Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Earth, Wind and Fire

I guess I should be careful what I wish for. I was thinking to myself that I really didn't have anything newsworthy to put in a blog entry, and was wondering if this would be a good chance to embark on my long delayed career as a free verse poet when...

Well, first thing I noticed this morning as I stepped out of the CLU was the wind. This wasn't very perceptive of me, as it blew the door shut while I was blinking furiously trying to get the gritty sensation of Djiboutian dust off of my eyeballs. Gusts into what I would guess were the 20 knot range swirled around me, the resultant eddies marked by dust swirls, like smoke in some test lab's wind tunnel. I was in a hurry, and was running late after a frustrating morning of trying to get Skype to work. In general Donna, Jack and I will chat at about 0500 my time, 1900 theirs as this leaves some time before Jack's bed and my workout. This morning we couldn't get the video portion to work at all despite several efforts at troubleshooting. It's interesting of course what one comes to consider the acceptable standard of communication. Last deployment (the 1st Gulf War), Donna and I would number our handwritten letters so that if one or two were delayed in the mail we would know what order to read them in. 4 weeks was pretty good turn around time, and the ability to call home after a 45 minute wait in line by a pier side phone booth seemed the height of convenience. Today I'm still irked that all I could do was a voice-only chat from the comfort of my CLU. It's a small enough thing I guess, but gosh it's nice to see their faces.

Anyway, forgive the divagation. Too late to make breakfast, I headed straight to the Green Bean - our little coffee house - for a little fortification against the day's labors. Coffee in hand I made for the EMF. With my hat brim pulled low against the wind (I believe this is the Khamsin - the summer wind from the northwest), I almost didn't notice the group of people gathered near the flagpole on my left. When I did look up I saw that it was most of the medical department - in various states of dress suggesting they had rapidly exited some place without time to locate hats or DCU tops. As I stopped, it occurred to me that perhaps the sirens I had caught wind-whipped strains of as I was walking might not have been a test as I presumed (they do test them some mornings). I walked up to the group. "Fire" said a petty officer, "in medical".

After checking to be sure we were all accounted for, or that steps were being taken to do so, I walked the 50 feet to the EMF. The front doors stood open, and a couple of our nurses and corpsmen were at the entrance. The smell of combusted material - the acrid scent of hydrocarbon and volatiles - wafted out. As it turned out, in one of the OR's, a light fixture had shorted out, causing a small electrical fire, which was in the process of spreading to the adjacent wall and ceiling when our nurses noticed it and quickly extinguished it. This was lucky, as the ORs are unoccupied at that time in the morning, and the fire didn't have a chance to do any real damage. Still the smell was pretty spectacular and has remained so through the first part of the morning. My office in the adjacent ICU was sufficiently aromatic that I've elected to "telecommute" until afternoon to give the fumes a chance to dissipate. Fortunately no surgeries were scheduled, and we have reserve OR capacity readily to hand. Still...pretty exciting stuff for our little clinic. We are getting things back to normal though and should be open for routine sick call this afternoon.

Had been a pretty routine week to that point. Sunday night a few of the officers were invited to a small dinner at the home of one of the embassy's officers, and she and the embassy nurse - a Kenyan native - put on a lovely spread for us. The meal was wonderful - a Kenyan style of baked chicken - and the chance to eat someplace with crystal, real plates and actual silverware was a great treat. Our hostess has been here about 3 years, a typical posting I guess. She will be heading back to the States in a month for the purposes of getting her "tween" age son into a school. When asked though, she was was eager for another chance to come back in a few years. I guess life here, especially outside the camp, is not so charmless at that. We do provide medical care at need to the embassy staff - dental most commonly - and it was a pleasure to get a look at life in HOA from their perspective.

On Monday we were back at Peltier assisting with a bit of rudimentary neurosurgery. A young man with an old (a month or so) depressed skull fracture and a chronic accumulation of fluid beneath the site. Bill assisted the Djiboutian surgeon as they drilled through the skull, and drained the subdural hematoma. He (the patient, not Bill) woke up quickly enough, and time will tell if the decompression of the fluid collection will help him. No word on how the nurses strike was resolved, but we'll presume it was to general satisfaction.

Tonight I must choose between Major Perot's French class and the Morale, Welfare and Recreation trip to the shopping district. I guess you can watch this space for the ultimate outcome. Coming up this weekend is both the wardroom Hail and Farewell at the Hotel Kempinski - a true 5 star resort on the on the tip of the Djiboutian headland - and the EMF going away/weclome aboard party poolside at the American Embassy. I've been to neither locale before, and am looking forward to each happening.

Today's picture has nothing to do with the fire, unless you wanted to make believe my little reptilian friend there could be a dragon. This is one of the skinks that lives under this row of CLU's. I haven't seen him since this photo was taken about a month ago. Could it have gotten too hot for even the cold blooded? For the answer to these and other questions, tune in next time to your faithful Djibouti correspondent. See you then.

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