouse whose husband who just deployed to Afghanistan. Keep them coming.
Thanks for reading.
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Today we attempted to go to the old clinic to discuss some issues with the staff but we were unexpectedly sidetracked by security issues. We ended up spending the day over at Camp Eggers. Camp Eggers is another base in downtown Kabul. I was able to catch up with the people that I trained with at Fort Riley. When we first flew into Kabul the entire team stayed at Camp Phoenix for about 3 weeks and then the majority of the group broke off and went to Eggers because they were ready to start working and our clinic was not going to open for a few months.
There is a very interesting phenomenon in Afghanistan. People that visit from other FOBs (forward operating bases) always seem to point out only the good things about their FOBs and they always like to pick out things that they do not like about your FOB. They are like FOB snobs. Someone will visit and say, "Oh, my FOB has trees. I don't like Camp Phoenix because it is too dusty and there are no trees." Never mind the fact that they get rocketed on a regular basis and that you sleep in a tent, you still prefer your FOB because it has trees? I am exaggerating but you get the point. I think when people are forced into a bad situation you tend to point out all of the positives things to make yourself feel better about your situation. The weird thing is that you find yourself getting defensive over your FOB and you find yourself competing over who has the better FOB. It is all kind of silly. So the point of all of this is that the people over at Eggers do not want to leave Eggers and the people over at Phoenix do not want to leave Phoenix. We both think that our places are better then the other. Unfortunately, there is always talk of moving us to be with the rest of the team but we fortunatley have been able to stay put.
Another form of FOB snobbery is the whole going outside of the wire thing. Going outside of the wire is leaving the base. Some people do not have to leave the base because they have a job does not require it. Even so, there is still a subtle snobbery about this. There is even a name for people who do not leave the base, they are called Fobbits. The majority of the time you do not have a choice whether or not you go outside of the wire since it is dictated by your job. One last form of snobbery that I noticed recently is poker playing snobbery. It is starting to get so bad that I decided not to play last week. Here is an example, if you beat someone that has a strait on the flop when you get your straight on the river, they get mad at you because you got lucky with your river card and they deserve to win becasue they were dealt their good hand. Sorry for those of you that did not understand that. Start paying attention to the different forms of snobbery that is out there. It is really funny when you discover it.It was nice to catch up with my friend Puffy. We became pretty good friends over at Fort Riley. He is a really good guy. In the morning we hung out in the Eggers coffee shop. Puffy told us about all of the new things that he bought from the bazaar. He bought 2 metal giraffes, a wooden box, marble tea set, and a burka. He told me that he ran out of money when he was trying to buy the marble tea set so he had to resort to bartering. He ended up trading a pair of tennis shoes for the tea set. He still does not know how he plans to get everything back home.
Here is Puffy with some of his proud purchases.
By the way, did you realize that I have had over 500 hits to this site? I heard somewhere that the average blog was read by only one other person. Not bad.
Thanks for reading.
Saturday, May 24, 2008
-Oscar Levant(1906 - 1972)
Friday, May 23, 2008
I have a good friend from medical school that just so happens to be an excellent General Surgeon in the Air Force. He sent me a great email today. I distilled it down to its key message. It is about a boy and his dying dog and why dogs live such short lives.
"People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life -- like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?" The six-year-old continued, "Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don't have to stay as long."
What a great message.
My wife and children are staying at my brother’s house. I believe the fires are under control in the immediate area where I live. I will keep you posted.
Today was not a very exciting day. We did a little vehicle maintenance. As you may know, our team is composed of relatively high ranking members so we unfortunately are left to do all of the less-then-glamorous tasks. I am posting a picture of the highest paid and best trained car washer in all of Afghanistan. A Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force with 20 years of practicing medicine under his belt and he is power washing a HUMVEE in Kabul, Afghanistan. It just goes to show what a great team I have.
Another good friend of mine sent me a care package today. Her name is Dani and her husband’s name is Mark they both live in California but they are currently in New York on vacation. She sent me a ton of candy, poker chips, a statue of liberty hat, and silly string. I hopefully will not be disarming any trip wires any time soon so the silly string should only be for fun.
