Thursday, February 28, 2008

War Buddies

I've heard this concept before, usually from Vietnam era vets. "Honey, I'm getting together with some of my war buddies tonight. Don't wait up."

The bonding that happens when you are in combat is every bit as big as you might imagine. Think about the late night drinking sessions you had in college where you talked about anything and everything. Add to it the possibility that you might get blowed-up by a random mortar and you have a formula for making some seriously good friends.

Let me tell you about a couple.

Mark K – One of the funniest guys on the planet. Everything that comes out of him mouth cracks me up. He's a proud ex-druggy who joined the Navy and turned his life around. He finally saw the light and switched over to the Army to go to PA school and he works the ER like nobody's business. There is a really short list of people I will miss when I leave and he's near the top.

Rachel G – My new reader and fellow blogger. Everyone needs a Rachel in their life. She's quirky, but in a good way. She has the maturity of a single mother and yet occasionally shows the impulsiveness of an impetuous teenager. I've never seen anyone smile as much.

Marlene A – She makes the list, but just barely. That's my fault. She's an important part of my small group, but she and I never really bonded. At least I can say I gave her her first guitar lessons, and she's really taken to it. In my entire life, I've never met anyone that makes people remark about how beautiful she is. It's uncanny, really. I can't tell you how many times people have come up to me just to tell me how beautiful she is. I will miss how she has to dance whenever she is talking, especially when it's about Puerto Rico.

John W – Surgeon extraordinaire. I have little respect for a lot of surgeons, mostly because I think they show a dangerous lack of humility. John and I talk equally about life and patient care and he is always thoughtful and insightful. Hell, I'd let him do my appendectomy, and there is a very short list of surgeons I can say that about.

And last, but certainly not least…

Jess B – What can I say about my Battle Buddy? We got paired up while processing through Ft. Benning, GA. She's almost been my surrogate wife out here (minus the sex, of course). That didn't stop the rumors, however. We spent so much time together, especially in the beginning of the deployment, that I guess the rumors were inevitable. Bright, intelligent and intrepid. She was not afraid to ask for help learning poker and then she turned around and kicked my (and everyone else's) ass. She's quirky, too. You should see her drool whenever a large black man walks by – odd for a little white Jewish girl from Jersey. In a large group she loves to taunt me (sound familiar, honey – since you aren't here, Jess has taken over your role of keeping me grounded), but in our small group, she is everything you would want in a friend.

These are my war buddies. I'm going to miss them fiercely.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Gone Too Long

I just got off the phone with my son. We were talking about a joke I played on The Wife after I lost my cell phone. He started laughing and said, "I remember how funny you used to be."

I've got to get home. Soon.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Press On

"Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan 'Press On' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race."

~ Calvin Coolidge, 30th president of US (1872 - 1933)

I have often felt this way. I'm fairly bright and I know I have a modicum of talent, but it's persistence that got me to where I am. The real question is - How do I teach this to my kids? Can persistence be taught? I know my oldest son has it. He set out to own every Pokémon, and by gosh, he's done it!

Editors Note: This comic adequately sums up my feelings about grapefruit (and fruit in general). Brilliant.

The Test

No sooner do I talk up my new reader when she decides to put me to the test. She did something silly that could have had a serious and potentially career damaging outcome. Unfortunately for her, I didn't realize the potential badness until it was (almost) too late. Fortunately for her, I'm fairly good at damage control. I've had a lot of practice. Just ask Ernie about watching me get covered in cheese at the Roy Rogers in Wappingers Falls.

She wrote a silly little note in erasable marker on the wall outside my office. It was something about how St. Patrick was a religious terrorist who subverted a nation against their will. I can't see how anyone in Iraq, a nation known for religious tolerance, could possibly have been offended.

To make matters worse, the first two people to see the note were both Irish Catholic (also known for their laid-back attitude toward religion). When I saw the commotion, I immediately erased the note, but at that point it was too late. I spent the next couple hours smiling and joking and shaking hands with the offended individuals. To her credit, RG realized the seriousness of her actions and came over, hat-in-hand, and gave a very heart-felt apology.

