Monday, April 05, 2010

Dr Coppola's "A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq" (a review by 911doc)

I can't help but stand in awe of surgeons. I thought I was going to be one when I went to medical school, but my short attention span and my lack of true interest in the procedures spelled doom for that. Still, when I work in the ER and I have a surgical patient, I especially want to dot my i's and cross my t's because I want to set the surgeon up for success.

Now amongst the surgeons, the pediatric surgeons are, perhaps, the studliest of studs. Something about the 9 to 10 years of hell they go through after medical school just flat out floors me. And they do it all to become excellent at performing surgery on kids of all ages. Talk about pressure. My hat is off to them and may God bless them.

Dr. Chris Coppola, a United States Air Force surgeon, wrote the book you see pictured above. You may read more about it or buy it here at 35% off retail. He wrote it after two four-month tours at Balad Air Base Hospital, just outside Baghdad. It does not disappoint.

So what is a pediatric surgeon doing in Iraq? Well, he's doing surgery and lots of it. It is an inevitable consequence of war that kids end up in the line of fire, and he operates on adults as well. The book is worthy on this account alone for Dr. Coppola moves heaven and earth for the children of Iraq that somehow arrive in the Balad E.R.

I found the book compelling for other reasons as well:

* Dr. Coppola does not take a stand for or against the war, but, in a variety of personal encounters, tells us what the Iraqi people that he meets think of the American effort.

* Dr. Coppola tells us his gut reaction to seeing a female American soldier who had died in combat and failed resuscitation. This consequence of the change in military policy following tailhook is not often spoken of and it's very disturbing.

* Dr. Coppola speaks of the terribly conflicting emotions he experienced while taking care of terrorists who had sent so many people to their deaths. It is US policy to treat all wounded, sick, and injured, regardless of their affiliation.

Dr. Coppola also weaves his daily emotional state into the narrative and all I can say after reading it is "thank you, Sir." His world of sleeplessness, separation from family, mortar blasts, and bloody messes in the OR truly helped me to realize that however much the ER sucks, it could be worse, it could be in Iraq. Buy this book.

About the Author:
Dr. Chris Coppola received his medical degree from the John Hopkins University School of Medicine, trained in surgery at Yale University, and completed pediatric surgery specialty training at the Children’s National Medical Center. He has served as the consultant to the Surgeon General of the Air Force in pediatric surgery and has completed humanitarian missions to Haiti and Brazil. He lives in Danville, Pennsylvania.


  1. I wanted to be a Surgeon too...can't blame lack of interest or short attention span, more my criminlal lack of manual dexterity...throw in bein lefthanded and it was clear the only way I was gettin the OR was either as a patient or wheelin one in..


  2. I feel like this book is going to make me cry. My birthday is in 2 weeks and I am adding this to my list of things I would like. I think this is the only thing on that list so I bet I have a good chance of getting it.

  3. Dear 911doc,

    Thank you very much for your wonderful, insightful review of my book. It is very gratifying to know that the emotion and will of the incredible people I met in Iraq has come through in some small way. Best wishes, and thanks for making order of the chaos in the ED: I'd get lost in it!

    Chris Coppola

  4. I look forward to reading this.

    In a different vein, Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell is also a wonderful book about the brave men of the Navy Seals and his experiences in Afghanistan.


  5. My pleasure Colonel. Truly it was. And thank you for your service.

  6. When did being a surgeon become a specialty? Just curious, because my dad was a general practitioner, but did do routine surgeries. I didn't really think about it until you wrote this, but there are a lot of services that used to be performed by general physicians/surgeons that now are referred to specialists. For example, when our middle son broke his arm, he was referred to an orthopedist, even though it was a simple fracture.

  7. How longs Surgery been a Specialty? Since the founding of the American Board of Surgery in 1937, and if you haven't heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor I won't spoil the ending for ya...Legally, an MD lets you do anything ya want medically...its findin the Hospital that'll let you in the door thats the hard part. If you have a sap, I mean patient who'll sign an "informed" consent you can do craniotomys in your Garage, or Vasectomys like I do...
    and the referring things entirely due to malpractice risks, I refer anything remotely related to the musculoskeletal system, heck, I'll refer someone who's friggin Great Grandmother had a sprained ankle...
    And you don't really need a specialist for most things, just ask Michael Jackson...

  8. Surgery in the garage? Vasectomies with a weed whacker?

  9. My mom sent my birthday present a bit early and she bought me the book. Hooray! Can't wait to read it.