Surgery in a war zone

Hi, the names Jeffrey, and I am a biomedical engineer. I’ve been with the Cross for eight years now working in many centers around the world, but what Becky insisted I share with you is my work in a South Sudan field hospital, something which was a first for me, and an intense experience at that!

The young state of South Sudan saw the outbreak of bloody conflict in 2013. and the International Red Cross quickly reacted by forming mobile medical teams. One of those teams, that I was a part of had the hardest task, to operate in the worst conditions a surgeon can imagine.

War is hell

War-is-hellIn war, there is a great need for surgery, and cases are quite brutal, bullets do a lot of damage, infections are common, the conditions of the procedure are not medieval, but are very basic. We could get together a table, and we flew in with the suction machine, the disinfectant for the instruments, and a good light source so the team can see what they are doing.

I am an engineer and my job is the tech and that it works properly. I don’t save people, just play a small role (no matter how much Becky thinks I am modest for saying so). The real heroes are those surgeons and anesthesiologists, who could be working for big money in some western city.

The true heroes

This one pretty close call we all had I will never forget. Dr. Mike Pena, a surgeon of few words, a dedicated professional was on call that day. We were flown by chopper to a remote building on the edge of some battle. We set up the hospital and marked at with the Red Crescent and waited. It got so eerily quiet all of a sudden and we thought we made some mistake, but sure enough, 15 minutes on the bullets were flying all over the place.

Dr.-Mike-PenaOut of the forest came the first patient, a bad upper body wound, the bullet lodged inside. Dr. Pena went in. The sound of the fighting was ever louder and closer, we were advised by the locals to all get down on the ground. Dr. Pena was the senior man in the field and he ordered all of us who were not working on the patient to get down.

He was actually the only one who was working at that point. Everybody else was not essential at the moment. And so, with no thought of his own life the surgeon kept standing while some bullets came flying through the windows, he didn’t even flinch.

I’ve never seen such stoicism in my life. He finished up and thankfully the worst had passed outside, so we got up and did our parts and it was over. The patient was saved. I heard later that the man, upon finding out how the doctor acted named his son Mike, even if it was the strangest name you could give a Muslim Sudanese child. Such is the gratitude to heroes!