1. Hagstad, David RN

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Today it's 97[degrees]F, with oppressive 80% humidity in Louisiana. In three weeks I'll be 7,000 miles away in Iraq, longing for this weather.


I've completed my last assignment as a travel nurse and am now spending time with my family and preparing for my departure, on July 28. I've gone on a few job interviews, seeking a position upon my return, but although there are many opportunities, few employers will commit a vacancy to someone who will be unavailable for several months.



My friend Trina, the emergency medical technician, and I will fly from New Orleans to Baltimore, where we'll catch one of the ever-departing aircraft headed to Europe or the Middle East. From there we'll journey to the Iraqi city of Balad-dubbed "Mortaritaville" by American soldiers assigned to Balad Airbase-which will be our home for the next few months. (My friend Joy, the ICU nurse, will not travel with us as planned, because her father suffered a stroke last weekend. Her absence is a loss to the mission, and we'll miss her greatly.)


Today I've returned to the Naval Air Station, Joint Readiness Base, New Orleans, to complete some tasks that had been postponed because my unit had been activated in response to Hurricane Dennis, which threatened New Orleans on July 10. For example, until today I'd been issued only pieces of my desert uniforms. I had boots, pants, and goggles, but no shirts. Now I need to soak the uniforms in permethrin, which provides long-term protection from mosquitoes, ticks, and chiggers.


The prescription lenses I'll wear inside my gas mask have arrived, requiring me to be connected to a machine much like a ventilator and instructed to breathe at various rates and depths while wearing the mask, to ensure that it's sealed against my face.



I attended several briefings today by various squadrons of the 159th Fighter Wing of the U.S. Air Force. Security Forces, for example, told us about current threats and how to reduce the risk of becoming victims of terrorism. Because we might be traveling on civilian airlines to and from the Middle East, we were told to make sure we weren't seated on an aisle or near an exit, places from which terrorists might likely grab a hostage. And we should vary our schedules, the types of vehicles we use, and the routes we take when driving in Iraq.


Some briefings included medical information regarding specific indigenous threats, from malaria to scorpions, whereas others focused on family separation and planning.



The Expeditionary Medical Support System (EMEDS) of the U.S. Air Force has military field hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we'll be working at the one in Iraq while we're in the country. The mobile facilities can be supplemented with various "packages" of equipment and personnel, expanding to ensure adequate care. For example, one EMEDS package might include a surgical team, patient care unit, public health team, and decontamination team to treat casualties of nuclear, chemical, or biological warfare.


Once critically wounded patients are stabilized, a critical care air transport team takes center stage. A critical care nurse, a respiratory therapist, and a physician evacuate patients to Germany by a C-141 Starlifter cargo plane that's so well equipped it's a flying ICU.


By the time you read this, I'll be in Iraq, serving in whatever ways I'm needed most. I've received many letters in response to my first article ("Shipping Out to the War Zone," July), and I appreciate your wishes, prayers, and support. Please continue to e-mail me as I begin my service in Iraq.


David Hagstad, RN