book review: Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq


Title: Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq
Author: Christopher Coppola, M.D., LTC, USAF
ISBN: 978-0984053117
Pages: 285
Publisher: NTI Upstream (February 1, 2010)
Category: non-fiction
Review source: Library Thing Early Reviewers
Rating: 4.5/5

There is no one around and the housing compound is silent. The oscillating razor feels warm against my forehead as I slide the stainless steel blade across the crown. I suppose shaving my head is a kind of acceptance of the rotten situation of having to be here. I feel a lot of things-loneliness, fear, concern for my family back in Texas. As the last vestiges of my stateside life pile in black-gray clumps on the wet earth, I take a full breath. No longer is there any doubt my part in this war is real. Until now, the war has been something I have critiqued from afar as a mistake, a missed opportunity to deal with the stability of Iraq as a world community. But now I am in the middle of it and it is personal.

Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq reads a bit like M*A*S*H in the Middle East. There are some funny times, poignant moments, absurdities and plenty of new friendships spawned during Dr. Chris Coppola’s two four month tours. To pay for medical school, Coppola agreed to service with the USAF and earned two tours of duty in Iraq. He received his medical degree from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in surgery at Yale University. He completed pediatric surgery training at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

When Dr. Coppola arrives in Iraq, his twelve surgeon team of general surgeons and specialists—orthopedic, urology, neurosurgery, pediatrics, ophthalmology, maxillofacial—replaces the team that has been there for the past four months. Most of his team are from Wilford Hall Medical Center in San Antonio but others are reservists that have been called up for duty or from smaller Air Force Hospitals. So at least Dr. Coppola recognizes some familiar faces.

During his tour of duty, he faces some tough cases, professionally and personally. His writing style is not overly sentimental or too detached. He’s right there in the mix of it all– with the destruction of families and lives. Of Americans and Iraqis. Although by the second tour of duty, Dr. Coppola’s narratives read a bit more jaded, tired and matter-of-fact.

On Election Day, a 7-year-old boy got struck in the head with a piece of shrapnel during a bombing. An insurgent bleeds out after pre-maturely detonating an IED. [“The patient is a mess. His entire body looks like it was run through a meat grinder.] An Iraqi man brings in his son with a problem. His son has an intersex anomaly—he has been born with some female and some male parts. He has female reproductive organs that need to be removed so he can live his life as a regular boy. But the father is adamant that nothing is wrong. Dr. Coppola worries that the boy will not receive the care he require: the surgery or hormone therapy. After taking care of a two-year-old girl with severe burns for a month, the girl, Leila, died. It deeply affected Coppola. [“But tonight I am broken.”] He had completed several arduous skin graft surgeries on her which at first seemed promising.

Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq is quite enlightening in that it shows the destruction and cost of life and health of a war from the viewpoint of a surgeon, someone who takes care of both the “enemy” and the allies. Dr. Coppola has quite the memory for detail as he wrote the entire time he spent in Iraq. The book is filled with these details whether gory or touching [his dinner at an interpreter’s home before his return to America] or frustrating. If you are at all interested in the human loss during war, Coppola: a Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq is well worth the read.

** Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq is currently available on the website. On February 1 it will be available through online and other booksellers. A partnership has been created with the not-for-profit organization War Kids Relief. NTI Upstream, will donate 10% of book sales to the Helmand Children’s Medical Fund (HCMF).
Money raised will provide medical aid to children living in Kabul’s largest internally displaced person camp. In the U.S. led effort to hunt down Taliban, many civilians have lost their homes due to bombing and violence. Thousands of families have fled Helmand Province and are currently living in makeshift camps on the outskirts of Kabul, where open defecation, lack of toilets, and poor sanitation, have accelerated the spread of disease. Currently, more than 70% of the 2,000 children living there have pneumonia.

This review is part of the Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq virtual book tour.

Book received as part of LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

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