Monday, February 12, 2007

Blood Brothers

You may recall the Iraq story of Michael Weisskopf, a 50 something Time magazine embedded reporter. While riding in a Humvee with some soldiers he saw an object land in the back. It was a grenade. He picked it up and threw it out, and it blew up in just outside the truck. He lost the hand, but saved everyone in the Humvee. That part of the story got a fair amount of coverage. He wrote a book called Blood Brothers about his recovery and the recovery of three soldiers in Ward 57, the amputee wing of Walter Reed Hospital.

The book is focused on military medicine and recovery. He writes about the great improvements in survivability of combat wounds. The new body armor, rapid mobility and high levels of training for combat medics have dramatically decreased the chances of dying from a combat wound. The higher survival rate has also meant a higher amputation rate. The book details the way in which Walter Reed, the Army's DC hospital, has responded.

Weisskopf's focus on the four recovery stories makes for a harrowing read. He details the intense physical and emotional pain and the stark choices presented to amputees. They often had to undergo further amputation in order to be fitted with limb replacements. The emotional recovery was worse. For many of the younger soldiers, the loss of limbs meant the loss of their identity. One, who lost both hands, was a helicopter mechanic and an artist. He also can't recall if he was to blame or not for the explosion that wounded him and killed another.

The book is more about war and the physical costs of war than the Iraq war. Although the author states his general opposition to the war and relates the soliders' support, that is incidental to the story. It does raise the issue as to how well society takes care of those who fight in its name.

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