A well-intended but clumsily written view of life on the Iraq front from a physician’s point of view.
Hnida, a family doctor in Littleton, Colo., had his foundations shaken by three big events: the mass killings at Columbine High School, the rape of a daughter and the attacks of 9/11. As his memoir opens, “in a classic case of be careful of what you wish for,” he finds himself at age 48 in a ditch somewhere in Iraq being upbraided by a much younger fellow for his general cluelessness and lack of nimbleness: “You’re going to get us all killed unless you get the fuck down and eat some sand, sir.” Assigned to a combat surgery team, Hnida, who portrays himself throughout as something of a sad sack, acquaints readers with the many unpleasant ways of dying that the war has to offer, particularly the body-shredding explosive devices that seemed to lie around every corner. Somewhere along these treacherous roads, the author seems to have conceived the notion that the literary model to follow in relating his story was not Richard Selzer, the surgeon author of Mortal Lessons, but Richard Hooker by way of the TV series he inspired, M*A*S*H. As a result, the view is realistic, gritty and full of black humor, as when his much younger commanding officer offers this greeting: “You sure are one old fucker for this job.” All too often, however, Hnida surrenders to mawkishness and, worst of all, bad puns, seemingly in an effort to be the Patch Adams of Baghdad: “Hi, I’m Dr. Hnida, the former Sister Mary Elizabeth. That’s right, I used to be a nun, but I didn’t want to make a habit of it.”
Certainly not literature, but a serviceable addition to the growing bookshelves on the Iraq War, especially useful to would-be military physicians.