Doctors at War

Doctors at War

Life and Death in a Field Hospital

Mark de Rond

Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, 2017, 176 pages

Book Review published on: December 22, 2017

Mark de Rond is a professor of organizational ethnography at Cambridge University. Under the guidance of an unnamed senior British Ministry of Defense officer, Rond was asked to embed with a surgical team to document Camp Bastion medical operations. The six-week tour of duty occurred inside the field hospital in Helmond Province, Afghanistan, one of the busiest in this theater of operations. Upon completion of his work, he compiled his notes and sent draft articles for review. Due to the gritty details within its covers, the British Ministry had hoped he would not produce a book. He did, however, and after reading Doctors at War and serving multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, I believe this is a must read for any deploying service member or veteran.

This biography takes the reader from predeployment to the hard-hitting, daily trauma associated with combat operations, capturing the essence of operating under lifesaving conditions every day. Rond uses the surnames from the television show MASH to identify key characters, focusing mostly on the main character “Hawkeye,” who was the main surgeon he shadowed throughout his experience. The surnames are used to protect the identity of the key surgical teams with whom he spent the most time. Nonetheless, the uncensored medical stories of NATO service members, local civilians, and even enemy combatants paint a clear picture of the chaos associated with operating in field conditions.

My personal experience, like so many of my peers, is rife with combat evacuations. Conversely, I have no experience inside level-III surgical care facilities or of procedures for receiving casualties from the battlefield. However, this book fills that gap by taking the reader as an eyewitness to these conditions in unhindered detail. The decisions made to save lives are woven hand in hand with other tough decisions associated with the casualties of war. I truly admire the medical staff for the amount of tragedy they endured every day throughout this deployment.

For a service member, acts of violence occur relatively infrequently and for short durations during a counterinsurgency campaign. However, the amount of patients seen by this field hospital in only a six-week deployment was astronomical, and pulls at every inch of emotion. Life-and-death decisions are played out over and over by these miracle workers throughout the novel, along with hard-hitting accounts of how every surgical team placed their personal lives on hold to support the war effort.

This is an amazing and fast read that tears at the reader’s every emotion. It leaves one ready to serve and be thankful for the sacrifice of so many in the medical community.

Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Jason E. Pelletier, U.S. Army, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas