And on top of all that, Sara was regularly being shelled while trying to, y'know, perform fucking medicine.
"We got mortared a lot. Whether it was close or not it's still pretty scary. Alarms go off to let you know one's got up. We got shelled on my first day there. I was walking home from dinner. The mortar alarm went off. I was walking back ... and I hear it. And these guys pull me into this bunker like, 'What the hell are you doing?'"
They Also Treat Wounded Civilians, And It's Horrifying
Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Obviously, American soldiers and insurgents opposing them aren't the only people who get/got killed/horribly wounded in Iraq/Afghanistan. Some estimates say more than a million people have died in Iraq since the invasion (5 percent of the population) and more than 220,000 people in Afghanistan, most of them civilians. Regardless of whether or not you agree with the wars, on the ground, it is a shitstorm of human misery. Our sources saw it up close. "The hospital wasn't supposed to serve the local Iraqis," Jim says, "but the physician in charge basically said, 'Fuck that, of course we're going to treat these people.'"
David Furst/AFP/Getty Images
"Let's just hope they're not scared about getting dragged into a prison camp."
Sara had one nightmarish example: "We had a kid that came in early in deployment. The story ... kept changing, but the one that stuck around was that her family didn't want her anymore, 10-year-old girl, so they doused her with kerosene and set her on fire. And we got her 10 days after she was set on fire. And she was still alive. But her family decided to take her to an outlying American hospital. Dunno where she was from in Iraq. Probably 85 percent third-degree burns.
"They brought her straight to the OR, and we had this great burn doctor. He and I debrided everything, shaved her hair because of the lice. We tried to scrub her as much as we could. Did surgery to relieve pressure from swelling muscle tissue. We sent her up to the ICU, and I came up after and talked to nurses a bit ... but she came back the next day and her tissue and her legs were dead. Just totally dead. So we ended up amputating her legs from the knee down. Over the course of her time in the hospital, she got better. Everyone loved her. She was really witty, and if she didn't like something ... we spoiled her. She had so many stuffed animals, Disney movies, they set up a TV for her, and she wound up being our little mascot."
Omar Havana/Getty Images News/Getty Images
That's our last amputation story, we promise.
Holy shit. So how in the hell do you live through that kind of thing, day after day? Well ...
"Suicide was a worry with a lot of the soldiers there," Jim says. "I had to talk people out of porta-shitters with a rifle in their mouth ready to pull the trigger. People got alcohol in; one civilian huffed air dusters so much he barricaded himself in his trailer and we had to cut a hole in the wall to get him out. He got sent home."
For Sara, well, it was the little things: "There were a lot of palm trees and date trees. Not a lot of grass. I remember specifically the contractors on the outpost next to us planted a patch of really soft green grass. There was no grass anywhere around us, but we just had this little patch, and I miss walking by it," she says. "That little patch of grass was my favorite thing to walk by."
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