It's nothing I wouldn't do for any of my friends. All is well in the desert. Now we can get back to Egyptian Rat Screw. The scars on my hand have mostly healed from the last game.

Editors Note: RG's son is 7, not 9. Silly me.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

New Reader

The folks here at Pokerdoctor would like to welcome new reader and long time blogger RG, who posts over at The Sandman Cometh. She's a fellow geek (tattoos, and everything!) who introduced me to the Sandman series a few months ago. She writes with a keen insight into the life of a Psychiatry technologist deployed to Iraq. You folks think I have it tough? Try being out here as a single mom for 17 months while your 9 year old son sits at home. RC is a fun-loving and fiery redhead who often sits quietly doing needlepoint, but will slap the shit out of you if you try to take her cards in Egyptian Rat Screw. It's not every enlisted person that can comfortably fit into a group of officers, but she holds her own (well, at least when she's not having a "blonde-moment." Did you really think all officers were issued a direct line to the Pentagon when we make Major?).

This marks a major departure for everyone's second favorite doctor of poker (we all know who is #1), because I have never told anyone in the military that I own this little slice of the intertubes. I hope my secret is safe with RG. If not, I can always pull rank.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of his friend.
He referred to the dates on the tombstone
From the beginning to the end.

He noted at first came the date of her birth
And spoke of the second with tears.
But he said what mattered most of all
Was the dash between those years.

So when your eulogy is being read
With your life's actions to rehash
Would you be pleased with the things they say
About how you spent your dash?

~ Author Unknown

News Story Last Night
Rockets kill five at workers' housing in Iraq
Round strike near Baghdad's airport; rockets land in Green Zone

updated 3:03 p.m. ET Feb. 18, 2008
BAGHDAD - Rockets slammed into an Iraqi housing complex near the Baghdad international airport and a nearby U.S. military base on Monday, killing at least five people and wounding 16, including two U.S. soldiers, officials said.
American troops arrested six Iraqis in the vicinity of the apparent launching sites, and there was strong evidence the suspects were involved, a military official said.
The brazen attack followed a weekend in which U.S. and Iraqi officials touted the security gains of a year-old operation in Baghdad that included an influx of some 30,000 extra American troops. Rocket and mortar attacks were once a daily occurrence but have tapered off with a general decline in violence in the capital.
Twelve 107 mm rockets fell in and around the airport and the nearby Camp Victory, the main U.S. military base on the western outskirts of Baghdad, the U.S. military official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the information has not been officially released.
He said Camp Victory was hit and two soldiers suffered light injuries but the bulk of the casualties were in a housing complex for airport employees, about a half a mile from the airport.
Five Iraqis were killed and 14 wounded, including five children, one baby, one adult and a teenager who were taken to a nearby U.S. medical facility to be treated, the official said.
The U.S. military did not respond with fire but sent a team in the direction of the launching sites, arresting six people in the area, the official said.
Residents in the housing complex said it includes 250-300 trailers primarily occupied by airport employees. They said two trailers were destroyed in the attack.
"One of these two families lost four of its sons, three of them were buried under the debris," one resident said, adding those killed were between 10 to 20 years old.
Iraqi police earlier reported that six to 13 rockets also struck the U.S.-protected Green Zone on Monday afternoon, but the U.S. military official denied that report.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Tough Night

Of course, I am not allowed to talk about specifics, but we had a tough night in the hospital last night. We got a rush of patients all at once. If you ever saw the HBO special "Baghdad ER" you get the idea. It was ugly, but at the same time I'm really proud of the team. There was efficiency within the chaos. People knew who was in charge and everyone knew their role. Some of the patients died, but they were given the absolute best chance for survival just by coming here. At least one most certainly would have died, but now will be able to live a long productive life.

America, your men and women over here are doing good work. Be proud.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Update on Flirty Girl

You may remember my post about the young hottie working at the gym. To refresh your memory, this is the Macedonian girl who everyone (but me) thought was flirting with me. She was famously quoted as asking me, "You come to the gym every day. How come you don't have any muscles?"