I actually met Dani when I was in Iraq in 2003. She was an embedded reporter and she did a number of articles on our unit. I had a front page article in the Ventura County Times. My wife told me great story about when she was bought 10 copies of the paper as a souvenir. A young boy that was selling the paper asked her inquisitively why she was buying so many. She proudly pointed to the picture on the front page and replied, “Becasue this is my husband!” Ahhh, my 15 minutes of fame was so sweet.
Dani ended up coming home from Iraq early and she was able to contact my wife. They struck up a great friendship that continues today. Not only is Dani a great writer but she is also an accomplished painter and just an all around great person.
I provided a link to her an article she wrote summarizing her experience during the deployment.
Thanks for reading.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
-Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary US author & satrist (1842-1914)
Good afternoon. LtCol Peters and a few of my office mates returned from the new clinic this afternoon. LtCol Peters took what I think is my favorite picture of this entire trip. They were leaving from the clinic when this child on this donkey passed them by. Look closely and you can see that he is saluting the convoy.
I got a really great package and a ton of letters from an 8th grade class in Gaffney, South Carolina. I thought I would share of few snippets from some of the letters. I found them to be funny.
Hey. what have you been doing? Me, nothing much. I wish I could be home sleeping. This morning my teacher fell out of her chair. She said it was gracefully. I am bored. Life is crazy I can only imagine what it is like over there.
I have got horrible grades in Ms. Ivy's class. I am trying to get better grades. I do not know what my parents will do if I make an F.
Hello, I am going to church camp this weekend with my church. Also, my friend Josh has this piece of smarties paper and there is gum on it. He was sticking it on other people and it was really funny. Have you heard of the game Halo? I can play one of the theme songs on guitar.
Hi you long distance pal. I have a beef with you. You see this is the second letter and I still have not gotten a reply. That is something I do not understand. I am writing to know how it is in Kabul because nothing special is going on over here in Gaffney.
I better write to her before her beef with me gets any worse.
Yesterday while I was at the MOD a high ranking ANA General approached me and asked if I could help with a medical problem that one of his family members was having. I gladly agreed and asked him to meet me at the Camp Phoenix medical clinic. It was kind of funny because I had this sureal Sopranos moment while I was gathering her history. I thought to myself, I better not make an mistakes or else I will be sleeping with the fishes. I am obviously just kidding but it is true Tony Soprano was running through my mind.
I just read this from a fellow blogger at http://docinthebox.blogspot.com/ The History channel is doing a special on military blogging. You might want to check it out.
BAND OF BLOGGERS on the History Channel on Friday, 11/9, at 8 PM ET/5 PM PT; with an encore presentation on Monday, 11/12 at 6 PM ET/3 PM PT. Check out this very special hour and support our troops! You won't be sorry.
"Explore the impact of blogging as a new medium for immediate and raw information. In the midst of modern day combat examine the unfiltered and raw evolution of military blogs and bloggers. Listen as soldiers who during their recent Iraq deployments reflect on the important connection they had with their blogging and how the band of military bloggers has revolutionized the way we understand combat. Experience firsthand, unfiltered accounts of the pain, the hardship, and even the simple beauty found in Iraq; stories that often go unseen in the media's coverage of the war."
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
-Dr. Seuss US author & illustrator (1904 - 1991)
I went to the post office last night after dinner and, I am not kidding, I had about 30 different care packages waiting for me. It was very overwhelming. The people over at the post office usually want you to open your packages before you leave to make sure that no contraband is being shipped to you. This time when I asked if I should open them up the person jokingly said, "No, just take them... just go!" I smiled and laughed. The last thing he wanted was to wait for me while I opened up all 30 of my boxes. I had to make 2 trips back to the office with the help of a dolly. Boxes were falling everywhere because the cement is full of pot holes. Random people were grabbing boxes as they fell helping me out. It was a funny site. Here is a pic. You really cannot appreciate the number because there is a whole back row that you are not seeing.
The majority of the boxes were toys and medicine that was sent for children from the Zonta Club of Marathon. I need to google them to find out who they are and them send them a really big thank you note. I also got a few care packages from very wonderful soldier support people back home. We got sent a a ton of games- scrabble, chess, dominoes, different magazines (about 30), and way too much candy and snacks. If we were to eat all of the candy that people sent us we would not be able to fit into our uniforms. Everyone, thank you all very much for everything. I have a Community Medical Assistance (CMA) coming up and I plan to distribute all of the toys, medicine, and some of the candy to the local underprivileged children. I will be sure to take plenty of pictures.
