E-mail provides emotional connection to home

For U.S. Army Lt. Col. Scott D. Barnes, MD, e-mail was a lifeline to friends and family. His messages also served as a log of his 4-month experience with the 86th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad.

For U.S. Army Lt. Col. Scott D. Barnes, MD, e-mail was a lifeline to friends and family. His messages also served as a log of his 4-month experience with the 86th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad.

Dr. Barnes arrived in Iraq at the end of August 2005, after spending 2 weeks at Fort Benning in South Georgia for last-minute training. After 6 hours of orientation, he had his first surgical case.

"And they simply just never stopped coming," he wrote in an e-mail on Oct. 27, 2005. "The work is great and terrible at the same time. The level of injuries is nothing that I have seen in this concentrated amount. I will have seen more here in a few months than I probably will see in the rest of my ophthalmology career as far as trauma goes.

Dr. Barnes witnessed firsthand what a difference he and the surgical team have made.

"I've seen faces change and voices become more confident when they know that I am here for them . . . when I tell them that I volunteered to come over here because I want to be the guy standing in the door to meet them when they get broken," he wrote. " . . . I have never been involved with anything in medicine as incredible as this operation."

Dr. Barnes' e-mails were an emotional outlet, too.

"But standing at the door to work on the heroes comes at a price," Dr. Barnes wrote. "It is difficult to see all the pain and suffering. The loss of limbs, eyes, and lives can be overwhelming at times. But it continues and we have saved lives in the midst of the losses and we continue to pour our hearts into every patient because we don't know who will make it and who will not."

Just as troops find the strength to keep going for fear of letting down their comrades, the military medical team functions in much the same manner.

"I don't want to let down my neurosurgeon or my general surgeon who depend on me for helping with the eyes-a lot of the neurologic function in an unconscious patient comes from the eye exam and in a severely traumatized eye that can be difficult to assess even for an eye surgeon," Dr. Barnes wrote in a Dec. 8 e-mail. "I don't want to let down soldiers who put their life on the line in part because they put their faith in our ability to put them together if they get broken."

The Sergeant Major asks how we can go without sleep and how can we operate for hours at a time.

"After seeing the heart of the soldiers . . . how can we not?" Dr. Barnes wrote.

-Sheryl Stevenson