This is flirting?

Anyway, she left today for good. It turns out she had a minor medical condition and I ended up making the diagnosis. The day before she left she was working one final shift at the gym. As I was signing in she asked if I ever got those muscles. On a whim I pulled back my shirt sleeve and flexed my bicep for her. She actually began jumping up and down excitedly and clapping her hands. Then she came around the counter and gave me a big hug. She whispered in my ear, "You are going to heaven."

Okay. I get it now. She was flirting.

Let's hope she's right about the heaven thing, but let's also hope that it's not for another hundred years.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

To My Valentine

You are in my heart.

You are in my dreams.

Next month (God willing) you will be in my arms.

Happy Valentine's Day, honey.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

To Be King

Did you ever have the fantasy that you were King? I know as a kid I remember thinking it would be totally cool to be supreme ruler. I also remember fantasizing about being the king that would occasionally dress up in rags in order to walk among the masses. What better way to feel the pulse of your domain?

Well, I'll never be King. Being a Lieutenant Colonel is as close as I'll get, but it's a fairly good substitute. Let me explain.

It's been cold here during the winter months in Iraq. As such, I don my black fleece jacket and watch cap whenever I walk to chow. Because of this uniform, no one can see my rank. I think I have a young face and I'm certainly not an imposing figure. When soldiers see me like this, they aren't really seeing me, if you know what I mean. Walking along narrow corridors, if I come up against soldiers coming in the opposite direction, there is a very definite pecking order for who has the right of way – namely whoever is biggest. It's pretty funny actually. It sometimes even comes with the "inadvertent" shoulder bump, just to make sure I get the message. I would argue that this is a good thing. These are combat soldiers after all. If they aren't at least a little aggressive they wouldn't be good soldiers, would they?

Contrast this with the warmer weather when I just wear my regular uniform. You can see my rank on my hat and on my shirt. If I walk down a narrow corridor, soldiers not only stand aside, but actually grab other soldiers and pull them out of my way. If there is a larger group someone will yell, "Make a hole!" It's like parting the Red Sea.

I'm not sure which I enjoy more - being the king or being the serf. I guess I'd better get used to serf-dom because in just 4 months, I take off my uniform for good.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Of Bad Beats and Other Tidings

Last night was our normal poker night, of course. I still have an almost unbeatable lock on player of the year, but if I have another run like last night, I'll give up the game for good. Only the top two places get points in our format. Of the 6 games we played, I was 3rd in five of them. My first three consecutive knock-outs all came when I was holding Presto! The sixth knock out came much earlier and I was almost thankful. I don't think I could have taken another bubble loss.

To make matters worse, I just got off the phone with The Wife. She is playing in a home game that could give G-Vegas a run for their money for the level of talent at the table. She tells me she bubbled in the first tournament, which is impressive considering the level of play. Give 'em hell, honey.

I got to call in during the game. She was in a hand and totally blew me off (kidding). I'm out here fighting the war, dammit! Everyone gave me a shout which was very cool. Too bad it wasn't a Dial-a-Shot, though. I could use a scotch right about now.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Ultrasound Revisited

Editors Note: After I read the following post several times, I almost didn't publish it. It very well might get me uninvited from some home games and shunned by this illustrious community. At the very least, you can read it and think, "Well, at least I don't have to do THAT in my job." Proceed at your own peril.

I mentioned in a previous post that I do a lot of testicular ultrasounds. When you do something repetitively and often, you can become complacent. Occasionally I am reminded that every one of my patient's is nervous about this exam. Many probably didn't sleep well the night before. To me it's just another exam. To them, well, it's their "boys" dammit.

The exam room is fairly clinical. The tech has the patient undress from the waist down and lie on the table. They wait there in the darkened room until I come in. "Good morning. I'm Dr. Chako," I always say. "Tell me what's going on." They reply with their history, and to be honest I'm only half listening to make sure that what their doctor wrote on the consult sheet basically matches with their actual complaint. Most of this conversation allows me to establish rapport prior to manhandling their junk.