I also received another package of letters from the Middle School in South Carolina. I tried to load a web cam thank you video with a bunch of Q&As but the file was too big and it took too long to upload. Let me work out the kinks. I promise to have the video technology perfected sometime in the near future. Stay tuned. I also bought all of the students nice presents at the bazaar today. I will not say what I got them since I know some of them read this blog. It should take about 2 weeks for the gifts to arrive so be on the look out.
Today we climbed "The Ghar." The Ghar is a 1,500-foot rocky mountain that sits on the compound of the Kabul Military Training Center. It was really fun. The last 20 feet are the scariest. There is a very narrow part that you have to climb to reach the top. I just tried to not look down while I did it. The view at the top was spectacular. I took a ton of photos and loaded them onto a picture book on the right column. I encourage you to take a look. After we finished with the Ghar we visited an old Soviet military junk yard. We saw a bunch of old tanks and other vehicles. It was very interesting.
Thanks for reading. Take care.
This morning we convoyed over to the new clinic. Things are starting to kick into high gear. We are getting close to the big grand opening. Half of the the morning was spent moving stuff into exam rooms and the other half was spent meeting with the key staff. I have a new found appreciation for the weight of an autoclave. We are trying hard to encourage the new staff to take ownership of their clinic. We want them to start moving into their offices and to start rearranging the stuff the way they want it.
After we got back to Phoenix I went out again and went on a Humanitarian Assistance (HA) mission. We visited the Allahoddin orphanage. Before I describe the orphanage experience I have to mention the trip there. We road with a bunch of Army guys from Alpha Company. I was in the vehicle that they affectionately named, "The Beast." The entire way there they blared a loud and annoying siren. Normally when we convoy somewhere we somewhat blend into the traffic and, for the most, pass by unnoticed. This time everyone made a point of starring at us. There was this weird moment when we were stopped in a crowded market place. There I was wearing my big ski goggles and kevlar helmet peering out of this small, thick, bullet proof window from this heavily armored HUMVEE with a loud and annoying siren blaring. You could just tell that the people that were looking back at me had this strange expression like I was something very foreign to them. I felt like I was a space alien flying in in my little space craft looking out of my window starring at all of the humans. The humans were looking back at me with a strange expression because they had never seen a green alien with a third eye in the middle of his forehead. This was really the first time I felt this way mainly because we were drawing so much attention to our convoy. I am not criticizing the siren, it was actually very effective in moving traffic away, I just have not had that particular experience yet.
Doesn't it just break your heart. I posted a bunch of pics. There were so many incredible cute kids. I wanted to bring them all home with me. It is so much harder when you have kids yourself. I saw so many little girls that are my daughter's age. The cutest thing was watching them carry the blankets, jackets, and toys back to their rooms. They were so overloaded that they could hardly carry it all.
Today was probably one of my best days in Afghanistan. The quote up top is so true. I am going to try and do more community service when I get home. It truly brings a fulfillment that is unmatched by anything money can buy.
Thanks for reading.
Monday, May 19, 2008
I have been working on my blog a lot lately. I have decided I need an editor. It is so funny because I will write something that, at the time I am writing it sounds funny and clever, then when I read the same thing one week later I will say to myself, what was I thinking that sounds really stupid. Anyways, I think my new tag line should now read- New from Shazdoc Inc., 6 Months In Kabul Version 2.0- now with 50% less misspellings and grammatical errors. You see, I am going to read that line one week from now and think that it is really stupid. Oh well.
I also would like to thank the creator of the blog A*W*A*C*, Capt Traverso, for mentioning my blog on his site. He is responsible for a lot of the traffic on my site. If you are ever cruising the blogasphere pull over check out his site, here it is:
Today I thought that it would be a great to get a picture with Rambo. For those of you that do not know, Rambo is somewhat of a legend in these parts. I really can not do him justice in explaining his contributions to Camp Phoenix. I will refer you to the USA Today Article that I have linked. I first heard about him over at Fort Riley. It was during my anxious phase of the predeployment period. When I was inquiring about the security over at Camp Phoenix someone told me, don't worry there is a local Afghan named Rambo. He stands at the gate and makes sure that no one bad gets it. At the time I thought to myself, are they kidding? How is one guy going to protect the whole camp. We even had an ongoing joke whenever I mentioned any security concerns, Maj Martinez would say in a loud tone, "Don't worry, Rambo will protect us."
