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This blog chronicles the experiences of Elon journalism major Alexandra Hemmerly-Brown, who was deployed to the Middle East in June 2006 as a member of the U.S. Army Reserves 210th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment. Hemmerly-Brown is from Blue Hill, Maine, and is the daughter of Jane and Daniel Hemmerly-Brown. As a public affairs specialist, Hemmerly-Brown writes stories, takes photographs, produces a newspaper and works with members of the news media. She is scheduled to be stationed in Iraq for about a year, and plans to return to her studies at Elon following her tour of duty.Messages can be sent to Alexandra at: IsisIndy@hotmail.com. Her mailing address is: Spc. Alexandra Hemmerly-Brown, 210th MPAD, Camp Anaconda, Balad, APO AE 09391.

[Return to Hemmerly-Brown's blog home page]

August 3, 2006

SURGERY—

AlexandraSo, it is August 3 and I’ve been in Iraq just over a month now. It’s funny that it has been that long already, because it seems like I just got here, but, in a month our team has done a lot.

We have a weekly paper, so that means we’ve already produced four newspapers. I have pretty much learned my way around this base (driving a Humvee- which is nuts here because the roads are very narrow), which is quite big as far as bases in Iraq go. And we have all learned the bus system here, which is a little crazy. In essence, we are getting used to life here on Anaconda.

One of the coolest things I’ve gotten to do in my very short but interesting journalism career, is scrub in for a surgery. I’ve been chasing down a story on how some of the doctors here create prosthetic eyes for Soldiers and Iraqi citizens who have been injured. While interviewing one of the surgeons who does eye-removal surgeries (enucleations), I was invited to scrub in and watch one of the procedures. Usually they are trauma cases that get called in between 1 and 3 a.m. each morning, so I wasn’t sure how they were going to find me (as we don’t have phones in our trailers), but this week a call came in during the day.

Monday morning just after arriving at the office, I got a call that a patient had come in needing instant eye-removal surgery. I dropped what I was doing, and went to the ophthalmology clinic, where I was given scrubs to wear. After getting set up, a man who was shaking in quite obvious pain was rolled in. The man was an Iraqi Soldier who had been injured about a year ago in an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) blast, whom Iraqi doctors had operated on, but the eye was still useless. Apparently, it was giving him a lot of pain, so it needed to be removed.

I won’t go into graphic detail, but it was my first surgery, and pretty interesting. At first I felt nervous because I had just seen this guy awake, and they were going to take out his eye ball- I wasn’t sure how I was going to react. Once things got going though, and the eyeball was no longer recognizable as a human eye, it was quite a leaning experience. The doctor was able to actually show me what he had been explaining in our interview, and I was able to see first hand what an intricate process it is.

A lot of it was pretty gross- the blood, and cutting… they were taking out a guy’s eye for goodness sake- but, it really gave me a better respect for surgeons. The whole time, I kept thinking about the incredible responsibility that this doctor had. Any wrong move, and a surgeon could make a patient’s injury worse, or even end the patient’s life by making a mistake. They have to be confident in what they do because people’s lives are literally in their hands. Whew, I’m glad that I don’t have that kind of responsibility waiting for me at work every day.

Other than getting to play doctor for a day, the same night I also got to leave Anaconda on my second trip. This time I flew on a small fixed-wing plane to a base further up north. Three of us; my editor, the video-reel editor, and I, just went to cover a ceremony for a transportation battalion who had already logged 5 million miles since being here. While there, we each found a few other stories to cover, and came back with a lot of writing/ video editing to do.

The base was a lot smaller than Anaconda, and seemed more like a little dirt pile than a base. We slept in modified sea-containers (yes, those big, metal boxes), and they only had one chow hall (our base has 4). But, it was quite close to the Turkish border, and there were Turkish troops there, and we got to eat at a Turkish restaurant (which was great because anything different is good when eating the same sort of thing every day). Being at this smaller base made me realize that I’m lucky to be stationed where I am, and I was even glad to come back to my little bed in my little trailer. I do love traveling though, and I will try to get out on as many trips as possible this year.

That is all for now. It is my one day off per week, and I have an important date with the swimming pool!