Friedman took the call right away and said hed be happy to take the case, except for one problem: I wasnt in the military.
Leslie had failed to run down a critical part of Friedmans résumé. He was a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, based at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, which treated only soldiers. I already had run into red tape as a civilian in a military world when I sought an airlift from Baghdad.
Dont you have a private practice, too? asked Leslie incredulously.
You dont understand, said Friedman. Im in the military. I dont just come in and work here. He could treat me only if I obtained a special waiver from the secretary of the army. Dont count on it, Friedman warned. Its almost impossible. I never knew of it actually happening.
Of course, the way to make things happen in Washington is to leverage personal connections. My colleagues at Time asked their Pentagon contacts to get word to acting Secretary of the Army Les Brownlee. A childhood friend and Washington radio commentator who was savvy in local politics enlisted our D.C. congresswoman, Eleanor Holmes Norton. She personally called Brownlee, a decorated Vietnam veteran, and requested the exception.
The waiver was granted as I was leaving Baghdad for LRMC. I would be treated at Walter Reed, the first reporter wounded in a war ever to receive that privilege.
The bus arrived at Ramstein Air Base on the evening of December 16 and drove on to the lantern-jaw ramp of a C-141 Starlifter, the armys behemoth troop and cargo transport plane. The twenty-six of us numbered enough men for a platoon, yet another wave in the sea of Iraq war casualties airlifted from Landstuhl every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday night.
I was placed on a litter, a rack where soldiers were stacked four-high in the center of the aircraft. It wasnt first-class seating. I could barely move, with the next litter lying six inches above my nose and the aisles so narrow I was constantly being bumped by passing medical aides. The cabin resembled a tunnel: poorly lit, stuffy, and more than half a football field long. Everyone was issued ear plugs to muffle the industrial roar of four huge turbofan engines. The stench of urine and blood permeated. The temperature continuously fluctuated from steamy to frigid. Time editor Chua-Eoan looked after me from a bench along the side of the plane; a Critical Care Air Transport Teamthe fully-equipped airborne ICUs deployed for the first time in war to keep soldiers alive until they reached hospitalsstood by to monitor my heart rate.
The CCATT also kept a close watch on the patient lying to my right. Corporal Bobby Isaacs had occupied the room next to mine at the Landstuhl ICU; I had overheard the nurses describing him as questionable, uncertain to make it.
On the afternoon of December 10, a few hours before I was hit in Baghdad, the twenty-two-year-old member of the 101st Airborne had been standing guard in the open cargo section of a Humvee when insurgents detonated two 155mm mortar rounds buried in a curb. The explosion ripped through the passenger side of his truck, knocking Bobby to the floor. Medics found his legs shattered and bleeding profusely; they had to resuscitate him twice. He had been given seventy-two hours to live, but hung on after heroic medical efforts and survived the trip to Germany.
Doctors sent Bobby on the plane covered in a maze of tubes so extensive that nurses had to rig up a cargo strap to hang the bags of fluid. His head was raised and turned to one side, eyes wide open and fixed. He was moaning incoherently. Halfway home, Bobby became nauseous from too much morphine. A colonel came by to check on him and, thinking Bobby needed help to sit up, grabbed the air-sickness bag in Bobbys hand.
Excerpted from Blood Brothers by Michael Weisskopf. Copyright © 2006 by Michael Weisskopf. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holts and Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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