Rambo's wife and one of his children were killed when a rocket that was shot by a Taliban member hit his home. He was a truck driver and security guard for a transportation company that existed on the land that the U.S. bought to build Camp Phoenix in 2003. He has been here ever since. The incident that made him famous was back on 1/16/07. A suicide bomber driving a Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) had entered the gate of Camp Phoenix and he opened the driver's side door and pulled him out of the car before he could detonate his explosives. Rambo was even mentioned by President Bush in a national speech.
Here is the familiar salute that everyone receives when they return from a convoy and reenter the base. Thanks for reading.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
-Benjamin FranklinUS author, diplomat, inventor, physicist, politician, & printer (1706 - 1790)
"Happiness is as a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you."
-Nathaniel HawthorneUS author (1804 - 1864)
Today we took a different route to get to the clinic and I drove the lead vehicle. This past week I have really had a chance to see a lot more of Kabul and I am sort of feeling guilty because I had developed my impression of Kabul based solely on the not-so-nice parts that I have been seeing. Just like any city it has it's good and its bad, unfortunately, it has just taken longer for me to see the nicer parts. There was actually a moment today when I was driving home and I said to myself, "I could live here, this place is not so bad."
Driving around the streets of Kabul you get this sense that the city is so full of life. There is always a ton of people walking around. There are little makeshift shops everywhere. People are on the sides of the streets pushing carts selling bananas, pomegranates, french fries, etc. Children are everywhere. Where I grew up in Southern California you needed a car to get anywhere because everything was so far and spread out. People went about their lives in their own little world. I am not exaggerating when I say this, where I grew up in Woodland Hills, California, I could not have even been able to identify my neighbors if I passed them in the supermarket and I lived there for 8 years!
Over over here in Kabul people are out and about. There is a real sense of a community. I have spoken with a number of interpreters and they have all told me the same thing that their families are not spread out all over town. They all live together in large compounds with all of their extended families around them. In Kabul they may not have a Starbucks on ever corner and they may not all live in a big homes with a green lawns but they have something more important, such as close knit families, friends, religion, and community. These are all things that money and prosperity can not bring.
I found this great article on the topic. I highly recommend reading it. It also allowed me to figure out why I liked blogging so much- it is because of the "flow" it creates. Read it and you will understand.
When we arrived at the new clinic there was this awkward but funny moment when I said hello to the person in charge. I knew that he always likes to kiss on both cheeks whenever we meet and I was prepared for this greeting. This time I made him laugh because I think made to loud of a kiss sound. I think I got it down now. You just have to touch cheeks and not really kiss. They don't teach you this stuff over at Fort Riley. Today he also called me the "quick doctor." He said that he can always understand what LtCol Johnson is saying when he speaks but he can never understand anything that I say because I talk too fast. I just assumed that the interpreter would translate everything that I said and that why I have been talking so fast.
About 15 of the key staff showed up and it was a very interesting experience. Talk about herding cats. I basically went from room to room with the blueprint of the clinic in hand telling, or I should say recommending, which office was going to be theirs. It was a funny kind of experience that only someone that has grown up in an Italian household can appreciate. When Italians communicate they do so in a somewhat loud and animated manner, hand gestures and all. To the casual observer it would appear that a normal conversation is a heated argument. When I was growing up I can recall having to warn my friends that would come over for dinner so that they wouldn't think that we were arguing at the dinner table because it was our normal way of speaking. Afghans are very similar. I would stop in front of a room and say something like, "this is where Anaesthesia is going to be." The Anaesthesiologist would pause, look at the room, then look at the clinic commander and the interpreter, and then they would proceed to discuss it's size and location back and forth for 4-5 minutes. I am sure that it would be no different opening a new clinic in the states. As a matter of fact, I'm sure that it would have been much worse.
After about 10 minutes of discussing the room the Anaesthesiologist turned to me and asked, through the use of the interpreter, the location of the mechanical ventilator. I kindly reminded him that it is supposed to be an outpatient clinic. He somewhat persisted so I asked him what he is using now at his current clinic. He told me that he is using a small ventilator. I told him that he should bring it over to the new clinic and continue to use it. He thought about it for a second and then he shook his head and smiled with satisfaction. LtCol Johnson patted me on the back for that one and told me I did a good job.