Pleasantries completed, we begin the exam. I have them place one towel under their scrotum (to lift it up) and then I ask them to lay their penis on their belly and cover it with another towel (to keep it out of my way). Sorry for the graphic description, but you need that background to answer this question for me. If the penis falls out from under the towel, who should move it back out of the way?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

3 Days

It's been three days since my last post. I'd like to tell you it's because I've been too busy to post, but it's really because I haven't had much to say. The only thing I did of interest was read Carrie's Story by Molly Weatherfield. If you know the story, you know that reading this out here in Iraq was a BAD IDEA. I'm just glad I don't have a roommate.

Tonight is Poker Night. The Player of the Year standings were published on Sunday:

Dr. Chako 85
Ken 73
Jess 68
Aaron 64
Hot Nuts 58
Chris 49
Spook 36
COL B 24
Chaplain 20
Boston Phil 20
Jude 15
Alex 11
Dan 6
Ed 4

We play exclusively one table No Limit Hold 'em Sit-n-Go's. You get three points for 1st place and 1 point for 2nd. That's it. 3rd place and down get nothing. As I analyze the board, I realize that my lead is mostly because I have more 2nd place finishes then anyone else has 1st place finishes. There are a couple players who have a much better 1st to 2nd place ratio (meaning they have a lot more wins than 2nd places) whereas my 1sts and 2nds are about even. I'm not sure what that means. Maybe I'm too aggressive heads up? At least I'm getting to heads-up a lot. We still have a ways to go before I get home, but I should be able to lock this up with one or two more good nights. I said in the beginning that I thought Ken would be my biggest competition. Jess is the big surprise. She was incredibly passive when we began, but I started giving her lessons before each game and she really turned it around. Didn't Mike Caro say never to give lessons to someone you are trying to beat?

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Monte Python

BamBam dedicated a whole post to me today. I'm blow away. I laughed myself silly because he posted most of my favorite Monte Python lines collected over the years. For those of us that "get it," we can hear the troupe actually saying these lines (and whistling, too). We've had some great comic groups in the United States, but nothing compares with this eclectic, perennially funny group of Englishmen (and one American). I doubt anything ever will. I used to watch it right before Benny Hill (who was much more slap-sticky, but was usually good for a few large-breasted women in bikinis running amok).

The dialogue in Python came so fast that I often had difficulty understanding what they were saying. The remedy? I used to repeat the lines (complete with the British accent) until I thought I sounded just like them. This British accent thing was a skill I used once to pick up a girl working at a movie theater in Texas, but that's a story for another time.

Thanks BamBam. We can all use a good laugh now and again.

Saturday, February 02, 2008


One of the glamorous parts of my job is doing scrotal ultrasounds. Back home I have high-paid ultrasound technologists who do this for me. Out here in Iraq, I do all of the ultrasounds myself. Far and away the most common exam I do is this one, followed closely by pelvic ultrasounds (looking for fibroids, ovarian cysts and babies) and right upper quadrant ultrasounds (looking for gallbladder disease). When left on their own, soldiers apparently spend a lot of time "examining" themselves. This leads to a lot of, "Hey, what the hell is this lump?" kind of questions. It's almost always normal or something benign like epididymitis. I haven't found any cancers since I've been out here, but statistically I will. Men from 25 to 35 are in the danger zone for testicular cancer - just ask Lance Armstrong. Our Army TV stations even run regular ads reminding soldiers to periodically check themselves. As if they needed reminding…

It's not a technically difficult exam as long as you know the anatomy. It can occasionally be challenging based on "environmental factors." If the room and the exam table are too cold, the "boys" will try to climb inside where it's warm. Whenever I have to do an exam (which is almost every day), I ask the techs to warm up the ultrasound jelly (we have an actual jelly-warmer) and they turn on the heater, too.

I was explaining this to my one of my techs and he replied that if the room wasn't warm enough, he would reach down and try to warm up the patient by hand.

I think he was kidding…