Wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other. For, in the first place, no man can survey himself without forthwith turning his thoughts towards the God in whom he lives and moves.
I remember in my first week in medical school the ethics professor summarily began his lecture on a cold note-if we were having any second thoughts about becoming a doctor this was the best moment to (in his own iced words) “enter out”. Before long we all came to realise that the life of a doctor is gruesome and not for those seeking medals or fame. Actually the only famous doctors are usually bad doctors. The medical profession like being a nun or a monk is said to be a vocation you are called to. In the course of duty you get to discover your own weaknesses, inadequacies and are constantly reminded of your own mortal frailty (and there are many such moments). But the satisfying moments come when you humbly acknowledge your total dependence on an infinite God, His wisdom and providence. So then, like the proverbial fly perched on a wall, come with me and lets peek into the diary of a war time army doctor [in Camp Bastion, Afghanistan]:
Day One: More than 24 hours after take-off our military plane lands. You can’t see out of the windows so your senses are overwhelmed as the doors open.
It’s 41C, dusty and sandy and I’m exhausted. After a day and a half’s grace it’s down to work – on call 24 hours a day for the next two months.
God, I hope I can do OK. I meet the team of British and American surgeons. To show solidarity the British wear surgical hats bearing the American flag. And they wear the Union Jack.
Day Three: An Afghan soldier has been blown up by an IED in Helmand Province. His leg is so badly injured it can’t be saved. It is a grim task. An American surgeon puts on rock music in the background of the operating theatre. There’s no room for emotion as you fight to save as much of them as you can.
Day Four: A Danish soldier with a mine injury arrives. We are astounded to see he has suffered only a minor fracture to his heel bone. We all want to know where he got his boots from. He’s the luckiest man in Afghanistan.
Day Five: My first double amputation – a soldier who is seriously injured. The sight is pretty shocking. We all try to do as much as we can for him and keep him alive.
But later on the ward rounds it dawns on you. I think, “God how on Earth is this guy going to do anything?” Particularly if they are Afghans.
The Red Cross have been trying to open a prosthetics service here. That would be invaluable.
Day Eight: The workload is getting heavier. Days roll into one. Three amputations from three separate incidents make this one of the hardest days of my life.
Everyone chips in, the American consultant surgeons, the junior surgeons, all working together.
All three soldiers had what should be non-survivable injuries but we pull them through…I am exhausted afterwards as I struggle with the adrenaline coursing round my system. I sit and think it is such a shame. One is a dad who’ll never play football with his kids again. But keeping these guys alive is important…[Diary continues]
Day 54: The recurring nightmare many people have here is of running away from something in the woods you can’t escape. We are in the worst nightmare you could ever see, yet we have the skills to make it a manageable situation…
Day 55: Got home. We should be proud of those working in the medical chain – they’re so committed. Met my beautiful family. Can’t stop holding them all. That’s what this is about.
Excerpt from The Diary of A Surgeon [by Army surgeon Mike McErlain from Camp Bastion, Afghanistan]