After the clinic visit we visited our friends at Camp Eggers and had a productive meeting. Tonight I will need to go to bed early because we will be doing CMAs for the next 2 days. It should be an interesting experience. I will be sure to take plenty of pictures.Thanks for reading.
Saturday, May 17, 2008
-Samuel Johnson, (attributed)English author, critic, & lexicographer (1709 - 1784)
Today we did a CMA (Community Medical Assistance) project in a remote village in southern Kabul. It was a great opportunity to give out a bunch of the donations that we received. A ton of 6 M.I.K. 2.0 readers have sent me medical supplies, toys, candies, and school supplies. I loaded a picture book on the right hand column where you can view a lot more of the pics from today. I encourage everyone to continue sending me stuff. I will personally hand deliver them and always include pics. These 2 children below were some of the ones that benefited from your kindness.
There were 4 tents, 2 for women and children and 2 for men. I worked in one of the women and children tents. There is a real delicate balance that you have to strike when seeing patients in these kind of conditions. We were seeing patients in a dirt floor tent, with no labs, no x-ray, and a limited supply of meds. There is not much that you can accomplish unfortunately. There is a mantra in medicine which is first do no harm. You really need to understand your limitations and not try and overstep your bounds. For instance, just about every older adult had blood pressure that was through the roof (yes this is an official medical term). You will not be helping them if you just give them just 3 days worth of blood pressure medicine because hypertension is a disease that needs to be managed over time. It would be harmful to give someone medicine to abruptly lower their blood pressure just to have it rise again 3 days later when they run out.
Unfortunately, a lot of what we saw today were chronic medical conditions that really needed to be managed in a clinic with regular close follow-up care over many months. My goal was to alert them of the problem and to encourage them to seek proper medical care.The only problem is when I suggested this their answer was always that they had no money and therefore did not have access to care.
I saw some children that I would have referred to an ER right away if I were in the states, but instead, they were left to walk back to their home barefoot. For instance, there were a couple of children with serious heart problems, probably ventral septal defects, this boy pictured below was one of them. He was as cute as could be. He had the classic "machinery mumur" on exam. I am going to try and make an effort to see if I can get in contact with a charitable organization to see what we can do to help him. He really needs to be seen by a peds cardiolothoracic surgeon. If anyone out there can help, ie., if you have any contacts, please let me know. You would be saving a life.I saw a number of cases that I have never seen before. I saw a bad case of spina bifida. I also saw a young child that had the after effects of infantile polio. Obviously, there was not a lot we could do for them but we still tried our best to show our care and compassion. When we could we referred them to a local hospital out in town.
Friday, May 16, 2008
I actually treated some sick people today. One child was having a respiratory illness along with an asthma attack so we treated her with an inhaler, antibiotics, and prednisone. Another child had an abscess that needed to be lanced and drained. An older lady came in crying saying that she was very weak because she had not eaten for 5 days. I gave her IV fluids and one of our MREs. I saw more cases of Leishmaniasis. This one girl had it over a large portion of her cheek. I provided her with a referral to be seen at a specialty Leishmaniasis clinic. Usually if you give them a U.S. referral slip they are able to be seen because if they don't then we will stop donating supplies to the hospital.
It was heart breaking examining some of the children. The huts that that they live in do not even have running water and they rarely bathe. I can recall this one child that was having leg pain. When I examined the leg he was bare feet and his legs were caked in dirt. It was very sad. I started to see a number of the children with similar problems- back and leg pain. I asked the interpreter, "Are these children pulling my leg? Why do they all have the same problem." He said, "Yes, they all just want some medicine."
A mother brought in her 7 year-old child who she said wet his bed every night. I asked if he had stomach pains, fever, pain with urination, etc. I did an exam and it was normal. I then proceeded to counsel her on limiting fluid intake and along with other conservative treatment measures. After I was done her story changed, the boy was having fever, pain with urination, and abdominal pain. Again, I just smiled and shook my head. I did not have any labs to help me out. I treated him as if he had a urinary tract infection and then I referred them to a local clinic for follow-up care.